It was Saturday afternoon, and I was stuck at the car dealership, as not only was my regular maintenance being done, they were also dealing with a flat tire that had turned up on my car the day before. One other woman was waiting at the same time as me and, as happens sometimes, small talk sprouted.
I misheard her at first. “I’m a receptionist,” I replied, thinking she’d asked, “What do you do?” And then she repeated herself.
“No, I asked, when are you due?”
I felt blood rush to my face. “Oh, no, I’m not pregnant,” I told her.
The woman I shared the car dealership waiting room with turned into a fountain of apologies, which I in my shocked state quickly accepted, eager to end the interaction.
In my surprise I didn’t have it in me to be offended or mad at her. I carry a lot of my weight in my stomach and when I sit/slouch it kind of gets all pushed together and forward in a way that could perhaps look like there’s a baby inside, especially in certain clothes. This is what I was wearing at the time (the picture is from last year).
This dress used to be a favorite of mine, before some shit happened this spring and the happy memories attached to it became painful. I still bust it out from time to time, because it’s still cute, and also work appropriate. But that empire waist cuts me off under the bust and emphasizes my stomach, again, especially when I’m sitting down.
Thankfully, I wasn’t trapped in waiting room purgatory with that woman for much longer. When I left the dealership, the first thing I did was park in the lot of the Home Depot next door to return a phone call from my mom. And then when I got off the phone I was hit with a wave of emotion, now that I no longer had to put on composed front for strangers. I’m not too proud to say that I started crying in my car.
I had occasionally joked to myself and others about the chance that someone might mistake me for a pregnant person. But now that such a thing had happened to me, embarrassment and shame overrode my “crack a joke to lighten the mood” reflex. I texted my friends about it and they reassured me, but I still felt pretty terrible.
I’m not a fucking idiot. I know I’m fat, but very rarely do I feel bad about it. I’ve reached a place in my life where I feel good about my body just the way it is, and think that anyone who has anything negative to say about all 240-ish pounds of me can fuck right the fuck off. (Although I do keep health concerns in the back of my head and try to make good choices as best I can, naturally, because while I love my body, I know obesity is not healthy.)
But somehow this one woman’s inquiry about a baby that doesn’t (and hopefully will never) exist turned my self-esteem on its ear. I felt incredibly self-conscious. I wondered how many other people had ever looked at me and though the same thing she did. I thought about how there were probably a number of people out there who had probably talked smack about me, at least in their own heads, because of how much space I take up.
I felt fat, in the most disgusting way.
I don’t know why people feel the right to ask about the bodies of people that are strangers, or who they don’t really know well personally. I have one coworker who will occasionally ask me if I’ve lost weight, phrasing it in a kindly “you’re looking really great” kind of way. I know that I haven’t; whatever I happen to be wearing on the days that she asks must just be particularly flattering. It just makes me feel kind of awkward, because I’m receiving praise for something I haven’t even done or really have any serious plan for pursuing.
And it seems that with pregnant people it’s twofold. The coworker I’m closest to is pregnant with her second child right now, and she was showing me pictures from the baby shower the office threw for her first child and in one of them basically all the other secretaries were crowded around touching her stomach. From my outside perspective watching her pregnancy, it feels like once you’ve got a baby in you everyone is so excited that you’re continuing the human race that they feel entitled to ask you invasive questions.
What if I had been pregnant but I’d miscarried? Or I’d recently carried to term, but then the baby was stillborn, or born with medical issues? Or if I was just fat, but trying desperately to conceive without success? She’s lucky she asked me if I was expecting, someone who’s only overweight and not interested in starting a ruckus, instead of someone who might’ve had a larger reaction.
But anyway, I digress. Let’s just discuss the rest of my day.
I had originally planned to grab an early dinner from one of the restaurants up by the dealership, but considering crying had made my face all red and awful that was out of the question, even at the shitty diner, because what if I ran into someone I knew? And besides I was suddenly torn between two competing urges: order and eat a whole pizza or not eat anything for the whole rest of the night.
I settled on something in between. I drove home, crying on and off along the way. I changed my clothes and washed my face, browsed the internet a little bit to calm myself down. And then I went to my favorite local burrito place and got my usual shrimp burrito, which is only just slightly too much food for me. I still felt emotionally wrecked, but not as emotionally wrecked as I knew I would’ve been if I’d just stayed home and dwelled on my thoughts.
After dinner, I had a really specific craving for rice pudding, so I went to the nearest grocery store, feeling every feeling from Sabrina Benaim’s poem “The Loneliest Sweet Potato” as I wandered the aisles.
The trouble with rice pudding is that only one brand really makes it, and they only sell it in a giant tub, or in packets of 6 pudding cups, which really is more rice pudding than I ever want during my weird, occasional rice pudding craving times. Basically after I eat a little, then I’m good, and then I’m left with way too much extra. But then I spotted it.
Single serving rice pudding. It wasn’t great, to be honest. The grains were bigger and harder than I would’ve liked. But it was good enough for what I needed in that moment.
I don’t really have a good moral or anything to wrap this up with. Just…please think before you speak. Don’t ask people weird questions that aren’t any of your business. That’s all.