So, one of the things about being a fat person who moves through a culture populated with aggressive fat haters is that there are times you are obliged to deal with thin people who just need to express to you that you are fat.
This is something different than the thin strangers who casually express that your being fat is wrong or disgusting or must be fixed. This is something more like Austin Powers [CN: video autoplays at link] being unable to stop himself shouting "MOLE!" at a man with a mole on his face.
Which itself is a commentary on the humans who can't seem to function with other humans who have some sort of physical difference, unless and until that physical difference is acknowledged.
If you're not a fat person, nor a person with any other physical difference on which any number of strangers feel obliged to comment, seemingly unable to breathe until the
But it is something I and many other fat folks are forced to navigate on a regular basis, this situation of interacting with a thin person who can't bear to leave unaddressed the very presence of our fat. They need us to know that they see we are fat, and they need us to acknowledge that we realize we are fat.
It's the only way to alleviate their discomfort with being around a fat person.
Earlier this week, we needed to have someone do some work at the house, and the man who arrived was an older thin white man. He was pleasant enough, for the most part, and chatted amiably with me about his own dogs, as Dudley and Zelda met him at the door.
But he was giving me That Look, the look that I have come to know, through a lifetime of experience, as the look of a person who feels awkward about my being all fat and stuff in their presence. It's distinct from explicit fat hatred, because it's not haughty. It's uncomfortable.
So I steeled myself for the painfully awkward hints at my fatness that I knew were imminent. I didn't have to wait long.
He started with comments about Dudley the Greyhound, and how thin he is. It's amazing (not amazing at all) how many conversations about my weight with strangers begin with observations about Dudley being so thin.
And then it went to Zelda, the gateway fatty in the house.
Dudley, the man observed, looks like he runs around an awful lot. Zelda, he then pronounced, looks as though she doesn't run around as much. Naturally, this was not a comment made to me, but at me, in the guise of speaking directly to Zelda: "You don't look like you run around as much!"
It was something for me to hear. Despite not being said to me.
The thing with Zelda is that she's got Cushing's Disease, one of the key (and most visible) identifiers of which is the appearance of a pot belly. I don't feel inclined to get into a discussion of my dog's healthcare with strangers, but it is constantly infuriating to me to face the implicit accusation that I don't take good care of my beloved Zelda when I spend inordinate amounts of time and money on her veterinary care, medication, and diet to keep her alive.
Especially because the comments usually aren't really about Zelda. They're about me.
The man made several other comments about Zelda's weight, before he met Olivia in the kitchen. She sat on the kitchen table, greeting him noisily with her happy mews. He reached out to pet her, saying, "Looks like you don't miss many meals, either. Your mom sure keeps all of you well fed."
Years ago, at this point, I would have been feeling bad. I would have been feeling defensive, and upset, and mortified. Now, I just reveled in standing by while he continued his running commentary, refusing to acknowledge any of it, letting him stew in his discomfort with my body.
Why not. It was his discomfort. Not mine. And I had not the slightest desire to relieve him of it.
I also know, from a lifetime of experience, that what I was meant to do, what I was supposed to do as a Good Fatty Who Cares Deeply About Not Making Thin People Uncomfortable with Her Existence, was make a self-effacing joke about how I guess we could all stand to lose a few pounds in this house haha, a joke that telegraphed my awareness, and my attendant shame, that I am fat.
I don't do that anymore.
If he really wanted to let the air out of the colossal zeppelin of awkwardness he'd created, he could have just done what he really wanted and needed, which is look me square in the eye and tell me, "You're fat!"
But that, of course, would have been rude.
Unlike his tremendously subtle attempts to yank it out of me with passive aggressive conversations with my pets.
[Related Reading: True Tales of Gender Essentialism at the Dog Park.]