That One Girl on the Bus

So, the other day I was on the bus. It was one of the few times when I had ventured out into the great wide world without the precious protection of my musical earbuds. Thus it was that I could hear everything on the bus, which wasn’t so bad as this particular bus was empty. That is, it was empty until The Girl got on (dun Dun DUN). I never learned her name, but if I had to guess she’d be about fourteen or fifteen. She was wearing the uniform of the local private school. She was fairly pretty in an unremarkable way, long straight blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail by a pink, fluffy scrunchie. She was tall, and not stick thin but far from overweight. Over the course of the entire bus trip we didn’t say two words to each other. All in all there was nothing remotely special about this girl at all… Apart from the fact that when she got on the bus she was holding two large milkshakes.

It is now time to discuss the bus driver. I don’t remember what he looked like, except that he was pretty young, about early to mid thirties, and very talkative. I know he was talkative because he had previously tried to engage me in conversation that same bus trip, a feat not attempted by most bus drivers (and a near impossible one to accomlish when I’m tired, stressed and just want to get home). In any case, he put up a braver front than most, mainly because he had that casual, joking way of talking that tends to put people at ease. Unless that is, you’re insecure about something.

So, the bus pulls up to the stop and the girl steps on, holding her two large milkshakes awkwardly. The first words out of her mouth are:

“These aren’t both for me!”

But the bus driver, in his jovial wisdom, either doesn’t hear her or ignores the statement and replies with:

“How are you going to get through both of those, then?” You must understand, this was said as a joke, a light tease.

At which point the girl, now obviously deeply embarrassed, says: “One of them’s for a girl at school. I’m not fat, I promise.” She then walks up the aisle between the seats, red as a tomato and sits down with her two large milkshakes. Within minutes the feeling is passed and she is intent upon her phone. But my mind lingers on that brief exchange.

“I’m not fat, I promise.” 

Personally, I find that statement appalling. Not because the girl said it, but because she felt the need to say it.

I’m not fat, I promise.

As if ‘fat’ was a personality trait, and a bad one at that. As if she must justify her perfectly reasonable actions by assuring a stranger that she does not fall into the abominable category of Fat. The way she said it put me in mind of someone defending a distasteful joke. “I’m not racist, I promise.” Except, instead of offending entire proud cultures, this young woman was simply doing a favour for a friend.

Now I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I find it disgusting and deeply, deeply sad that this girl feels the need to say something like that. What is wrong with us, that teenage girls feel the need to seek approval from strangers for every action that seems vaguely out of the ordinary. I mean, I am positive that teenage boys suffer this as well, but let’s be honest, what young man out there has ever felt so embarrassed about taking an extra bit of food or drink onto the bus that he felt the need to defend his actions to the bus driver? What bus driver would tease that young man in the same way he teased the girl? Whatever the percentage is, I’m guessing that it’s far lower than the amount of young women who encounter the same thing.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning light hazing. I think it’s a vital part of human interaction, and a very common one at that (case in point; whenever I am walking my dog by myself, and I am passed by a gentleman out for an evening stroll I almost always hear some variation of “who’s walking who?” which, aside from getting monotonous after a while, hurts neither me nor my dog. Although it could be seen as derogatory, I like to credit myself with more sense of humour than that.) So, teasing and hazing are awesome (kinda), but what is not awesome is the instant judgement that is made when anyone, particularly women, are seen with an unexpected amount of food or drink. I’m not fat, I promise. 

How dare we tell this girl that she can’t have two large milkshakes? How dare we make it so that she must justify her completely innocent actions by explaining her reasoning to a total stranger? If she had fifteen milkshakes, twelve hamburgers and a trash bag full of McDonald’s fries, it is neither mine nor anybody else’s business what she intends to do with that food.

Now, of course, she’s a teenager and all teenagers are insecure about how they look to other people, right? Well, yes and no. Of course teenagers are insecure about pretty much everything to some degree, but once again, what teenage boy is going to assure his bus driver, of all people, that he’s not fat?

I don’t care if your fifteen or fifty, actions that don’t impact upon others are not the business of others and hold no shame, no matter what. Now, if you’re torturing a cat, or breaking other people’s property, then the police and a few other people (myself included) might have something to say. But eating? Drinking? Are we really so obsessed with our own fucked up notion of beauty that we deny people, anyone, the right to eat as much as he or she likes? Because, Lord forbid, they might stray into the dreaded realm of ‘Fat’. What a calamity that would be.

Not much humour in this one guys, sorry about that. I’ve been wanting to talk about something like this for a while and this particular instance stood out to me. Words have power, the words we use can define us. We all know this and yet we fling them around like they mean nothing. Anyway, if your looking for a really awesome exploration of the ideas discussed in this month’s blog post, I heartily recommend you read Robin Hobb’s Soldier’s Son Trilogy. Politics aside it’s also got solid characters, and a compelling storyline. I may write a review of it in the future, but only if you’re good.

And with that, Ladies and Gentlemen, I bid you adieu.

Ashlee.

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