Your friendly neighbourhood plague rat.

by Michelle

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.

break50

I like to go on walks. I live in a good neighbourhood for it, near the beach.

During the summer, I spent a fair bit of time swimming at the beach. I have a lot of anxiety about going outside at all, thanks to about twenty years of sexual harassment and fat bashing from strangers, so it took me a couple of summers of living here to work up to that point. (And I still got exhorted to consider polyamory by some dude on the boardwalk. This world is just one big ambivalent boner, sometimes.)

I got a swimsuit that covers me nearly head-to-toe. I practiced going down to the water on my own and putting my toes in, and then walking back home. Then I practiced going down to the water and wading around and then walking home. Finally, one day I cannonballed into the lake from a pier, and this summer I went swimming several times and really enjoyed myself.

I was aware, the entire time, that the people around me (it’s crowded) were very likely judging me. Or at least, some of them were. Maybe some of them pitied me, maybe some of them thought I was “inspiring” for being a fat lady exercising in public (maybe I was on a Weight Loss Journey ™ !) Probably some of them just thought I was gross, disliked having to see my fat body in tight swimwear, and wished I had stayed at home under a blanket. Such is life.

It is painful to know that people make judgments like this, and that they sometimes directly tell me all about it (WOOOO FAT BITCH!!!), but ultimately I have decided it is none of my business until they make it my business. And despite being an oversensitive sadface whinybaby, I work hard to fight against the impulses that tell me to just stay home forever, or at least until everyone else has been killed in the coming zombie apocalypse.

(No shit, sometimes I fantasize about a world where I am blissfully, peacefully alone, and can walk down the street without anyone looking at me or thinking anything about me; where my body and my time are not subject to the whims of strangers. I watched the first twenty minutes of 28 Days Later with morbidly rapt attention.)

Now that the weather has cooled and the fall colours are out, there’s no more lake swimming to be had, but plenty of lovely walking to do. I have a complicated relationship with exercise, due to a history of overdoing it and hurting myself, but since I work from home now, I have to be extra mindful of making the effort to get out.

I make that effort as often as I can, because it makes my legs feel awesome, because my knees get cranky if I sit around for a couple of days in a row, and because I love the slight burn and tingle in my lungs and heart from going up a really good hill. I love having an excuse to listen to loud, obscene music through eardrum-killing headphones, and to be as close as I can get to blissful aloneness. I love coming home and peeling off my sweater and letting the sweat dry and feeling the happy warmth in my chest while I drink delicious cold water.

But when I stood up to go for a walk on Tuesday, I hesitated more than usual. The conversation of last week – about how fat people need to be shamed and harassed for their own good – came back to me. I was hyper aware that, if I went out, people would be judging me, pitying me, or wondering if they should speak up and point out to me, for my own good, that I am fat.

I went out anyway. Almost the entire time, I felt like a plague rat. I felt that people would look at me and assume I was diseased, and shudder and move away. And even though I was doing something ostensibly good for my health, this understanding and awareness that people find me gross did not make it easier or more rewarding to care for my health.

The emotional risk of being fat in public makes it tempting to not care for yourself by going out and getting some fresh air and walking around like you deserve to be in this world. The emotional risk of being fat in public makes it safer to stay home in your dinky, 90-year old city apartment with creaky floors and a tiny living room in which it is not fun for you, or for your downstairs neighbours, to exercise.

Eventually, though, I got home and enjoyed the lovely feeling of having moved my body in a way that wasn’t punishing. I took this picture and reminded myself, once again, that I deserve to exist and to take care of myself in the ways I deem most appropriate. And that, even though people will question me and judge me, they are wrong. They are on the wrong side of history, and until the sea change happens that will show just how ridiculous our culture was for stigmatizing people based on appearance, I need to survive.

I went out again the next day, and I’ll go again today. It’s stupid that it has to be an act of rebellion, but for now, in this world, that’s exactly what it is.

Since this is a post about my personal experience, either play nice or don’t play. Suggestions of noisy music are welcome.