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Sidewalk Sages

August 20, 2012

Have you ever met a sidewalk sage? A sidewalk sage is a total stranger who feels the need to come up to you and start offering you advice about how to lose weight, tell you what diet worked for them, or make some comment relating to your weight. I think it’s safe to say that all of us have met a few of them and, depending on the person, it can be offensive, infuriating, insulting, and sometimes just funny or bemusing.

We’ve pretty much all been through a scenario like this: You’re standing on the street waiting for someone. You become aware that someone close by is staring at you, so you turn around and look at them. Very often, it’s a sweet-looking old lady. She’ll be standing there watching you really intently. You’ll look at her, thinking “What the hell,” and the eye contact will give her the impetus she needs to come up to you and deliver her sage advice. She’ll walk toward you and say something like: “You know what really worked for me? The grapefruit diet. I tried it a few years ago and lost 50 pounds!” And you stand there, thinking, “What the fuck.”

These people never cease to amaze me. What makes them do it? Why do they feel the need to go up to a TOTAL STRANGER and editorialize about their appearance? Didn’t their parents teach them any manners?

I would never go up to an ugly person and say: You know, there`s a really good plastic surgeon down the street. You ought to go and see if he can fix your face, I hear he’s really good.

After one of these people finishes dispensing their unwanted advice or opinion, I could easily say to them (but usually never do, because this behaviour floors me every time and I’m usually speechless with shock): You know, it’s really inappropriate to go up to a total stranger and start talking to them about something as intimate as their appearance. I know where you can go to brush up on your social skills and learn how to act like a human being, let me give you the address.

Once, I was browsing at an Old Navy store, looking for some sweats for my daughter Emily. Emily was standing beside me. This young woman comes walking up to me very purposefully with a small boy beside her (her son, I assume) and, with a big smile on her face, hands me a little piece of paper. I looked at it and it was a brochure for a weight loss and exercise program. I was shocked and pissed off at the same time. I was – as usual – struck dumb at the gall of this woman.

She started talking about how she worked for this place and it was really great and it worked and wouldn’t I like to join? I felt like punching her in the face… but because Emily was with me, I managed a sick smile. “No thanks!” I simply said and walked away, but I was kicking myself and wished I had let her have it. I was regretting that it could have been a great learning experience for my daughter too, seeing her mom deal with weight prejudice.

Emily was tugging my arm, asking me, “Mommy, what did she say?” (even though she’d been standing right there and heard everything). I told her and Emily shook her head. “That was so rude!” she said. I just grimaced and said, “Yes it was.” I hurriedly finished doing what we had to do and got out of there.

I always think of the best things to say afterward. When we were in line paying for Emily’s sweats, I thought of a million things I could have said to her. I could have asked that bitch, “How’s the program working for you, any success?” It wasn’t lost on me, either, that she was teaching her child how to treat people – that it’s perfectly okay to go up to a large person and judge them, as long as you “act nice” about it. And that’s exactly what these people do, act nice. As if they want to help you, but in reality, they don’t know you, have no idea what your lifestyle or health history is, and, most mind-boggling of all, they assume you haven’t given your size any thought at all yourself! Lucky for us they’re kind enough to worry about it for us and offer us some tips!

So what do we do about sidewalk sages? Just smile and nod, say thank you very much, I’ll take that into consideration, I really appreciate your looking out for me like this … Or do we say, “Bitch, start walking in the other direction before my knuckles meet your face!”

Well, since jail is not a fun place to be, the latter isn’t a good option. Smiling and nodding and letting them get off scot-free isn’t an option either. I’m for the happy medium: The next time some presumptuous, rude asshole comes up to you and makes a comment about your weight, or tells you about a diet that worked for them, tell them about the plastic surgeon who can fix their face or the therapist who can teach them some social skills … or maybe even both! Then watch them go mute with indignation and probably think to themselves: “Did you hear what that fat bitch said to me!!!”

17 Comments leave one →
  1. The Real Cie permalink
    August 20, 2012 8:47 am

    I once had a resident at the retirement home where I work say to me “you know, if you would just eat less and exercise more, you could lose some of that excess weight. My husband was a doctor and he would have told you the same thing.”
    I felt like saying “and did your husband kill himself to get away from you, you meddling old bat?”
    Instead I said “well, Ma’am, my weight is not a concern to me. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a concern to you either.”
    I was there to change a freaking smoke alarm battery.
    I could not even imagine saying such an invasive thing to another person.

  2. August 20, 2012 8:50 am

    I know what you mean. It boggles my mind how, if you are a large person, people feel like they have the absolute right to come up to you and start talking to you about your body. It’s incredibly invasive and rude! But somehow, in our society, it’s considered acceptable behaviour. Very, very bizarre.

  3. vesta44 permalink
    August 20, 2012 9:29 am

    I think I’m lucky. I’ve never had anyone other than doctors tell me about a diet I should try or an exercise plan or anything else that would work for me to lose weight. I’ve had people call me a fat bitch, but they’ve never gone on to tell me how to lose weight. Of course, that could be because my normal facial expression looks like I’m pissed off so no one has the nerve to tell me anything (they may think they’ll get their ass handed to them or something, which is probably true).

  4. August 20, 2012 9:45 am

    I have yet to experience this, must be the mean look on my face, hehe. I don’t understand how people think that this kind of behaviour is appropriate.

  5. August 20, 2012 10:20 am

    I had this happen to me on the tube ride home from London after the fattylympics! It was exceptionally shocking since I was on my way home from such a positive event. A little old lady (using the term loosely) sat right next to me and patted my hand. “hello dear” and I smiled politely. “would you like to lose weight?” “No, thank you.” And I moved as far away from her that I could two stops later. Everyone heard, and I was mortified. I waited till after I got off to start crying, but it blew my mind how rude it was.

