by Tess Adair
Something I used to hear from time to time: if you just lost 30 pounds, you’d have to beat the boys away.
The number changed more than once.
I guess I must have finally passed the bar, because I don’t hear it anymore
I think it was somehow supposed to motivate me to lose weight, but fat me didn’t think it sounded that appealing. Fat me was right.
See, when people say you’ll have to beat the boys away, I think they imagine strapping young men with dapper haircuts, stepping down from some silver screen preserved in the ’50s. They envision a scene where a lovely young lady has her pick of dashing young men, all stumbling over each other to present her with flowers and humbly ask for some of her time.
They imagine that all these young men are perfectly ready and equipped to handle a potential no. So the young lady only has to make her choice, and everyone else will back respectfully away.
The truth is, people did start to treat me differently after I lost weight. People, overall, were friendlier to me. Talked to me more in general. I started to find it easier to make friends. And because it became easier, I felt more confident. Ever so slowly, I morphed from this almost agoraphobic asocial misfit (and professional Fat Girl) into a happy outgoing athlete and, for a while, something of a party girl.
Men, in particular, started to treat me differently.
They noticed me more, talked to me more.
A few of them wouldn’t leave me alone.
I’d forgotten what it felt like to be sexually harassed like that. It hadn’t happened since I was about 14. (That number is correct. In fact, the first time I was sexually harassed by an adult male, I was 12. I developed early, and creeps don’t give a shit what your actual age is.)
The funny thing about unwanted come-ons is that they come in many forms. Yes, there are the outright sexual harassers. The older guys who corner you in a dark office when no one’s around. The guys who yell shit at you in the streets. The guys who follow you. The guys who follow you even when you’re with a friend. The guys who try to exert whatever small power they have over you.
Those guys are the worst. I think we can all agree on that. And if you can’t, then frankly, odds are you are one of those guys.
(Or you’ve never experienced it and are completely incapable of even the most basic level of empathy, which is all it takes to understand how awful that experience can be.)
But the worst guys aren’t the only guys out there.
There are also the guys who are...just kind of uncomfortable. They don’t corner you, physically blocking you from leaving, to give you the once-over and ask you something weird. They’re much more passive than that.
I’m not sure what these guys did before technology, but now what they do is send you an inter-office Instant Message. Maybe before they would...write you a post-it note and leave it on your desk when you went to the bathroom? God, that sounds much worse.
Once, at my old job, I got a message out of the blue from someone I’d never talked to before. It was a little weird, because even though he was asking me something work-related, it was the kind of thing just about anyone could answer. I knew this person so little that when his name came up, I could not for the life of me guess which face it belonged to. I had to ask my deskmate to point him out in the company directory, which she did happily--it turns out, she was actually pretty good friends with him.
Yet he’d directed his question at me, not her.
After I answered his question...he tried to strike up a casual conversation with me.
It was weird. I could not remember a single time that we’d spoken face-to-face, and his conversation starters were strained at best. Maybe they would have worked on someone else--I’m easily annoyed and my bar for social interactions is high. Plus I hated talking to people at work. I didn't want to be there, so I engaged with everything about there as little as possible. I had spent a good amount of time developing a friendly-but-cold exterior, designed to keep people away from me without giving anyone real reason to dislike me.
If he’d known anything about me at all, he would have known how useless his endeavor was. He’d chosen probably the least receptive person in the entire office. (Which I'm pretty sure most other people understood. Or at least most women.)
Of course, I had to engage with him. I did it as minimally as I could, but I did it. It didn’t take long for it to become clear that we had almost nothing in common.
Or at least, it didn’t take long for that to become clear to me. I can never be sure if he figured it out, too.
See, he kept messaging me. Everything he told me he was into, I had to admit I had no interest in. Horror movies, video games, a specific subset of video games, some kind of mild metal music. Talking to him. Nothing.
He did like Sci Fi movies. But all the ones he liked were ones I didn’t. And vice versa.
But man, he was determined. He kept at it. Mainly, he kept asking me if I liked specific things. I'm not sure if he knew of any other way to conduct a conversation. I certainly wasn't giving him anything to work with.
I never did “beat” him away. I didn’t “beat” away the next guy either. Yes, of course there was a next guy.
I let them both peter out, primarily by maintaining perfect friendliness, but allowing a calculated increase in coldness. Claiming “busy” far more often than necessary, giving briefer and briefer answers.
And then I changed jobs.
To be honest, that had been my end-game all along. And, man, it’s a good one. Effective.
I wonder, sometimes, how often men have to deal with little crushes like that. How often other women have to, as well. It’s definitely not something that happened to me when I was heavier. And, like I said, I tried to be pretty antisocial at that job. So this had nothing to do with how outgoing I was. This was all about how I looked.
Let me be clear--I don't think the attention was because I'm astoundingly beautiful, because I'm not. I think it's more of an office-specific phenomenon; I'd classify myself as "Pam-hot." (Pam from The Office, yes.) You know, young and cute-ish in an office where most of the women are older and favor dressing down. (It was an office in America, too, so almost everyone was overweight, which was probably not helped by the massive amounts of free junk food available ALL THE TIME, or the frequency of pizza parties. I mean, at a job where you sit all day, is it really the best idea to incentivize people with grease and cheese? Well...it is effective.)
So, in a way, those people were right--all I had to do was lose whatever amount of weight...in order to experience a whole lot of unwanted attention that served only to make my workday that much more tedious.
Actually, this whole thing reminds me a lot of that terrible cartoon skunk, Pepe le Pew. I hated that cartoon as a kid, but plenty of people have found it entertaining, even cute. Plenty of people don’t understand that it’s a cartoon about sexual harassment.
Just like plenty of people who say that beat the boys away thing aren’t thinking about the downside to that particular truth. They think they’re giving you a compliment, but really it’s more of a warning.
I felt resentful of my body when I was heavier. I felt like it was costing me time--time spent being miserable, and later, time spent losing the weight. I was so sure I was missing out: on happiness, on love, on everything.
I don’t resent that time anymore. In fact, sometimes I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful that I got to experience what it’s like to go through life without people in your everyday life sexualizing you, objectifying you, staring at you.
If nobody will even look at you, then nobody will sexualize you. Truth. (I would like to take this moment to remind you that I'm not hot-hot, I'm Pam-hot. I never wear makeup to the office, I don't always shower before work, and I wear a lot of loose flannel because I'm always cold. People will sexualize women no matter what they wear. Just as long as their body fits close enough to that certain mold.)
There’s something about that that was so much easier.
Sometimes I miss it.
Nowadays, nobody tells me that I need to lose 30 pounds before my milkshake will bring all the boys to the yard.
But sometimes, I do a version of it to myself. I think: if I could suddenly drop some weight, I’d be that much closer to getting my pull-up.
Now that’s positive motivation.
But it doesn’t make me eat less. It just makes me concentrate a little more on protein, so my next round of pull-up prep can have the fullest impact possible.
You know what, forget what I said about missing it.
I don’t mind beating the boys away.
Anything to help build up my arm muscles.
Like this queen.