Guest Blogger M. LeBlanc: My Daddy Always Taught Me to Talk Back

I’d like to tell you a story. I was out the other night with The Bear (my boyfriend) and our friend The Moose. We’d had a delightful day—we went to Costco to buy a TV for The Bear, then over to The Moose’s house to check out the South Carolina primary results and hang while we figured out what we wanted to do. I really, really wanted to see Juno and we were also hungry, so we decided to hit up Habana Libre, an awesome Cuban restaurant in The Bear’s old ‘hood, and then go see the movie.

Now, it’s important to note that the three of us are all fat. Yes, we were two dudes and a fat chick out on the town for some good eats. It’s not the first time. We always get some attention, but I choose to assume that these people are staring at us because we are so damned interesting and attractive. Interesting is right, as we’re all rather loud and smart and usually having an energetic debate about something or other (cute story aside: One time I and The Bear were visiting my godmother in Milwaukee, and The Bear was opining about Chicago politics for some time, and as we got up to leave, someone from the next table stopped him and asked “I’m sorry to eavesdrop, but what do you do for a living? Because you are, like, super knowledgeable and interesting.” My boyfriend is kickass).

So, we’re sitting at the restaurant, enjoying the absolutely delicious Cuban fare. Empanadas, and Fried Yucca, and Tostones, and Masa de Puerco Frita and Ropa Vieja, and talking about whatever, mostly politics and football (I was trying to get them to explain sports betting to me). All of a sudden, The Moose looks over his shoulder, and says, in a rather angry tone of voice, “If you want to get by, you could just ask me to move.”

What the fuck? I am trying to figure out what is going on without being too obvious, and it appears as though someone at the next table has made a ha-ha-look-at-the-fat-people crack. The guy’s girlfriend is laughing hysterically (The Bear later hypothesized that she may very well have been high on cocaine). I look over at these people. I’m the only one who can really see them, because of where I’m sitting. And I see/hear another guy make a crack about my friend. I probably wouldn’t have just heard it, but I was looking at the guy’s face so I could see what he said.

Because I am, at my core, an easy-going girl who turns into a major bitch when anyone thinks it’s fun to have a laugh/look cool for their friends/entertain themselves at the expense of the dignity of other people, I gave these people what-for. My companions were a bit shocked. I don’t really remember what I said, but it involved “if you want to talk about us, you could just talk to us directly,” “I can see you, and I can hear what you’re saying,” and “I know you can see me and that you hear me talking to you, so don’t ignore me.” They were all steadfastly staring at a fixed space in front of each of them, and pretending that they didn’t hear me telling them to shut the fuck up.

If there’s one thing I hate, I hate it when you are telling someone that what they are doing is unacceptable, and they all of a sudden pretend not to be aware of your existence. This happens to me all the motherfucking time. Some asshole on the streets makes a comment about my tits or, worse, grabs one, and then when I yell at him, he’s so oblivious to my existence it’s like I might as well be a goddamned ghost. Lemme tell you, people do not like it when they are called out for being jerkwads, and they will evade every attempt to meet your angry glare.

So I persisted, until finally the coked-up girl looks over to acknowledge me and says “What?? We weren’t talking about you, we were talking about how I don’t eat fried food!” (laughs hysterically) (holds up plate to demonstrate food). I said “Sure you were. I can see you, and I can hear you.” She looks away and pretends I’m a ghost again.

They were chastened, though. After my tirade, they quieted down quite a bit, and ten or fifteen minutes later the original offender and his cokey lady left. Take that, fat haters. I actually have never really had people mock me for being fat before, and I think that’s probably because my being a female with giant breasts supercedes my fatness as prime fodder for asshole commentary. I’ve gotten the sense, over the last few years, that while it’s much worse to be a fat woman in America, fat men are actually subject to more overt comments by members of the public. But I could be wrong about that.

So, this being a new experience for me, I challenge you all to take up the same policy I have with respect to sexual harassment for the purposes of fat harassment. Part of the reason that people are assholes to women and fat people, is that for the most part, they can get away with it. It’s a rare thing to fight back against someone who talks about you or to you in a way that’s offensive, and I know because the men who harass me weekly always look absolutely shocked when I acknowledge them and then, tell them to fuck off. I vow to not let anyone get away with this shit without consequences. If they are going to embarrass you and make you feel small, you need to embarrass them and make them feel small. Because that’s what assholes deserve.

Deal?

m. leblanc blogs at Bitch, Ph.D. and Rock, Paper, Swords.

83 thoughts on “Guest Blogger M. LeBlanc: My Daddy Always Taught Me to Talk Back

  1. Hell, yes. m.leblanc. I will take that deal. I cannot STAND it when people make comments about others. I am sorry for your experience, though it seems that you handled it quite well.

  2. Deal.

    Let’s take the philosophy behind, “Whose hand is this? I found it on my ass!” to every sphere of discrimination and harassment.

  3. When I was thin, I once made friends with a group of cool artsy kind of kids at college – you know, the kind who would never have thought me cool enough to give me a pass to their club when I was fat.

    One day, the ringleader guy of the group started talking trash about the clientele at Torrid, where he used to work. I took a deep breath and said “I’ve wrestled with my weight nearly my entire life and its assholes like you who are to blame” and I walked off. I never did speak to them again.

    I’m not a confrontational person and before this, I would have just laughed meekly and then slunk away. It was such an empowering experience for me and now I have little qualms on calling people out.

  4. Yeah, don’t be afraid to speak up. I’ve had asshole stockbrokers on Wall Street cut in line right in front of me. I scream in their ears “Oh, I guess I’m INVISIBLE today.” They get all baffled looking but don’t say anything. Dicks.

    One day in south Florida an old man sitting on a bench yelled “Hey BIG GIRL.” I shouted back “HEY UGLY OLD MAN.” Fucker.

