An open letter to the children who harassed me from the window of their school bus
cc: Their parents
It’s me, the angry lady from Boston. I hope you had fun on your field trip. Maybe you were in my neighborhood to see our Paul Revere statue. But my guess is that you were here to visit the New England Aquarium, because the way you yelled at me and called me names made me feel like an animal in a zoo. For their sake, I hope you were nicer to the animals. I don’t think I could forgive you if you spoke to a penguin the same way you spoke to me.
I was having a pretty good day up until I crossed in front of your school bus and you started shouting things at me. I didn’t hear all of the comments, thank goodness, but the one that stuck out the most was “You’re fat!” I heard that one repeated by a few of you, so I guess you really wanted to be sure I heard that part.
Those comments hurt my feelings, boys. But before I go any further, I need to tell you something: My feelings were not hurt because you called me fat. There is nothing wrong with being fat. I’m fatter than a lot of my friends, and some of my friends are fatter than I am. It’s a waste of time to compare myself to other people. How fat a person is does not change how smart, kind, creative, thoughtful or valuable a person is. I can be fat and still be beautiful, and even if I wasn’t beautiful, I would still be a person whose thoughts and feelings matter.
But it took me a long time to learn that, and some people still don’t know. That’s why I’m upset: because you didn’t know that I have such a good attitude about my body. For all you knew, I could be battling an eating disorder, or some type of medical condition. What if I thought being fat was terrible, and you calling me fat made me want to kill myself? For all you kids knew, I could be harming myself or wishing I was dead. I’m not– but you didn’t know that when you called me names. That’s the risk you take when you shout hurtful things at strangers. And even though I don’t consider “fat” to be a bad thing, the way you said it made it perfectly clear that you DO think it’s a bad thing. So while I’m not exactly devastated about being called fat, I’m pretty miffed that you kids feel like you have the right to call me names.
This affects more people than just you and me. What about the girls in your class who saw you teasing me? They are getting the message that if they don’t look the way you want them to look, they deserve to be teased and it’s okay for you to make fun of them. When I was your age, I didn’t look like a model or the kids in TV shows. I still don’t. But for a long time I hated my body and the way I look – because boys like you made me feel like I was ugly, and that was the only part of me that mattered. That isn’t your fault. You weren’t even born then. But your parents were.
Hi parents. I just thought you should know that your sons harassed me on the street. You’re probably a little older than I am, but not by much. People I went to highschool with are having kids all the time, so we’re definitely in the same age range. I’m a grown woman; I can handle myself. I’m not tattling on your children. However, as a member of the society into which your precious darlings will one day be set loose, I would like to express concern.
Children learn by watching. Your kids are being brought up in a culture where it is acceptable to judge women based on their appearance. This sense of entitlement to an opinion on women’s bodies obviously starts very early. Does your child know that women are human beings with thoughts and feelings? The fact that I even feel the need to ask this should be cause for alarm.
Every adult man who has ever harassed or cat-called me was a little boy once. Today, your sons demonstrated that they felt justified in hurting a total stranger. I’m worried about what could happen when that feeling goes unchecked. Instead of just hoping, I am asking you to talk to your children about bullying and harassment. Because a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude toward sexism (or a kids will be kids attitude toward bullying) takes them to dangerous and scary places in adulthood.
The Angry Lady on the Street in Boston
(photo by Mario Sanchez Prada via Wikimedia Commons)