There's something new I'm sensing about my neighborhood that's making me uneasy -- something I'd never noticed in all my life living here, but made me cringe, like a Q-tip hitting the brain. I'll share with you an incident that occurred less than 24 hours of being home from school.
The way my heart raced, you'd think it had been years not weeks since the last time I'd seen my sister. I was too exhausted to drive, let alone walk, to visit her, my decade-divided twin, so I collapsed on my bed instead and hoped she'd understand. With the summertime luxury of sleeping-in, I woke up after 10 a.m., brushed my teeth and threw on something to wear. I rushed out the door, calling behind me that I didn't know when I'd be back and began the precisely 4.45-minute walk to my sister's townhouse.
Strolling down my street, taking in the familiar birds and 50-degree "summer" heat of Chicago, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a red pick-up truck parked along the curb. Lawnmowers and hand-held weed-whackers filled the trunk and a middle-aged man sat in front looking bored. There wasn't much to take in and I found the squirrels wrestling in front of my feet much more entertaining. I trailed their squirrelly game to the end of the block, and it wasn't until they jumped into the bushes that I noticed the truck cruising alongside me, matching my walking pace.
I figured it was only a coincidence. He must be headed somewhere in the same direction -- maybe he was running low on gas -- who knows? But as I turned the corner and walked the width of two more blocks it slowly dawned on me that the "this isn't happening" situation, was happening to me.
He drove a bit further and parked on my side of the street. With 1,001 red flags raised, along with every hair on my arm, I decided to cross to the other side, putting distance between me and the vehicle. Crossing to the other side helped my nerves as did being a few steps shy of a major intersection, but just as I thought it was over, a heckle hit me hard.
"Shake that ass baby! Shake that ass!"
Over my right shoulder I threw a hard look of shock and confusion, and in a beat, the truck u-turned, fleeing like a torero in a bullfight. The match was done. The red truck drove away and I became the trophy animal -- enraged then gouged in the belly by his words.
As an eating disorder survivor, the metamorphoses of my body from frail-lanky boy, to strong and curvy, isn't just physical, but psychological. Since my ED I've gained over 20 NECESSARY pounds, and it's those pounds that let me get back to the things I love. Whether it's losing the time while roller-blading, counting my chin-ups between breaths or striking my personal trainer with an uppercut during a boxing lesson, its moments like these when I almost forget the girl whose undernourished body physically couldn't get up from bed one morning. It's moments like these when my body and I are finally on the same page.
So obviously I was stunned, to say the least, after this episode. Should I run, cover up, be embarrassed of the body I was so proud of? Would I stand there and let others ridicule my self-worth because I'm a woman? No, because I've spent too long reducing my own body to let others do it for me.
The tally stands at seven now -- seven "nice asses," whistles and honks in the two weeks since I've been home. Don't think I'm strutting around in thigh-high boots and patent leather minis: I literally got honked twice on my way home today wearing a sweaty XL gray t-shirt with and capris from 8th grade.
What's going on?
I believe that women and girls have the right to walk down the street without being made self-conscious, just as men and boys have a right to express their favor. Women do love compliments, but next time, tell your mom/sister/grandma/girlfriend/wife/best friend she looks beautiful today. Tell her how strong and confident she looks. Save the antiquated "a-woogas" and whistles for some cartoon network show or 1920s black-and-white clip. Let's change the way we give compliments.
Yes, there's something new I'm sensing about my neighborhood that's making me uneasy, but it's not about the way I look -- it's the way some are so blind.
What the Beep?
Eliana Block is an Orthodox Jewish blogger, freelance journalist and creative writer studying at the University of Maryland. Read more of her posts at www.collegadoxparadox.blogspot.com