    I could write a book about fucking asshole people. Don’t ask me where this behavior comes from. It’s like we’re back in middle school dealing with the class bully. They must be sociopaths.

    We need to be armed with witty come-backs for these people. Let’s write some, right here, right now……

  5. I needed to see this.

    My mother is a woman who speaks her mind without thought for what is polite, appropriate, or tactful, so when she sees someone doing something stupid or mean, she calls them on it, usually by making a very loud and pointed statement to me like “People should watch their kids instead of letting them run free-range through the store!”

    I have been wishing that I could be more like her and speak my mind when people are jerks about my weight. I’ve continued to be cowed by popular opinion because I hate being treated like I don’t exist more than anything.

    Now, I am twice as determined to overcome that because I am tired of living in a culture where people behave as if other people exist for their amusement. You and my mother have set a good example of what to do about it. I’m not going to ignore that example just because I’m a “nice girl”.

    “Just ignore them” is how we ended up in culture where emotional bullies get the final say. While all the decent people were busy “playing nice” the bullies were out shaping the world into what they want. I’m tired of being NICE.

  6. I think everyone should get sick of people being mean to others! I came from a family that focuses soley on your looks. Not just the families looks BUT everyone’s looks. My dad is not only a sexist but he hates fat people too. Now that I am older I tell him to shut up but it does really work.

    My response use to be when people were mean to others was “What if someone said that about you?” But honestly that did nothing, so now I just get angry at them. That seems not to work either…so what should people do? How do we say something without get mad ourselves?

  7. Goddamn, Fairy, that is such a great question.

    I think the times when I don’t have the ability to put myself out there like m. leblanc did — and to be sure, I am nowhere near as kickass as m. leblanc — is when I don’t feel like I can cope with the anger, or don’t feel like I would be able to control it once I started. It’s sort of the opposite of being a shrinking violet — I worry that I’m too much of an angry person to risk going off on someone in public.

  8. Thanks for this. As an aside, I think you’re right that people are much more likely to comment publicly about men’s weight and think that’s A-OK. I don’t think it comes with the same level of disgustedness that accompanies the attitude toward fat women, but it’s harmful just the same.

  9. I agree with your phrasing, twilightriver. By spending our whole lives “ignoring” bullied comments I don’t think we’ve actually gotten ANYWHERE except to a point where said same bullies are encouraged to use even more vile and debasing comments in the attempt to get a rise out of people who keep trying to “ignore them”

    For a couple years I’ve found myself rediscovering the joys of speaking out in an honest manner, like a child. If someone hurts me I stamp down that “just ignore it” first instinct and say so.

    Part of it could be moving back to the Boston area where the insane driving has so quickly re-instilled my need to alert all other drivers to their wrong-doings when it affects my safety with beeps and such…. ;)

    Granted, it is still very hard to overcome years of training and the fear that responding to comments, glares, inappropriate touches while crammed into subways, etc will just make things WORSE.

    But I try my best everyday and there is nothing like the feeling that maybe, just maybe, you made someone a big chagrined at their “-ist” comment(s) or actions; maybe made them re-think even just a little, the next snarky comment they were planning for someone else they didn’t know from Jack.

    I’ve spent far too much of my life cow-towing to comments and looks from friends/family/strangers. It is time to keep my head up, like I did when I was 4 years old, and look the world in the eyes again; unafraid to ask that brazen asshole “Hey, I’m sorry but did you just fall out of the stupid tree? The link starts back there, BEHIND this fatty”

    As my grandmother always used to say “Stick THAT in your pipe and smoke it!”

    :D

  10. This brings up a big, emotional debate I’ve had with my family for years. Their policy is “just ignore it.” Other variations: “Don’t stoop to their level.” “Don’t dignify their behavior with a rebuttal.”

    I’ve endured my share of verbal abuse from STRANGERS about my weight. A fat friend of mine told me once that she was at Target looking for workout gear. A young couple walked by and she overheard the guy say “That’s funny! A fat person is looking at exercise clothes!”

    I have had no end of fantasies about being in her cross trainers and hearing that. In one episode, I follow him and say, loudly, that’s funny! A man with a small penis making it magically bigger by taking shots at someone’s weight!” In another, I follow the couple for a while, then get their attention and challenge him to go for a run with me, followed by pushups and sit ups. All of which I can do much better than anyone could imagine.

    Maybe my parents are right. Maybe living well is the best revenge.

  11. “‘Just ignore them’ is how we ended up in culture where emotional bullies get the final say. While all the decent people were busy ‘playing nice’ the bullies were out shaping the world into what they want.”

    Agreed. We’ve allowed society to turn into an amusement park for self-centered emotionally stunted narcissitic people who think the rest of us exist solely for their amusement. Rude people need to get called out on their behavior. Doesn’t matter if it’s an overt display of their stupid prejudices regarding body size, ethnicity, or age, them letting their kids run wild and expecting everyone else to be amused by the little darlings, or someone talking loudly on a cell phone in an inappropriate setting — all those fuckwits need to know the rest of us deserve to be treated with respect, too.

  12. You know what helps? Standing up for other people. It’s a great gateway drug to standing up for yourself.

    I think that many of the first few times I called people out for sexual harassment was when I was standing up for my friends. People will say all kinds of nasty shit to you when you stand up for others. I remember one time in my sophomore year of high school, I yelled at this guy, part of my extended social circle, who was always “joking” with a couple of my friends: grabbing them, saying inappropriate shit, and making them uncomfortable. I told him that he should stop and that neither of them liked it and he was a harasser, and he proceeded to yell at me, tell me I was fat and ugly and just jealous because no one wanted me.

