You don’t get to comment on what I eat … reprised

The other day, I got a response to “You Don’t Get to Comment on What I Eat”, saying:

I guess what I don’t understand is why you felt the need to offer up any kind of suggestion beyond “yes” in the first place. When you do that, I can’t help but feel that the other person feels an invitation to elaborate or follow up on your comments.

I did comment back, but I think this deserves a bit more discussion. I know a lot of people think that if you just don’t volunteer information, then people won’t do or say whatever it was they did or said. However, in this case (and I’d wager a lot of cases, but I have no statistics on that, so it’s just my own thoughts here), that’s not so.

See, the woman already felt the need to insinuate her advice into my life by asking if I was hungry. Being a good cashier, she asked if I wanted the candy left out, and that’s where good customer service ends. When I said yes, that should have been the end of that. But she felt the need to continue by asking if I was hungry. At that point, she already went over the line. If, at that point, I’d said it was none of her business, I’d be an entry on a customers suck forum as at least a “WTF”, if not being a “suck”. (Yes, I read customer sucks forums. It’s like a train wreck, I just can’t look away.)

If I answered back just “yes”, since she’d already gone there, answering back a one syllable sentance probably wouldn’t have stopped her reply.

Why do I have to always guard what I say? Why is it always up to me to have to live perfectly so I don’t get questioned? Why do I have to defend myself and my actions, when my actions and words were appropriate actions and normal to the environment I was in?

This is a classic case of blaming the victim. Being a survivor of extreme child abuse and rape, and then domestic violence as an adult until I got into counseling and changed how I saw myself, I know what blaming the victim looks and sounds like. I can’t count how many times I was told that if I’d only behaved myself, I wouldn’t have forced my parents to ‘punish’ me like they did. (This is also why I am so vehement against people trying to claim the parents of obese children are really abusing them. You want to know what real abuse is? Let’s sit down and talk. Don’t eat anything before you come over though, your stomach might not appreciate it. But I digress.)

I should be able to go wherever I want, and say whatever I want (as long as it isn’t inflammatory to other people) and be able to expect that people will treat me with respect. Period. I shouldn’t have to guard what I say. I shouldn’t have to be paranoid about what words come out of my mouth, constantly wondering if what I’m saying is going to cause somebody else to say something that’s offensive, abusive, or just a WTF comment. I shouldn’t have to live my life in fear of what I say.

Because, if I do live my life in fear that if I say, “Yes, I’m hungry. I’ve not eaten since breakfast,” I’m going to cause them to say something inappropriate to me, then I’m also going to live my life in fear of going outside dressed in shorts because somebody might harass me, call me names or tell my husband he needs to put a “wide load sign on her ass”. I’m also going to have to live in fear because if I go out to exercise, somebody might try and run me over in a car. Or if I go out to eat, and choose to have anything other than a small salad (dry, no croutons), I’m going to be accosted by another diner who is just “trying to help” when she tells me I really shouldn’t eat *whatever is on my plate*, because, you know, it might kill me. Heavens forbid I want to go to an ice cream shop and get a gasp shake. Or gee, I want to go to McDonalds and actually get a Big Mac Meal (TM), because then I’ll be playing right into the stereotype of all fatties eat McDonalds all the time.

If I stop being normal, and expecting people to treat me like they treat normal people, then I buy into their BS which says that I’m too fat for anything (read: not good enough). Too fat for respect. Too fat for a good life. Too fat to be desirable. Too fat to live, even.

And, I’ve bought that line for a long time. Since I was 18, I never went out of the house in shorts. Until this past summer. I rarely wore bright colors because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. Until last summer when I got a red shirt and skirt. Nice and bright. Now I have three red shirts, two for summer, and one for winter. I never wore bold patterns, again, because bold patterns draw attention to myself. Now, I have a few things that have bold patterns.

I’m not afraid to demand the modicum amount of respect that everybody deserves. Nobody deserves to be harassed or abused. Nobody “makes” another person do or say inappropriate things just by answering a simple question.

