AdviceHelp Me Rhonda

When Did Trying to Publicly Humiliate a Total Stranger Become OK?

A Bad Friday Night

When did trying to publicly humiliate a total stranger become OK for a group of people who are supposed to be considered mature adults?

A friend and I decided to enjoy our Friday night by going to Ice Dog hockey and to get a bite to eat. The night was going pretty great, until three guys in pastel polo shirts and khaki shorts were seated across from us. Before they even ordered drinks, the comments and pointing began. I ignored it at first, but it became harder to ignore, as one started to squeal as he called me a crack whore and an ugly, fat bitch. He was trying to say anything he could just to make his friends laugh, which only encouraged more crude remarks.

A little about me: I know I am not model-pretty and obviously know I am not a skinny girl. I am very well aware of the accumulation of fat on my body and struggle every day to shed it pound by pound. Secondly, I was dressed very modestly, wearing a black long-sleeve shirt that didn’t cling to my body and dark jeans tucked into tall boots. My hair is naturally thick and curly, and I let it down for once, taking pride in how the curls frame around my face in a manner that can only be described as a lion’s mane. I was sniffling from getting over being sick, and with the exception of a red nose, my complexion is like porcelain.

How does any of this justify the actions of those three guys? They pushed it further and further. The breaking point was when the squealer began taking pictures of me and trying to encourage his friends to do the same. What he plans to do with those photos, I have no idea. He even got up and followed my friend and me to the door, making comments to his friends about how it’s their last chance to take a picture of the fat whale before she left.

I felt emotionally and physically traumatized by their actions. Why did they have to do that? Why did they think it was okay to try to ruin another person’s night for their own enjoyment? Mostly, when did it become okay to judge a person without knowing them? If I hadn’t been on the edge of crying, I would have approached them and said: “You don’t know me. You have no right to judge me. Tonight was supposed to be a night to cheer me up and distract me from the hard week I’ve had. I lost two loved ones days apart, helped numerous friends with their hardships both financially and emotionally and struggled with my own grieving. Oh, and while at the hospital, I caught a virus that has prevented me from sleeping well or eating the last several days. In all, I am just another human, I have my faults, but I also have my strengths. Thankfully, most of my strengths are in my character and are reflected by how I treat others. Unlike you, I would never try to hurt another person for the humor of it. Unlike you, I respect others until they give me reason not to. And, unlike you, I don’t judge by looks that can be highly deceiving.”

Yet again, I ask, when did it become OK to treat others so poorly? Sincerely,

Puzzled Fat Chick

I hate that this happened to you. As someone who values Fridays and relaxation and self-confidence, I hate that yours were damaged so badly by these guys. And in a way that carries forward in such a lasting, hurtful way. I also hate that we live in a society that raises and teaches people that acting like this is funny and okay. Because those guys didn’t invent that kind of obnoxious behavior, they learned it. I try to remind myself that their punishment is going through life as themselves. 

What I hate most about this is that there’s a sense that you have to acknowledge all your “flaws” in order to justify being out in public. I hate the suggestion that if you weigh a certain amount, you must be trying to lose weight. I hate the idea that if you’re not dressed in a way that camouflages your body, you shouldn’t be out in public, or you should expect to be made fun of. I hate that you feel like you have to describe yourself as “not model pretty,” lest anyone think you feel good about yourself. 

You have tremendous value and worth exactly as you are. You are enough, exactly as you are. And while I believe that’s true, I know it’s a small consolation, because you have to live in this world that tells you, in a million ways every day, that it’s not.

But you and your friends and everyone else are 100 percent entitled to be out in the world. Period. You don’t have to look a certain way. You don’t have to be trying to lose weight. You don’t have to be dressed “modestly.” 

Again, I’m sorry this happened to you. And I’m even sorrier that we all have to live in a world that takes such a limited, restricted view of what people are supposed to look like. And then attaches dramatically outsized importance and value to that look. (And make no mistake: This narrow view of “attractiveness” and the degree to which women—mostly—are policed for their compliance with it is neither natural nor inevitable. It’s a deliberate mechanism for controlling women.) 

I hope this never happens to you again. If it does, I suggest Hollaback! Athens. According to its mission statement, “Hollaback is a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world. We work together to better understand street harassment, to ignite public conversations, and to develop innovative strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces.” Hollaback offers a lot of resources and avenues for standing up to street harassment (which is what you experienced). One of those “innovative strategies” is an opportunity for you to take a picture of the person harassing you and post it to the Hollaback website, along with the location and a description of the harassment. Check out the Hollaback! Athens website for more info: