This is the second time this man has done this to me on public transit. If you’re a fat woman in Orlando, Florida, who takes public transit, he may have done it to you, as well.
"Hey, does your phone have Internet?" I heard him ask.
I usually lie and say I don’t have minutes when people ask me if they can use my phone, because it makes me uncomfortable, and because they’re usually men, who also make me uncomfortable. I thought he was just going to ask me to get the score of the game or something, though, so I nodded my head.
"Can you look up OA.com?" he asked.
I had already typed in the words "OA" when "Overeater’s Anonymous" flashed onto my screen. I carefully calculated how to respond. It’s Saturday evening, it’s a quiet, peaceful bus, except for this older man.
It is not considered socially acceptable for women to stand up for themselves when they’re being harassed. It is not considered socially acceptable for fat women to stand up for themselves, either. I could have said something. I don’t know what, exactly. Most thin people would say "go fuck yourself" or something. I was probably expected to say thank you.
I ignored him, looked away, and tried not to let him make me feel anything. But I did feel everything. After a week of eating super healthy, and exercising extra, as well as getting actual medical care for the first time in years (otherwise known as taking care of your health), I get this.
I froze at the moment and he kept going, telling me what meetings to come to, and what building to go to. I kept looking in the opposite direction. When he got up, he leaned uncomfortably close to me and kept talking about it. Finally he turned around, and I flipped him off.
What I wish I’d said:
"Overeater’s Anonymous operates on the false premise that the addiction model and the 12-step model work with food, a thing we need to survive. That’s great that it works for you, but my body isn’t here for you to comment on, so you can honestly fuck off."
But then I’d be an aggressive bitch who was mean to an innocent old man. I was tired, had just got off of work, and just wanted to go home. Most people don’t like to be bothered on the bus. I’m one of them. Most passengers just want to ride in peace and quiet.
The distressing thing about this is that commenting on and harassing fat bodies is seen as a normal and a socially acceptable thing to do. Look, thin people. You may not get why some fat people may not like it when you comment on their weight loss, make comments about their food, or give unsolicited exercise tips when they may or may not be working out (not every fat person who you see walking down a sidewalk is "working out"): we exist outside of the weight-loss industry.
We have jobs. Lives. Lovers. Parents. Children. A lot of us are in crippling poverty and are worried more about whether we’re going to be homeless on our next paycheck, not about our dress size. That’s not something you worry about if you can’t pay rent.
It happens to me a lot, this "commenting on my body/health" thing. At work the other day, I was eating a kale, blackberry, and carrot salad I’d made, and the man who had previously gotten in trouble for sexually harassing me at work patted my shoulder and said, "Hey, I’m really proud of you for the healthy eating. Keep it up!"
He said it in front of around 25 people. Responding with anything less than "thank you" wouldn’t have been socially appropriate. It derailed my entire day.
What I wish I would’ve said:
"Hey, remember that time you asked me if I was a prostitute in front of all of your friends? And then told me that I wasn’t worth paying anything for? Because I do. I remember that. And I know you remember it, because HR talked to you about it. Also fuck off! I totally wasn’t eating a salad for your approval."
That one probably seems really innocent. After all, I’m a fat person eating a salad. This automatically means I’m on a diet, apparently. People like to encourage good health behavior.
I’m not on a diet, though. I don’t look at my salad as some kind of penance for the sin of gluttony. I just want to eat healthy. I don’t want to get diabetes or heart disease. I’m recovered from an eating disorder and I grew up in a really abusive situation in which my failure to lose weight meant my failure as a human being, and my mom put me on tons of diets. To say the least, they’re triggering. Getting on the scale, logging my calories. My Tumblr recently received an ask -
"What’s hard about logging calories, or can’t you see the count through your rolls of fat?" after I posted in the fat acceptance tag about how calorie counting is kind of hard, as a person with a past history of eating disorders.
The lack of community is difficult as well. Fat people used to have community together on the Internet. Fat spaces were mostly dominated by us, including the fat acceptance tag. Now I can’t even visit it, even when I am hurting and need the self esteem boost of the companionship of other fat people. I recently asked another activist "Where can fat people talk to each other anymore? The fat acceptance tag used to be okay, but now it’s full of people harassing us for being disgusting." She replied, "I don’t know. They took over everything."
And they did. I can’t visit the tag to see what fellow fat acceptance activists are up to, because it’s flooded with graphics and posts that mercilessly mock anyone who tries to accept themselves for who they are. One of the people who dedicatedly harasses fat people on that website once told me that it’d be better if fat people just died, because of our lack of ability to take care of ourselves. That we are a waste of healthcare.
Knowing these incidents aren’t isolated and are part of a bigger problem of the discrimination against and the oppression of fat people makes it harder to deal with. I’d love to fix it, and feel empowered. The last article on xoJane that dealt with a fat-hating bully on the bus received a rash of "Stand up for yourself and it won’t hurt!" and "Toughen up!" comments, largely from skinny people.
But even if I were to lose 200 pounds and become the picture of thin, the girl my mom wanted after all, and a really aesthetically-pleasing human being (maybe), it would not feel better. It would not feel better because I would know that the only reason that people treat me as a human being is because I am thin.
So, having said that, I’m not sure what to do about it. I’m asking this of fat readers specifically, though thin people are welcome to comment as well: What do you do, and how do you deal with fat hate and oppression?