I had what was a surreal experience for me. Some dude flirted with me. It was a week ago when I went to Homeland to wire some money to my son in Peru. It was more odd than surreal but there was a feeling of “this is not happening in real life.” It wasn’t a big deal,  there was nothing to it and I imagine this sort of smarmy dude probably flirts with every female from 20 to 60.  He did back up a little when my husband showed up, which amused me a little.

It happened again today, we had a substitute mail carrier today, a male. Our usual carrier s a woman,  she’s friendly and kind of chatty and  I always say hi to her when she comes in. I said hi to the sub before I realized he wasn’t the Mail Lady and commented on that. He smiled and said there was only a little difference between them, that he was a little taller and held up his forefinger and thumb to show me the difference. He asked if we had any outgoing mail and lingered a second before leaving.  Again, no big deal, no harm, no foul.

It’s the sort of thing most women are accustomed to, casual flirting that means nothing and is easily forgettable. Except it’s not something I’m used to. It didn’t make e angry, I didn’t feel threatened or anything except “WTF?” When I weighed 39 pounds more it did not happen, so  I am surprised when it does.

Lest anyone think I am complaining or bragging I’m not. If anything I am confused.  I know people respond more favorably to those they consider attractive.  Babies do it and adults do it too, I admit I do it myself. And people in this time and place, in the Western world consider thin the standard of what’s attractive. The thinner the better in some cases, but heavy or overweight people are not normally cited as being attractive unless it’s an exception. Even the standard of what’s considered “heavy” is debatable. I could do a whole screed about the misleading, dangerous and infuriating effects  body image has on people, particularly women and how it twists our beliefs about ourselves. But the gist is fat=unattractive. I am still technically overweight, according to the BMI standard.

When I prepared for my bypass surgery I had to make an appt. with a psychiatrist. He asked me questions about what I expected the surgery to do, what  hoped to achieve by having the surgery and asked about my eating habits and relationship with food, particularly if I was a binge eater. I  said I hoped to be healthier and live longer, to finally kick diabetes’ metaphorical ass (not in those exact words).  I also mentioned something my husband said, that other men would be flirting with me now and how he’s a jealous man. He said this in a joking way and I remember rolling my eyes when he did. The psychiatrist surprised me by saying that was a real possibility, not that I would be seeking attention from other people but that they would respond to me. Especially if I felt better about myself and my appearance, that people will pick up on that. I’d be changing, not just how I looked but how I interacted with people, that many bariatric patients become more confident after losing weight. Some people even find the strength to leave abusive relationships, to try new things they only dreamed about and make major changes in their lives. He admitted some make lousy choices  but overall the effects were positive.

I don’t consider myself particularly attractive,  I am a middle-aged woman who was no beauty when I was young and time hasn’t helped. I also noticed another phenomenon. When I was bigger other women seemed to like me because they looked better compared to me. I could tell by their faces, “I may be getting fat but thank god I’m not as huge as that.” Or “Well, I’m prettier than her.” It’s how some women judge themselves and others, looks are important to us whether we want to admit it or not. It’s more important to some people than others, particularly women who work hard to achieve and maintain their beauty. It’s how they perceive their worth.  But some of those women who were friendly and smiled at me because I made them feel better and more secure are not as friendly now. I’ve seen them, a couple, appraising me like a piece of merchandise and not being pleased that I’m not as fat as they remembered. I’m no threat to them or anyone, I am not the second coming of Salma Hayek. She’s got nothing to fear from me.  My husband doesn’t need to worry about the mailman or the Homeland dude either. But if that mailman looked like Enrique Iglesias…

The whole thing has surprised me and frankly it’s made me think about how I perceive people. Pretty things over plain catch our eye and packaging makes a difference whether we’re talking about people, yogurt or wrapping paper.   I don’t think I can change human nature but I can be more aware of how I react to what I see.


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