Once, a few years back, I was admiring a stack of tomatoes at the grocery store. I really like tomatoes and this was a fine stack of great big beefsteak tomatoes, awesome for slicing and eating with just a tiny sprinkle of salt. There was another woman similarly regarding the abundance before us. And I, as sometimes happens at the grocery store, made accidental yet friendly eye contact with a stranger.
It really should have just been another random encounter, one where we nodded, bought our fruit, and went on our merry ways. Instead, it turned into a diet sales pitch. My interest in tomatoes was somehow perceived as interest in purchasing some kind of weight-loss program from this strange with whom I had only traded a single glance.
This sort of thing has happened to me quite a lot in my life as a fat person. I was once even waylaid by a gym membership sales person in the swimsuit department of my then-local Wal-Mart. Swimsuit shopping is, for many people of all shapes and sizes, a particularly vulnerable time of life, so that situation was harder to exit gracefully.
What makes me such an irresistible target for folks who sell weight-loss products? I suspect it's my very obvious, very fat body combined with cultural assumptions about how fat people hate themselves and want to lose weight more than anything else. My fatness is enough to signal to some people that I must be invested in changing my appearance because the alternative -- being fine with how I look -- is so unthinkable.
In addition, by being fat and fitnessing in public, I might as well be issuing engraved invitations to folks -- come on and offer commentary, not only on my body but on my efforts. Of course, because I am fat, my efforts are never sufficient to satisfy some people. In their opinion, fat people are obviously Doing It Wrong because otherwise they woudn't be fat.
I say I might as well be issuing party invites but bodies are actually not public property. I am not obligated to listen to anyone else's opinion on my body or on my activity. In fact, I really feel like people need to shut their pieholes when it comes to offering commentary on other people's bodies and activities. The commentary of sometimes-abusive strangers is actually a pretty strong deterrent when it comes to fat people being active in public.
In the intervening years since I had the misfortune of meeting tomato lady, it seems like people shilling weight loss products have only gotten more aggressive. Last night I was on the trail, as I am every Tuesday night, walking with the Central Florida Women Runners, the group I joined because I like being social about these things. I was wearing my typical fitnessing outfit -- leggings and a tank top and running shoes -- plus great big headphones because I don't like feeling like my ears are squished and big red sunglasses because I also don't like staring into the sun on the trip out.
None of this stopped the women coming toward me, their Herbalife T-shirts alerting all and sundry to their allegiance.
It's a free trail, and anyone can walk on it, so I kept up my pace and continued boldly forward -- it was a beautiful evening and, hey, the path is big enough for everyone.
Or so I thought, until one of the women veered over toward me, where I was walking on the edge of the pavement, her arm extended to offer me a handful of samples and her business card.
I recoiled. I refused. I took off my headphones so I could hear myself politely decline apologetically for my lack of interest like it was somehow my fault I failed to respond to her totally invasive sales efforts. (Seriously, who goes to public places just to stalk fat women and press samples of weight-loss products on them?)
That's the part that kills me. I almost apologized to her. Like I was doing something wrong by not wanting to get into the Herbalife scheme. In my head, I was raging. She was spoiling my awesome fitnessing time, which is (as I have said before) some of the most selfish time I spend during any given typical week. But on my face was the bland smile of a woman who seems to have the opposite of bitchy resting face: friendly resting face.
In light of that, what do you do when you're approached by people who have commentary they are just totally dying to share?
I used to be able to whip out a cold "No, thank you" without a thought. But my defenses are down, xoJaners, after a year of living more privately. I am out of practice at stone-facing people whose judgment is implicit in the products they try to sell me. (That's one thing about being fat in public -- you are almost always on your guard.)
So what do I do? First and foremost, I keep showing up. I am currently at a place in my life where I CAN keep showing up, where the harsh audience viewing my body does not intimidate me or cause me more injury than I can handle. If you are not at that place, you take care of you no matter what your body type or fitness level. Because if you fitness in public, you are probably going to experience some commentary.
I am not saying this because it is right. I am saying this because I do not want you to be surprised by it if it happens to you. The person trying to use your body for their own purposes is the person who is doing something wrong.
Second, I will say to the person, "I didn't come here for you. You cannot profit from my body."
Not because I want to be rude -- hopefully it is obvious that I don't -- but because I do want to state my boundaries, which include refusing to allow my body to be a means of profit for someone else. I don't want to apologize; I don't want to preface any of that with "I'm sorry" or whatever automatic apology springs to mind.
Thirdly and finally, I will continue on my way. Because I don't want to dwell on these people. I am fitnessing on the trail because I like feeling my body as it performs movement. I like pushing myself to go a little bit farther a little bit faster. I like keeping an eye out for alligators (because there are alligators) and birds and plants that I recognize. I like smiling at all of the dogs being walked. I don't want anyone to spoil that -- including me by engaging in a drawn-out conversation.
What about you? Is your Fuck Off face in better shape than mine? Have you changed your routine to avoid people who just can't seem to understand that bodies are not public property?
Tell me all about it, please, xoFitnessers! And then show me your best I'm-Fitnessing-Don't-Bother-Me faces.
Marianne posts trail pictures every Tuesday on Instagram and Twitter: @TheRotund.