A client asked for a moisturizing cream that was good for combination skin. The stuff she was using had stopped working, she said.
It was summertime, and it was blistering hot out, so I had opted for my tunic uniform and black tights. This wasn’t an unusual outfit choice for me; those who see me outside of the internet know that I typically always wear skirts and tights (paired with massive sweaters). I thank my years at private school for this obsession. Plus, skirts and dresses kinda make me feel like a princess.
I lead the woman through the many make-up obstacles to the back of the store. On my way, I passed other smiling employees, freshly polished displays, the cheery chicks at cash, and a couple that was kneeling down by a shelf, taking a look at a product. Just as I passed the man who was crouched over, I heard a rather loud comment:
“Look how fat her legs are,” said the man to his girlfriend.
The comment stopped me in my tracks. Suddenly I was a robot rusted to the floor; a robin who had hit a clean glass window. I could feel my muscles cease, like someone had bunched them up in their fist, then tied a big fat elastic band around them. I loved wearing tights and showing off my legs even if they were bigger, but this man’s nasty comment left me completely baffled and embarrassed of my body.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time someone had decided to openly comment on my physical appearance.
While singing at Italian Folklorama a few years earlier, an older woman approached me as I balanced a slice of pizza and a cup of gelato in one hand. I had just blasted through a performance of O Mio Babbino Caro, and was absolutely starving. After all three shows, I received nothing but thank you’s, handshakes, and smiles from audience members who said my singing had brought them to tears. One man even told me he had returned that night so he could hear me sing again. Just as I had picked up my dinner and dessert, I heard a rather loud comment:
“You should watch your calories with those,” said the woman to my face, tapping my hips. She puffed out her cheeks, imitating a fat person.
Then she smiled.
According to an article by Peter Bregman on Psychology Today, there are three correct steps in responding to negative people:
1. Understand how they feel and validate it.
2. Find a place to agree with them.
3. Find out what they are positive about and reinforce it.
According to my brain, there were three correct steps in responding to this woman:
1. If I was quick enough, I could slam the pizza slice AND the gelato into her face at the same time and really smoosh it right on in there.
2. I could slowly unhinge my jaw and allow a swarm of locusts to fly around the room, then watch them engulf her (kinda like that scene from The Mummy).
3. I could stop what I was doing and begin eating the food while staring at her. I wouldn’t break eye contact- I’d just move closer and closer with each bite until the bridges of our noses touched.
But in reality, I told her I would watch my calories. I smiled back at her.
Then I walked away.
The weeks after that incident were filled with bitterness. I constantly thought about how I should have responded to the woman; should I have told her to mind her own business? Should I have just ignored her? Should I have laughed in her face? What was the right way to respond to unwanted comments?
Responding to negativity about your physical appearance is hard no matter what size you are, what you choose to wear, or how you choose to present yourself. When people feel the need to share their opinion on how you choose to exist, talking back to them can be awkward and kind of scary. Suddenly you are in a position to defend yourself to the public, reassuring everyone that you’re doing the best you can to ‘fix’ and ‘improve’ the way you are (even if you’re completely happy with yourself).
It seemed like there were only two solutions to my problem: completely change how I dressed and acted to avoid negative attention, or reassure the commenter that I was trying to better myself in order to satisfy their opinion.
But why should I change myself in order to make people around me more comfortable? Why did I need to alter my existence so other people would keep their opinions to themselves? Why should I have to cover up my fat lil’ legs? Why, if it is not your body, do you care at all? Why should I have to defend my actions and choices to complete strangers? Why should I be apologetic for who I am?
I decided that there are four ways in dealing with negative comments about your physical appearance:
1. Completely ignore the person’s comment and continue what you were doing in the first place. Pretend as if they had never said it. If they repeat their comment, continue to ignore them.
2. Laugh. Laugh hard. Laugh so hard you make the moment awkward. When they try to talk, keep laughing. Don’t stop laughing until they’ve left the room. After they leave the room, keep laughing.
3. Make them feel as uncomfortable as they’ve made you feel. If you have no shame, make a heinous face and stare at them. Give yourself a ton of chins and curl back your lips, exposing your gums. Stare deep into their soul. Gurgle if you must.
4. If you’re feeling particularly bold, call them out on it. Tell them that what they said was rude. Tell them they should be embarrassed- and trust me, they will be.
I try my best to execute one of these steps if faced with someone’s open opinion about my body. Sure, it can be scary to stand up for yourself, and hell, you may even look stupid, but why should you let someone else get away with cutting you down, even if it is just a passing comment? If you’re happy with yourself, why let other people break your confidence because they’re uncomfortable with your body?
Go out and wear a pair of shorts, even if you’re afraid your legs will look fat and jiggly. Think you’re too tall for an ultra-mini-skirt? Nope. Try on a crop-top and show off your stretch marks, scars, and lumpy bits. Think you’re too skinny for a peplum dress? Think again- you’ll probably look babely. Do you just absolutely hate wearing makeup? That’s cool too. Want to wear blue lipstick and a hot-pink onesie with a killer pair of 6-inch heels? Go for it. Are you comfortable in absolutely nothing but electrical tape? Wicked- go strut your stuff.
Sure, it’s not what I would choose to wear, but then again, it’s not my place to comment.
Oh, and the way I responded to the couple?
I picked number three.