Fat Talk: Fat-Shaming and My Secret Decoder Ring

So, with the fat shaming. I am over it. I’ve been over it. So over it that I’d think my over-it-ness would be glowing off me like a radioactive cloud. Trouble is, the assholes who have what to say about my body can’t actually see me. They just see FAT WOMAN. I am a faceless, ageless, blob, existing only to poison their fields of vision and offer myself up for their instruction, ridicule, scorn. Yes, sure. But really: I’m not the one.

Man behind me at the bagel place this morning sucks his teeth when I order a cinnamon raisin with cream cheese, says; “And you wonder why you don’t lose weight.”

I turn to give him some heavy side eye (pun entirely intended), say: “Actually, I’m wondering if I’d also like jelly. And of course I’m wondering how it is you think what I eat is any business of yours.”

He screws up his face, asks, “You ever look in the mirror?”

If he only knew! My vanity and I spend more than enough time gazing dreamily into looking glasses. But here is the thing. His answer — asking if I ever look in the mirror — is straight-up stupid. Because here’s the other thing. A fat body is only his business if it’s his body. Punto. And then here’s the last thing. I’ve been clear just how few fucks I give about his opinion, and yet he keeps it going. What could be his problem?

I smile at him — as if he could ever deserve one of my smiles — and tell him the mirror and I have been in a long-term, committed relationship for many years. Surprisingly, he isn’t amused.

“You big black women,” he says, “you always have too much attitude.”

“And it really hurts your feelings, doesn’t it?”

“Nothing about you is worth my time.”

I laugh. “And yet, you’re wasting all this time thinking and talking and worrying about what’s going on with me. Interesting.”

He pulls out his phone, suddenly very interested in the facebook. Right.

I’ve written about foolish, fat-phobic people like this before, people who think they have the right to comment on my body simply because I have the audacity to have my body. In public. Where anyone can see it.


I sound cocky and comfortable in that exchange, but that’s not entirely the case. Yes, I am good with comebacks. I have so many years of practice, I’d better be good. But the bagel place is crammed with people, some of whom I see on a regular basis. It’s never my idea of a good time to be fat-shamed, and certainly not in front of a crowd. I receive no support or warm smiles or acknowledgment of any kind from the people around me — because of course — so I step up and shut this fool down all by myself. Because I am grown and I know how to do that shit. Because there’s no authority I am bound to obey that says I have to take anyone’s crap any day of the week. Still, the whole business leaves me pissed off and uncomfortable. Leaves me playing the moments over and over in my head. The ugliness has been silenced, but its sting and stench linger.


I’ve also said in the past that, whenever someone comments on my body, I know they are really talking about themselves. It’s really just always true. Always and always and always. It’s hard to see sometimes, so you have to look carefully. It helps if you have a Fat Shame Decoder Ring. I’ve got one. It’s lovely, forged in the fires of Mount Doom and everything. One ring to read them all.


And so, I’ll decode this man’s comments. His snarky, “And you wonder why you don’t lose weight,” is clearly directed at himself, wondering why he hasn’t been able to achieve some goal he thinks he’s supposed to want. And when he looks in the mirror, he’s reminded of that perceived failure, of just how much he hasn’t achieved. It would be sad if he weren’t so annoying, so ready to scrape some of his self-hate off and try smearing it on my beautiful brown skin.

His next comment is definitely for me. I do have far too much attitude. Far too much. Much more than I am supposed to have given how society sees me. I should be humble, should be trying to hide myself, should be well and truly ashamed that other people are forced to see the grotesquerie that is me. Instead, I walk around like a person who deserves life, who deserves a bagel and a schmear. My audacity really gets on his nerves. After all, if he knows how deeply he has failed at whatever task he’s set himself, how can I — so clearly failing to meet society’s standard of female beauty — have the nerve to mind my own damn business standing in the bagel shop? How can I dare to order breakfast in the sight of hardworking assholes like him, people who are really out here trying?

His last comment is a toss-up. It’s meant for both of us. He wants me to know he’s not actually focused on me — because of course — but he’s also breaking my heart just a little bit by telling me that nothing about himself is worth his time.

