Today, a friend of a friend posted this picture on facebook.
Apparently, the woman who received this note parked next to two guys. It was a tight fit, so she had to squeeze to get out of her car. When she returned to her car from shopping, the other car was gone and this was left on her windshield.
I can only imagine how she felt. I’ve been there. I’ve witnessed people I love be there. My heart goes out to her, and how she must have felt in that moment–cheeks flushing, heart pounding, feeling like a bucket of cold water had just been thrown over her. I’m sure her weight was not what she was thinking about when she returned to her car from shopping. Maybe she was thinking about going home and getting supper for her family. Maybe she was thinking about whatever she had just bought at Ace. Maybe she was worrying about something that happened at work. I can almost guarantee you she was not thinking about her size.
But these two men had to make sure she was.
Beyond the rudeness, the cruelty, the idiocy of their actions. Beyond the fact that it just highlights how a woman’s body, to many people, is only meant to look attractive to them–and HOW DARE any woman not conform to that. Never mind the problem of a woman only having value if she is a certain size, race, able-bodiedness, etc. Never mind how unthinkable it is that anyone would leave a note this hurtful to someone a stranger who didn’t so much as speak to them. All of that aside . . . what really bothers me is that, if confronted, these two young (I assume) men would make all sorts of excuses, and undoubtedly one of those excuses would be something like, “Look, really we were helping her. She obviously needs to lose some weight.”
I am here to tell you now that unkind words have never helped anyone make any kind of lasting change for the good of their health.
The ironic thing is, these men would probably never be satisfied. If they saw the woman who posted the picture eating a salad at McDonald’s, or working out at the gym, or huffing along the bike trail trying to jog, they would still feel the need to make a crack. And they would feel justified in it, because she deserved it for being fat.
I am here to tell you that the world does not feel like a safe place for a fat woman.
It doesn’t feel safe because you never know where the crack is going to come from. It might be from a stranger in the Ace Hardware parking lot. It might be your doctor (true story). It might be someone you were trying to let merge in front of you in traffic (also true story: they rolled their windows down and asked, “Could you tell me where the donut shop is?” and then laughed and drove away). It might be your own family members. It doesn’t matter how often it happens–you always feel blindsided. So you begin to put up walls. Walls that are hard to take down, even around the people who love you. Walls that make it hard for people to love you. Walls that make you flip out and fight or wither and hide after the slightest jab, no matter how light-hearted.
I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be like this.
We can and must crusade to change the world, of course we must. We must teach our kids to treat every person with respect, whether they find them attractive or not. We must treat each other with love and kindness.
But–more importantly–we must learn to do this for ourselves.
The world will never completely change. People will always continue to be cruel. Learning to love yourself is the biggest, baddest armor you can give yourself. And it is only then that any kind of real change to your health or size can happen.
No one can shame someone into losing weight. It just doesn’t work. And self-loathing-induced dieting is only effective for so long. There are only two options: starve yourself to death or start gaining weight back. After a youth spent restricting and binge exercising, gaining was what my body decided to do. No matter how much hate I heaped on myself for what I was becoming, I couldn’t reverse the upward trend.
I am certainly no weight loss expert, and I have a long way to go myself–in both improving my health and in learning to love myself. It will be a long road. But you know what helped me get to the place where I could start to lose some weight? Loving myself, at least part of the time. Surrounding myself with people who loved me unconditionally. Not tolerating any kind of body shaming from people in my life–even if it meant making the difficult choice to cut people out of my life. Dating men who told me (and meant it!) that I am beautiful, sexy, desirable exactly the way I am. Knowing that if I stayed exactly the way I was I’d be just fine. That’s when things started to change.
I visited family in Southern California over Christmas, and like any thawing Midwesterner I wanted to be at and in the ocean as much as possible. My cousin laughed and took pictures as I splashed in the Pacific on Christmas Day.
When I saw the pictures she took, I wanted to cry. “What a whale of a woman,” I thought.
I posted the picture on a facebook board I frequent, seeking relief from the mean voices in my head. The biggest thing that surprised me was how many women said, “You are so brave for wearing a swimsuit in public! I couldn’t do that!” Women smaller than me. Much smaller than me.
That reminded me of how far I had come. I wore a swimsuit in Ventura and a wetsuit in San Diego (second only to LA in terms of SoCal shallowness) and you know what? I didn’t give a fuuuuuuuug. I figured I would never see those people again. I noticed the disgusted looks I got. As a bigger woman you’re always in tune with that. But I just didn’t care. I loved myself enough to do what I wanted to do, which was to be healthy and active over the holidays.
I am not friends with the woman who posted the picture of the note on facebook. But if I were, I would say: I hope you love yourself. And if you don’t, I hope you work on that first. I know that the world is especially cruel to an overweight woman, but people will always find something wrong with you. Don’t worry about changing your body–worry about changing your mind.
I am here to tell you that everything else will follow.