    I felt fucking awful. I went and hid in a stall and sobbed like a baby for fifteen minutes. When I got my composure and marched back outside, I demanded that he apologize, and he did, pretty sincerely, too. After that episode, I figured that if I could handle that, I could handle any blowback.

    The day we graduated, he told me he still felt bad about what he’d said and how he’d treated me and that he thought and had thought that I was really pretty and smart and intimidating.

  13. Their policy is “just ignore it.” Other variations: “Don’t stoop to their level.” “Don’t dignify their behavior with a rebuttal.”

    People tell me this stuff all the time. You know, all of us have been trying to just ignore it and not stoop to their level for fucking year. I think we can safely declare that as a tactic, it doesn’t work. This one, however, not only surprises people and makes them uncomfortable, it also makes me feel fucking great. And as far as I’m concerned, that makes it way better than the “just ignore it” tactic, even if it doesn’t change anyone’s behavior.

  14. I prefer to kill with kindness. When someone pulls that “I’m talking about you but you can’t see me or hear me doing it” crap- I do the unexpected and get in their face with a smile and say something like “Oh dear- I’m so sorry you woke up on the bad side of the bed today. Hope tomorrow goes nicer for you, mmmkay?” And I usually add super inflective, annoying-cloying sweetieness (think Travel Barbie from Toy Story 2) to it. Shuts em up everytime.

  15. My problem is, that whenever a comment comes at me, I always feel blind sided and it’s like I punch to the gut. I can’t breath, I can’t think, and it’s all I can do to blink away the tears.

    I’m certainly not ignoring it, but I am practically incapacitated by these people and can’t think of what to say until several hours later.

    It sucks.

  16. For years my standard response to “You’d be so pretty if you lost some weight,” has been, “And you’d be a lovely human being if you weren’t such a shallow asshole.”

    Granted one of my best revenges was just looking at someone who’d said something nasty to me with this pitying expression on my face, shaking my head and saying, “Oh, that’s so sad.”
    He followed me around for five minutes trying to get me to tell him what I meant. I didn’t.

    I also made someone cry in the mall. I was walking through, trying to do Christmas shopping which always makes me hateful, when this kid yells, “Fat Bitch!”
    I turned around and said, “Oh my God! You’re right! When did this happen? When I woke up this morning I was a size 6!” And then I followed him through the mall and told just about everyone we passed that this brave young man had just saved my life by selflessly pointing out that I was fat, and how I hadn’t realized that, and on and on and on…

    He cried and apologized.

    I win.

  17. Being blind sided is a problem. We’re just going about our business, MINDING our own business and then some strangers unhurls their wrath upon us. On the one hand I want to “Ignore and they will go away” but on the other hand, why should I put up with that behavior? It’s a double edged sword. I don’t advocate getting into dangerous situations with sociopaths, but I also believe in standing up for myself.

    At least in places like this blog we can discuss things like this, for that I am very grateful.

  18. You know, as far as “Ignore them” goes. When I was in jr. high and high school, all ignoring them did was make them escalate. You know, escalate from calling me a slut to hitting me with a car.

    I don’t know what the answer is entirely, but I know it isn’t ignoring them.

  19. Right-ho about the men being more freely commented upon.

    I know this genius level psychoanalytic psychotherapist, very active at the U of Chicago, the Institute for Psychoanalysis and Loyola — dividing his time between his practice, teaching and charitable work — who is overweight but in a highly attractive way IMHO.

    Anyway, one day I saw him and he mentioned that he had lost a significant amount of weight (I said, I can tell!). He said he became motivated when he was at Marshall Field’s (now, sadly, Macy’s) looking at shirts. When he happened to glance up at a female across the table who was also looking at shirts, she said, “What are you looking at, you fat fuck?”

    To think that this fine, talented and generous man was subjected to that kind of public shaming made my blood run cold and then very, very hot. I wish I could have found the woman who insulted him and stomped her into the ground. And I am not one to be prone to violent fantasies.

    Of course, my colleague gained it back, and has yo-yo’d a bit ever since. I never thought about him as fat though he would be categorized as such by the new Government Guidelines. But a woman he glanced at, not stared at, not came on to, not made a comment to, just glanced up at called him a fat fuck.

    Without revealing all of my naivete at once, WHY do people have to be like that?

  20. This is horribly sexist of me, but when a man makes any sort of rude action/comment in my vicinity, my reaction is to hold out my fingers two inches apart and yell, “Sorry ’bout your penis, sir!”

    Other than that, I got nuthin’.

  21. penguinlady, coincidentally I was just reading m. leblanc’s Bitch Ph.D. post about getting yelled at on her bike, and thinking about the “sorry about your penis” response and how great it is. It’s my favorite thing to yell at asshole drivers, and good for misogynists too. And I guess it’s more widespread than I thought.

  22. I am also not afraid to call out as a pre-emptive strije against assholery. Someone upthread said something about telling line cutters that “The line is here- behind my fat ass!” I find that using the word fat LOUDLY and without hesitation in description of myself and in opposition to whatever the jerkholio is doing against me leaves them with no ammo. They lterally believe that calling me fat is going to make me cry and let them get their way.

    I am way beyond the ignoring phase. I’m in the “You think you’re bad?!? I’m bigger than you- do the math!” phase.

  23. Deal for sure.

    Honestly I don’t receive too many comments, directly or indirectly. Maybe because Portlanders are so passive? They wait for you to be out of earshot to tsktsk at you.

    The only time I remember being yelled at was walking down the street to go to a club some guys across the street yelled “hey big mama!” and I flipped them off. They actually meant it as a come on (they replied “No no, we like big mama!” but that doesn’t really make it okay… at least to me.

