It's A Shame People Yelling Things About My Weight In The Street Makes Me Feel Like Something's Wrong With Me
June 6, 2017
One of the first things you learn when moving to New York City is you never leave your house without your headphones. Sadly, music and podcasts have become crucial to blocking out the "noise" around us, be it a group of boys who have declared your Subway car the perfect spot for "Showtime," or another homeless person on the street repeating the refrain, "Can you help me get something to eat please?" It's not that we don't care about the plight of our fellow man, it's just that sometimes being in our own world while out in the real world is the only way to maintain our sanity. And every single time I've taken a chance on embracing the natural sounds of my neighborhood, I've regretted it because what's natural to so many is hate.
The day before I headed to South Africa I ran down the block to Duane Reade to pick up a few last-minute items. It was less than a five-minute walk and I decided I didn't need to take my phone or headphones for that quick trip. A block before reaching the drugstore, I saw a group of young, boisterous boys and noticed an eerie silence had come upon them when I walked past -- the kind of silence that comes when you step into a room and get the sense everyone was talking about you before you arrived. Immediately, I scolded myself for being so self-conscious. What reason would those boys have to talk about me?, I thought to myself. And just a few seconds before reaching my destination, the youngest in the bunch yelled out, "Your shit looks disgusting!" The other boys laughed in agreement.
I was hot -- not heated, physically hot with embarrassment -- and confused. For one, I actually thought I looked pretty good in my black compression leggings, but more importantly, I couldn't fathom what would cause one to yell something so mean at a complete stranger -- a grown ass woman of a complete stranger at that. Maybe the braids I was wearing at the time made the boys think, somehow, I was their peer. Regardless, I managed to find myself more irritated by their ignorance than hurt and when I returned home I did a 360 in the mirror and proudly told myself, "Those boys don't know what they're talking about."
But two weeks later when a similar situation arose, I wasn't as resilient. I was walking in my neighborhood like I normally do and, again, I saw a group of boys hanging out on the corner. Ironically, I felt the same intuitive sense telling me "don't go that way," as I did when I went down a particular street in my hometown five years ago and was pulled over by a cop. And just like that time, not listening to that voice inside proved to be the wrong choice.
I held my breath as I passed the boys, praying they'd prove my anxiousness wrong. Again, I passed by without incident and told myself Those boys aren't thinking about you. And then, as if they could sense my momentary relief, one yelled out, "That's BBW right there!" Yes, I know BBW stands for big, beautiful woman. No, I don't think whoever yelled that out meant this declaration as a compliment.
A balled welled up in my throat. I was taken back to the time I was riding an escalator in Macy's several years prior and heard a boy yell, "There goes Precious!" as he pointed at me. I was taken back to the uncomfortable "You and I both know you're not a small girl" reminder a man felt the need to give me just the night before when I mistakenly confided in him about having issues being more disciplined with my diet. And as that ball continued to grow, threatening tears and even my ability to breathe, I felt more upset with myself for letting those comments get to me than I did with the people who made me feel so small because they don't approve of me being so big.
The irony of the moment also stung. Here I was out in the world doing something about my weight, my health, debunking the myth that all overweight people are lazy and inactive, and people can't even see past my stomach rolls to let me live a better life. That's the other part of being on a weight loss "journey" that has always been hard for me: still having to be in the fat box even when you're 60 pounds less than you're highest weight. No one is more aware than I am of the fact that I'm still heavy, overweight, "a big girl," "fat," but I hate going out in the world and receiving confirmation that that's all people see about me. And that they think that's something to be made fun of.
The age of the boys in these scenarios makes their behavior somewhat dismissive -- they don't know better but they should -- but that does little to cure the anxiety I've dealt with for some years when passing a group of boys/men on the street. I've never feared for my life a single day on a New York City street, what worries me is the potential damage to my psyche when some erroneous remark is tossed my way and I can't let it roll off my back as easily as it rolls off the tormentor's tongue.
The only people I need drawing attention to my weight are my doctor, my trainer, and myself. Anyone outside of that who's commenting on my body isn't doing so to uplift me and therefore I don't want to hear it. While somewhere deep down, I know the need to body shame me says more about the people doing it than it does me, in those moments I do feel ashamed of my body and that's not the type of existence I want to live. Still, I have to wonder if I'm projecting a self-consciousness about my size when I'm out and about that attracts this type of negativity -- kind of like the way a dog smells fear.
See, last week I decided to try to run more than walk on my cardio days -- a task as mentally taxing as physical. I get caught up in people seeing my waist jiggle when I run and it makes me want to slow down, or wait until I'm in a secluded area to pick up the pace again. But I decided not to care last Wednesday. I ran on the sidewalk part of the way to the park, and from a distance I noticed a woman staring me down as I approached her. In my head, I questioned why she was looking so hard and for so long, but as I passed her she simply hit me with a gold-toothed smile and a thumbs up that made me return a confident smile her way. An hour later, when I found myself jogging against the tide at Central Park, another woman was coming my way and flashed me a smile and clapped at my effort. I cheesed and kept pumping my legs. Perhaps when I don't care about my weight, other people don't either. Perhaps all those other boys/men just ain't shit. Either way, shout out to all the Black women on the street who root for me on my runs and add a little less negative noise to the world.