“Miss. Miss. Miss! MISS!”
There is a man shouting urgently behind me. Did I drop my wallet? Maybe my cell phone? Is he in some sort of trouble? I almost turn around to talk to him, but some part of me, some cynical part of me I haven’t seen recently tells me no. No, don’t turn around, it’s not what you think. As I continue down the street I hear the man say behind me, with a grin in his voice, “I just wanted to let you know, you have the fattest ass I’ve ever seen…”
At first I’m shocked. He shouted at me like I’m on fire for that? Then extreme humiliation. Then anger. But the longest feeling is the uncomfortable awareness of just how big my ass is, the mental cataloging of every calorie in the past month that has contributed to the size of my ass, the number of miles on the treadmill it will take to make my ass smaller. That part I’m still thinking about, a week after the incident.
Oh yeah, this is why I don’t live in New York City anymore.
I am not Kim Kardashian. But I look like Kim Kardashian. There are a million songs about my body, but very few songs about me. I look like a sex goddess, and I don’t get to choose who worships me. My body is a flashing neon sign above my head that screams “OPEN FOR BUSINESS.” I want that business to close. I am not a sex goddess. I want this all to stop. I want there to be less.
Less. If there were less of me I would be safe. Is that true or is it just my perception? It seems so true when I’m out on the street, though there is plenty of evidence to refute that belief. Thin women get attacked too. But less is a plan, and evidence from my personal life shows results. It’s simple: eat less and exercise more. Don’t have the body they want you to have. My main weight-loss motivator is no longer beauty. It’s protection from sexual harassment.
When I moved to New York City at 18 for college, despite my best efforts, I gained the freshman fifteen. The clothes I’d worn for years now looked very scandalous on my body. I was crabby about the weight gain purely for vanity reasons at first. Then I became terrified.
Men followed me down the street to my dorm. This was new. One tried to steer me down a different street. The stir-fry chef in the dining hall closest to me intentionally cooked my food more slowly than everyone else's so he could stare at me longer. I started going to a different dining hall, further away.
It happened to my slimmer friends too. Thin women get attacked too. But there was something about me, something that made me special. When I walked down the street with my friends, the cat-callers laid into only me. “You! The short one! The curvy one! You’re the sexiest. I wanna fuck you the most!”
I am not Nicki Minaj, even though I have an ass like Nicki Minaj. You will never see me posing like her on the cover of Anaconda, squatting down, wearing only a thong, looking sultry. But me is not seen. Only the ass is seen, the kind of ass that is supposed to be exposed, available to everyone, apparently.
I lost some weight my sophomore year of college. I bought tight jeans. I wore spaghetti strap tank tops. The harassment didn’t go away. But there was less of it. Less of it and less of me.
The long-term solution to catcalling is education. But when the same construction worker was looming over me every day like Batman, shouting down all the things he wanted to do to me, I wasn’t concerned with education. I wanted armor made of rib cage and collar bone. Is thinness armor? Or do I just think it’s armor? Maybe it does nothing. No, I know from experience it does something. Maybe it’s just a smaller target. I know my target is enormous, blinking bright red. I want it to be gone. Or at least smaller.
After sophomore year, I couldn’t lose weight. I was too unhappy, and had too much going on. I ate one meal a day for awhile, a last-ditch effort to make something happen, to make slightly less of me. Instead I gained thirty pounds during college and with every pound came more and more harassment. I dreamed of Kate Moss and Audrey Hepburn. This hell wasn’t theirs.
During my junior year, when my weight was near it’s highest, a male friend of my roommate’s came over to my room and started demanding answers.
“So, are you Puerto Rican or something?” he asked.
“No,” I responded.
“Do you have like a black grandma then?” he asked.
“No, I’m white,” I said.
“No way! White women don’t have bodies like yours!” he said.
“Yes they do.” I said.
Ah. A new dimension to all of this. New to me at least, I assume it’s old news to women of color. Once it became clear I wasn’t kidding about being white, this guy slunk away. Back to my roommate’s half of the apartment, never to bother me again.
So there it was. The protection I had been so desperately seeking. I had it all along. Armor made not of bone, but of skin. Not protection from everything, but protection from something. Much less protection than I thought I would have, still nowhere near enough. But far more protection than what some women have. Too many women.
I moved back home to Portland after college. I had free time. I had a wanted to retake the body I had lost control over in college. So, very slowly, I lost the weight.
Catcalling in Portland is different from catcalling in New York. It happens, but there is less. There was less even when my weight was still high, and it dwindled down to almost nothing as I lost. Their half-heartedly mumbled remarks on my sexiness have no urgency. They almost seem aware that what they have to say is worthless. I do not fear them.
There is less of me now than there was in college. Less of me, but less important to my safety. Or at least that’s how it appears to me. Am I safer because I’m thinner? Because I live in a less hostile city? Am I safer because in Portland it’s safe to assume that most people are white, regardless of body type? Am I not safe at all? I don’t know. All I know is how I feel. My body is my own again. I control its size for me, not because I am afraid. Other complicated feelings about my body still need work, but they are my feelings, not dictated by anyone else.
I am not Kim Kardashian or Nicki Minaj. I am who I am.