I want to offer a warning, and preemptive apology, for today’s post. I’ve long been involved in social activism, and particularly in discussion forums regarding body positivity, privilege of all sorts (thin, white, straight, male). I try not to let these things bleed over onto this blog, but today’s post is one that’s been simmering for some time and so I’m putting it up here. I won’t be hurt if you skip it.
While out to lunch today, I was reminded of the power of words. I’ve started logging my food again, trying to be sure that I’m on track toward my goals of greater health, greater physical strength, less weight. None of that should matter to what followed – and yet I feel that I have to mention it, to say “I know how many calories I was eating, I ordered with thoughtfulness”. Here’s what happened:
I’d ordered a Quesadilla with the sauce on the side; Marc was up getting the order corrected (they gave me sauce on the side, but it was the wrong one). Dorothy had been climbing up and down and around on the seats, dancing, and so forth. An elderly gentleman walked by the table on his way out of the restaurant. He stopped, looked at Elspeth and me, and then at Dorothy. Then he said, “Well, I can tell you two weren’t active as she is when you were kids…”
I thought, but didn’t say, “You really stopped by our table just to call us fat?” A beat later he said, “Her glasses are real cute” and then he moved on and out of the restaurant.
After he was gone, I realized I was angry. Angry that this complete stranger felt he had not only the right, but the obligation to come up to us and tell us that we were fat, and more than that to make sure we knew Dorothy and her activity were a good thing. Angry that I didn’t think of the snappy reply in time:
- I can tell you weren’t as polite as she is when you were a kid either.
- Wait, are you saying we’re fat?
- (Look startled) Oh, MY GOD! When did I gain all this weight. (Look at him suspiciously) Did you do this to me??
For years we were booksellers. We traveled all over the southeast buying books, singly, in lots, or even on clearance from retail establishments (like B&N) that didn’t know the value of some of their own clearance items.
And because it’s what we do since the Dawn of the Internet we also read forums for booksellers, forums for bargain hunters and more.
After we returned from one of those buying trips, my husband found a post on a website he regularly read stating that these fat ass hicks were buying up all the good items at one of the stores we’d visited that weekend. The post went on in long and hateful detail, describing my dress (too short, who wants to see something as gross as that fat bitch on display), his ball cap, etc. And my husband, bless his soul, didn’t say a word.
Until we started to talk about weight loss and health and grandbabies and longevity. We talked about the power of words, and I described things that happen to fat women when they live in the world (tangent*: like walking my new grandbaby around the exterior of a mall, and having a car full of teenagers slow down to yell “hey sexy mama” at me, while laughing and making puke motions with their fingers and throats … and then circling the lot to do it again in case I didn’t understand the first time). And then he shared about this forum post from so many years ago.
Being fat and a woman in public spaces means giving people permission to vocally judge you. Marc tells me that he’s not had the judgment leveled at him regarding his weight (he has regarding his teeth but that’s his story to tell if he chooses). My mother has always wished for her children that they wouldn’t be fat because it’s hard to live a fat life; I wish instead that the world would change to be accepting of my children no matter what size they are as they live their lives.
Here’s the thing: words do hurt. They absolutely have power, but it’s only the power we give them. My fat ass and my wide-and-jiggly thighs have allowed me to do so many things, like climb mountains and bear children and work 65+ hour weeks. I am, and always have been a strong and capable woman. People who can’t see past the fat to embrace me, no matter what my size, are not worth the worry.
But it still hurts every time I bump in to someone at a store, and they mutter “fat bitch”.