I was reaching into my pocket, searching for one of those lovely dog poo bags, when a woman approached me. People do that quite often. Either they want to talk about mr Dog or they want to ask for directions to some place (assuming that, because I’m walking with a dog, we’re locals). I didn’t think more of it, it isn’t strange, after all. She was a bit scruffy — not your average stylish lady from Östermalm (they are of a special kind). No, she was more the kind of woman who doesn’t care about her looks. Probably a woman who prefers to read something serious about human suffering rather than Vogue, if you know what I mean. I’m not saying this in a disparaging way; I don’t read fashion magazines either. But neither do I read dopey self-help books.
Anyway. I know about the deficiencies of the human race and the human mind. Mr Dog constantly reminds me. (Quite rightly.) I also know these things because I’ve had encounters with so-called humans. His wisdom is borne out by my experience. Even if most people are nice, you have to accept them with their flaws. (Mr Dog, being a tolerant dog, taught me this too. He taught me not to be too impatient with the unbearably thick bipedaled.)
But some humans act more strangely than others. Some behave much weirder than Martians. Or how I envision Martians would behave if they had any interest in getting to know us. (One can understand why they don’t, remarks mr Dog.)
As soon as this completely foreign woman — whom I have never seen before — has come close enough to me, she puts her hand on me and starts to pat me. There I stand, with a dog poo bag — not even tied close yet — in one hand, dog in the other hand, and I’m being fondled by some new kind of random loon.
She wants to speak with me, she says. Not in the tone people usually apply when they want to talk about mr Dog or ask for directions. No, she — and her hand patting me — means serious business. I believe she’s trying to grab my wallet or recruit me to a more bizarre cult than anthroposophy. I prepare to smack her or to tell her that my agenda is pretty full as far as spiritual organisations go. (I mean, come on, there’s only so much time left in this life for fun. I don’t need to be saved by some fervently self-righteous christian. No thank you, I don’t want to go to heaven. I don’t expect to meet my friends there. Not even the anthroposophists. Oh, don’t look shocked…) She looks more like a holier-than-though religious zealot than a thief, to be frank. She wants to speak to me. And so she does.
‘I wonder if anyone has ever told me that you’re thin?’ she says. You’re kidding me, I hear myself thinking, but I don’t remember if I’m saying it. I think I am. Something to that effect. I move away from her, because I don’t want to be patted. She moves after me. She likes to be close. I can’t say I enjoy such unnecessary intimacy with complete strangers.
(I should have told her that some dogs might actually defend their humans in such situations. She must have been oblivious to that risk.)
She starts to explain to me that not all people who are thin are aware of it, because, well, society and other people praise thinness. So perhaps I think it’s OK that I am so skinny. I hear the underlying message: perhaps I’m labouring under the delusion that it is all right that I walk around the city looking thin. Maybe I am quite thin genetically, she suggests, but I might nonetheless have fallen for the idea that being thin is good. I’m usually seeing the opposite message, but so what. Let’s not be reality-based. (I’m waiting for her to add that ‘thin people are not sexually attractive’, in case I was harbouring any misconceptions on that matter, but she doesn’t. I assume that such arguments are not her particular cup of tea.)
So perhaps nobody ever told me I was too thin? Perhaps I didn’t know? Perhaps I was walking around there, heaven forbid, thinking I was, like, er, normal?
Well, I’m always eagerly anticipating that total strangers will come up to me and tell me some hitherto unknown truths about myself while they attempt to be way too intimate for my taste, physically speaking. I’m always looking forward to alien women pronouncing their viewpoints on my being while they try to fondle me.
She senses, I guess, that I’m not really up for it (neither the patting, nor the talking) so she ensures me that she’s driven by good intentions and it is done out of concern. (As we all know, the road to heaven, too, is paved with good intentions.) And she strokes me again.
Maybe it was about good intentions. At least partly. But it was also about her intentions to feel good about herself. And I think the latter kind of intentions was a more powerful drive. Not that I can know, but they usually are. (Afterwards I wished I had stopped her to ask her questions: do you do this often? How do people react? Are they happy about it, generally speaking? Why do you do it? Do you think it’s appropriate? Do people ever snap when you keep patting them after they have tried to move away?)
As a child, I thought the path to happiness and bliss went through large amounts of body fat and moderate stupidity. If I could have chosen to be obese, I would have. Physically big people, in my eyes, were people who had friends and were popular. And if people didn’t want to be their friends, they could just beat them up — and win. Size matters. Being skinny is socially unacceptable (do you think you’re better than us, you sick bastard?) and, let’s face it, it sucks if you get into a fight. You can never lay yourself down upon other people and suffocate them with your weight. You can’t throw a bigger person — and everyone is bigger than you — into the nearest wall.
These days, I wouldn’t choose to be fat. That doesn’t mean I can choose not to be thin. To my joy, I can eat exactly as much cheese as I want to, and it doesn’t affect me. If somebody thinks I say this to brag or to conceal a problem, so be it — they have not walked for even a few seconds in my shoes.
Like that woman, people generally have no clue. The same goes for the imbecile debate that is conducted on these topics. A debate which — I hazard a guess — prompts people to walk up to others who they assume are unhealthy and stick their noses in things that are none of their business. All in the spirit of good intentions. All while patting the other person to show compassion.