I’m done living my life by other people’s rules. I’m done living my life in fear of doing or saying something that is going to “make” somebody abuse me, harass me, respond somehow inappropriately to me. If somebody asks me if I’m hungry, I’m not going to think, “Oh, best not answer that because she is probably setting me up for inappropriate remarks”. No, I’m going to respond like a normal person would, and expect to be treated like a normal person.

It’s taken me a long time to get to this point. I’m not giving up all the ground I’ve gained.

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17 Responses

  1. The next time a cashier has the nerve to comment on your food selection – whether in a supermarket or any other store that sells any food – ask to see the store’s manager and tell that person what just happened. It’s none of the cashier’s business what you buy and for whom, and you don’t have to tolerate that kind of comment.

  2. Amen! I’m afraid that if that clerk had said that to me, I would have asked her if she was my mother. When she said no, I would have told her that what I eat and when I eat it is none of my mother’s business, so why does she think it should be her business? I’m nasty like that anymore, precisely because I’m sick of being expected to meet everyone else’s expectations.

  3. Hello,

    I’m a lurker ’round these parts. Just wanted to drop in and say that you are absolutely inspiring- a great writer and a great mind.

    -Suzanne

  4. If this was church, I’d shout, “AMEN!”

    This is exactly the kind of ground I have been taking inch by inch for myself for the last two years. It’s ground we shouldn’t have to fight for in the place. It’s ground nobody should expect or demand us to surrender for any reason.

    Thank you for the reminder 🙂

  5. Oh, please. Are you really equating me to unethical people who blame rape and incest victims? Really?

    Why do I have to always guard what I say? Why is it always up to me to have to live perfectly so I don’t get questioned? Why do I have to defend myself and my actions, when my actions and words were appropriate actions and normal to the environment I was in?

    I think you completely misunderstood me.

    The clerk’s comments were inappropriate, for sure. But what I thought odd and found questionable is why you felt the need to justify the choices you made at all. The clerk asked you if you were hungry and you said, “Yes. I’ve not eaten since breakfast so I need a snack.” As you’ve described the situation, your reply sounds very defensive, as if you felt the need to justify to her why you were eating candy. To me, your overly-informative comment sounded more like, “I’m eating candy, but it’s okay, since I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I’m fat, but I’m a good fattie, really!” Unlike, of course, the bad fattie who has eaten since breakfast and now wants candy even though said fattie can’t possibly be hungry.

    If, at that point, I’d said it was none of her business, I’d be an entry on a customers suck forum as at least a “WTF”, if not being a “suck”. (Yes, I read customer sucks forums. It’s like a train wreck, I just can’t look away.)

    I don’t quite understand this “customer suck form” mention, but again, you are under no obligation and should feel no pressure to answer unsolicited and rude questions, regardless of whatever form your name might happen to land on. The scenario could have gone like this. When asked if you were hungry, you could have just said “Yep.” Full stop. She doesn’t need to know that you hadn’t eaten since breakfast, especially since the question was overly-intrusive to begin with. If you do not ply her with this information, she would not have then been able to follow up with her equally rude comment. You were under no obligation to rationalize your food choices to a perfect stranger — a rude one at that. There was absolutely no need for you to further explain your actions or justify them in any way.

    Two young Latter Day Saints came to house one day to spread the word of Mormonism. I greeted them and after politely hearing their pitch, I said, “No thank you. I have my own spiritual beliefs.” They then persisted in further questioning my beliefs, suggesting them to be wrong and misguided. I shut the door in their face. I am under no obligation to defend my choices to disrespectful people who question why I lead my life the way that I do. And neither are you.

    My point and your point are the exact same, so I’m a bit confused why you felt the need to dedicate an entire post to my comments. You should not have to defend yourself or the food or lifestyle choices you make for yourself, period. Yet you seemed to do exactly that in this situation, which is what I found to be so odd.