That’s a sad declaration to make about one’s self, so yes, breaking my heart … but only the tiniest of bits. Because, as unfortunate as it may be that this man doesn’t find himself worth his own time, his insecurity and self-loathing don’t make his behavior toward me any more acceptable. It’s always true that the things people say to me reveal the things they fear or despise in themselves. I’m still left with the public shaming, with that effluvium drying on my skin and stuck in my hair.

The decoder ring only works after the fact, long after the ugliness has passed. Because it’s for me, not for whoever’s words I’m decoding. No matter how well or poorly I handle the unpleasant moment, I need to handle it on my own. Telling whichever awful person is in my face that they’re really talking about themselves will serve no helpful purpose. So I say whatever I say, hold whatever silence I choose, keep my head up. But then I carry that bitterness around with me, even after I think I’ve moved on. It keeps creeping back in.

That’s when I need to slip on the decoder ring and remind myself what was really going on so I can remember that I am exactly the same as I was before encountering that stranger and their mess — just as tall, just as black, just as fat, just as fine, and that nothing they’ve had to say changes any of that.

I’m glad to have the ring in my jewelry box, though I think sometimes it would be preferable to move through the world in a sound-proof booth.

One in a series of essays inspired by reading Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger.
If you haven’t read my ground rules, please take a look before commenting. Thank you.

For 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I fell months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it seemed highly unlikely that I’d write 52 essays by year’s end. But then I dedicated my NaNoWriMo to writing essays, and did a pretty good job of catching up! I’ve got to move house before the end of December, so I’m unlikely to reach 52 essays. Still, I’ve written more this year than in the last two combined, and that adds up to a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!

Coming in like a lion …

Oh, March. I see you, over here making sure no one forgets about you, takes you for granted as the month when spring starts. I see you. I get it. You want to flex your muscles, remind us that you can be tough. I get it. I do.

But …

But a blizzard warning? A blizzard?

How sway?

We had a mini-storm on Friday, and I was plenty impressed with that. It was much more snow than I expected, certainly much more than I wanted. And it was enough. Gone before I left work. Perfect. Foolishly, I thought that was winter’s last blast. Ha. Apparently, tomorrow night’s storm could leave us Tuesday with up to a foot of snow.

I do not approve.

For a change, however, my house is well stocked. Not because I had the storm in mind but because this whole being-my-own-cabana-boy thing means I’ve been shopping regularly, making sure I have adequate fixings in the house for a variety of meals. Today I made a variation on the yummy rice-nut loaf my sister makes, baked some carrot almond bread and more chocolate chip cookies to take to work tomorrow. There’s not chance we’ll be snowed in, but now there’s also no chance I’ll go hungry or have to trek to Foodtown in the snow!

But really, March. I’m done. I know we’ve had an inappropriately-mild winter, but I’m still done. By the time the Ides roll around, I’m ready for you to be shaking out your tresses in the sun, smiling at the first bloom of crocuses and the beginnings of buds on the forsythia bushes. This blizzard business? Nope. You can keep it. I am not a fan.

It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

I wish it was my rolling pins! — SOLSC 6

Years ago, when I knew a little Spanish but before I started taking classes, I was in the airport in Mexico City, sitting near my gate, waiting for the connecting flight to Veracruz. A man came up and asked me why I had a cane. He asked in Spanish, so I endeavored to answer in Spanish. A simple response, just needed to say, “Tengo problemas con mis rodillas.” (I have problems with my knees.) Instead of rodillas, however, I told him I had problems with my rodillo… my um … rolling pins. Seriously, though, they are practically the same word, it’s an honest mistake.

Well, tonight I’m wishing for some rolling pin problems to swap out for my knee problems. For the last week, I’ve been walking (sitting, sleeping  …)  with almost constant pain. This is the kind of pain having my knees replaced should have eliminated. Recovery from the first surgery was such a cakewalk … and then there’s my current experience with knee number two. I was doing pretty well for a while but have definitely begun a rapid slide backward — seven months into healing and I’m walking with my cane again. This was definitely not on the agenda. I’ll see my surgeon on the 17th, but I wish I was seeing him tomorrow.

Instead, in the morning, my rolling pins and I will be going to physical therapy, which I hope will provide some relief in the interim.

It’s Slice of Life Story Challenge time! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

SOL image 2014

Where’s Gordon Ramsay when I need him?

