How to Deal When Someone Randomly Insults You: 4 Thoughts


I was starting to feel on the up and up yesterday afternoon--I'd slept pretty well the night before, had some interesting professional developments, and lots of nice things were falling into place for the weekend (including an invitation to see a play I'm excited about).

In the evening, I was supposed to go to a book launch party, but the day had been busier than I'd expected, so I skipped it. I took care of a bunch of errands--went to the pharmacy, grabbed a present for a friend's birthday, etc. When I was finished, before heading for the gym, I stopped by Gorilla Coffee for some peppermint tea so I could take a moment to jot down some thoughts for an essay I'm supposed to write. (I took notes in my cheery lipstick-red Moleskin notebook.)

BTW, Gorilla is decorated with prints that look like this:

(Which I mention in part because there was some discussion of the love of the ♥ icon yesterday on my Fbook page. Me ♥ the ♥-icon. And me ♥ Brooklyn, too. )

ANYWAY ... I got to the gym eventually--not the branch I'm normally at, but another one in a different part of town, where I go fairly frequently, since I seem to have lots of errands over that way.

I was in a bit of a rush, because I wanted to pump some iron, swing by the grocery store for milk and bread, and get home at a reasonable hour.

I was wearing a T-shirt that was probably a little too short and too tight to wear with my tight gym pants. (It's time to do some laundry.) But whatever--it's the gym, and I wasn't thinking about my outfit too much.

As soon as I walked out of the locker room, I ran into the maintenance guy. About a year ago, I asked if he could help me adjust some machine, and since then he's been quite chatty with me. He's older and not at all attractive. He's brusque with most other people. I don't really think of whatever friendliness passes between as flirty--more like we're two people who cross paths frequently in the world, so we're human to each other. I told him I was in a rush, and got on the summit trainer to warm up.

He'd followed me, explaining that he'd just replaced the light above the area we were in, which would make it easier for me to read as I worked out (as is my wont). I thanked him. But I also knew he hadn't put the stupid bulb in out of concern for me: I'd asked him to do it multiple times, and had also asked a bunch of other people. Finally, I mentioned it to the guy at the front desk, who advised me to email the manager about it. So I wrote her a note--without mentioning that I'd already asked a gazillion other people to fix the thing, just saying it had been out for months--and voila, it was fixed.

The maintenance guy had draped himself over the machine next to me so that he was looking at me in profile--his head on level with my stomach. He made some joke about how he hadn't seen me in a while, tsk, tsk, I wasn't staying in shape, was I? And: shouldn't I be working out more?

I hate that joke, which he makes ALL THE TIME, partly because it's just not funny and partly because there's something about him remarking on my personal habits that seems a tad invasive, maybe even a tad sexist.

I reminded him--as I have about 600 times now--that I don't usually go to THAT gym. I added that I've been working out as much as ever.

Then he laid an enormous bomb on me.

"You need to lose some weight in your stomach," he says.

Oh boy.

Those of you who have been reading for a while know: I'm very sensitive about my weight. But I like to think I'm healthfully thin and trim.

To give you some objective sense: I'm 5'5 and in the last week or so I've worn: a pair of size 2 black pants from Ann Taylor Loft, a pair of size 4 velveteen slacks from Express, and a size 6 black skirt from H+M, and a few S or XS shirts. I think my shape might be a little like Lady Gaga's--curvy and slim at the same time.

All the same, I've never had much of a waist. No matter what I kind of exercise I do, the basic outline doesn't change. I'm simply built like a fire hydrant--straight up and down, from

shoulders to hips--and those are the mitochondrial facts. I suppose liposuction might help, but I'm not really interested in plastic surgery.

Turning to the offender, I said, "Was it your intention to RUIN MY DAY?"

He didn't seem to understand why I was upset. He did not say anything like I was only kidding. Rather he basically insisted, saying: "No, but maybe you should."

I was in a state of shock. "Don't ever tell anyone something like that unless she asks you! Especially not a female."

