Dear Asshole I Met on the Street in San Francisco,
I was on my way to something fun. We were right down the street from the theater where my name was on the list, and I could see the sign from the intersection. I was almost there. And I had made it the mile-long walk from BART, uphill into Chinatown without incident in the city that tries to run me over or walk me into a pile of human shit on the regular. So I was happy.
I was wearing a short red dress and boots. I felt cute and sexy and comfortable in myself, which is how I normally feel. That takes work, mostly because of dudes like you. But I have done that work, and I don’t believe that I need to live in a trash bag of misery because I don’t prioritize your opinion of me. So I was confident.
The city is often windy as the sun begins to set, and it was windy that evening. As anybody who wears a skirt can tell you, it only takes a second for the wind to take you by surprise and lift the whole thing up and show the world your thighs. So I was surprised, but not really.
I was close to the building to let you and your friends pass by. I was sharing the sidewalk, because I am polite and treat others as I’d like to be treated (mostly). Being close to the building meant that the wind redoubled on me, swirling up in one of those city trashnadoes and lifting my skirt completely for just a second. I fought it down, but not fast enough. So you had to say something.
You had to, I guess, because you had friends with you. Would you have needed to say it, if it had just been you and me? You might have just settled for a look of disgust, which I would have missed because as I said, I don’t give a fuck what you think and I wouldn’t have met your eye. I was happy. I was on my way to something fun. I was fighting with the wind to keep my skirt down. So it had nothing to do with you.
But you had to, so you made a big show of how grossed out you were that I am a fat woman who dared to leave the house. You exclaimed, “Wow! That cannot be unseen!” in a tone that people often use to point out a particularly gruesome bit of roadkill. So I had to decide what to do about that.
I am not shy. I yell most of my feelings, and I’ve made men cry for less than this. The cool thing about being the object of horror is that when you behave in any way that is unexpected or even mildly aggressive, people really freak out. Imagine what’s just made you mildly uncomfortable: this fat body, except now it’s coming at you with surprising speed. Screaming. What might it want? What might it do? The pleasure of the look on your face might be worth it, but as I said, I was on my way somewhere. So I didn’t do it.
I did look at you. You didn’t deserve any of my attention, but I looked anyway. Person to person, we locked eyes for a second. You were confused. You forgot I could do this, I guess. You didn’t look away fast enough to hide from me how embarrassed you suddenly were, or how vulnerable you felt at having to face me. You didn’t look away fast enough to miss the fact that I was smiling at you. Broadly. Showing the canines. You didn’t look away. So now I think you know something.
No, I cannot be unseen. What you have seen will never leave you. The fake terror you showed at the mere suggestion that you might have to feast your eyes on flesh that wasn’t prepared for your consumption and seasoned to your taste is NOTHING compared to the terror that follows it. You will not unsee me.
You will see me at strange moments in your life, when you realize you’re being cruel, or better yet, when you are the object of cruelty. You will see me when desire misleads you or betrays you, when your own flesh fails to pass someone else’s test. You will see me when the wind stirs a flag on its pole, or when it whips your hair into your eyes as you try to escape your own smallness on a bicycle. You will see me, whether you know it or not, every day for the rest of your life. You spoke this curse over yourself, so it must take effect. I cannot be unseen.
I’ve been unseen before. It sucks and it’s stupid and it deprives you of even the simplest pleasures in life, like taking a walk up a hill on strong legs and feeling the wind on the backs of your thighs. I’m not going back to an unseen life. My magic comes from the glory of being seen, unafraid and unashamed. So you will see me in yourself and others, every time you meet another pair of eyes and have to look away first to hide your cowardice.
I got to where I was going. I had a wonderful time. I went up the hill and you went down. I can’t remember what you looked like. But you said it, motherfucker. You cannot unsee me.
20 thoughts on “Unseen”
THANK YOU! What an awesome article.
I really needed this today. Thank you.
That was amazing met, I love your words of inspiration and you are so beautiful inside and out. So what if your a big girl, your a gorgeous inspiring big girl who is going places in her life and who has accomplished so much, and I’m sure more then you ever thought possible, I don’t mind being seen either I don’t care what shape size color it don’t matter, but you my friend, are majestic and I love you for everything you share and do, very inspirational😙😍
You are a mother fucking shero!! You are able to voice what all overweight women feel. Thank you my dear for being the radiant soul that you are.
This is where your magic lies.
I just stumbled across your blog (and the best kind of stumble — no skinned knees or pulled muscles) after reading THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE, and I’m not going to lie — I’m feeling kind of giddy. You seem like the coolest. The absolute coolest. Thank you for writing and sharing your gift. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving. ❤️
Thank you so much! I’m glad you found me. 🙂
Meg your writing is fantastic. I love this insight to your experience and the part about you going uphill and them down. I didn’t really have an idea when I clicked on your link to your blog of what was to be expected to be honest. I clicked on it because I saw you in a beautiful red dress wearing boots and a beautiful jacket and it looked like you were spinning and having fun. I looked because I wanted a closer look. And now that I’ve read your story I think that it is interesting how one can be so ignorant as they were. You’re beautiful inside and out.