  24. Ignoring the comments and behaviour always seems to make it worse for me, like the person knows that I’ll eat their shit so they can keep piling it on. I’ve also found that (among bullies you know, not strangers) if you don’t speak up, the first time you say or do something even remotely out of line, they’ll nail you for it, because they think they can power trip all over you. (Recent horrific work experience.)

    Since this is all about power, I’m with m. leblanc. Own your power, don’t let it be taken from you. Talk back. What you say and how you say it is going to depend on the situation, but advocate for yourself.

    I used to suffer from “punch in the gut” syndrome, still do, sometimes, but I think accepting and loving myself and reading all the FA blogs I do has helped me with that. When someone makes a comment, instead of feeling ashamed for having invited it on myself, my asshole radar goes off, and I remember that feeling ashamed or hurt is really a form of victim blaming. By being angry and talking back, you put the blame and shame back on the perpetrator, where it belongs. When someone else is an asshole, make *them* wear it, not yourself.

  25. I just remembered this. When I was in my 20s, I went to a waterpark here in Texas. It was crowded.

    On one of the slides, I got pulled by a current into a spot that just circulated water in a circle. This kid, and I mean a boy who was 12 years old, got pulled into the current with me.

    He thrashed at me and said: “Move, BITCH!”

    I stood up, yanked his inner tube out from under him and tossed it down the slide. You get yelled at if you’re out of your tube at this park. Then I nudged him down the slide and screamed: HOW’S THAT FOR MOVING< HUH?

    That’s the only time I ever did anything remotely like that. I was enraged that a kid would speak to an adult that way.

  26. This is a really good challenge for me to try to take on. If anyone talks shit about someone I love, I’m on it; same if it’s about a group I belong to. But I just can’t seem to stand up for myself, just me, properly. It’s probably the ‘punch in the gut’ effect too, or maybe I just can’t get as angry for myself as for others. I don’t know, but I’m going to try to figure it out!

    And Cindy, that is exactly what the little twerp deserved.

  27. I just want to say that I actually feel really overwhelmed by this challenge, which would probably be a weird thing for anybody who knows me to hear because I have a reputation for not taking shit from anybody. But I think I’m actually more scared of strangers than I am of people I know. You’re really putting yourself out there with an unknown (aside from being provenly hostile) quantity, and that frightens me and makes me feel out of control. It’s not quite that I’m all online-talk, but there’s a bit of that. Honestly I’m not entirely sure what the deal is, but for sure the fact that I read this post and went “oh HELL no” is something for me to think about — and it means I’m really grateful it was posted.

  28. Why not a Holla Back page? I don’t know that I could yell back at someone, or get all in someone else’s face. But I think I could bring myself to snap a picture with my phone.

    As with internet harassment, part of what makes people brazen assberets is anonymity. Taking their mug shot robs them of that feeling, I would think.

  29. Wow, Debra. I am partial to Chicago-based psychoanalytic psychotherapists (though I don’t know the person you’re talking about here), so your story caught my eye. I get the feeling that not only was that woman being mean about his weight, she was doing it because “Oh My God a fat guy is looking at me and maybe he thinks I’m hott and how dare he think of me that way when he’s FAT!” This dehumanizing, ranking system of looksism is so demoralizing, and when it happens to someone whose real value you know and cherish, you just get so damn mad.

  30. What on earth is WRONG with people? They are so hateful and twisted to think they can make comments to people just because they are fat. Shame on them.

    I think they need a response – preferable a rude one. Anything to shut them up. Maybe a loud, “Hell no, I WON’T HAVE SEX WITH YOU!” or “Quit begging me to come back! It’s pathetic!”

  31. Oh My God a fat guy is looking at me and maybe he thinks I’m hott and how dare he think of me that way when he’s FAT!

    This sounds right. My boyfriend (hi, sweetie!) once told a story about how he when he was a cashier at Whole Foods, he made some remark about a magazine a woman was buying, and she was like:

    “I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.”

    “Well, maybe you guys can do partner yoga together?”

    “I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.”

    Pretty funny story, actually.

  32. I also try to go with the approach Divajean mentioned about killing them with kindness. I was inspired through years of going out running with my mother when I was a teenager. Whenever someone would beep, yell comments, or just be an asshole, she would say, “Look its a member of our fan club!” We would then proceed to wave, bow, throw our fists in the air, do a little dance, whatever we felt like. It would shut them up, for no other reason then they probably thought we were completely insane. I also find that in a day to day situation when I’m dealing with that punched in the gut feeling, it’s sometimes easier for me to come up with a fake-nice, sarcastic comment then something sharp and witty. Just for me personally. Thanks for the great post, m. leblanc.

  33. You know, I feel so bad for folks who have experienced random asshole A’s harrassment.

    I’ve only had this issue once, when I was in 7th grade (!). A girl asked for some of my candy (she too was fat.), and followed the request with, “But you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

    I couldn’t share, as my friends and I had gone in on a pack together. It was barely enough for us, so I told her no. Her response? “Fat bitch.”

    Me (at 12!): “I may be a fat bitch, but I’ma fat bitch with candy. Remember that.”

    Heh. It felt good. But I don’t get comments like that now. Not sure why. My friends tell me that I just don’t LOOK like someone who would willingly take that kind of treatment. I wonder how one has to look to ward off the bullshit? If I can bottle it, I’ll send it out for free, yo.

  34. Fillyjonk, I get a bit intimidated sometimes by strangers, too. It really depends on the situation. But I do have to say, the times I’ve stood up to bullies, whether on my own behalf or someone else’s, count among my strongest moments. It’s not easy, and it’s scary due to a combination of training and the fact you don’t know how that stranger is going to react…and also a bit of that how do I pull in my rage question that several others have mentioned struggling with.

    The key is to find a way to respond with firmness but without stooping to the level of merely trading ugly insults. It’s not an easy balance to find.

