Last night as I rounded the last corner before the homestretch at the end of my evening walk, I found myself in possession of that enviable post-workout energy spurt, the feeling that even though I’ve just purposely taxed my muscles and cardiovascular system with heavy footfalls over hilly terrain for 3 miles, I actually feel better than I did when I started. It doesn’t always happen that way for me, I admit. Most days I find that the first 15 minutes of my walk are spent trying to quell the internal bitching that runs on a constant loop in my brain, a steady stream of various versions of “This sucks!” that I have to work to silence, reminding myself that they’ll pass soon enough once I find my rhythm and the audio book du jour sucks me into the story it’s telling. Most of the time my post workout moments are spent in equal appreciation of the fact that I did what I set out to do, and that it’s done with for the day.
But last night I felt downright buoyant, sucked into a great story being broadcast from my ear buds (you can have my iPod when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers!), and decided to take advantage of that feeling and stay out for a bit longer and enjoy it. I eyed the flower beds and deftly pulled the weeds that were sprouting out from under the mulch, I added some river rock to the strip below the downspout in the front yard to facilitate drainage, and I unrolled the hose off of it’s reel and set about positioning the sprinkler to give the front yard a good soaking as the sun went down. As I worked to make sure that the arc of the spray was exactly where I wanted it, I bent down to adjust the stops.
As I fiddled with the sprinkler head, I saw a car as it came to the corner of our street and turned in the direction of my house. The aging Honda’s windows were down, and as it turned up the street toward me, the car slowed. I looked toward it and saw the three young men in the car glancing at each other, and then at me. As they passed by, the driver leaned out the window, and gave an exaggerated wolf whistle and the two other men in the car began to laugh and one yelled out “Work it, Fat Bitch!” before they all three burst into giggles and sped away.
Acting instinctually, I responded by raising my arm and displaying the second finger on my right hand in a prominent way to them as they drove off (classy, no?), while watching their car disappear over the hill. When they were out of sight, it took a few moments before I realized that I was still flipping the bird to the empty road. It occurred to me that I’d better check to make sure that none of my neighbors were standing upwind of me right now, lest they mistake my rude gesture as meant for them. Thankfully, I found myself the lone figure standing outside. I would like to tell you how little the events of the previous minute or two affected me, how I shook my head at the silly little boys and their childish insults, and then set back about the business enjoying the post-workout high that I’d earned that night. I’d like to, but I can’t. I was too busy standing in my front yard trying not to cry.
This is not exactly my first experience with this kind of unsolicited vocalization. In my 38 years on this earth, I have had countless encounters of a similar nature with the peanut gallery. I’ve been the victim of drive by moo-ings, had diet advice directed loudly in my direction (helpful things like “Why don’t you lose some weight, fat ass!” as my 12 year old self rode by on my ten speed), and heard perfect strangers mutter unkind things about me under their breath (or at the top of their lungs). I’ve been passed notes that expressed their displeasure about my physique, and even received strange hand written notes about new weight loss products in the mail. People have been able to convey to me just how offensive the very presence of my fat body was to them without them having to say a word, and I’ve been judged and derided in public with more arched eyebrows and disgusted smirks than most averaged sized people will ever seen in a lifetime. The unapologetic hatred that obesity unleashes in so many people is such a common phenomenon that you’d think that I’d be used to it by now, that I could laugh it off as societal ignorance and go on about my merry way. You’d think.
A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of fellow weight loss blogger Diana, I added the movie “Disfigured” to our Blockbuster Online queue. Just last week, it showed up in the mailbox and I popped it in the DVD player and sat down to watch. It’s a charming little indie flick about the unlikely friendship between two women, one obese and the other anorexic, who meet at a fat acceptance group meeting (While not a cinematic tour de force, it was certainly a worthwhile use of 2 hours of my time and I think it would be an excellent conversation starter, check it out).
In several scenes during the film, while the obese woman is out for her regular walk near the beach a homeless man taunts her with jokes about her weight, berating her and even calling for others standing by to call the coast guard, because “we got a beached whale” up here. And each day, she bites her tongue choosing to walk on by despite his continued taunts. Finally, one day she can stand no more and asks him what his problem is. He tells her that he’s simply exercising his first amendment right of free speech, and she screams back at him “Oh really? Well, you live in a cardboard box, you’re just a smelly, broken down, homeless, drug addicted, alcoholic, stinky, scabby human disaster area!”
He looks back at her and responds, “Maybe. But at least I’m not fat.”
And if that just doesn’t say it all, then I don’t know what does. I believe that my obesity scares the crap out of people, makes them confront their own worst fears about what it might be like to lose the tenuous control they have on their own bodies and lives. Hating me is easy, it helps them believe that no matter what disappointments their own life has handed them or how grievous their own failings are, that it could always be worse. There are so many loathsome, horrid things that a human being can be. A terrorist. A serial killer. A pedophile. A wife-beater, a child-killer, an ex-NFL player serving time for running a dog-fighting ring.* A liar, an adulterer, a crazy communist dictator who oppresses his people. You can be stupid, or cruel, or insane, or a drug addicted homeless man, or even a twenty something, inbred, 1996 Honda driving fool with a talent for whistling and a loud mouth…but count your blessings because it could be worse: You could be FAT.
As I stood there last night and stared up at the now deserted street, it occurred to me that the quality of what I was feeling wasn't as familiar to me as the situation that prompted it was. I wasn't standing in my yard with my shoulders slumped and holding back tears of shame. I was standing with my shoulders back, my chin held high, and the tears that threatened to fall down my cheeks were tears of rage, of anger over a lifetime spent believing that every good thing about me was mitigated by the fat on my body. I'm not willing to believe that anymore. So I stood there for a moment longer, my arm still oustretched in a one finger salute--not at the car of buffoons that was long gone by now, but at the whole damn world.
*special thanks to my friend Bill for correcting my sports association faux pas.
Been a long time...
1 week ago