The checkout lady is eyeing my body in juxtaposition to the ice cream I’ve put on the conveyor belt. As a long time fatty, I’ve often treated the act of eating as private, even a secret on occasion. Because of course, fat bodies have to feed themselves, but when others see a fat body eating, they treat it as an invitation to scrutinize, insult, and mock. Grocery shopping has never been any different. Strangers have often commented on the contents of my cart, asking me if I knew the pitfalls of including carbs in my diet, or if I’d ever tried the paleo diet to lose weight.
The way the checkout lady is watching my rolls, I know she wants to say something. She’s got the aura of the health crusader — those extra self-righteous strangers who want to tell you all about your health based on a glance at your size. Maybe I simply don’t know I’m fat, she might be wondering. Maybe I just need someone to shame me into making better choices, like publicly calling me out for buying a pint of vegan ice cream.
“You sure found the ice cream,” she says, glancing downward at my stomach. Much like a dog with a favorite chew toy, she won’t let it go. She won’t stop mentioning the ice cream even as it’s already disappeared into my grocery bag. In a different time, I would probably say something. I would probably demand her to just say what she meant: just call me a fat fuck! An insult would be so much easier to process than dancing around it, trapping us in this quagmire of half-spoken judgments.
But this is a pandemic, and this is a grocery store. This is a woman who has probably had a worse day than I have. This is a woman who is performing a high-risk, essential service likely for minimum wage and no hazard pay. So I don’t say anything. Maybe that was the right decision; maybe I should have told her she was making me uncomfortable.
Either way, this isn’t a unique interaction. This is just one in a long-standing series. As long as I have been fat, people have felt inclined to comment on it, offer up “advice,” or become openly hostile. Restaurants, gyms, and grocery stores have always been emotionally unsafe. Participating in physical activities is even worse than eating; someone always feels inclined to tell me how if I keep it up, I’ll eventually be thin. As if the joy of doing…