I saw the horror flashing across the faces of the women crowded above me as I slipped down, backwards into the crack between the moving bus and the platform.
Since graduating from university I've been going through a revolving door of retail hell, so I decided to give myself a break and try out au-pairing. New place, free rent, why not?
I accepted a job working with a very nice family, taking care of their son. Things had been going quite well, and about a month was my birthday. My employers, very sweetly, decided to throw me a little birthday celebration.
We had finished dinner and the mother, another au pair that works with the family, and I were the last people left at the table. There was cake, ice cream and an assortment of cookies and other sweets laid out on the table.
This is when the trouble started. I have unfortunately had many negative conversations about weight with people over dessert. Usually, someone in the group exclaims how guilty they feel for eating dessert. This one was by far the worst.
My employer began talking about how much she loves sweets, and how she simply cannot control herself around them, but how it's making it hard for her to lose weight. This initiated a conversation about health, and the negative effects of sugar. I mentioned that I don't really eat many sweets.
"Then why aren't you skinny?" she replied to my statement.
I could feel the air being knocked out of me. I've always been chubby, but I hadn't had someone so bluntly and without warrant comment on my fatness since being teased in middle school.
"I don't know..." was all I managed to stammer out.
"But, I can tell that you are not thin. You can see that your stomach is not flat under your clothes," she persisted.
Again, I sputtered something about genetics.
"You are quite plumpy though, not too bad, but plumpy."
Finally finding some courage, I managed to say, "I think maybe some people are just bigger." My co-worker was able to find her voice and agreed with my sentiment. She must have been able to see how incredibly red my face had become from complete humiliation.
This lead to a barrage of questions: "You eat too much chocolate?" "I only eat chocolate sometimes." "You eat too much sugar then?" Again, "I try not to, I really do." "Well you eat too much then." "I eat like three times a day and don't snack." I sputter out. Cornered, I was trying everything I could to justify my body to this woman.
"Well there must be something wrong with you then, you should get yourself checked out," she replied.
Our unfortunate conversation, or rather her lecturing me and me sitting dumbfounded that people could still be this incredibly ignorant of health and the feelings of others, led her to suggest that I should fast to lose weight and motivate myself. I acknowledged this as completely ridiculous, since I exercise enough every day that I would literally collapse. I understand that many people fast for many valid reasons. Not eating to lose weight? For me, that’s a no.
I managed to say something about my mom having a thyroid condition and maybe that could be it, so I could end the conversation before saying something that would get myself fired.
"Yes, that makes it hard to lose weight. You should go get a blood test to find out so you can start working on this immediately, especially now that you're getting older," she added. (It’s great when someone reminds you you’ve just aged and then throws in that people often gain weight as they age.) She added that otherwise I would get diseases and most likely die.
As I was slowly swallowed into my wasteland of fat and shame, she delivered the final blow: "Eat more cake, or do you want some of these cookies? Eat, eat!" SHE OFFERED ME SECONDS ON CAKE! OR A COOKIE! This, from the same woman that just told me my weight will kill me if I don't get it under control ON MY BIRTHDAY!
I quickly declined, and ran away to my room to listen to "Flawless." I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed in myself for not standing up to her and telling her that she has no right to police my body. Furthermore, as an employer she should be able to comprehend how incredibly inappropriate it is to use your employee’s, or anyone’s, weight as a conversation piece. You can’t exactly scream at your employer and run out of the room…unless you’re into getting fired.
She had good intentions but not tact. Knowing that she struggles with body image, I feel that she was likely projecting her grievances about her own weight on me, for which I can only give her my sympathy
But no one has the right to share their unwarranted opinions about your body with you, simply because your body does not fit into their idea of what a healthy body looks like. No one has the right to tell you what to do with your body, and your weight is no one's business, unless you have asked for help (which, to clarify, I did not).
I truly believe health comes in all sizes -- I exercise, I eat right and I occasionally eat ice cream. I could sit around and mope about this, but I won't. I wish I had defended my right to weigh whatever I want without judgment.
My biggest regret? Not taking seconds on the cake and not eating the cookies. Both were delicious, and if I learned anything from Bruce Bogtrotter in "Matilda," it's that if someone offers you cake and then proceeds to taunt you with it, you eat all the cake! Cake is delicious.