On the way home from an amazing day of biking around town, ping pong, and a couple beers with my man, I found myself in the mood for something a little sweet. The plan for the rest of the evening was fabulous: Africa on Netflix, a cool bottle of sake, and maybe some hanky panky if the feeling was right. Now for a little chocolate to pair with that sake…
As my man strolled home to get out of the heat, I ran to the convenience store a block away from his apartment. Reese’s PB cups for him, Milk Duds to remind me of my youth and I place my carefully curated purchase on the counter to be rung up.
“Someone has a sweet tooth,” the cashier says to me, smiling.
“You know it,” I say, slightly irritated and hand her cash.
“That’s a lot of candy,” the man in line behind me says. “That’s a lot of calories there.”
My jaw clenches.
“I know that,” I say, turning to him. “And I’m going to enjoy every last one of them before fucking my lover’s brains out. Is there any other business of mine you feel entitled to?”
I turn back to the cashier, her eyes wide and dishwater curls trembling. “I eat candy sometimes, like everyone else in the goddamn world. Keep your comments to yourself, sweetheart.”
But I didn’t say that. I didn’t say any of it. I think I laughed nervously and said something nonsensical and half-apologetic like “Yeah, well it’s Sunday.”
I fumed on the way home. Were they calling me fat? Maybe I shouldn’t be eating this candy. Candy does have a lot of calories and I’ve been a little bloated lately and Ididhavethosetwodrinkstodayandtacosforlunchandeggsforbreakfastit’ssummerandmyasscouldbefirmerandwhatifIeatthisandgainweightandnoonewilleverylovemeorwanttofuckmeeveragain…
The old body shame rose so quickly I thought I would drown. And then rage: How it’s none of anyone’s business what I’m purchasing, what I’m eating, how I take care of myself. How, if I were a man, no one would’ve said a word to me. How, if I were bigger or smaller, would the comments have been harsher or more lenient?
Pure, unadulterated rage at how, as a woman, my worth is purely physical. How dare I put that candy in my mouth, because I might just become less attractive to the General Male Gaze. Careful, you’re so pretty and we wouldn’t want that to happen to you, would we?
Yes, of course I know how many calories are in that candy. And in the breakfast I made this morning and in the guacamole I had for lunch, and the beer I drank while playing ping pong. I know the calorie content of hundreds and hundreds of foods because I was sick and obsessive, and I’ve been trying to FORGET how many calories are in my food because I want to enjoy my life instead of torturing myself.
Shame, and rage, and more shame over what I should have said. Over how upset I was over some man’s dumb comment. Over how I suddenly transformed into a woman who felt “fat,” and “ugly” and worthless. Like no matter what I did, I wouldn’t be good enough.
All of this came out at my boyfriend, who hugged me and kissed me in between fits of angry words about the world and patriarchy and body image poured from my mouth.
When I started to cry angry tears, he took the candy and disappeared. He came back, sans sweet stuff, and said nothing but “No one can make you feel that way.”
Then I cried some more, because no one has ever stood up for me in that way.
(My partner is an incredible man, in case you couldn’t tell. I am so lucky for him.)
I am telling this story because I am surprised at how hurt and outraged I am. Because words belie attitudes, and attitudes need changing.
I can intellectualize that I am beautiful, fit, healthy and happy–my inherent self-worth is strong and high. I’m lucky for that. His comment has nothing to do with me or my body.
Women smaller, fitter, more attractive, larger, taller, shorter, smilier than me will all receive the similar comments from those who feel like the impetus is on them to keep us in a very small box. This keeps us from feeling like it is safe to bloom to our fullest potential, to fly and to achieve.
Comments like these reflect a general attitude that needs to be changed: We are not here for your appraisal, amusement, or pleasure. Do not tell me to smile, because I will gnash my teeth before tearing you to pieces.
So much worse is said to so many people on a daily basis, and we have to change it. To stand up for one another when we hear something inappropriate. To stop telling women to smile more, or that they look great now that they’ve lost weight, and critiquing their appearance like it’s the only thing that matters.
We are whole and enough. We are kind and nourish ourselves in exactly the ways that we need, and sometimes that includes Milk Duds. We enjoy our candy without apology.