My daily commute to and from classes involves several sets of formidable stairs, the vast majority of which aren’t necessarily optional. Most of them I’m lucky enough to be able to handle with ease but there is one set that I consider my concrete nemesis. They’re the last set of the day and they are brutal on tired legs and sore feet; three tiers, none of them gentle. Most of the days I push through, champ that I am — but over the last few weeks with a cold and dust from major construction work wreaking havoc on my new Big City Asthma, I’ve taken one look at that looming stairwell and headed straight for the lift. (That’s ‘elevator’ for us yanks.)
Choosing the lift is never easy. No matter how much walking/stair climbing/other ‘virtuous’ activity I’ve undertaken in a day, no matter how ‘legitimate’ my reasons for not taking the stairs, some part of me hates embodying the stereotype of the fat girl who takes the lift. In my head the people behind me are saying “That’s why you’re fat!” And then my own activist brain is telling me “Stop being so ableist/healthist, just *wanting* to take the lift is reason enough, you’re not obligated to take the stairs!” And it goes on and on like that in circles until I hit the street and start thinking about something else. Good times.
Today I was having the same talk with myself as I pressed the button to call the lift. As the door opened and I stepped through, I heard a voice call “wait for me!” I stepped back to catch the door before it closed and in walked an older, fat, non-gender normative woman — possibly queer, possibly not. I smiled. She smiled. The lift started up and we were silent for a moment.
Then she leaned over conspiratorially and said “My knees can’t take it” referring to the stairs. “Mine, either!” said I. Then she paused. She said “People say I should lose weight, but I’m not gonna do it just to please ’em.” My eyes got big. I smiled wider. “That’s exactly right.” I said. Encouraged she said “I like the way I am!” I grinned. I said “Good for you! I love that!” The doors opened and she walked out ahead of me. I stood there kind of stunned – feeling so grateful for that moment but unsure of how to express it. I wasn’t going to let it pass, though, so I called out after her “That was the best exchange I’ve had all day. Thank you.”
Looking back over her shoulder she said “That’s a great smile. Glad I could give it to you.” I smiled wider and said “This is so going on facebook.” She laughed and we kept walking – her a pace or two ahead, me just reveling in the moment. She looked back after a few steps. “That smile’s not going anywhere is it?” I caught up with her. “You don’t even know.” I nodded. “I’m a fat activist. I think about this stuff all day long. You’ve really just made my week.” She gave me a thumbs up — the kind that said ‘i have no idea what that means but it sounds great’ and we walked out together. “I’m 50.” she said in summation. “Took me a long time to accept myself, not gonna stop now!” I braved up and asked for her email address so I could interview her at some point about her experience. She gave it effortlessly. As we parted ways she congratulated herself on my smile again – and I kept it, all the way home.