  6. Rachel:
    It seems you and I do have a misunderstanding.

    In my mind, when I said, “Yes, I’m hungry, I’ve not eaten since breakfast” it had to do more with being sociable than justifying anything. Maybe it’s because I lived in the south so long, where strangers do small talk over everything, including what you ate that day and what you are going to make with the roast you are buying at the grocery store. No, really, I’ve had grocery cashiers ask if I was making stew because I got onions, potatos, celery, carrots and roast the same day. It wasn’t a problem. Matter of fact, I’ve gotten a couple of good recipes that way.

    I lived in the south for almost 20 years. For ten, it was small town south as well. People just talk. *Shrugs* Maybe it’s a different culture.

    And maybe I am still a bit prickly about the whole “if you didn’t do x, then they wouldn’t have to have done y” thing. I’m still going through counseling, so, it’s possible.

    However, please reread what you wrote. There is a note of blame the victem in there. If there wasn’t, I wouldn’t have picked up on it so easily. And neither would other people I showed it to (because there are still times I wonder if I’m taking too much offense to something that wasn’t offensive in the first place).

    Nobody needs to defend themselves for what they say, what they eat, what they do (so long as it isn’t illegal). I completely agree with you on that.

    Oh, and customers suck forums are on Live Journal and on the internet, where people in customer service come on the forum and complain about the stupidity of different customers. Usually, it’s the ones who do something really bad and expect the world and the sun and the moon. Sometimes, it’s just a “WTF” situation. In one community on LJ specifically, there had been a lot of fat hate, usually started with “and there was this HUGE man/lady, I mean grotesque, and they had 20 bags of candy in their cart if they had one candy bar… and of course, they are so huge, they had to use a motorized cart, keeping REAL disabled people from being able to use it. Anyway I just mentioned that they might not want to eat that much candy and they went off! Started to get all purple in the face, I thought they were going to have a heart attack right there!” That’s been stopped by the rules now, but for a while it was at least once a week. Which is where the reference came from.

  7. As an another survivor of abuse & rape & a very sensitive, emotional person who is easily hurt, I understand completely where you are coming from. I also understand, from stories of people close to me who live or have lived in the South, how common comments on what you are buying/making for dinner are. I certainly can identify with the defensiveness, the need to explain yourself; been there, done that. I have been working on fat acceptance & self-acceptance for thirty years & I still falter somewhat, & I spent many years virtually jumping through hoops to prove that I was a ‘good’ fat person.

    And absolutely no one has any right to comment on what we buy or eat or whateve. That hatred on the LJ community sounds godawful & I make it a point to try to avoid discussion ‘communities’ & stop reading blogs if they claim to be fat-positive but are too obviously not really; it’s a matter of self-protection. And, after thirty years, it is also a matter of getting tired of trying to reach the unreachable, even if they do see themselves as great lights of fat rights.

    Anyway, I for one understand why you felt moved to make this post & I wanted you to know that you are not alone &, if I had my own blog, I would most likely have done the same thing.

  8. Small talk isn’t just a Southern thing, so I get what you’re saying, even though on first reading of your initial post, it didn’t come across that way to me.

    As for the ““if you didn’t do x, then they wouldn’t have to have done y” thing,” what I meant and perhaps didn’t articulate as well as I should have, is that by offering up information that is none of the clerk’s business, perhaps she then felt invited to make a follow-up comment on what you then said, however rude it might have been. Had you just answered “yep,” she might have taken that as a sign that you didn’t really care to discuss the issue further with her and refrained from further comments altogether. By being sociable and giving her more information than required, she might have felt as if you wanted her to continue the exchange. It’s not “blaming the victim,” its examining the dynamics of communication. If I had told those Mormon boys “No thanks, I have my own spiritual beliefs but would like to hear more about yours,” they would obviously take that as a sign that I wanted to continue the conversation.

    On one hand, you insist that you’re just being sociable and weren’t trying to rationalize your choices to her. On the other, you say that you felt pressured to justify your comments so that some idiot store clerk wouldn’t write a bad anonymous review about you on some website. You don’t have to explain yourself to me, of course, but I’m just kind of confused by the contradictions.