    Divajeans approach of making sure a) the insulter knows it won’t be tolerated and b) taking his/her toys away by using the word fat without fear or favor as a simple descriptor is an excellent example to us all.

  35. m.leblanc, don’t think that isn’t the same statement I turn around on myself all the time, preemptively. “OMG, I’m fat, how dare I presume to find a cute guy attractive and I know what he’s thinking of me so I won’t bother.” [Hence] I’m single.

  36. My boyfriend has tons of people being assholes to the fat guy stories, he’s about 6’4. I cannot speculate on his weight, but he’s a big freakin guy. He is built most like Mr. Incredible from the Incredibles, so I’ll just call him Mr. I.

    The best story has to be his train ride home to Indiana from Chicago for Christmas. He’s sitting on a train car, reading his book and sitting a ways away from him on the tran there are these four preppy college guys, not big guys, just average to below average. So They start laughing, and looking at him, and at first he just ignores them. But they keep it up and then finally the littlest one pulls out a camera and takes a picture of him.

    So Mr, I gets up and walks over and sits down next to them. Immediately the thre other guys stare out the window and the little guy with the camera looks up at him with wide eyes. He makes small talka t first, How’s it going, oh, going home for the holidays yeah, me to blah blah. This whole time the other three guys are frozen, staring out the window trying to ignore this giant guy talking to them.

    Finally Mr. I says “That’s a nice camera you got there.”
    Little dude says ” Thanks.”
    “I’ve been thinking about getting one of those for myself.”
    “Oh yeah? They’re really great.”
    “Yeah? why don’t you give me yours?”
    “What?”
    “GIve me your camera.”

    And the kid looks terrified, thinking Mr. I is robbing him and he kid hands his camera over.. Mr. I takes it, and deletes his photo off of it and gives it back to him.

    He says “If you take another fucking picture of me I’m going to shove this camera up your ass. ”

    They moved to another car after that.

  37. Maybe this site can have a page with common insults that fat people are subjected to and then readers can post responses.

    I think that it helps to practice a response so that I’m ready with something when and if someone says something insulting to me. It would help to have a few responses memorized so that when a fat person gets blindsided, it’s not so difficult to recover and and comeback with something.

    Personally, I would like to have a few polite, intelligent but extremely cutting remarks to fire back with, because I’m not the toughest broad I know. Personally, I don’t like to insult someone’s physical.-ness (like commenting on their penis size) because it does make me feel like I’m sinking to their level and they can feel justified in saying what they’ve said because I did it to. I know that’s just me, so if we had a bunch of different responses, we could chose what suits us best and use them.

    I really like Geekgirlsrule’s advice – she really made her point without making a comment about a person’s looks (or size!). In fact the “For years my standard response to “You’d be so pretty if you lost some weight,” has been, “And you’d be a lovely human being if you weren’t such a shallow asshole.” is something I will now say to my mom the next time she decides to use that line on me – LOVE IT!

    Thanks for writing this post – it really made me think!

  38. My favorite story of standing up to bullies is from Jr. High School. I was sitting with my friends, and we were all targets for bullies, and a group of them sat across from us and started tormenting us. One of them keeps saying to me “You want my milk? Does the fat girl* want my milk?”

    So I look him straight in the eye and say “Yes, I would like your milk. It’s chocolate milk right? Give it over.”

    He looks totally flabergasted by this and looks to his friends for guidance. They say “Well, um, you did offer it so you really can’t say no now.” So reluctantly, he hands it over.

    I open it slowly and then I give him a very evil look and say “I changed my mind. You can have it back” And with this I reach over and pour the entire contents of the chocolate milk over his head! Let me also mention this was picture day and he was in a suit.

    He went crying like a baby over to the Dean, who started laughing and basically said something to the effect of yeah, I’m sure you had it comin’ kid.

    The worst part of this was that two of my friends were furious with me, convinced that standing up to them would only bring us more grief (they were wrong on that actually – these guys avoided us like the plague for the rest of the year). But my best friend Merrill still looks back fondly on the look on his face while he was sitting there in his suit, dripping in chocolate milk, wondering how such easy targets could have made this big a fool of him.

    *The “fat girl” at that time weighed no more than 115 lbs. By the next year I would be a thin girl of 98 lbs, held up by pretty much everyone as a wonderful example of dieting and self-discipline and puking my food up in between popping speed every day.

  39. Yeah, I’ve been through my share of vile comments for being huge. And sometimes, I look back and wish I had said something. For example:

    I offered to pick up Mexican food for dinner. I went into the packed restaurant, but was short some change. So, I was heading back to my car (in a bit of a rush) to get the money. Some guy yells at me, “What, the restaurant didn’t have enough gravy for you?”

    I didn’t say anything, but I had wish I did. I went home in tears. And this incident happened a few days after September 11th. You’d think that would humble some assholes to show respect toward their fellow human beings. Nope.

  40. I hear stories like this and I want to start carrying a switchblade. And I am NOT a weapons person AT ALL. But as someone who was bullied almost constantly in childhood for reasons that had little to do with weight, I know for sure that “just ignore them” only works if you’re dealing with amateurs. The pro bullies just amp up their attack until blood is drawn.

    I agree with Lexy that most Portlanders would never have the guff to say anything to someone’s face about their weight (ditto Seattleites — hell, even Dan Savage wouldn’t have the balls to say anything to anyone’s face about their weight, that’s why he needs a bully pulpit to do it).

    Yeah, I know I can’t just run around knifing people who are asshats. Don’t wanna go to jail and all that. But how about we print up some “HI, I’M A GIANT DOUCHEBAG” stickers with really sticky backs, and just smile and affix them to people who feel free to harass us?

