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  • Becky Adams

I Could Have Done Better

And I'm sad about it. But I promise you, it won't happen again.



I recently read Aubrey Gordon’s brilliant book, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.  As a woman in my 50s, I’m aware of anti-fat bias and the ridiculousness of diet culture, but the book inspired my resolve to actively push back against it.  Then I had the opportunity to do so, and I failed.  I can’t stop thinking about it.

Wednesday afternoon I accompanied my adult daughter to a doctor’s appointment.  She got in line to check in at the window, behind a pregnant woman holding a toddler, waiting with her male partner.  Nobody was at the window, and the man was grumbling about it as though they had been waiting for some time.  I heard him say something like, “She’s probably in the back eating a big fat sandwich.”  My daughter sat down next to me to wait, and we exchanged sidelong glances:  what a jerk.


After a moment, a young woman came to the counter and advised the couple that the toddler could not remain in the office; it’s their policy.  The couple argued with her; the receptionist glanced around the waiting room at other unchecked patients and asked the couple to have a seat.  She then checked in the other patients and went to find assistance for the couple.  In her absence, the man made disparaging remarks about the young woman’s weight while his obviously embarrassed pregnant partner begged him to behave.  I glared at him from across the room, but I didn’t say anything.


My daughter was called in for her appointment, and a supervisor emerged to deal with the rude people.  She explained to the couple once again that the policy prohibits toddlers from remaining in the office.  She suggested that the man take the child down the hall; the pregnant woman explained that he’s only the father of the unborn child, so the toddler “is my responsibility.”  The man belligerently informed the supervisor that he would be staying right here.  She explained that his choices were to wait elsewhere or be escorted from the office by security.  He snapped, “Try me!”


I thought about taking out my badge and using my mean lady voice to tell him to leave.  I reached for my purse.  The pregnant woman gathered her bag & child and stood up to leave, telling her partner that she wanted to go.  He snarled that they’d find some other office and waved HIS BIBLE at the supervisor and shouted at her, “You need some Jesus!”  They huffed their way out, a horrible mediocre white man, an overwhelmed pregnant woman, and a trapped toddler doomed to someday repeat all the behaviors he’s just witnessed.


Why didn’t I say, “What do you mean by ‘a big fat sandwich?’”  Why didn’t I say, “Your abusive behavior is not ok!”  Why didn’t I say, “I think you’re super ugly and I can’t believe anyone had sex with you, but I have good manners so I’m not saying it out loud.”  Why?  All those words popped into my head, and I did tell the pregnant lady, “Girl, you can do better!” as she walked by me on her way out, but I was wearing a mask and I don’t think she heard me.


I wanted to stand up and order the man to leave, but I didn’t want to undermine the woman at the desk.  I didn’t want her to feel like I didn’t trust her ability to handle the situation.  I wanted to stand up for the lovely young fat woman, but instead I felt sorry for the little boy and scared for the pregnant woman’s well-being.  I’ve seen a lot of badly behaved men over the years, and I know an abuser when I see one.  His utter lack of filter and completely unreasonable demeanor made me suspect a traumatic brain injury or developmental disability.  I figured that if I challenged him, he would escalate, and maybe the mom and children would be in danger.


I feel like I’ve let Aubrey down and I’ve failed fat women.  I was not a fat activist, and I should have been.  Nobody in that office took that man’s anti-fat slurs seriously, but they were still mean and hurtful, and I wish I had said so.  That vile man escalated anyway, and I could have at least set an example for the child, his mother, and the other women in the waiting room.  I could have been a cog in the wheel that grinds up the patriarchy, that smashes the glass ceiling, that stomps out these unnatural beauty standards.  I could have shown that young fat woman that she is valued and cared for, that she deserves respect.  I need to do better.


We all need to do better.  Just because you’re obviously lacking in intelligence doesn’t mean you get to say malicious things to other people.  Even if you’re aggressively unhinged, you don’t get a free pass.  Even if you think you’re making a joke—you’re not.  We need to stop giving out free cruelty passes for being unenlightened, uninformed, or uninterested.  We need to teach each other and help each other, even if it’s scary or uncomfortable.


Writing it isn’t enough.  Thinking it isn’t enough.  Believing it isn’t enough.  The only way to make it happen is with actions.  I promise you, Aubrey Gordon, next time I will not squander my chance to be a fat activist.  I just wish it wasn’t so easy to predict that there will be a next time.

 



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