I’m sitting in a coffee shop doing work, and a bubbly man comes in. I overhear his conversation with the shop owner:
“Can I have a donut please?”
“I really want four, but then I’d be morbidly obese!”
“Well no, it’s okay. You just have to go to the gym to burn them off.”
And I think they continue to banter with cliches, but it’s all drowned out by the ringing in my ears. I feel my body tense up, my face gets hot. My heart beats faster and harder and I think about the 17 years that I spent entrenched in diet culture, and how no matter how thin and fit and active I was, and no matter how much I deprived myself of pleasure and beat myself up for not being good enough, thin enough, virtuous enough, no matter how brutally I punished myself for bingeing, no matter how hard I wished to fit into the clothes that my peers could wear, I never busted out of the ‘obese’ category on the bmi chart. I think about how now, I’m probably close to being classified as ‘morbidly obese.’ I know this is an opportunity. I want to say something. I want to tell them what this conversation, which is so clearly innocuous to them, has done to me. I want to educate them.
I choose to focus on the customer. I meet him at the door:
“Excuse me, do you have a moment? Or are you in a hurry to get somewhere?”
“No, I have a minute!”
He’s friendly and bright eyed.
“Thank you. I just couldn’t help but overhear your conversation just now and I feel the need to follow it up with a potentially awkward conversation with you.”
“It’s just that I’m not too far from being considered “morbidly obese” myself, and so hearing you talk like that was a bit upsetting for me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Ya know, I used to be a lot bigger, and so I think I just talk like that as a way of dealing with it.”
I can feel his pain. I can tell he doesn’t know anything about body positivity or size acceptance and that he is still struggling.
“I hear you. And I just wanted to tell you the effect that overhearing your comments had on me today.”
“I understand. Thanks for saying something. Can I give you a hug?”
And he leaves. And I wish I could have launched into so much more. And I wonder if I said the right thing. Maybe next time I’ll say something like, “I’m a body positive and size acceptance activist, and I want you to know that joking about how eating too many donuts will cause morbid obesity reinforces the stigma, prejudice, and assumptions that are so pervasive in our society against fat people. It can also be triggering and upsetting for people who have been classified as ‘morbidly obese’ or anyone else who feels oppressed by fatphobia.”
I pull up a bmi calculator on google and I guess at how much I weigh (I haven’t weighed myself in 2 years), plug in the numbers. I test numbers lower and lower to see how much I would have to weigh to be classified as ‘overweight’, and how much to be classified as ‘normal.’ I try to imagine what I would look like if these were the numbers before me on the scale and I shudder. It makes no sense to me. It isn’t me. Tears well up and my throat closes.
I open a blank word document.
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