The Author would like to warn that she cusses. A lot.
Howdy y'all. Yes, that is how I start my entrance into chat rooms (they still have those, right?) or group texts, so why not here? It’s friendly, I like y’all, and I want to talk to you about something that has been bothering me lately. After being diagnosed with a couple of autoimmune diseases, I had to go to a physical therapist. Why? Well skeleton-muscular weakness is taking a toll on my endurance, strength, and ability to walk.
On my first visit to my physical therapist we talked limits and issues with what my body could handle every day. One of the hardest things for me to do was figure out what I had the strength to accomplish in a day. Everything from doing a few loads of laundry to a trip to the grocery store would leave me worn out and unable to focus. Mind you the grocery store was the worst. She asked me about why that was so tiring and I told her it was because I would get exhausted just walking the store. My knees and hips would ache, my feet would begin to burn, and my energy level would drop until I was shaking. She looked at me and said the thing I feared all my adult life: “Well get one of the motorized carts. That’s what they’re there for.”
Why did I fear that so much? For the same reason I was scared to get my pains looked at in the first place, why I hate having a cane some days: I am fat. Fat people in motorized grocery carts get made fun of. They get their pictures taken and posted on websites. They are assumed to be lazy.
“But,” you cry. “You have a medical reason for needing one!” Yes I do but that does not stop the stigma. That does not stop people in the grocery store from seeing my size and making assumptions. Let me tell you about three different trips to the store where I rode one of the carts.
TRIP ONE: It had been a busy day and I was exhausted. I hurt. My legs were weak and I had nearly taken a header in one store. But I wanted to go into Kroger’s with my wife anyway and… I said I would use the cart. It was my first time giving into my body’s request. I got into the cart. I read the instructions. I had a rouch, jerky couple of take-offs, but I got the hang of it quickly. They are not terribly hard to figure out but they do take getting used too.
My wife said I was mad with power as I zipped around and I laughed. It was good and it was fun. I learned how to go slower so not to make her jog; I learned how to navigate backwards. In the checkout line I got to make a cute kid giggle and his dad smile. I was shit at backing the cart back into the corral but it got done. “How was it,” my wife asked.
“Good,” I said. She’d made sure I hadn’t felt out of place the whole trip. Perfect.
TRIP TWO: We split up to get more things done. I grabbed the motorized cart and headed off to get what was on my part of the list. Immediately I was at a disadvantage. I needed lettuce and people kept cutting in front of me. Once I parked and got out of the cart to get the lettuce I needed (of course it was on the top of the produce display) I was side-eyed by an employee. Yeah I had to walk a couple of steps to get what I needed but, eh maybe they were making sure I didn’t fall.
As I continued, more folks stepped in front of my moving cart with their bodied and their carts. They dashed into the place I was heading and stayed there. They refused to move their carts out of the middle of aisles despite looking right at me or ignoring my “excuse me”s. I was scowled at for checking to see if I could move out of an aisle – you have to pull partway out to see past the basket on the front of your cart. I stopped in an out of the way place to check my list and was tsked at by a mother with a staring child.
By the time my wife caught up to me I was upset, self-conscious and frustrated to near tears which made me hate myself for getting emotional which made me more emotional… you see how this spiral goes, yes? We got the few other things we needed but I was snappish and shaking. People checking out shoved full carts right into my path and one entitled woman just left her cart in the middle of the exit aisle. Not even the store employee next to it moved it. I am sorry to say I fussed and snapped at my wife and she was incredibly patient.
TRIP THREE: Solo trip by yours truly. This time I was flat out ignored by people. I did not exist to them. I mean as in they would move past me, press against my basket to get what they wanted, and move on. They didn’t care I was there at all. Even if they bumped into me they ignored me no matter if I said “excuse me” or “Hey careful”. From the young lady in the yoga pants to the elderly couple shuffling along, I was invisible.
I felt myself shrinking smaller and smaller. This is not me. I am big and loud and demand my spot in the world. I don’t care what y’all think! I am a Punk Rock Woman and hear me roar!!!
Nope. I was humiliated. My next trip to the store I used a stand up cart. I was not going to be stared at or ignored or shamed or…
Anyone know what is wrong about this whole scenario here? I’ll give you a second to figure it out. Hell, I just realized it as I was writing this piece and reading what I was upset about…
It is incredibly ableist of me. Yep. And sizeist too. I have been worried about being seen as fat and disabled. I am having a sudden revelation as to what that combination is like for someone. I am realizing it now because I am the one affected. I have finally realized that I am in this boat and the way people act towards me causes me personal pain.
Look, I am not going to wave my virtue flag and say I have never given someone disabled an attitude, a pass, or an overly sympathetic hand because they were disabled. I am also not saying my feelings of hurt, confusion, and stress aren’t valid. What I am saying is why the fuck did it take me until it happened to me to actually get my shit marginally together? I’ve always been societally considered fat and I am finding out my disabilities have been here all of my adult life but where was I in the Fat Rights Movement? I was trying to diet, considering weight loss surgery. I used to congratulate folks who starved themselves into smaller sizes, I called myself a fat slob, and I judged people based on size. Where was I in the Disability Rights Movement? I pitied them and applauded every inspirational hurdle, treating them like things to cure. I was not listening to my body and mind when it came to my own disabilities. They were weaknesses that happened to others. I have not done enough to help out people in both communities and I will take whatever ire they want to give me for showing up now.
And you can bet my ass is going to show up. I am going to spend as much time listening to others as I am to listen to myself. I will hold others to task with their speech and fight for access to places able-bodied folks can go with ease. Scrubbing sizeist and ableist language from my own vocabulary isn’t easy but it is worth it.
And I am using that damn cart every time I go to the grocery.