Today I had brunch. Today I ordered scrambled eggs with home fries. Today I received a plate of half raw, half burnt home fries and two eggs made into an unseasoned omelette. This is the second time this year that I’ve ordered eggs and been served something with no salt, no pepper, no parsley — not even as garnish. And when I’ve complained, I’ve been told, “You didn’t ask for that.”


The first season-less omelette was whisked away from me when it was clear that I wasn’t going to accept the “You didn’t ask for that” response. The cook came to my table and asked what was wrong with the eggs. He had a little bit of attitude when he came out, but he accepted my complaint and went back to the kitchen and made me a new omelette — complete with salt, pepper, and parsley.

But I am cranky thinking about today’s food fiasco. When I told my server that the potatoes were both- under and over-cooked and that the eggs a) weren’t scrambled, and b) were tasteless, he just shrugged.

“It’s what you ordered.”

“I didn’t order raw potatoes mixed with burnt potatoes. And I didn’t order a bland omelette.”

“I don’t know what you want me to do.”

“I want you to take it back and ask the cook to make it again, correctly.”

“Oh, he won’t do that.” (And he actually had the temerity to begin turning away from me, as if the conversation had ended.)

“Of course he’ll do that. I’m not going to eat this. And I’m not going to pay for it.”

“It’s what you ordered.”

“Please bring the manager over.”

He gave me some Grade A side eye, but went and got the manager. As they walked over, I heard him explaining that I was a troublemaker. (And that’s okay, actually. I am a bit of a troublemaker. And, while I’m not usually a person who sends food back to the kitchen, sometimes I am. And when I send food back, I have a good reason, and I’m happy to make some trouble until I’m properly served. This isn’t about being hangry. It’s about the fact that those eggs and potatoes were going to cost me $12, and for that price tag, they needed to be as close to magnificently delicious as possible.)

The manager had a little side eye of his own, already prepared to be annoyed with me, seeing as I was a troublemaker and all. I smiled my sweet smile and used my nice voice and told him what I’d ordered and what was wrong with what I’d been served. I even invited him to try the raw potatoes. I said I was surprised to find that it was a problem to have the food made to my liking. I told him it was good to know the restaurant’s policy so that I could be sure to stay away … and let all my friends know.

Which had the desired effect of inspiring him to have the food taken away and a new order prepared.

Why was this so difficult? It is a thing now to serve entirely bland eggs? Do people no longer know what scrambled eggs are? Have the days of pleasing the customer gone the way of the Dodo? Is Chef Ramsay looking for a new establishment to highlight on Kitchen Nightmares?

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

Insult to Injury (SOLSC 15)

Really? Was I really just on the train next to a man who called me Mr. My President’s name in an effort to insult me? This after making hog-calling noises and chanting “la fea” (ugly woman) at me for five straight minutes. When none of that had any effect, he moved on to, “Another dirty Obama.”


I’m just tired, people. To the marrow of my bones. Tired.

And, too, there is the stupidity:  he really thinks comparing me to a well-educated, intelligent, powerful person is an effective slur? Please. Whether he thought he was comparing me to Mr. or Mrs., he needs to develop his understanding of the concept of insults.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe being well-educated, intelligent, and powerful are three things to which he doesn’t aspire. In that case, his slur was right on target.

But the Obama business aside, what was any of that about? What about me made him need to do any of what he did? Yes, my size makes the hog-calling an easy default position … you know, for a jerk. And, if he doesn’t like big women (or brown women?), then I would certainly be ugly in his eyes. But really, is he traveling the city hog-calling and “la-fea-ing” brown-skinned women of size from one borough to the next? That seems like an invitation to get smacked around a good deal.

I know, it’s the Ides of March and all, and I should clearly have been on my guard. I also know that his ugliness is his way of telling me about himself and has nothing to do with me. Still. I am just brain-freezingly tired.  I am … but then I feel guilty because I’m too over this crap to engage.   “Another dirty Obama?” Is this who we are?

And I’m always and always asking that question, aren’t I?  I really debated with myself about posting this story.  Every time I write about something like this, people express shock that such a thing could happen to me.  And that’s okay.  Obviously, I’m shocked, too.  But this isn’t just happening to me.  It’s happening to people of color everywhere.  And I don’t know what to do with my shock, or yours, or anyone else’s.

And this, of course, is the real problem with my comic: there is too much material, and the volume is ever increasing.

michelle-obama-vogue-april-2013I’m saying. Punto.


Find the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers.