See this guy right there? That’s my dad.
“Are you lonely?”
“It’s been a lifetime of loneliness. I decided early on that I better get used to it. I go to movies by myself. If the movie theater is completely empty, I’m even happier. I learned early on that if I wanted to go to restaurants, I better learn to go by myself. One benefit to being big is that people don’t bother you. I’m shocked that you came up to me. Nobody’s ever done that. When I started to go to therapy, it took me several sessions before I even spoke a word. I’d just sit there and cry. And honestly, you caught me on a tough day. I was sitting here feeling really bad about myself. Because I went to the doctor today, and I was sure that I’d lost weight. But I’d gained some.”
Alright, he’s not really my dad, but he could be. Maybe that’s why I’ve read this one thousand times since yesterday. Maybe that why I’ve cried in random moments of the night thinking about him. Maybe that’s why I absent mindedly opened up my laptop and priced tickets to New York with no real purpose other than finding this man and siting quietly beside him in a movie theater, sharing a popcorn, as friends do. I can’t tell what hurts more, the pain I feel for this lonely man, or the guilt I feel for the amount of compassion I’m blindly giving a man that I sometimes don’t offer my own father out of frustration.
As Andy and I reread the entry and the comments that ensued on Humans of New York’s Facebook page, he looked at me surprised and said, “wow, I was expecting this guy to get skewed, but most of these comments are amazing. How the hell is that happening?”
“This is why everyone should try to be kind to one another, you never know what a person is going through, I hope he finds some happiness.”
“This breaks my heart. What does it say about ourselves as a society.”
“I admit I sometimes judged fat people. But I won’t anymore. This really touched me.”
After laughing to myself thinking, welcome to my fucking uphill battle, man. I gave him the explanation that myself, and every person working beside me in the body positive movement, are striving to have understood. He is a human, not an obese man.
What moments like this do is give a face and a heart to the person society would otherwise be mocking. It’s harder to shame someone you know. Andy was shocked by those comments because we aren’t used to plus size just people being people. We aren’t used to assuming that their loneliness comes with hurt and that their days aren’t consumed with thoughts of food or laziness. Everything we know about plus size people is wrong.
As I continue to scroll down my timeline, fulfilled and happy like Scrooge on Christmas morning high on human spirit and kindness, I am reminded that the battle is still there. A woman in short shorts mocked for what’s spilling out the back. A blurry photo secretly shot of a curvy woman at the beach in a bikini, I mean, what she thinking, right? When friends share some horrible viral photo of a person, and I interject telling them that I weigh the exact same, and yeah, probably own those leopard leggings, their response is always, “well I don’t mean you…”
But they do mean me. I am no better or worse than the person in those photos. The media takes the humanity right out of plus size people. On the news our heads are blurred or cut off. In mocking Facebook photos passed around we’re made into almost a cartoonish joke. In fashion, we’re rarely ever seen just whispered about like unseen Sasquatches against the comforting glow of beautiful photoshopped people. Recently, a friend shared with me a photo that was circulating online by Chicago Bear’s fans featuring a plus size girl whose breasts were covered in cheese slices, the joke being that she was trying out to be a cheerleader for the Green Bay Packers.
Now, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers rivalry is a very real thing, and if you followed the news last year, you’d know the weapon of smack-tacking choice is mocking the looks and weight of Packer’s cheerleaders. I get it, football rivalries are intense. I went to Ohio State. I can barely look up north without dry-heaving and mumbling curse words under my breath. But seeing this girl paraded virally around as a giant joke ( none of the commentary was kind), all I wanted to comment was… this is my cousin.
Alright she’s not, I’ve never met her, though who knows? I watched Cindy Crawford find out she was related to an Italian King on some TLC genealogy show once, so really, I can’t rule out that we’re not related. But she’s somebody’s cousin. Hell, she could be your cousin. The point is, this photo has over 5700 shares and none of them are met with compassion.
“Hey, she obviously posed for this picture, so she’s asking for it.”
Yeah, that’s bullshit. We never ask for it. Trust me, I know more than anyone how much it sucks to have your photo stolen and circulated without your permission. So yeah, she did pose for this photo. Maybe she sent it to her boyfriend. Maybe they broke up and he shared it with a friend who uploaded it to a revenge porn site. Maybe her laptop was stolen at school and a group of mean girls posted it up online and it went viral.
Or maybe it doesn’t matter why she took it because we’re fucking women and we don’t need to justify what we do with our bodies, or the cheese we put on them. We have empathy for an unknown man because he shared that he has a capacity for pain and loneliness, and we skewer a girl because we assume she has none.
Compassion and respect is not exclusive to the pretty or the likable. It is to be doled out equally and without prejudice to weight or looks or money.
Now, when I see photos like these, my response isn’t shame on you for posting this, it’s “that’s my dad,” “that’s my cousin,” or “that’s me.”
Because if we let this continue, it very well could be.