For some reason, I am a lightning rod for random personal comments from strangers. In particular, at the facility I work at, every month or two, I have a new story of someone pulling me aside to tell me what they think of my body, most of which is excessively personal and reflective of my size. I’ve described my body type before, and I am by no means slender – but I’m also not a plus size. The image is me and my dog, taken a few weeks ago while my husband and I were out for a walk.
So these random interactions have ranged from a lady coming up to me on the sidewalk to tell me that she has been meaning to talk to me for “ages!”, to tell me about having had a breast reduction many years ago, that it was the best thing she had ever done, and to go on to suggest that I should have the same thing done. Please note, I had never had any interactions with this woman before that day beyond a nod of acknowledgement of mutual existence when passing. The conversation went on far longer than I would have liked, and was enhanced by her thick Austrian accent. I’ve also had a random lady in the pool stop me to tell me that I should really be a plus size model – I think she meant that as a compliment.
Further interactions involved a couple calling me over to them while I was with a patient, to ask if I was on a diet, because it looked like I’d lost weight. They also went on to say that I reminded them of Dolly Parton, apparently something about my eyes. Another lady asked me if I was a physiotherapist, and when I told her no, was disappointed. I was curious as to why, and she let me know that it was because I wasn’t skinny like all those other physiotherapists, the ones who had told her she needed to lose weight in order to take some pressure off of her knees. There have been others, but that was the highlight reel.
The most recent interaction by far takes the cake: An ex patient, one who had been somewhat unpleasant to deal with in large part because he made it very clear that although he wanted to get the benefit of my education and experience, he did not think that he should have to pay the fees associated with treatment. Mildly offensive, but not the end of the world. Anyways, he came in and asked if he could interview me, as he was a freelance journalist and was writing an article. I’ve had various other individuals and media outlets ask to interview me with regard to my work before, and have accommodated them. That being the case, I felt that it would be reasonable to give him five minutes of my time to answer his questions, which I assumed would be about my profession.
No, no, I was so wrong. He let me know that he was writing an article for a plus size women’s magazine (quiet alarm bells started to ring in my head, but there was still the potential to have a health and fitness focus… alas, no) with a focus on the idea that some men might actually find the larger ladies attractive. At this point I was just staring across the table at him in incredulity. He continued: “And since you’re someone of that body type…” At that point I am quite sure I was shooting daggers out of my eyeballs, because he trailed off into stutters and said “Oh, I’ve offended you.” Which I confirmed. The man didn’t know when to stop, because he plowed on, asking something about whether I felt that the media had an affect on me, and that it’s unfair, while again reassuring me that he, the paragon of virtue that he was, was one of said men who would lower their standards to consider larger women to be attractive. At this juncture I will point out that this is a man well into his 60’s, and frankly not one of those rare ones who manage to span 3+ decades to be attractive to your average 30 year old woman.
I was slightly flabbergasted. Between his audacity in starting the conversation, his assumption of my size and self perception, and the fact that he continued, despite my clear revulsion, it took me a few moments to collect myself to respond. Basically I just said that of course the media affects me, it affects everyone, and then finished with “we’re done here.” and walked away. As we were in my professional forum, and I value my work, I didn’t bother tearing the strip off of him that was so tempting. Taking the high road was possibly less satisfying, but it does mean my professional reputation remains intact, something that would have been hard to maintain had there been bloodshed.
Walking away I felt a weird combination of upset, judged, defiant, and used. I do not understand what messed up little part of his brain considered that an appropriate topic to bring up with me, or why, once it was clear that I was not open to it, he felt the need to keep talking. He definitely hit a few nerves with me – I’ve mentioned a history of disordered eating and body confidence issues before – but thankfully I have been able to recognize that his opinions are not my problem.
I’ve always been a bit of a beacon to the stranger parts of the people around me, and most of the time I find a way to process and see it as funny. This one was harder to do that with, because it was so brazen and unexpected. I’ve fired him as a patient, and he is not welcome at the clinic under any circumstances. And if he tries to communicate with me inside of the recreation facility, I may have to talk to the recreation coordinator about getting his privileges revoked. For now, as long as he gives me a wide berth, I won’t go that far. I think it needs to be more clear to people in general that, however much you have the right to watch, assess, judge, and form opinions about other people, sharing them without invitation is still rude and inappropriate. I don’t walk around with a sign on my forehead saying “Tell me what you think! Please!!”, so just stop. Even if you think it’s a complement, stop. If I wanted to know (and sometimes I do), I’d ask.
Still trying to find a way for this to be funny.