|This is where we were walking|
One stream hop was somewhat precarious, and we hooted and laughed as we scrambled over. A man and a woman were walking towards us as we teetered forwards over the water. The man wanted to be in on our fun, and he said as he walked past us, without missing a beat, and smiling: "You need more exercise."
There are a handful of reasons why this comment was a no-no, and I will explain some of them here.
Our bodies as fat women are public bodies, commentated bodies, dehumanised bodies too. We're not assumed to have the power to articulate our bodies for ourselves, but we are presumed available for others to describe, define and constrict. Without knowing a thing about us this (yes, white, older, normatively-sized, able-bodied, middle-class, appropriately-dressed, straight-looking) guy felt entitled to comment on what it is we are and need based on nothing more than momentarily seeing us teetering and giggling over a stream. This happens to fat people all the time.
If fatphobia was not part of how fat women's bodies are commented upon, "you need more exercise" would not be a tricky statement, but the man's comment came saturated with a discourse of judgment, hatred and morality. This discourse is so everyday and accepted that the guy didn't even appear to think that it was a problem, he was likely just stating a fact in a friendly way and was probably baffled by my angry response.
Whether or not we need more exercise is not his judgment to make. Maybe we could do with more, but here we were, walking to some ponds, just like him. This makes me think that we are getting enough exercise, that we are able to judge for ourselves the appropriate amount of exercise we need and want. We weren't fast or agile, but we were doing things in our own way, and this is allowed.
"You need more exercise" offended me for another reason. I live on streets, not by mountains. Walking out in the wild takes courage, when I am scrambling up some rocks or finding my way over unfamiliar ground I am vulnerable. A casual order such as "you need more exercise" is insensitive. A welcome to the hillside, and congratulations on having got that far would have been a much better bet.
As soon as the words were out of his mouth I replied: "No we don't" in the tone of a sullen teenager. It's not a great response, but I am glad this was my default, rather than something that communicated an apology for existing. Then I got angry and called him a judgmental prick. The woman scurried along behind him and I felt like shouting that I felt sorry for her, but I didn't.
I hate getting riled by strangers, I usually stay silent because shouting back rarely makes me feel good. So it was with this incident, it cast a pall over what had been a pleasant walk, and I worried afterwards when we stopped for a rest that we would see him and have a confrontation in the only pub for miles.
This is a bitty post, I think the main thing is about documenting fatphobia. It was a tiny (but big) thing said in an unlikely place, out in the wild, there really is no escaping people's hate.
The episode has made me think about what it is to put yourself out there in nature when you are fat. I can't speak for Kay but I know that I tend to feel like a fraud when I am walking in the countryside. I go slowly and carefully, I'm not one of those striders. I don't look the part. I wear boots I got from the Big Bum Jumble, but I don't have any special gear, mostly I just put on some jeans, a hoodie or a raincoat. Not that I could wear anything else, fancy walking gear doesn't come in my size. Outdoorsy marketing would suggest that the hills and lakes are the domain of wiry and muscly white people who run everywhere. Of the other people we saw whilst we were out and about in Cumbria, none really looked like us.
The fraudulent feeling is connected to a broader sense that I don't belong out in the world, that exploring wild terrain, or feeling a connection to nature is for other people, like the man we encountered, not me. (I know that some black and Asian people in the UK have written about not going to or feeling part of the countryside, with good reason, I too associate country politics and culture with intolerance). Anyway, this is a terrible feeling, not helped by that guy's thoughtless comment, or organisations like the Ramblers Association and their bullshit anti-obesity campaigning. I want to feel more able to enter wild places and feel that I belong there as a queer fat woman. Suggestions as to how to do this are welcome.
Edited to add: Sazz has ideas about this.