Shortly after I graduated from high school my friends DeWayne Bowen, Jeff Morgan and I decided that we were going to go to work for the Walt Disney World Resort. Jeff was already working there part-time as a character actor, and he told DeWayne and I that we could come and stay with him in Lakeland and his grandparents place. He was house sitting for them over the summer and we figured we could spend a few months working and raising money before they came back to town. I was leaving for Alabama in the Fall anyway, so for me it was the perfect idea for a summer job.
I didn’t actually HAVE a job at the resort when I moved my stuff over to Lakeland. I was 17, and I think that at that age you are legally required to perform every action with as little though and planning as possible. The bottom line was that I wanted to get a job at Disney World, so obviously it was going to happen.
Turns out I was right…Mostly.
Once we got settled in I went over to the casting center (they don’t call it Human Resources at Disney World…all employees are cast members, and when you apply for a job you go to the casting center) and filled out an application. Like Jeff and DeWayne (who had also been hired as a character actor), I figured that with my four years of experience at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts I’d be given a chance to do some kind of acting or performing work. Unlike them, however, I didn’t actually go to any of the auditions. I just went and applied for a job. At the time Disney was hiring on a regular basis, so when I was finished filling out my application they told me to take a seat and that I’d be given an interview on the spot.
An interview, mind you. Not an auditions. I was going in for grunt work. But hey, I thought maybe I’d be able to land something cool like a job at the Haunted Mansion or something like that. Sure, it wasn’t going to be as glamorous or well-paying as an acting gig, but this was only going to be a summer job anyway, right?
The woman who brought me in for an interview was your typical Disney employee. She seemed entirely too happy and bubbly to be working in Human Resources, but I suppose that was part of her job. She had to project what she was expected to hire. She introduced herself, and made some small talk with me while we walked to her office. She was really nice. I suppose, in retrospect, she was being a bit TOO nice considering the circumstances, but I was just caught up in the excitement of working for Disney and I didn’t catch on to anything out of the ordinary.
When we sat down in her office she went through the usual review of my application, asking me questions about my work experience and why I wanted to work for Disney. I didn’t mention that I was only looking for a job for a few months, but beyond that I was pretty straight with her and I think I made a pretty good case for why I should be given a job.
Once all the standard stuff was done she started telling me about the kinds of things I could look forward to as a Disney employee in the realm of benefits, which I took as a good sign that I was on my way in. It was all sounding great, until she set my application down and looked at me in a suddenly serious tone.
“I know you’ve expressed an interest in working on one of the rides,” she said, “but unfortunately that’s not going to be possible. All of the cast members who work on the ride are considered part of the show, and we have to make sure that if you’re out there in front of our guests that your presence won’t distract from it.”
“Umm…Ok?” I said, not quite getting what she was trying to say.
“Due to your size you would be too much of a distraction for our guests. We won’t be able to employ you anywhere that a guest could see you.”
And that’s when I realized what she was saying.
I was too fat to work where people could see me.
I was so fat that people would focus on how fat I was and that doing so would lessen their experience at the Walt Disney World Resort.
She offered me a job working in the kitchens underneath Tomorrowland.
That’s right, my friends. I was so fat I was banished to the dungeons of the Magic Kingdom, hidden away from the light of day and the eyes of those who wanted to visit the most magical place on Earth.
Disney doesn’t get away with this these days, obviously. In our modern litigious society they wouldn’t dare tell someone they couldn’t have a job because they were too fat or too ugly. You can walk all over the parks these days and see people that don’t fit into the “beautiful” category. There are people working the rides these days who are bigger than I was back then, and I’m glad to see it. None of that helped me at the time, though, and I was too stunned to do anything other than thank her for giving me a job.
How about that shit, huh? Not only did I NOT tell her to take her job and shove it up her ass, I actually thanked her for humiliating me in the first place.
I didn’t work at Disney for long. In fact, I never even made it out of training. Jeff’s grandparents caught wind of our Summer plans and sent over an Uncle to clear us all out of their house. DeWayne managed to find another place to stay, but he had a good job. Me? No way I was going to go out of my way to work in a crappy kitchen job that I could easily have gotten back home. I packed up my things and went back home for the rest of the Summer.
I have a lot of memories of those few weeks I spent living with Jeff and DeWayne while we worked at Disney, but nothing is more clear or vivid in my mind of the moment when I realized I was being told I was too fat for normal people to see. I’ve carried that around with me ever since, and it’s one of the many things that has constantly weighed on me and impacted my feeling of self-worth. I mean, up until that point I’d suspected that I had been treated differently because of my weight, but I’d never had anyone flat out tell me to my face.
Walt Disney World really is an amazing place, and I love going there with my family, but despite the joy it brings me there will always be a hit of resentment there for the fact that at the age of 17 I was told that MY dreams would never come true because I was so fat I didn’t deserve for it to happen.