I can’t remember every time in my life someone paid me a compliment. But I remember every time someone called me fat.
I remember once when I was living in NYC, I had attended a wine tasting at the Harvard Club. My boss invited me because he knew I loved wine. One of his daughters was also there. They featured Spanish wines and tapas. It was a lovely evening and I remember his daughter telling me I had nice legs and how she always wished she had nice legs. It keeps her from wearing skirts that stop at her knee, she said. I looked at her in her long skirt and thought, there is nothing at all wrong with her legs. Why did she feel this way?
When the event was over I decided to walk home to my apartment on 66th Street. It was a fairly long walk but when you live in Manhattan you get used to walking. It was a beautiful warm night and I wanted the exercise. I was walking along Park Avenue when a young man stopped me and told me that his car ran out of gas and he forgot his wallet. Could I give him a few dollars so he could buy gas. Now I always assume moments like these are scams. I’ve had people use this “I ran out of gas” trick on me before. I don’t know if he was sincere or not. He was right next to an apartment building with a doorman. I told him to ask the doorman if he could use the phone to call someone for help. But he insisted all he needed was a couple of dollars for some gas. Where in Manhattan he was going to get gasoline I have no idea.
I refused and walked on. And he called after me, “Thanks a lot. Now I’m stuck here. But at least I’m not fat.” Seriously. At the time I weighed about 129 pounds. Is that fat? Not in my book. It got me thinking about the girl who thought her legs were ugly. Did some unkind person tell her that just because she refused him something? How dare he. And Mr. Gasless had no right to intimidate a woman walking alone at night by asking her for money. He was embarrassed I assume and struck out with the easiest insult he could muster. But those kind of harsh words don’t go away. My boss’s daughter will always feel self-conscious about her legs. And no matter what size I am, I will always wonder if I look fat.
Why do I remember every detail of that encounter? I can’t remember the wines I drank. But I remember the insults. Why is that? Why would I let a total stranger, who was probably a con artist, upset me? It took me a long time to get over it, but I haven’t forgotten it. In fact, in typing this out, I’m not even sure I am over it.
I want to leave you with this thought. You get to decide how you want to feel, and don’t let anybody change your mind. I felt fabulous walking home from the Harvard Club. I didn’t go to Harvard but I got a glimpse into that world, and it was filled with good wine and lovely people. Yet I let a total stranger bring me down. He didn’t mug me, or touch me, or anything like that. But his words cut like a knife. Don’t let anyone have that kind of power over you. No matter what your size, if you feel fabulous, that’s all that matters. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Wear the skirt. Drink the wine. Walk home feeling fine.
You get to decide how you feel about yourself.