  41. Done deal!

    I agree with Rachel. The first time I stood up to someone, I was incredibly empowered. A guy in my Sexology class exclaimed to a classmate sitting diagonal from me, “Did you see that fat bitch?!?” in response to a picture of dykes on bikes in the pride parade. Uh, did he not realize there were fat people, women, and lesbians in the room…yanno, the ones sitting all around him?

    I was so upset I was nearly in tears and shaking, but I knew I had to confront the guy after class. I tried to reign in the rage–my tactic was to ask the dude his name and try to be personable about it, so I didn’t just become the “fat bitch”–but apparently I was so intense I scared the poor fella because he would barely look at me the rest of the semester and kept quiet. And of course he tried denial first–I swear people think you will second guess your own senses if they just deny it. So I did become the fat bitch, but I sure felt better for having stood up for myself and others by calling his ass out on that dumb shit.

    I love hearing other’s confrontation tactics. I think we all need a repertoire.

  42. I am so glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t buy into the “just ignore them” b.s. During elementary, middle, and high school I was bullied and harassed about my weight and anything else people could think of. All the teachers, counselors and adminstrators could tell me is to ignore them. When that didn’t work, I stopped speaking up for myself and internalized everything people would say to me…that’s why to this day I have really screwed up self esteem along with a bunch of other emotional and psychological problems.

    Oh, how I wish this blog was around about ten years ago…

  43. Oh Charlotte, you’re speaking for me, too. It wasn’t about my weight or anything I could ever tell, which made me think there was just something about me that made people want to make fun of me, something I couldn’t control. Like a taint. Quite easy to internalize, by the way.

  44. withoutscene, I remember you telling that story on fatshionista! It was so inspiring! (Much like m. leblanc’s story today. Damn there are some badasses out there.)

  45. My Dad was in a mall once while we were on a family vacation, and two Chinese men were making fun of him and his weight – in Chinese.

    What they didn’t know – My dad is fluent is Chinese.

    They were more than a bit flabbergasted when my father began speaking to them in their native language. He didn’t even have to tell them off, they understood. And they shut up.

    It was hilarious.

  46. I’m a big fan of Carolyn Hax’s use of the response ‘Wow’ to any kind of unacceptable statement.

    you can always embellish on it, but it works nicely in pretty much every situation.

  47. Deal.

    I’m glad you said this ‘cuz I got a bit of a “talking-to” about doing it, on another (I thought) sympathetic blog. I’m sure everyone will listen to you though.

    , I hate it when you are telling someone that what they are doing is unacceptable, and they all of a sudden pretend not to be aware of your existence.

    It would seem that the President does this a lot.

  48. I’m always afraid that if I mouth off to one of those guys, he’ll decide that he needs to beat the mouthy bitch into the ground in order to defend his pride. I’d like to carry a taser, but I don’t know anything about the law regarding those.

    Besides, if I complain, then they’ll know that they’ve upset me and they’ll just do it more.

  49. Wicked Child: If you don’t complain, they’ll know they’ve upset you and they’ll just do it more.

    Trust me, I’m a survivor of “Just ignore them.”

    I ignored them when they called me a “slut” and a “bitch.” I ignored them when they shoved me into lockers and messed with my bike.

    Then they hit me with a car.

    Just ignore them doesn’t work.

  50. Wicked Child – follow your instincts about when it’s safe to stand up for yourself. Obviously, in a neutral space like a school cafeteria or a work place break room, there isn’t likely to be any physical retaliation. Most people don’t wait around for you “after” because they know you could press charges if they assault you like that.

    However, if you’re in a place where things could easily escalate to physical violence without a way out for you, there is nothing wrong with protecting yourself by “keeping your peace”.

    If you are new to speaking your mind, pick small battles like refusing to apologize for liking a band if someone calls your taste into question or calls you stupid. As you get more comfortable with speaking your mind without apologizing or backpedaling, you’ll start figuring out where your boundaries are.

    When stretching your limits don’t ever stretch them so far that you’ll get hurt.

    I tried to be really outspoken because I thought it would give me confidence and I kept being emotionally hurt by the results. That didn’t help anything, so I pulled in the reins and started smaller. In stretching my limits by smaller incriments I learned to be more outspoken than I ever thought to try to be without getting hurt in the process.

    In all things, take care of yourself first.

  51. Thing is that most of the harassment that I get (other than from my family) is from people at my work (retail store btw). There hasn’t been to much hell raised about my weight, except from my coworkers and a few customers. Most of the times though there are the men twice my age hitting on me, which can get pretty uncomfortable at times, especially if they ask me for a hug or pull me toward them so they can kiss me on the cheek (like this one annoying customer, he’s getting the hint from me pulling away and giving him the evil eye that the gesture isn’t appreciated). I know that at least one other coworker, who’s underage, sometimes has that problem as well.
    So what do you think? Should I stand up to these people, even though customers? I’m a little afraid to do so, first because I’m afraid of customers calling the company to complain about me, although I have heard stories from my supervising and store managers about when they told off customers for doing something that didn’t sit well with them. Also because I tend to be non-confrontational. So, what do you guys suggest I do?

  52. Jen, anyone who deliberately touches you without your permission has committed the crime of assault against you. (If they don’t hurt you, it’s a minor assault – but it’s still a criminal act.) I’d say criminal behavior is more than adequate reason to not only tell them to stop, but kick them out of the store and tell them not to come back. At a minimum, “Get your hand off me” is called for.

    It sounds like you’re worried about the company’s reaction. Check your employee handbook or policy handbook (if this is a big company, there’ll be one) for policies about this. Or call the human resources department and tell them what’s going on. Make sure you make them understand that the behavior is sexual in nature; human resources people can be good or bad, but all of them understand the concepts of “hostile environment” and “lawsuit”.

    I’m frankly shocked that your immediate managers haven’t taken care of this. If someone who worked for me was getting regularly grabbed by a customer… let’s just say that worker wouldn’t have to be the one to take care of the problem.