  6. August 20, 2012 11:22 am

    I told the last person who did that to had lost something like 80 pounds and wanted me to join the group that had helped her so much. I told her that if she kept it off for more than 5 years, she was “literally a freak of nature,” that I had survived anorexia, and started spouting statistics at her. (Thank you Ancel Keys, Jeffrey M. Friedman, Ethan Sims, Paul Campos, Gina Kolata, et al). She got very huffy and walked away.

  7. g2-1b814e83aee5ec3fdf125bf1db332006 permalink
    August 20, 2012 11:22 am

    Ack “…who did that to me…”

  8. August 20, 2012 4:10 pm

    I get this ALLL the freaking time. I think it’s because I make too much eye contact. They usually always preface their bullshit with “My niece was a big girl like you and you know what she did…” I am thinking “probably hated your fucking guts with a passion, but please do go on. ” My mom always laugh because she was at our local eatery and Thelma *we live in a small town* Thelma just hollers across the counter “JUST EAT HALF” My niece lost weight by just eating half”….I always just smile and say thanks. When it’s old people because they were jsut born at a different time and they truly think they are helping you.

  9. August 20, 2012 4:36 pm

    Years ago I had that happen and I said, I just lost 50 lbs and I feel great. She smiled and walked away. I lied of course. But if it happens again, I agree, I will say thank you and then refer her to a plactic surgeon. Good one.

  10. August 20, 2012 6:16 pm

    I’ve had everything from just a rude comment screamed at me from a car window as was WALKING down the street (Lose some fucking weight!) to a mentally disabled man in a wheelchair tell me “You need to lose some weight” to which I replied, “it’s none of your business SIR, so mind your own business”. I even had a woman I worked with during a temp assignment say to me “I guess you don’t want to lose all your beautiful weight”. I was very young at the time and mortified. I’m really at the point in my life that I don’t care. Oh, and I”m sick of people telling me how much better/happier I would be if I lost weight. My sister in law thinks I won’t ever find love because of my weight….nice…really nice….I hate the fucking bitch! *sigh*….I like the suggestion to tell them where to get some manners or some surgery….ha ha….too funny!

  11. August 20, 2012 7:03 pm

    This kind of thing is maybe the single time in my entire life that I use my Asperger’s as an excuse to be rude, if only because it’s deserved. I usually tell those people flat out that they don’t know me and they should bugger off. If they act shocked or angry, I ignore them, and if they keep pressing me, then they get the “I don’t want your preaching. Fuck off.” Strike three, you’re out, as far as my patience is concerned.

    • BBDee permalink
      August 21, 2012 9:17 pm

      Awesome CC!!! I wish I could just be straight to the point like that and not get all bunged up about if i’m being rude and hurting the a**hole’s feelings!

      • August 22, 2012 5:06 pm

        They clearly give no f#cks about my feelings, why should I give any about theirs?

  12. August 23, 2012 9:07 am

    I have had this happen many times. I guess in my case, I kind of overload them in response, and chase them away, telling them about all the foods I am allergic to and how the doctors can’t figure it out and about my vitamin regiment, and how I hate GMO food, blah blah blah and really complex nutritional controversies. That usually chases them away. I also sometimes give them the diets fail speech, and that doesn’t work on MY BODY so leave me alone.

  13. Diane permalink
    August 29, 2012 10:35 am

    “I would never go up to an ugly person and say: You know, there`s a really good plastic surgeon down the street. You ought to go and see if he can fix your face, I hear he’s really good.”

    You wouldn’t, but there are lots of people who would. I’ve seen it done. People feel perfectly free to comment on other’s appearance, child-bearing decisions, children (try going out in public with twins or more, the comments never stop), shopping choices, etc.

    If I have the time and feel a person might be clueless but well-intentioned I’ll try to do a bit of education. Otherwise, I tend to make the experience aversive for them so they at least won’t do it to *me* next time. Aversive could be anything from a glare to returning the favor with volumes of unwanted information. I can talk a really long time about just about anything 🙂

  14. August 31, 2012 11:15 am

    I’ve never really had a sidewalk sage, but every time I see my Grandma, she tells me I’ve lost weight, which I haven’t in the least. If my Grandma was right, I’d be 98 pounds by now.


  15. Sparkkeh permalink
    September 19, 2012 1:51 pm

    I’ve done some really … um, perhaps terrible? things (in retrospect). I get this a lot – people somehow just think it’s OK to say crap to me. One teenage girl in a group (ick, teenagers in groups *shudder) looked at me and was like, If I was as fat as her I’d kill myself. I told her that the razor blades were three aisles over, why wait? …. I sorta feel bad for that one. Once, I stopped the rude young man and offered him my sincere condolences on the loss of his parents. When he was confused and like, what? My parents are at home! I was like “I assumed you must have lost them at a young age, since you obviously had no one at home to teach you appropriate manners.” And walked away. And my favorite? The guy who whispered “You’re fat” as I walked by. Obviously meant to shame and be secret, thus the whisper. It was right in front of the library on my college campus. I stopped dead in my tracks nad looked down at my fat body, feigning shock, and started screaming, OH MY GOD ITS TRUE! HOW COULD NO ONE TELL ME? I HAD NO IDEA! OH GOD HOW COULD I NOT KNOW IM FAT? Once everyone in the vicinity was staring at the two of us I said, in a normal voice – And you, sir, are an asshole who should know better than to comment on other people’s bodies. And walked away, with everyone laughing – at HIM. 🙂

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