Over on Obesity Help's main discussion board, there was an interesting thread asking people about the most hurtful comments they'd heard related to their weight. I hadn't planned to post, but one of the responses particularly resonated with me. The poster recalled being asked out as a joke during middle school and high school and said that those comments "messed [her] up the most."
I absolutely sympathize with her. After over two decades as an obese person, people have offered so much unsolicited commentary about my weight that I've lost track. However, some of my most vivid hurtful memories involve men (boys, actually) using my desirability as a punchline. This happened shockingly often and over a long period of time - it started in elementary school and continued through high school.
The exchanges were usually very brief. I'd be walking down the hall, minding my own business, and some boy would say, "Hey girl!" Depending on how gullible I was that day, I'd turn around and look at the guy or just keep walking. Then the guy would point to some bystander and say, "He like you!" and laugh like the idea of someone "liking" me was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. Usually, the guy he was pointing to would say, "No, I don't! Shut up, man!" Interestingly, this whole conversation would happen even if I never turned around or acknowledged them. It wasn't about insulting me; it was just sport to entertain them.
The only time I was truly blindsided by this joke was when I was 8 years old and my family had just joined our church. I was naive, so when the officials said everyone in the church was "full of love," I believed them. We'd been going to the church maybe 6 months before it was time for the summer picnic. I'd just started to make friends with the other kids at church, so I was looking forward to spending time with them at this day-long event.
The Sunday before the picnic, two girls were chatting with me and told me that their cousin, whom we'll call "LaRicko," "liked" me. They said that he wanted my number so he could call me. They also told me that he wanted to talk with me at the picnic. I believed them because they were "full of love"! So I gave them my number and made sure to dress nicely for the picnic. I think I even told my mom that someone "liked" me - I was excited.
Of course, LaRicko didn't "like" me. He found out they told me he did, and he made sure to set the record straight. I didn't know how to react; this was the only time girls had never played this trick on me. And they were supposed to be my friends.
I eventually became friends with these girls and with LaRicko. Years later, when we were all in high school, he signed my yearbook. Instead of writing something normal, he closed his note with a musical reference: "Monica, 'For You I Will.'" ("For You I Will" was a popular '90s song by the R&B artist Monica.) Yet, to make sure I didn't misinterpret this reference, he added: "You know that's a joke." The irony is that I was never attracted to LaRicko.
Anyway, by the time I was in high school, the sting of these insults lessened considerably. I continued to steel myself if I had to walk past 2+ boys. But by then, I had taken on a "sassy" persona, like so many fat black women. Sometimes I'd even say something back, but that was rare. More often, I'd comfort myself with the fact that these guys were usually in remedial classes, and thus it would be just as ridiculous for me to "like" them.
Unfortunately, however, I see the residue of this brand of "joke" in my life today. I still get a little apprehensive every time I walk past a group of teenaged boys. More importantly, I've kinda become a man-hater. I used to want a romantic relationship, but now I'm completely uninterested. I don't need a man. I can adopt kids if I want them. I can pay my own bills and buy my own house if I choose to. And, as a bonus, I don't have to worry about relationship drama, most notably cheating, which seems to be epidemic these days.
I'm sure my disdain for romantic involvement isn't solely a result of the "Hey, he like you!" jokes, but they definitely contributed. And of course, almost all kids were picked on for some reason, and it doesn't do much good to dwell on that as an adult. Nonetheless, these jokes indelibly affected me.