Monday, August 17, 2015

Open letter to the young ladies who fat-shamed me this weekend.

Dear Young Ladies,

It's been hot here in LA over the past weekend.  Really hot!  I mean, 100+ degrees hot and the only respite from the heat is to find any collection of water, put your body in it and stay there as long as you can.  That's exactly what my family and I did when we went out to my mother-in-law's community pool in Westlake Village.

Of course, we aren't the only geniuses to consider going to the pool that day so it was crowded.  We got in the pool and my son and I started playing catch in the water.  As we played, I noticed you three young women diving down under water, staring at me below the surface, then coming up for air, giggling and pointing at me.

I don't know exactly what you were saying to each other in the pool this weekend, but I could tell that you were watching my stomach "jiggle" underwater as I threw the ball with my son. You continued to stare and make funny comments to each other even after I noticed you.  I looked you right in the eyes and you made virtually no effort hide what was going on; you just continued to stare and make fun of me. I wish I had a witty comment, or some way to confront you on this but this was literally the first time something like this has happened to me.  I should have said something to you. I should have let you know that I saw what you were doing and that it made me feel very uncomfortable. I should have done 99 different things but instead I froze. I just tried to ignore you and continue to play with my son who was, thankfully, 100% oblivious to the whole thing.

I don't know why, but I was surprised that this was happening to me and I was surprised at how I handled it.  You would never know this but for a long time, I would wear a shirt when I went swimming. I told myself and others, it was because I was worried about getting sunburned, but the truth was I was ashamed to show my stomach in public.  As I've become more involved in the Health at Every Size® (HAES) and body positive movement, I finally realized that I have nothing to be ashamed of.  Quite the opposite, I should be proud of my body and if I'm going to encourage others to be as well, I better walk the walk and not just talk the talk.  They day before this incident, while swimming at another pool, my daughter asked, "Daddy, why don't you swim with your shirt on anymore?"  I told her the truth: that I used to wear my shirt because I was embarrassed of my body and now, I'm proud of what I look like and I'll only wear it if I'm out in the sun too much to avoid a sunburn.  She had no comment at all and just accepted it saying, "OK."

To the people close to me, my body shape is not an issue and, in the end, that is what really matters. After struggling so many years with showing my body at the beach or the pool, to have this experience really flustered me. Girls, I want you to know I won't be putting my shirt back on because of you. You can laugh and giggle all you want, but I won't be hiding myself any longer. I'll learn to deal with the comments and looks. I will learn to be more comfortable.  Hopefully, you will learn not to make fun of something that is different from what you might normally see.  Hopefully, you'll be nicer to others in the future who have a similar shape as me.  Hopefully, you won't tease your classmates who are in larger size bodies. Hopefully, this was a one time thing for all of us, but we all know it won't be.

Summer is not over and who knows when it will cool down, so there's a good chance we'll meet again either this summer or the next.  I'll still have my shirt off and I have chosen what I'd say to you or to anyone else who starts to  stare and giggle.  It goes something like this: "Hi there.  I'm Aaron.  I hope you are enjoying the pool today.  I sure am. Want to play catch with my son and me?"

See you at the pool.

8 comments:

  1. I think the important thing is that you were spending time with your son playing catch. I only dreamed of having a father like that. Weight doesn't determine who you are and I think it's awesome that you have taken a moral stand on something that's not always popular (especially in Southern California). The young girls could use you as a role model.

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  2. Ah, swimsuits and summer...so much opportunity for dealing with body image issues. Thank you for sharing your story. I grew up in Southern California and watched both of my parents cover up excessively in hot weather. I didn't follow (swim)suit until after my daughter was born, when I didn't want the changes in my body to be seen by others. But like you, I've also made the conscious choice to try covering up less this summer. Last time we went to a public pool I noticed that I was literally the only mom with an exposed stomach. I don't want my daughter to grow up thinking that is the norm!

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  3. I loved this, Aaron. I hate that we live in a world where it is deemed okay to make fat phobic comments, to shame people for their bodies and to "blame" them for not fitting societies ridiculous beauty standards. I truly admire you taking steps towards being confortable in who you are. I love reading your posts and as a fellow RD and HAES advocate, I find you very inspiring! Keep it up!

    Josée Sovinsky

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  4. I'm so sorry to hear that fat-shaming had to interfere with an otherwise fun day at the pool for you. It's an all too common occurrence, unfortunately. I admire your courage to write about it, and how it made you feel, and I applaud your decision to stop wearing a shirt in the pool. I also love how you have decided to deal with the situation if it happens again. I think fat shamers might change their ways if they could come to realize that fat bodies and the people who have them are perfectly normal, and deserve just as much respect as lean people.

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  5. Aaron, thank you for candor in this post. I am sorry you were met with this ignorant cruelty. I am glad it was only the first time you have experienced this and you had age and wisdom on your side.
    I have covered myself up for many years at public watering holes and am now trying to strip away the layers (literally and metaphorically). My great fear is to be made fun of like this for revealing my body. I grew up being fat-shamed and it continues to be a fear. But what is there to fear of their small-mindedness? I am the only one stopping myself. Hearing laughter at one's expense is hard to ignore though. I am learning how to process it, and deflect it.
    You are an inspiration, and your Jedi way at the end of choosing peace is beautiful. I am however always filled with Sith rage when these things happen.
    Keep baring your body and soul!

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  6. *applauding*
    Love your humble honesty. I wish more adult men would speak out on how they feel about fat-shaming. My observation is that while society at times seems to try to help young women respond to shamers, it expects men to "just be macho/get over it", as though males aren't or shouldn't be affected by ridicule.
    Now go get some sunscreen. :)

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