A few weeks ago, I went out for a run feeling very bloated as I have been a lot lately. I don’t know if it’s healthier eating (aka more veggies and fiber) or what, but I have felt enormous and my pants always feel tight and my stomach is often unhappy. So I was horrified by the way I looked every time I could see myself in a shop window or something but guess what? I was running. So, that’s a win in my book – fat or not.
I was almost at the end of a 4-mile run when I saw a woman approaching me, struggling to walk with her cane. She didn’t look elderly at all and thus she instantly reminded me of my own mother. She’s 62 but looks 42 and struggles to take a few steps without assistance. I felt immediate empathy for this woman. She smiled and opened her mouth, and all my nice feelings about this stranger went out the window.
“Good for you,” she said. What the &%$#?! Good for me? Why? Did she say that the other 6 runners in our vicinity?
I have heard from my non-skinny running friends that they’ve had this happen to them multiple times. Many of us don’t look like runners and I’ve finally stopped saying that about myself because I do look like a runner. I look strong and badass. So what I’m not skinny? So what I’m clinically obese accordingly to the scale? I ran a f****** marathon and run about 20 miles a week, therefore I am a runner.
But I’ve been lucky and have never had this said to me before.
Until now. I was furious. I wanted to hit her. I wanted to take her cane and toss it into the street. Instead I breathily replied, “Thanks” in as insincere a tone as I could muster. She thought she was being nice. She didn’t mean it maliciously. I know, because I have thought those same three words in my head when I see a really big person running and clearly struggling. But I would never in a million years say that out loud because it’s rude and insensitive AF.
People in my parents’ generation don’t have filters, for the most part. They were raised in a time when racism was OK, women were expected to be housewives, and there was no such thing as political correctness. I keep telling myself when the baby boomers die off, so will racism and sexism and other cowardly thinking. But I know that’s not true. Even still, there is some level of expectation that people like this woman will say thing that they think are helpful or encouraging and won’t for one second realize that it’s actually incredibly hurtful. I do not need a stranger’s encouragement, and this woman will probably die thinking what she said to me that day was nice.
Here’s my unsolicited advice to my readers: don’t offer unsolicited encouragement to strangers. Especially if it’s coming from a place of judgment. Even if you mean it to be nice, you’re better off biting your tongue.