He then proceeded to tell me the wild success story of some ENORMOUSLY FAT woman who'd come to the gym every for 6 months and lost gobs and gobs of weight.

Ah, how reassuring!

"I already come to the gym every day," I said. "And I've been coming every day for MY ENTIRE LIFE. And I'm not fat! But I will probably now start to think I am, and become completely miserable, and starve myself until I lapse into a coma and die. Thank you so much for your helpful feedback! I will now begin my preparations for death."

Well, I didn't say that stuff about starvation, etc. But I said most of the rest before storming off the machine and fleeing into the weight room.

There, I wondered if EVERYONE was staring at the enormous THING wrapped around my middle, like a boxer's title belt, with the words FAT CHICK emblazoned on it in diamonds.

Excuse me while I take a blowtorch to my bathing suits.

Have any of you ever gotten an unwanted bit of advice like this?

How does one deal?

Here's how I reacted:

1) I reminded myself of the context. This man works in a gym. He sees a lot of perfect bodies every day. I imagine he also stands around visually critiquing everyone who comes in. Speaking of, I wonder if he's ever heard the old adage: People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Because this guy doesn't exactly have Abs of Steel himself. More like Abs of Eiderdown.

2) I tried to think of what else (beyond some "objective reality") might have motivated his comment. Was he trying to hurt or humiliate me for some reason--perhaps because I was in a rush and therefore he felt like I was being rude? I'm not sure that's the case. But ... why in the name of all things unholy would anyone with whom you make little more than polite chit-chat think it was okay to say such a thing?

He's from a foreign country, so I wonder if something was, shall we say, lost in translation.

He also has a wife who is about half his age--he is 60--who LIVES in his homeland, as she has since they were first married seven years ago. So I wonder if somehow he was projecting some sort of drama he's having with her onto me?

3) I tried to calmly analyze his remark. Was there some useful feedback in it? Was there some way I might improve myself, related to his comment? I can't possibly do any more than I'm doing to stay in shape. But perhaps I should dress a little differently, so that I hide my waist a bit more?

Then I decided: To Hades with that. My bod is my bod, and yes, it's imperfect. That doesn't mean I have to be ashamed of it. The best thing to do is just to be confident and TO HELL WITH THE MAINTENANCE MAN.

4) I decided to get on with my life. I figure I can either be really neurotic about this and indulge myself in getting upset about it ... or I can just say, "I have better things to obsess about."

Like, you know, my biceps.





dear commenters:

-To my friend in CA: I do it with the boy stuff too. But I think most of my friends have the same romantic struggles that I do. And I do think so much of that stuff, when it comes to dating, is SO much more about psychological issues than it is about how successful, attractive, etc, you are. You know?

-Parsnips! You are sweet, but if you knew how much misery and hard work I've gone through to get to where I am--to a place where I've written a novel that may very well never sell--you probably wouldn't feel jealous. Also, I don't make very much money AT ALL and probably never would. I love writing this blog, and it's by far the coolest job I've ever had ... but ... it took me a long time (and a little luck) to get here. And who knows how long it will last?

-Edwinna: Hmm! I always love getting more of your story--and always love your chutzpah. (I was kind of the over-achieving sister in high school, now that you mention it--although I was also the one who was always getting in trouble for drinking, or staying out too late, or going into the city with my friends. Or something. ) It's really interesting, too, what you say about competitive women. I have one friend in particular who is very successful, and after meeting her, people often say to me, "How can you deal with her? The competitiveness is just oozing out of her." But we're in completely different fields. And I've actually always really admired her--how hard she works, how much she accomplishes, etc. Maybe this is post-worthy, this topic.

-Lisping Lola! Love the name. You're in South Africa! So cool. I wonder what part. Anyway--it's funny, I always have that fear myself, that some man will get bored of me. But my friends never do--and I bet your friends never do either. Come on--have faith in yourself.

-And Rina, I think you're entirely right. Great point.