To all my well-intentioned but clueless mama friends,
Please shut up about my size.
When you say things without thinking, you make me not like you. I want to like you.
Yes, I’m a sensitive person. I feel things deeply. I have a sense of humor and try not to take myself too seriously. I’m honest. I speak my mind when it might do some good.
None of this makes me fragile.
Please don’t take this as a warning to tread carefully. In fact, please don’t tread carefully. Don’t tread at all.
I’m trying to teach my kids to be curious and kind, thoughtful and thankful. I want to think that you value those same things. You do, don’t you?
I tell my kids that it’s ok to play with your kids. I tell them that you and your kids mean well because I want to think you do, too.
They don’t know what that means, really, to “mean well.” How would they? They play dragons on the playground.
I want to believe that it’s ignorance that makes you say stupid things. That gives me hope—ignorance might be teachable.
The other day at school pickup, I showed up in old running shorts and a raggedy t-shirt. I’d been working all day from home in front of my laptop, as I do. You know this.
Maybe it’s because you know part of my story—that I’m a writer who likes the outdoors, that I love my kids, that I ski in the winter and run in the summer, that I’m “athletic”—that made you think it was ok to say what you did. I’m trying hard to give you the benefit of the doubt here.
I walked into the lobby and heard the “heys” and “hellos” that define pickup and I lobbed them back, meaning them all.
“My god,” you said. “You look tiny.”
It felt like a turbo-charged vacuum super-sucked the air right out of that room. I tried not to show you that I was suffocating.
“Like a smurf?” I said.
Laughter. Nervous. Exhalations.
“No,” you said, “but that’s funny.”
I don’t know. I suspect a lot of women might’ve liked hearing that. I’ll admit that I do like being called funny, especially when I am.
I suspect that because our culture is so focused on thin (say whatever the hell you want, but it is, and I refuse to bow to it) that you might think it’s ok to say to another woman that she looks tiny.
Maybe it is.
But it’s not.
It’s not ok for me.
I don’t expect that you would know that and I’m not blaming you for not knowing. I never told you. I don’t tell many people.
I do expect that you’d know not to comment publicly a person’s physical being.
I do expect that you’d know not to say to an overweight person, “My god, you look fat.” Maybe you’d save it for a private conversation. One you were having because you were concerned. Or reaching out. I don’t know.
I suppose I’ll tell you now, why your comment pissed me off.
I’m an anorexic. I’ve been one my whole life. It’s part of who I am—not a particularly great part—but it’s part of me nonetheless. Maybe I’ll write a book about it someday.
Please. Don’t pity me. Don’t apologize. No survivor I’ve ever met wants your pities or your sorrys. We want to live our lives.
Sometimes, like now, we want you to know.
I’ve been at a healthy weight and mind for over 20 years. I’ve worked hard to learn how to enjoy food and exercise. Mostly, I do. Some days I still struggle, the disease calling me. I do my best to slay that beast every time I hear its roar in my head.
An old therapist once told me to tell the “committee” in my head to shut the hell up. Sometimes, they’re just chatty. Sometimes, they roar.
Survivors hear the roar every day. We don’t get on with it. We live with it. Tune that roar the fuck out.
Did you ever hear some iteration of the idea that everyone has their story? That everyone has baggage? A dusty skeleton underneath cobwebs in a forgotten closet? Ring a bell?
We all have something like that.
I try to respect yours, whatever it is. You can call me out if I don’t.
Please try to respect mine.
Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer and editor, educator, non-profit consultant, and mama to two kids, ages 4 and 6. She’s interested in intersections: education, equity, the environment, technology, and politics. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s playing outside with her family. She’s become a coffee snob. You can find her work on Grok Nation https://groknation.com/author/alyssa-walker/ and the NOLS Blog https://blog.nols.edu/2018/05/03/expedition-behavior-helps-you-raise-kids.