  53. that shit makes my blood boil. and it’s the reason (other people getting picked on by total asshats) that i got in 98% of all the fights i got into in grade school. (the other 2% were shaming people for poor spelling.)

  54. Firstly i’d like to say that there’s so much emotion on this page – its actually so powerful. The fact that human do this to each other is baffling, and that you guys have poured your hearts out with stories like these is inspiring.
    I was bullied at school (not weight-related but I think bullying is all the same when your elder’s response is to ‘just ignore it’) and it took me to leave school and remove all those people from my life in order to try to start again without the misery of dealing with that shit everyday.
    Funnily enough, i met the main bully about 10 years later and my blood just boiled (she hadn’t changed) but i really had no way of dealing with it. Tongue-tied and speechless.
    However – since then, i’ve improved. so i’d like to share! i’d like to make a suggestion for everyone to try. if it works, great, but otherwise, there’s no harm in trying.
    Every time you go to the bathroom (can work for guys and girls but it is easier if you’re sitting down! – make sure cubicle is sweet smelling cos you’re gonna be in there for about a minute longer than normal…!) close your eyes, take a deep breathe and then pretend that with every ‘in’ breath, you’re building an invisible shield around your body. With every ‘out’ breath, you’re getting rid of any shit (anger, negative feelings, anything that’s annoyed you that day etc) that may weaken your shield. Once you start to do this every time you go to the toilet, i found it not only calms you, puts things in perspective but it also allows your invisible shield to grow.
    Once you’ve got this shield on – use it!
    Use it to separate yourself and to rebound any of this shit back to them. (Pretend you’re in star wars or some such film!) Don’t let the fact that they’re so screwed up inside and rude to you become a power over you! Keep your head held high!
    THEN – empower yourselves to use the lines of ‘WOW – you must be so embarrassed!’ or the ‘Hell no, I WON’T HAVE SEX WITH YOU!’ – or any of the other fantastic lines people have come up with on this page.
    Be strong! and good luck!

  55. Deal!
    Its always better to respond than pretend you didnt hear a thing and let them get away with it! Whatever it is – you neednt be fat to hear these things. Where I come from, there are people who find it amusing to pass a comment about any lady they see in front of them or grab in an over-crowded bus. I say you give a piece of your mind to these people and let them know theres a price to pay!

  56. I’ve had the awesome luck of never being harassed for my size. Not even in school. Not only am I a fat chick, I’m also just naturally BIG. My daddy was a body builder. :) I suppose everyone is intimidated by me, or something! If anyone has ever had any negative opinions about me, they’ve kept it to themselves or out of my earshot.

    I’ve stood up for people before just because it really pisses me off to see people being mean. Usually if a stranger gets involved, then people will immediately stop doing what they’re doing and slink away. I’m never rude… I just let them know that what they’re doing is distasteful, and that it’d be best if they stopped it.

    But, when someone is rude to me for other reasons, I’ve found that killing them with kindness usually works. They either don’t react, or immediately return the kindly talk… and then get really dumbfounded since it’s obviously not the way the confrontation was supposed to end!

    I’m kind of afraid to be angry or really confrontational with someone. Too many dangerous people who feel the need to defend themselves if they get too butthurt.

  57. My cats do that thing when they get into trouble. They look at me and seem to say “What the hell is your problem?” while I’m yelling at them. They have brains the size of walnuts, they have an excuse.

    I’m sorry to get off track here but, much envy that you can get empanadas where you live, I haven’t had good empanadas in decades.

    Wicked Child, you might not be able to carry a taser according to the local laws, but most places (aside from the UK) allow you to carry a knife of up to a certain number of inches. The local Army/Navy surplus store should have a good selection of quality knives a cheap price. Carring a roll of change in your pocket is always legal, if you hit a guy with a roll of quarters tucked into your fist he’s going to feel it. Ideally, fighting back physically should be your fall back plan when running like hell isn’t an option, and you have to weigh any weapon you carry against the possibility that it will be used against you.

  58. Deal!

    I’ve gotten to the point some time ago where I can be a bit confrontational with fatist asshats and I’ve found it’s highly empowering. The first time it happened it was kind of an “I just snapped” thing, a group of teenage boys were sitting in a car parked and one yelled “Lookit that fat cunt!” as I walked by. I whirled around and yelled, “I may be fat, but you’re a dumbass and I can diet” and stomped off. The others laughed hysterically and said “buuuurrrrn” while the original yeller snarled some impotent insult or another.

    It felt *good*. Over the years I’ve gotten in the habit of simply not tolerating that crap. I don’t have to. Whenever someone opens their mouth to me about my weight, my response ranges anywhere from polite to nasty depending on who comments and how they comment. I’m not even a little afraid to back someone’s ass down if they get up in my grill.

  59. Advice for the snappy-comeback-challenged: I’m not really good at remembering/coming up with pithy lines, so I usually use my all-purpose-solution of anger+profanity+talking loud+rhetorical question. My old standbys:

    “What the fuck is your problem?”

    “What the fuck did you just say to me?”

    The second one is the one I use more. If you look angry, and even if you don’t, people are usually disinclined to repeat whatever they’ve just said, and slink away embarrassed. For good measure, as they walk away from me, I yell “yeah, get the FUCK out of my face, asshole.”

    Ah, how I love being perceived as an angry unhinged bitch to everyone who might see me in such an interaction on the street.

  60. One of my fave responses, when someone is out of line, is to smile at them vaguely (without really looking at them), and politely say “oh, no thank you” like they were offering me a unappealing canape at a cocktail party, and then ignore them.
    Most people are pretty shut down by this, and don’t really have a response since you haven’t actually engaged them. Best of all, I get to keep my composure and dignity.
    It doesn’t work for every situation, but it does do beautifully for so many.

