When I was pregnant, I was amazed at how pregnancy (especially in New York, where I was living at the time) broke down social resistance to interacting with strangers. People would come up and talk to me as if they knew me. Most of the time it was sweet and well-intentioned. The flip side of dissolving this social barrier was the number of people who assumed an unearned intimacy and proffered unwanted advice or worse, wanted to put their hand on my fecund belly.
Friends have confirmed this phenomena when out with newborns or pets. Under certain circumstances, people will assume it's okay to communicate whatever pops into their heads.
When I used to walk the tunnels under downtown Houston, I mapped out a 3-mile circuit that I could cover in the hour break I took instead of lunch. It looked boring for sure, but I was mostly in my head or in my music and might as well have been on a treadmill (but for the fools walking slowly, three-abreast blocking my way periodically). I did this every day. I looked hot and sweaty for, at least, the second half of the walk. I tried not to make much eye contact or listen to my fellow walkers. Of whom, the vast majority were middle-aged women who talked for all the world like they should be wearing hair shirts and flagellating themselves. Doing penance for the sin of not being thin.
There was one woman who worked at the counter of one of the gazillion sandwich shops who would not be ignored. She had a seemingly sincere but intrusive friendliness. But the thing that used to amaze me is that every time she saw me walk by she would give me a thumbs up, as if she headed up the cheering squad for Fat Woman Walking. I say this and you demure, how do you know this had anything to do with your size? Perhaps we're being a bit oversensitive? Guess again, Pollyanna. I watched her every day and she did not do her enthusiastic gesture for naught a slender walker. Trust me, she was saying, Way to Go, Chubby! Good Job, Gordita!
While I thought she was basically decent, she felt that my size gave her the right to break that social barrier. I assume that she (or those like her) didn't give the thumbs up to the anorexia-bound teenage girls eating ice cream (one scoop in a cup, please, those cones are SO fattening). I assume that most people don't clap the Cerebral Palsied on the back for making it across the street. I would guess conversely, and maybe I'm wrong, that you wouldn't go up to a fast-food patron with acne and lecture them on the importance of keeping their face clean and their diet healthy. It's just a bit invasive, right?
So I'm walking my neighborhood. It was June. One of the hottest Junes on record. And even though I start my walk at 7am, it's clear that I'm going to be be red-faced and drenched in no time. Down the street opposite me comes an old black man wearing a brimmed hat and pushing a cart. He is, lordlovehim, sporting a friendly demeanor and just a few teeth. Fuck Me. As I get closer, he asked the ubiquitous question, "Going for your walk?" To which I reply affirmatively in my best yes-indeedee voice. Then he says, "You know, that'll help you lose weight!" Now, the urge to retort with "No shit, REALLY?" is strong. But he's old and almost surely addlepated. Yet, more than anything I want to say, "And you know, wearing that hat will keep you from getting any darker!" Because our culture's love of the thin is only matched by our culture's love of the fair. And since he thinks it's okay to join in on the bigotry chorus against the overweight, why should I let genteel mores stop me from pointing out where he falls short on the racist social scale of ideal beauty?
Because, deep down, I'm not an asshole. Even more, because I don't accept or have patience for either of those deeply flawed ideals. I just don't know why anyone feels it is their business to impose this skewed and empty viewpoint on those of us who tip the scales on this side of normal. Whatever that is.
Saturday, July 09, 2011