39. No Shame in My Game

39. No Shame in My Game

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

No Shame in My Game

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

~Dr. Seuss

I looked in the mirror and nodded my head in approval. It was going to be a great day!

I’d recently been invited to help decorate for an upcoming women’s retreat at a local church. Sylvia was on the planning committee and when she invited me to do some shopping for the event I eagerly accepted. It would be nice to get out of the house and I looked forward to getting to know this lady better. I wanted to make a good impression on my new “church friend” so I took extra care in my appearance. She arrived and I confidently greeted her at the door.

We agreed we would stop for lunch first, because shopping for tablescapes is serious business and you need your strength. Sylvia suggested Golden Corral, an all-you-can-eat buffet. We arrived and I headed straight for my favorite section — the salad! I loaded my plate with lettuce, cauliflower, and cucumbers.

As I reached for the salad dressing a man bumped into me. “Oh, I’m sorry. Excuse me,” I said pleasantly. I hadn’t moved so I knew it was he who had bumped into me. He was an older man and I thought that perhaps he’d stumbled. I felt a little sorry for him. I didn’t want him to feel bad so I apologized first.

“I guess you just couldn’t wait to get to the food, could you?” he answered curtly.

I was rather surprised by his tone but I just smiled and began to ladle on the ranch dressing.

“I mean, look at you,” he continued. “Look how big you are.”

“Just more of me to love,” I answered, managing a nervous laugh.

Was this guy for real? As he continued his verbal lashing I had a flashback to a recent Friday night when my husband Joey and I sat on the couch watching an episode of What Would You Do? The ABC show, hosted by 20/20 veteran John Quinones, features actors playing out shocking scenes in public and captures the responses of unsuspecting bystanders. We enjoyed the show but some of the scenarios seemed rather far-fetched to me. One such episode featured an actress playing an overweight woman at an all-you-can-eat buffet. The idea was that they would have another actor berate and humiliate her to see how the other patrons would respond. “That would never really happen,” I told Joey. “Nobody is that mean.” And I believed that statement one hundred percent.

“I guess you just couldn’t wait to get to the food, could you?”

Now here I was. Overweight. At an all-you-can-eat buffet. And I was being berated by a stranger who as far as I could tell was not an actor.

Okay, John Quinones, you and your camera crew can come out now. This really isn’t funny. And by the way, I no longer feel sorry for the old guy.

John Quinones didn’t appear and I stood frozen at the salad bar unsure of what to do next. I had ladled so much dressing onto my salad while contemplating my escape from this crazy old coot that I now had ranch soup. I decided to do what any grown forty-year-old woman who is being fat-shamed by a total stranger in public would do — make a run for it. I turned and took several steps away but the old man cut me off, blocking my path. He continued his tirade, his voice loud enough for everyone around us to hear.

“Look at you! You’re fat!” He practically yelled it as he looked me up and down in a show of disgust. “I’m eighty-four years old and I have never looked like you.”

I didn’t know what to do or say. I looked down at myself, taking in the body he was so maliciously criticizing. A million thoughts ran through my head. Should I try to shame him by telling him that I had gained weight while suffering from depression after my daughter passed away? Should I try to explain that much of the weight gain had been a side effect of the anti-depressant medications I had been treated with after my loss? Would sharing something so personal quiet his rant? Would it matter to him that I hadn’t always looked like this . . . that I had once been thin? And then it hit me . . . Did it matter to me?

Sure I had gained some weight, but I had gained something else along the way. I’d become much more compassionate toward other hurting hearts. I had found a sense of peace after surrendering my circumstance to God. I gained perspective and insight into the people and things that are truly important in life. I felt wiser, and I’d venture to say I was a better person than I’d ever been.

I had liked what I saw when I looked in the mirror that morning — a woman on her life’s journey. I was finally feeling better after years of grieving my loss, and it felt good to feel good again. I would not allow this man, a complete stranger, to steal my joy.

“You’re fat!” The old man said it again . . . in case the kitchen staff hadn’t heard him the first time.

I noticed a woman take a step toward us. I looked up and was horrified. It was Sylvia! How embarrassing! She stopped and her mouth dropped open. I looked back and forth from the old man to my new friend as Sylvia’s eyes and mouth grew wider with each hateful word the old man spewed at me.

Sylvia took a deep breath and I could tell she was about to say something. She looked mad, too. Good! My new friend was about to come to my rescue and I could tell she was about to let this crazy old bird have it! I waited . . . And then it came.

“That’s not very Christian of you!” she blurted out as she stared the old man down.

I’m not sure what I was expecting her to say but I can assure you it wasn’t that. The old man looked at her stunned. He was quiet for the first time in what seemed an eternity. He turned away and quickly disappeared into a far corner of the restaurant.

“Maybe he’s senile and he didn’t know what he was doing,” Sylvia offered sympathetically as I sipped my ranch soup back at our table.

“No, I think he was just a jerk,” I responded.

That evening I played the old man’s words over and over again in my head. I knew exactly what had caused my weight gain, but what unseen “thing” would cause a person to verbally assault a complete stranger about her physical appearance? For the second time that day, I felt sorry for the old man. He was no more than a bully whose words said more about him than they did about me.

I was not about to let someone else dictate my self-worth, and as simple as it sounds, I let his words go. They weren’t really mine to hold on to in the first place.

In the words of the fictional character, Aibileen Clark, in The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” And may I add, “You is beautiful.”

~Melissa Wootan

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