  61. I’m late to the party, but this seemed the perfect place to relive one of my favorite moments of all time. I was walking through the mall with my (cute, tiny, blonde) friend, when a child of about ten pointed at me and said, in his outdoor voice, “Look, Mommy, that lady is FAT!”

    (Which I totally wasn’t even at the time, just built like the Russian peasant stock I come from.)

    I think we were both going to ignore it, until Mommy responded: “You shouldn’t say things like that SO LOUD.” My friend went nuts. She started yelling to me stuff like “Look, Emmy, that kid is ugly!” “Ugly people shouldn’t be so RUDE!” “Whoo, what an ugly, rude little kid!” Until I told her not to say that SO LOUD.

    The child was in tears. I felt a little bad about that, but I hope Mommy learned the lesson that she needs to discourage Junior from saying things like that AT ALL. Especially since the lesson came from someone who is by all societal standards, very, very, pretty.

  62. I think the thing is to be forgiving of yourself if you can’t think of a comeback. It doesn’t matter as long as you don’t forget how far you’ve come. The haters still have the upper hand they have society validating them at every turn.
    They also take full advantage of the fact that a lot of us have been hurting and frustrated for a long time, some of these wounds go back a long way.

    I’m still thrilled that I don’t hate myself anymore, that I believe that my discomfort and suffering was a real reaction to what I was doing to myself and not the expression of some innate weakness.

    No failure to have an immediate repost is ever going to take that away.

  63. I absolutely agree with fighting back, but I’m not really sure I like the small penis version of riposte. I read through the post, which was awesome, and appreciated the many comments, but now, an hour later, I gotta say that those comments that advocated the “sorry about your miniature wang” approach stuck in my craw a bit.

    I know…the people who make hateful comments have revealed themselves as lookist dipshits, who probably ARE less than secure in their masculinity or whathaveyou, but the problem is with their personalities, not their anatomy. It seems like the reverse of the chick who fearlessly speaks her mind on something like social justice or politics, or what an asshat George Bush is (for example, for example) and gets called a fat cunt or an ugly bitch or like that in retaliation. One of the infuriating aspects of retaliation that fails to address the substance of what the speaker has said is that it switches the battle from the real issue at stake.

    I’m anticipating the objection that if lookist comments are made, it should be fair play to make lookist comments back, with the understanding that the original commenter should make the connection that hateful comments about appearance suck no matter whose body (parts) they target, but I think I prefer the approach that addresses what has actually been said, and that the true problem is with the speaker’s personality, not with whatever may or may not be in his pants.

    I love m. leblanc’s “What the FUCK did you just say to me?” as well as Hax’s “Wow” and similar because to me they address the issue directly, rather than fighting injustice unjustly.

    I’d like to propose “Wow, that’s the most heinous case of misplaced entitlement I’ve seen all week. You should be aware that you don’t have to suffer from the ill effects of your misshapen personality… I hear they’ve really improved lobotomies over the years.”

  64. Lapidary,
    I totally agree with you on the small penis comments. Once upon a time I dated a guy with a small penis, and he was actually really great, he would never yell rude stuff out a car window at a female passerby. Since then I generally tend to try to avoid those kind of insults, because I don’t think that a small penis really does correlate to assholery.

    I Really like the “that was rude, you must be SO embarassed” comeback. Added bonus it is also useful for family members!

  65. Pingback: A fat Howl » The-F-Word.org

  66. WOAH! I’m empowered now!!!

    I’m very short.. 5’2″ and I live in the country of the world’s tallest people, the Dutch. They are mostly average to thin weighted people and they blame any fatness on their part to Americans. So as an American living here let’s say it’s not easy. According to BMI I’m like.. a cow.. but you know what? I’m SO NOT!

    Teenagers are the worst. Adults seem to respect me or pretend to as they don’t make comments, but teens cannot help themselves.

    You know the kind I’m sure.. they aren’t alone, they are in a cluster. They are just hanging around loitering in front of some store and people watch.

    TWICE in the past month I’ve headed to the Subway restaurant (feel the irony here?) and had it happen twice. Once a group of teen girls and once a group of teen boys. I admit to being a paranoid person but both of these times it was so obviously not in my head. They were saying things abotu me as I walked by.. ahem FIVE months pregnant.

    I’m a bitch too! I really wanted to turn around and be like, I didn’t catch that.. what did you say? See if they dare repeat it and if so call them on it in some way.

    I never have. The first time with the girls I didn’t even walk into the restaurant, I kept going and hid in another store until they were gone. Why should I be ashamed of having a healthy sandwich from SUBWAY? I’ve had more respect walking into a McDonald’s!

    I like to think it’s obvious I’m pregnant… I’ve actually lost weight and my fat just disappeared and got hard with baby… lucky me. I should have gone back and been like.. surely you weren’t making a fat comment to a pregnant woman?

    You motivated me though.. next time I’m gonna confront. I can do it. I’m confident my Dutch is good enough to get a point across and if they want to try and fight me, I assume I can just use the age old “careful I might SIT on you” tactic!

  67. OOOH So there was too much mexican food talk as I read the comments and just so happened I had leftovers from tacos in the fridge. As I was cutting the cheese (PRRRRRFT! hehe) I realized something I could have said to those people!

    I could have come back and asked what did you say? And if they repeated it or some other fat comment I could also just do the kill with kindess tactic of “Wow! THANK YOU! Gosh I don’t know how I’d get by if you weren’t giving up precious time in your busy lives to stand here and wait for me to come by.. you’ve changed my life! All this time I thought I was 5 months pregnant and gosh, I must just be REALLY fat!” and heck, maybe even offer a hug to the teen girls eh?

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