I love my bike.
I retired from work in September and the weather was unseasonably pleasant – so I took great joy in going on a daily bike ride along the Wirral Way. I was out in the fresh air, it was fun, it was exhilarating and I loved that I could wear leggings and a t-shirt during the week.
But now I feel a bit more self-conscious about riding it. And that makes me sad.
One afternoon I was cycling home, crossing the railway line and riding along the street when a car, on the wrong side of the road, drove towards me and double-parked outside the Post Office. I swerved, pulled a face at the driver and carried on. The passenger got out and laughed. I stopped and turned – she laughed again! When challenged she admitted she was laughing at me and then asked me (rather threateningly) what I was going to do about it. What I wasn’t going to do was start an argument in the street – I have some standards and also I was a bit scared. I shrugged my shoulders and pedalled away. So far so good.
It hit me as I got home. I was crying whilst putting my bike in the shed and I continued to cry for some time after that. I had just been bullied and very possibly fat-shamed by a complete stranger, in public.
Let’s be straight – this is not the first time this has happened to me. I was the only fat child in my year at school and was the only fat person amongst my teenage friends. I was the only fat student on my course. I was the only fat person at my first job. I grew up self-conscious about my physicality, worried about standing out, being easy pickings for the bullies and those who like to mock.
Why this incident shocked me like it did was because I thought that my age protected me. I felt that as a middle-aged woman I was out of the competitive game, that in my menopausal state I was no longer a threat and of no interest to the wider world. I thought I would be left alone just to get on with my life. I felt I had reached a point when I could be comfortable with who I was, what I looked like and what I did. I certainly no longer expected to be mocked, name-called or insulted as I went about my daily business.
That woman laughing at me, threatening me, transported me straight back to the schoolyard and my childhood fears and anxieties. Things I thought I had left behind. I now know that they are with me for life. That for the fat person there is no place to hide.
But. I am not deterred. I also know that I have managed to live thus far – and done some fun and amazing things. So it takes more than street mockery to stop me.