More than a few years ago a friend asked me to help her with some restaurant reviewing. She very kindly took me out for a few meals at different places, one of which was the kind of place I normally love. Small neighborhood French bistro feel. Strong technique. Local ingredients.
We walked in. I think we were the first ones there. I don't remember things exactly but I do remember we were not greeted warmly and there seemed to a problem. We were sat in the back of the restaurant, which would not have been my choice. There was a lot of muttering and people coming out to look at us and eventually we were moved to the front of the restaurant. There was a lot of - what seemed to be - looking at my ass with dismay. I have forgotten the details but I do remember realizing that waiters were worried that they wouldn't be able to get around me. It was a small restaurant. They were right to be worried. I was worried about it when we were seated in the back of the restaurant. But we were there early enough (before it was crowded) and in the second area there was no reason to walk behind me so it was fine. This looking at my ass and something about the things that were said that I don't remember and the generally bad way in which it was handled infuriated me. Hurt me. It's a testament to how good the food was that I enjoyed it as much as I did because I was struggling with tears and rage the whole time. In part because of the way my friend wasn't getting how rudely I was being treated because of the size of my ass. It felt like she thought I was over reacting. At some point the chef walked around talking to people and he stopped at our table. I was still obviously upset and reserved. When we left he followed us out the door and asked what went wrong. I told him. He listened. He never made me feel wrong. He could not have done a better job of trying to make me feel better. But because my friend did not seem to be "on my side" I held on to my emotions. I knew I would never go back. Sadly, because it was a great restaurant. We were served an amuse bouche of cauliflower soup with truffle oil in an espresso cup that I still remember as one of the best things I've ever eaten. I've tried to reproduce it with minimal success. My feelings of humiliation were too strong. It became the site of an injury a large part of which was my friend's seeming reticence about my reaction. We aren't in communication any more and I forget exactly how that happened but I know it wasn't a simple ending and I know I held on to the hurt.
The other day I was reminded about the whole business when a friend said she was going to the restaurant for dinner, which didn't bother me because it is a great place and the chef did make a good faith effort to hear my compliant. I was explaining to another friend why I wouldn't go there and her reaction also felt like she thought I was making too big a deal about what had happened. It brought the whole experience back. I was unable to continue the conversation.
My friends who own being fat and/or understand why it is a political identity would get how I felt but I'm not sure that most of my friends would. I often feel like many of my friends wish I would lose weight, not because they'd love me any more or less but "because of my health" or just so I wouldn't have any more of these specific kinds of hurtful experiences. And even if they have accepted that I will probably always be fat they don't think I should expect the world to embrace fatness as a body type and not a disease. They don't think that fat people are discriminated against in ways that should be changed because, after all, fat people can lose weight and end their own discrimination. And I feel this way about some of my best friends. People who I know love me.
So lets say I live on tuna and celery for the next six months and lose all "extra" weight. Now, this can't really happen because that kind of rapid weight loss would probably kill me so let's say a year, or two years. I love both tuna and celery but I can tell you I would rather be dead than live on them for that long. I can also say that any time I have lost weight I have never gotten to thin. I have always had "extra" weight. I am fat. By nature. But back to the imaginary world in which I can be thin. My question is: for what ever amount of time it takes, two months, two years, two hours, is it OK that I can experience discrimination? How long is OK? How much discrimination is understandable?
What happened to me at the restaurant wasn't exactly discrimination. They sat me. They served me. It was just nastiness AKA fat hate. The chef/owner apologized for how I was treated. It was one of those experiences that I usually file under wish-the-world-would-change. It was the feeling of not being fully supported by someone who was a friend that stuck with me. It was the look of mild embarrassment on her face as she listened to me rant. That was what stuck.
I've been feeling cranky lately because someone is writing a thin privilege list and no one seems to remember that I did that years ago. It's not fair for me to be cranky because it's been years since I wrote with any kind of regularity and I don't really participate in the fatosphere. That's a topic for another post. I've always liked privilege lists because I think they can be wonderfully insightful. They should be written by the people with the privilege. Is that gonna happen when it's about weight? In my current mood I can't imagine it.
I'm really struggling with this recent experience because I love my friend and I know they love me. I also know that when they hear stories of extreme hate or discrimination directed toward fat people they think it's wrong but they also think the fat people should lose weight.
Many fat people will never be thin. And there would be varying amounts of time for fat people to lose any amount of weight so ... how long? How long is discrimination acceptable? How much hate is OK?
And the real question.
The one I'm too afraid to ask.
How many of my friends think that I'm very smart but make too much of this fat is a political identity issue?