  9. Patsy:
    It was a culture shock for me, when I first moved south from Chicagoland. The first time a cashier asked me what I was making with the food I was purchasing, I was very indignant, wondering how she could even ask such a thing. *shrugs* I learned.

    I’ve had people ask me all sorts of questions (not being rude, just doing what they considered to be making small talk). I remember one day a cashier and I got into a discussion on which was better, cookies and cream ice cream or Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia! 🙂

    In other words, I eventually acclimated. Although, right before I left, even after twenty years in the south, I *still* had a guy say, “You ain’t from ’round here, are ya?” and when I said no, he told me where I came from originally. Yeah, this was a guy I’d never met previously.

    In my mind, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a “good” fat person or a “bad” fat person. Yes, I know the world doesn’t look at it like that. In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter what anybody eats. That’s not what makes a person “good” or “bad”.

    What makes a person “good” or “bad” (or rather, evil) is how they live in this life, if they make a habit of unrepentantly hurting other people or not. The addage “you are what you eat” shows that people really don’t know what they are talking about, in my opinion of course.

    Congratulations on your journey of 30 years. Please remember that when you do falter, it’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and self-acceptance is something that, for those who didn’t have it to begin with, is very hard to develop. The fact that you are working on it is a good thing!

    If you ever want to talk about things, my email is open. Just let me know it’s you from here so I don’t accidently delete it, thinking it’s spam! 🙂

  10. I completely see where Welsh is coming from, and I do feel you are doing a little blame the victim there Rachel. I also understand your take on assessing the dynamics of the way people communicate. Both sides could be argued. I think, essentially, the idea is that no one has a right to comment on what someone is doing. Even if I tell people ever intimate detail of my life, they have no right to pass judgment or preach to me.

    If I had told those Mormon boys “No thanks, I have my own spiritual beliefs but would like to hear more about yours,” they would obviously take that as a sign that I wanted to continue the conversation.

    Your example is drastically different. Welsh did not say “Yep, I haven’t eaten since breakfast please tell me how you feel about that!” while your example statement /was/ inviting.

    My family constantly discuss how they wish those “homosexuals” wouldn’t “flaunt” their sexuality everywhere (ya know, by holding hands or wearing gay t-shirts or going to pride parades) and if they would just keep it to themselves then no one would say anything. What you’re saying Rach, is very much like. You’re telling Welsh to not be social, don’t talk about her eating habits, don’t let the outside world know anything about her because then they may feel invited to pass judgment. I just think that’s crap.

  11. You know what I like about this blog? Look at the comments. There’s a very sensitive disagreement with some really naked and open feelings going on and NOBODY IS FLIPPING OUT! Seriously, both parties are like “Well, let me reiterate my statement, as I think I was not clear” and “So, what I hear you saying is X and I respectfully disagree because of Y.” God, that is so refreshing.

    I also wanted to add that I’m a Southerner myself and my grocer (I shop at a local-only food store–made of awesome!) is ALWAYS commenting on what I get! Sometimes he even whips out a pen and writes down the more interesting veggie combos I come up with (chicken stuffed with onion and rhubarb=pink delicious!). It’s super fun!

  12. Ok, not that I’m saying my awesome big ole teddy bear of a grocer asking about my latest adventures with kholrabi and Guiness cheese is anything remotely like the candy thing. It just reminded me of a happy story I wanted to share. I’m jolly. I can’t help it. I’m a stereotype.

  13. Miz H:
    I’m glad you are enjoying the blog.

    In my opinion, flipping out isn’t going to help anything. When there is disagreement and misunderstanding, the best way to deal with it is by listening to what the other person is saying, not what I *think* they are saying. Because if all I do is reiterate what I’m saying without listening? It’s just going to escalate things.

    I learned this ‘arguing’ with my husband about political stuff. We’re both moderates. He’s moderate leaning right. I’m moderate leaning left. Most of the time, on most things, we actually agree on issues. Where we disagree, we really disagree. However, we’ve learned to listen to each other, and while I’m never going to change his mind, and he’s never going to change mine, we can discuss things like the reasonable adults we usually are, and at least see where the other person is coming from.

