I had a really super annoying experience shopping for new running shoes. It’s mostly annoying not for what was said but for how I didn’t react. L’esprit de l’escalier!
Yesterday Nat blogged about her unhappy experience buying rollers for bike training and though my purchase was more common place, it wasn’t much fun.
I was trying on new running shoes from the half price clearance table at a local running store when I made the mistake of listening to another sales person and customer have fun with the following conversation: “Yeah, they say running hurts your knees but what about being fat? That hurts your knees more.” Insert some laughter here. “They should stop even performing knee surgeries on fat patients.”
I wasn’t buying shoes from that sales person but I didn’t bravely intervene either. I even bought the shoes. They were a great price.
Things I didn’t say: “What if you’re a fat runner? What then? ” “What if you’re fat and not a runner? Surely if you need knee surgery you should still get knee surgery?”
I’m never sure when I hear people say these sorts of things what’s going through their heads. Do you not see me in the store? (It’s a very small store.)
Sometimes, I cheer inwardly thinking that they mustn’t think I count as fat. Whee. Points for me.
But then what, it’s okay to express anti-fat bias so openly if there aren’t any fat people there? No.
I wonder if I’m just enough on the good side of fat, just small enough to be thought of as aspiring thin person. “Yes, fat now, but once you buy those running shoes and start running you’ll lean right out.”
But then I realize that they actually don’t care, that they think it’s okay to hate on fat people. And I wish I hadn’t bought running shoes there. I try to imagine what it would be like to be me at the same weight without a history of athletic involvement. I would have felt sad and excluded rather than angry.There are so many barriers to being physically active in our culture. I’d like to imagine a warm, welcoming community happy to have new members. But clearly we’re not there.
I wish I’d said something. I was kind of ashamed. Of them, of me? I don’t know. It was just incredibly socially awkward and I wanted to get out of there fast.
Not saying something when it needs to be said is a kind of moral failing. I wish I was a tougher, braver person. The worst instance of this in my life occurred when I was a young grad student looking for a new apartment in Chicago. The superintendent insisted on meeting my partner. Why? That puzzled me. Turns out it was an all white-building. Once our skin colour was checked out, that was explained to us in just those words. “This is an all white building.”
And it bugs me to this day that we didn’t scream, call him names, or call someone. We were both shocked and flabbergasted. We just left very quickly and abruptly and said that it wasn’t for us. We cut the meeting short and it was, I hope, clear why, but that failure to confront an actual racist right there in our faces expressing his racism so openly still haunts me. Then as now, my first reaction was awkwardness and embarrassment.
I don’t mean to compare racism to anti-fat bias. Housing is far more serious accessibility issue than running shoes. I know that.
But the phenomenology of not knowing how to respond, wanting to respond but feeling so awkward that you just want not to be there, is familiar.
How can we do better?