When I first met you, in the lobby of our apartment building, I really liked you. You seemed charming and had a friendly smile—and you *really* won me over when you shared insider goss about our neighbours. After that, I smiled and said hi every time I saw you.
Then one day in passing, you made a comment about my outfit. “Wow, look at you! Va-va-voom!” Inwardly I cringed, but didn’t say anything, knowing that you’re happily partnered up with the man who owns the cute flower shop up the street. But then the next time I saw you, things got weirder. “The girls are out today, rawr!” you said, staring at my chest. I started feeling pretty damn uncomfortable after that, and so I avoided you the next time I saw you, quickly strolling past with my head down while you chatted with another neighbour in the driveway.
A few months ago, I was walking to the subway and there you were, directly in my path, taking the trash out from your partner’s business. You smiled and waved at me and I mumbled an awkward hello. Then you said something to me that I’ll probably never forget, though I wish I could. In case you don’t remember, this is how the exchange went:
As you wheeled the garbage bin (which I was tempted to push you into) back from the curb, you told me you were on your way to go meet a client. This is when I first found out that you are a personal trainer. “Cool,” I said, trying desperately to wrap up the convo. “If I ever need a trainer, I know where to go.” Then you asked: “Do you work out?”
This is when your eyes got intense and you switched modes; one I recognized immediately as the face of someone who is about to give me *advice*. “I do some walking and swimming,” I said, mentioning that the bilateral hip replacement surgery I had in 2010 makes cardio exercise tough. “Swimming is great,” you said, and my chest felt a little lighter. But then came the blow: “Also… Spend less time in the grocery store.” My heart stopped. “You don’t need to eat chips every night.”
From there, I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember my face burning. I think I rolled my eyes and made a half-joke, like “yeah, the Ruffles call to me.” After being confronted with situations like this so many times, I simply did not have the energy to school you on the spot about why it’s so inappropriate to comment on someone’s food choices. Also, my feelings were fucking hurt. I actually avoided stopping at the grocery store on my way home that night.
People like you take power away from women like me all the time. You dish out praise a little bit at a time, only to blindside us with criticism about our bodies. And for the record, I know this is not a “personal trainer” thing—I have body-positive discussions with my dear friend Ashley of Royally Fit all the time. And she has never, ever hit me with such invasive, unsolicited “advice.” In fact, the last time I saw her, we shared falafels for dinner and washed it all down with Coke. Because she doesn’t police my habits and I don’t police hers.
And let me tell you, John, the grocery store is already a weird place to be when you’re on your own—the fear of being judged is real. For years, I felt the need to justify my purchases to cashiers and other customers. (“Rough week,” I’d smile after seeing the guy behind me clock the chocolate bar I tossed onto the conveyer.) It’s no secret that strangers feel way more comfortable commenting or judging when a plus-size person buys a bag of chips, while thin folks are celebrated with a sly wink and a “treat yo’self!” What you don’t know is that it took years for me to stop feeling like I was being monitored while shopping and to realize I didn’t need to pretend I was constantly dieting to avoid people’s judgement.
After our run in, I asked a neighbour-friend if she’d ever had similar experiences with you, and she told me you had made comments about her “girls,” too. It seems that in addition to smiling politely at everyone in the building, you’ve made a habit of commenting on bodies however you please, whenever you please.
So, neighbourino, let me give you some advice: The next time you find yourself discussing your job with a neighbour or friend, spare them the “helpful” tips. Go a step further and educate yourself on Health At Every Size (HAES), a movement that rejects the use of weight, size or BMI as indicators of overall health. It is none of your business what’s going on inside my body, or inside my grocery cart for that matter.
Let’s make a deal: I won’t jam any Doritos down your throat so long as you don’t dish out any further unsolicited diet advice. Cool? Cool.
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