A MAN called me fat in a busy café, so I poured hot coffee all over his angry lap.
Okay, so that’s what I wish I’d done.
Here’s what actually went down.
It’s Saturday morning in Hobart, a place that’s usually pretty much the most genuinely friendly place in Australia. People ask you how you are, and they wait for an answer here.
My favourite thing on a Saturday morning is to go to my favourite cafe, have breakfast, and do some work for a few hours. It’s the kind of café where the food is art, and the coffee is the best there is.
On my way back to the table, I bumped into a man who was looking at the pastry display, full of things like Belgian Chocolate Ganache & Roasted Hazlenut Tart (mmmm!). He’s got his hands on his hips, taking up space in a small area. It was busy, so I quickly said, “Sorry”, without eye contact, and moved on to my table.
Let’s stop here for a minute. If you’re a woman, chances are you’re used to this kind of encounter. Most days, it might even happen a few days. We’re either moving for men, or we’re not moving quickly enough, the exchange always ends with us apologising.
Just try walking in a straight line at your local shops. If you don’t shift out of the way, you’ll bump into at least 10 men. There are Youtube videos about this. It’s an actual thing.
Women are used to making way for men.
So I’m sitting at my table, getting my computer out, greedily waiting for my coffee to be delivered when this dude, who I now see is about 55 years old and in a navy uniform, charges up to me and says aggressively:
“If you bump into someone, you should have some manners and say ‘Excuse me.’”
I’m 38 years old. Gone are the days where someone has a go at me and I take it lying down. So I don’t think about it — I match his aggressive energy and say “I did say ‘sorry’. But it was impossible not to bump into you with your arms sticking out.”
And he says, in a café full of people, “It’s because you’re fat.”
Now this is a truth. I am a bit fat. I’ve had two weight-loss surgeries, and I’m still a bit overweight, but I’m not someone in the world (anymore) who obviously takes up more than the average amount of space. Not that that should matter a fig. This dude’s mode of abuse was to attack my appearance.
Still, this cuts to the quick. I’m so shocked I’m sitting in my seat hoping the world would swallow me up, as the people at tables around me try to pretend it didn’t happen.
Because, even though our society is taking leaps and bounds with equality, the biggest insult to a woman isn’t “You’re a bad person,” or “You’re pathetic,”, it’s “You’re fat”.
And why wouldn’t it be, when magazines are filled with celebrities showing off their weight loss in swim suits, shelves in the supermarket are devoted to diet foods and shows like The Biggest Loser literally make weight loss into a sport.
My friend I’m with can’t pretend it didn’t happen. She goes after him like a bulldog, to the table where he’s chowing into a chocolate éclair with his wife and daughter. She chooses the insult that stings a man to the bone “You’re a small, little, insignificant man. Take a good look at yourself.”
He looks her up and down and says “You should take a good look at yourself”. This guy is a real prize.
I tweet about this immediately and message my sister, for what, I’m not sure. Every kind message I get back makes me teary.
Eventually, I’m in the toilets, crying my eyes out, and what for? A mean man said I was fat. I know, intellectually, it’s more about him than it is me. The whole exchange is.
Yet there I am, a 38-year-old woman taking up the one public bathroom at the cafe, remembering when I was at school being picked last for sports teams ‘because you’re fat’, being told I’m taking up too much space at a John Farnham concert, being beaten up at a community centre in Scotland because I’m ‘fat and loud’.
I’ve butchered my body, twice, I realise in that little cubicle, to avoid this exact moment happening, and still it does.
An hour later, and my friend and I are still at our table smarting. We both keep crying about the way some angry men feel they can speak to women, and how the immediate way to diminish us is to critique our bodies.
I get upset for the women who don’t have as much agency as us, who are abused like this when trying to enjoy a coffee at their favourite café. Who don’t have the words or confidence to fight back in some small way like we did.
The café have three people apologise to us, and bring us free chocolates.
Why does it matter if someone is fat, or thin? Why does what someone looks like matter at all? Why, if he’d just accused me of being rude would I have gone on with my day as though nothing happened?
Why, when I’m telling my Mum the story a whole day later do I start crying again?
I’m still replaying it over and over in my head, wishing I could have been composed enough to say all this to him, or to squash his fancy éclair across his navy jumper. Or better yet, throwing his coffee on him so he’d have to spend the day scrubbing the brown out of his white shirt, remembering how humiliated he’d been.
Still, Hobart’s a small place. I’m sure I’ll bump into him again. He’d better hope it’s not after a night spent binging on Wentworth.