I know it sounds like the name of some aggressive law firm, but Mean and Hurtful is the way we sometimes treat each other. Exposure to the news is most often how I witness Mean and Hurtful, but the other evening I unexpectedly found myself on the direct receiving end of such behavior.
I was on my way into a crowded meeting; most of the seats were taken but I spotted one towards the back in the middle of a row, the fourth seat from the aisle. I said hello to the folks on the end, and mentioned that it might be a tough fit getting by the crossed legs of a gentleman in the second seat. Looking a bit miffed to get up, he rose and moved out into the aisle, while I began to slide towards my seat.
“Are you going to fit?” the man said, as I moved past him. Good-naturedly, I said “Are you referring to my girth?” I made my way past the one other person seated, a woman I’ve known here in Sonoma for a long time. “Actually,” the man said, leaning across my woman friend sitting between us, “I was thinking of another word, three letters beginning with ‘FA’.” I realized he was calling me “fat.” My mind stopped; I’m 68-years-old and it’s been a very long time since I’ve been called “fat” derisively to my face. I sputtered something, but he wasn’t finished. “You know,” he went on, “I know a woman who just turned ninety-nine. Do you think you will live to ninety-nine?” By this time my brain had begun working again, and I replied, “Honestly, I don’t spend time thinking about being ninety-nine. It doesn’t really interest me.” “Well, you should,” he added sourly, and thus our exchange came to an end.
Now I’m not one of those somewhat larger-sized people who agonize about my body-image; I am not defined by my shape nor do I judge myself or others on that basis. As a controversial public figure in a small town, my political history alone provides a rich source of criticisms, legitimate and otherwise, having nothing whatsoever to do with my body. Health-wise, I know plenty of skinny folks with challenges, and just as many large folks with their own sorts of medical problems. The last time I remember being preoccupied with my size is as a child during grammar school, and that’s also the last time I remember being actively taunted about it.
On the other hand, the world does seem to be employing Mean and Hurtful lately, or perhaps I have just become more sensitive to it. Trumpism has lit a fuse attached to emotional dynamite, and the Internet’s a convenient training-ground for those intent on inflicting cruelty and pain. Mean and Hurtful is doing great business at the moment, “Yuge” business.
Lying in bed at home after the meeting, I came up with several snappy rejoinders I could have said in response to being called “fat.” “At least I’m not ugly,” was a defensive one, and appropriately childish. “Thanks for caring,” veered into sarcasm. But as I explored my feelings more deeply I realized that my most honest and best response to the body-shaming of Mean and Hurtful would have been to simply say “Ouch.”