    I think, except for people who are trolls*, any disagreement can at least be understood. Even if the participants finally agree to disagree agreeably. 🙂

    And I love your story about your grocer asking about your latest culinary adventures. Guiness cheese? That sounds really interesting! Did you make it yourself? If so, did you use rennet or vinager, or did the beer actually provide enough souring agent to turn the milk into cheese? (Note: I have no personal experience with cheese making, but have a few friends who’ve made ‘quick cheeses’ (young cheeses?) using either rennet or vinegar.)

    *Trolls, on the other hand, seem to only care about arguing and flaming, their desire to stop the conversation and disrupt discourse. It’s why they never make it out of moderation here.

  14. Rachel:

    “Small talk isn’t just a Southern thing, so I get what you’re saying, even though on first reading of your initial post, it didn’t come across that way to me”

    Then I need to learn to express myself better. I apologize that my lack of communication skills caused this misunderstanding between us to begin with.

    “On the other, you say that you felt pressured to justify your comments so that some idiot store clerk wouldn’t write a bad anonymous review about you on some website. ”

    I can see where this could be confusing. I don’t ever claim to be totally rational. I do my best, but I don’t always succeed. My not wanting to end up on a customers suck forum has nothing to do with me wanting people to think I’m a “good fattie”. Instead, it’s about me not wanting to appear rude to anybody. Contrary to what it may seem like from here, I don’t like confrontation, and don’t like to appear to be “rude”.

    “By being sociable and giving her more information than required, she might have felt as if you wanted her to continue the exchange. It’s not “blaming the victim,” its examining the dynamics of communication. ”

    Now I understand your position better. Thank you for taking the time to explain it and re-explain it. I apologize for thinking you were having a ‘blame the victem’ message in your original response to the other post.

    I’m glad we understand each other’s position a bit more.

  15. Sometimes, the cashier is trying to make conversation. I’m vegetarian and no one ever comments about the lack of meat, dairy, eggs in my order. My order at a grocery store tends to be only bread and produce many days and no one comments. I would like a little conversation. I’m sure that they’re noticing, but they don’t say a word.

    It’s like the world is too silent some times. I used to feel self-conscience about the way I dressed and dressed very conservatively. It made me look dumpy. Now, I wear tight clothes, bright colors, etc. I’ve wear shorts and tee shirt if I’m warm even if other people are covering up.

    When I turned 30, I realized that life was too short to cover up. I was going to show my body to the world. If they didn’t like it, they didn’t have to look and I found out that I wasn’t as fat as I believed myself to be.

  16. I’m glad we understand each other’s position a bit more.

    Same here. Internet communication is hard because it can be so impersonal. I think if we were all meeting in person over coffee, we’d all probably understand each other much better 🙂 And I also want to say, because I didn’t before and meant to, that the “Because I’m an adult” line is an awesome comeback, I wish I were that witty to think of stuff like that on the spot. I’d be horrible if picked to be on Jeopardy; I’m not good with thinking on my feet.

    What you’re saying Rach, is very much like. You’re telling Welsh to not be social, don’t talk about her eating habits, don’t let the outside world know anything about her because then they may feel invited to pass judgment.

    No, I didn’t mean that at all and I hope that no one thinks that this is what I meant. Part of my confusion is that I read welshwmn3’s comments not as an attempt at being sociable, but more so as a conscious and deliberate attempt to justify her food choices. With this in mind, my point was not that she should not be sociable for fear of judgment, but rather that she shouldn’t feel pressured to submissively volunteer information to explain her choices. When you act passively and not assertively, it opens the door for people to comment on those choices. My larger point is that if we assert ourselves and make absolutely no excuses for our choices, it invites less criticism of those choices. I hope this made sense, in any case.

  17. Sadly, I did not make the Guiness cheese myself, although my pal and I are working up to giving a port cheese a go. I thought of the Guiness cheese (which my grocer makes) because the day I got it, he kept trying to guess what I was pairing it with. He never got the right answer. It was “bread.” 🙂

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