YOU BETTER START RUNNING FASTER, HONEY, BECAUSE YOU NEED TO LOSE ANOTHER 20 POUNDS BEFORE YOU GET AWAY WITH RUNNING IN A SPORTS BRA!
This comment, like most cowardly things, was not said to my face, but rather in passing as I ran past a group of guys on St. Patrick’s Day. I was running back to my apartment in Minneapolis, wearing shorts, sneakers, and a sports bra. They were presumably walking to a bar down the street, wearing shamrock beads, green Miller High Life t-shirts, and an eau de male privilege.
The circumstances leading up to this point had been anything but lucky. A nice afternoon of sipping iced tea on the rooftop veranda of a local restaurant with a former swimming friend had been suddenly halted after a more-belligerent patron of the same restaurant threw up all over me.
After the initial shock of being barfed on wore off, I had expected an apology — I am a patient and understanding person, and realize, too, that people make mistakes, especially in their judgment of “how much they can handle.” What I got instead was blame.
Why were you so close to me? I wouldn’t have thrown up on you if you weren’t sitting so close to me. And then he threw up on me again.
I was fuming, but remained rational. I was not going to let this jerk ruin my day — it was beautifully warm in Minneapolis, a rarity to be celebrated. So after asking around if I could buy a shirt from the restaurant (none in stock) or borrow an undershirt from a male patron (apparently, no one has been wearing undershirts since the 1960s), I took matters into my own hands. I was wearing sneakers. I was wearing a sports bra. I could easily throw my puke-stained shirt into a bag and run back to my apartment, only four blocks down the road, to change. I figured if I looked like I was on a run, no one would ask any questions. It was better than the alternative, anyway — having everyone in Minneapolis think that I had thrown up all over myself.
And it was on this run home when my body became the punchline: when someone who didn’t know me, this stranger, thought it appropriate to let me know what I could and could not wear, what I should and should not look like. He didn’t know anything about me: that I spend almost everyday at the pool training for Masters Swimming meets; that I am an MFA student who is working on her first book of poems; that I have devoted most of my life to helping others through sexual assault survivor advocacy work. He didn’t know how deeply I love my family, or how much I admire my friends, or how quickly I will respond to those in need of help. But he didn’t know any of this because he never asked. He didn’t know any of this because he didn’t care.
I allowed myself to get angry.
I stopped, turned around, and ran back to them. I confronted that coward.
“I’m sorry,” I said, putting my hands on my hips. I’ve always loved the support my love handles have given me. “Did you say something to me?”
“No,” he said, mumbling. He wouldn’t look me in the eye.
“Well,” I said, forcing eye contact, “I heard what you said. I had no idea I was dealing with an expert on woman’s bodies, because it appears to me that you have never seen a real woman’s body before. But let me tell you this — my body can, will, and does change. But what will never change is the fact that you are an asshole.”
And with that, I excused myself and ran back home.
Three strides in, I began to weep, not because of what this jerk said to me, but because a group of girls who had witnessed the entire thing from across the street. And they were clapping for me. And as much as it made me happy and proud and strong to tell off this guy, it made me sad to think why they were clapping:
Because they had probably been the victims of this misogynistic practice, too, and that I had probably vocalized something that they never had the chance to say aloud.