Hi Meg, I enjoyed reading your article and you look just fantastic in that red dress. Bollocks to the begrudgers.
I loved this almost as much as your book. I have just finished reading it and was blown away.
Thank you so much for reading!
I just wanted to let you that I ripped through The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and loved it. I had to read The Book of Etta immediately. The main characters in both were inspirational and in a strange way familiar. A combination of current ideas and concepts mixed together with some thoughtful ideas about feminism, women’s health concerns, GLBT struggles and what could happen tomorrow! Best books I’ve read since Fried Green Tomatoes. Keep it up!! When will the Book of Flora come out?
Thank you so much! Flora will be out some time next year. I am THRILLED to have my book mentioned in the same sentence as Fried Green Tomatoes: that books rocked my little queer world.
Meg, thanks for revealing blog, wish I had your confidence. Thanks also for your great book. Cheers Patrick
Thank you back!
I read this post with interest when first you published it, and revisited it this evening in the wake of an experience I had last Saturday evening reminiscent of the one on which you reflect here. I had had a great evening out with a close friend, and was feeling well about myself and my place in the world. As the evening drew to a close, however, an unsurprisingly unaccompanied young man thought it necessary to set upon me, loudly declaring that I was unhealthy, that no-one would ever love me and that, in spite of his objection to the very idea of abortion, any child I might dare to bare should be aborted as it, like me, would be unhealthy. It was almost enough to cause me to speculate on which of us contributes more to the public health budget, and, indeed, on which of us is likely to be a drain on it, but I’m sure that would be to digress. I have no doubt that this troubled young man failed to feel any remorse the next morning. I’m sure he won’t have been sophisticated enough to question whether or not he would have so outraged by, for instance, a smoker. I am sure that he wouldn’t have had anything to say to a fat man. I know, however, that he will remember the woman who called the police on him. He will remember what I looked like, and he will remember that he fell silent and scarpered in pitiful ignominy when I endeavoured to impose consequences on him. He will remember how small he was in that moment, and how miserable. All I remember about him was his anger, and for that, I don’t pity him. For that, I only wish that he’d take his own advice and attend to his health.
This was an incredible piece. Thank you meg. I have been thinking about the fact that many femme and fat scholars/writers have talked about the body in public and the scrutiny, violence and oppression it sees in the public.
I have been listening to podcasts giving voice to the and have been identifying the ways I make myself smaller in public to suit others. I’ve also been thinking on how street harassment is invisibilized for womxn, femmes, and fat WoC. On the rare occasion that street harassment is talked about, it is usually focused on the kind of harassment that conventionally “attractive,” thin, cis, heteronormative and binary-presenting white women face at the hands of a male that terrorizes her under the guise of attraction/arousal/desirability. Little focus comes to FAT white womxn, FAT WoC, gender non-conforming, gay, femme, trans folks experiences with street harrassment. These experiences are sometimes like the ones described above BUT a lot of time they are hostile for another reason: anti-fatness, transphobia, racism, homophobia, islamophobia etc. This kind of street harassment is the other side of the coin. It stems from the same toxic masculine desire to maintain order, body police, and flex their hypermasculinity.
THANK YOU FOR THIS MEG!
Random other thoughts:
“in the city that tries to run me over or walk me into a pile of human shit on the regular. So I was happy.”
Yes, we need to discuss the covert and overt behaviors of othering and hostility that fat womxn and fat WOC experience in public. Behaviors like this. Folks on the street are hostile with their body language, language, movements etc. Additionally, sociologists and city planners have long been studying the fact that some pederstrians and cyclists are treated with more courtesy than others. For example, cars will stop for and drive more safely around white pedestrians. Black pedestrians get more aggressive driving around them or drivers are less likely to stop for them or mind their distance. I find that this is prevalent in similar ways for fat women too.
“I was close to the building to let you and your friends pass by.”
I totally believe in being courteous and practicing good manners but, I’d love to talk about the ways in which women; fat womxn in particular, feel somewhat obligated to shrink in public. I would recommend checking out these podcasts covering the subject:
Locatora Radio – Sounding Out! Podcast #63: The Sonic Landscapes of Unwelcome: Women of Color, Sonic Harassment, and Public Space
Bag Ladiez – Male Gaze: Why ya be doing this?
“You had to, I guess, because you had friends with you”
SO important to acknowledge. One of the biggest threats to women in the public landscape regarding harassment is coming upon a GROUP of men. Something about proving and playing into toxic masculinity is amplified when they travel in groups. Some of my most violent experiences have come at the hands of a man or some men trying to act out in front of “their boys”
A fucking great brilliant post. Which is no surprise coming from you!