There have been so many great moments on this trip to California but this one was more complex than most. My daughter flew down from college to join me for a couple days and we set off on foot to explore the previously-mentioned exclusive town of my birth. After a mile or two of hoofing it around town, we were ready for refreshment so I took her to a little coffee shop I’d discovered, replete with red velvet couches, original artworks, free wi-fi and incidentally, coffee and elaborate pastries.
I had previously resisted the European-style bank of mouthwatering concoctions. Today, though, feeling that happy feeling like when she was little and we were out having a major treat, I said, “Pick anything.”
“What’s this?” She asked the barista, pointing to a mounded dome with squiggles on top, big and exotic as half an ostrich’s egg made out of glossy chocolate. The girl, aggressively thin, makeup thick as Elvira, shrugged.
“I’ll take the Neapolitan,” I said, never much of a food adventurer. T. was still debating over the chocolate orb.
“I want to know what’s inside.”
“It’s a torte. Chocolate mousse with raspberry, a dark chocolate shell and a crust of hazelnuts.” This from a different barista, down by the coffees. She sounded annoyed, probably with having to answer a customer for Elvira, whose customer service left room for improvement.
“Sounds yummy. I’ll take it.”
“It will make you fat.” Only Elvira said it more like, “Eet will make yoooo fet.”
“Then it will be worth it.”
My daughter’s response rapped out confidently.
I cringed, rendered mute and skulking by the obvious fact that I’d already had a few too many chocolate tortes over the years and didn’t merit a warning anymore. We collected our sixteen-dollar treat and withdrew to a red velvet couch, but all the fun had evaporated for me.
Later that evening I was still bothered by the whole interaction.
“Why would she say that to you? Like she was trying to give you a complex!” I’ve tried her whole life to protect her from getting a complex about food and weight, and to have some barista randomly inject her with It will make you fat enraged me.
“I just couldn’t believe she said it at all. It was surreal. Why would anybody say something like that in a pastry shop?”
We ended up having an important conversation: about beauty, and power, and womens’ judgment about each other and their bodies. T. contended that hair was as important as body weight in signaling sexuality and attractiveness, and that her experiments with hair had rendered a similar result to what I’d discovered.
Being forty and chubby made you invisible.
So did being shaved bald.
So did disabilities, and age, and pushing a cart with your worldly belongings in it.
In the end, to have had such a conversation, to have thoroughly explored this dark, troubling and sad subject with my daughter brought us together much more than sharing a pastry. I’m more aware than ever that we need to allow each person their unique humanity without judgement.
I’m not yet ready to be thankful to Elvira but I think I might be someday because I’ll always remember that conversation with my girl, a conversation in which we both grew.
“It will make you fat.”
Truer words were never spoken.
I won’t say in a public forum what my response to Elvira would have been. (*whispering* I’ll tell you later.). I have a thing about weight and judging people by the larger end of the scale. I’m very glad you saw the positive side to this (and shared it), and I hope to have a similar epiphany (rather than rage) should I ever encounter a person like that while out with my own daughter.
Wonderful and thought provoking post. *Elvira* needs an attitude adjustment if she wishes to continue working in a pastry shop..then again maybe *Elvira* was the owner. Surounded day in day out with all that lovely nosh could make you impervious to it? Maybe! … but those types of comments are both nasty and unnecessary.
*However* anything that prompts the type of conversation you enjoyed with your daughter is worth it.
My own daughter had a friend ask about me “is your mom anorexic?”
It hurt her to think people assumed I was because I am very underweight. People are people and many speak without thought of the effect it can have on those they talk to. One has to wonder what satisfaction they derive from it.
People in general can be so cruel when it comes to weight.
I was very overweight for my build for a long time. In fact, for the entire length of time I have lived where I do. I lost the weight over the last year, and over the course of doing so have had so many people whisper behind my back about whether or not I had cancer and was DYING.
Finally, I said to one of them, NO. You were just used to seeing me FAT.
But it hurt me, bad. I’m sure they still whisper at me, because they look at me funny sometimes, if I have a hat on (which I love to wear). I’m very, very small now. I’ve had some other things crop up and have gotten a little smaller than I should have, but it’s nothing I can help, despite that I try to keep the weight on.
People don’t think before they speak about how their words will affect others. Suzannah, us little people need to unite! (sorry, rant over.)
It’s so nice to read that you and your daughter could have such a heartfelt discussion over this horribly rude woman, who spoke so out of turn.
I would have liked to have the chance to ask ‘Elvira’ why she was working where she was. There used to be a wonderful candy shop in LaJolla, next to the Athenium, run by my Mother’s best friend, Kay Cromwell, whose husband was one of the first La Jolla surfers, back when, in the 40’s and 50’s. My Brothers and I loved walking up to the Athenium, a sort of a privatish library, and cultural center, they had a great atmosphere, fire in fire place, books inviting, classical music. I was usually the only teen in the place, the other’s being over 70. I always stopped at the candy shop to say Hi to Kay, who was round faced, lovely and plump, gave the best hugs, and ALWAYS gave me, and us, a piece of chocolate. This remains forever, the prototype for the kind of employee a candy shop should hire. ‘Elvira’ sounds like she belongs in a tat parlor, or maybe an electronics shop. She must be really miserable.
I did not know that about Tawny’s hair. It never once occurred to me to ask her why she was constantly altering that waving message to humanity, kind of like a flag. I just thought ‘that’s my Tawny’, she always was beyond beautiful, and fun and smart and wonderful. Who even cares about the hair, when you are dealing with a lovely human being like this.
Poor ‘Elvira’, she sounds like she needs a big hug, from fat old me.
PS invisibility rocks. Especially when you speak up!
I recall my mom talking about the invisibility of age. She discovered that people would talk to whomever she was with and not to her. Recently, in my capacity as docent, a man asked me a question about seabirds. I could not understand a word. He probably had Parkinsons, perhaps a stroke. His wife interpreted and I made a HUGE effort to look at him as I answered the question-thinking of my mom’s comment the whole while. It was HARD to respond to him and not to his wife.
How interesting that Tawny would give hair the same importance as weight. I have to say from my own experience that being fat and forty with short hair = invisible. Being fat and forty with long blond hair = Zaftig! The difference in treatment I get between a “ponytail day” and a good blow out is amazing.
I think it is part of being human to be constantly assessing and pigeon-holing. Maybe we honed the skill as a means of survival and now it is a constant daily inescapable way of sorting through society. Its always good to be reminded to think above our basic instincts and try to slow down and really SEE others. Its a discipline.
But Sue is right… sometimes invisibility rocks!
Now why did I think you lived on Oahu. Of course. There are other islands too. I loved reading about your coming in for a landing. Very descriptive. I could see all of the passengers in my minds eye. Your writing is very enjoyable. I look forward to reading more about Maui. It’s been years since I’ve been there. Catch me up.