by Annabeth Leong
Hi! Thank you for giving me the time and space to have a rest from posting here. I’ve missed you all and am happy to be back. :)
The idea of choosing one’s battles immediately associates to restraint for me. When I tell myself to choose my battles, I usually mean, shut up for now. But to be honest, I wish I chose to fight more often. It’s very rare that I say something I regret. Far more common is having left things unsaid, having failed to defend myself.
So in honor of that, I’ll talk about a couple times I’m really glad I spoke up. These incidents are small, but I’m happy when I think about them. They make me sound wittier than I usually am, too, and I wish I could be like that more often.
I’m 16 or so, at a fancy shopping mall I would never normally go to. I’m waiting for someone, I think. Anyway, I look in a store window and see a gorgeous suede skirt that I really, really want. I walk inside to look more closely, and the salesperson can feel how strong the desire is. She asks if I want to try it on, and I agree.
I never shop, so I don’t know my size. “Medium?” I guess. I perceive myself as a medium-sized person, based on my experiences of walking around with other people. The medium, however, even unzipped, won’t go up past my knees. I trade it back to her for a large. That one won’t pass my thighs. I try an extra large, and it won’t pass my hips.
“Do you want to try something else?” the salesperson asks.
Something about the whole interaction is really irritating me at this point. It’s not about the label, it’s that they obviously can’t actually sell this thing to me--there’s probably not much of anything that they can sell to me. Why go through the charade? This store isn’t for me. It’s not for a lot of people.
“No thanks,” I say. “I don’t shoot enough heroin to shop here.” I walk out, head held high.
Writing the anecdote down as an adult, I don’t mean to be insensitive to those who are struggling with addiction. If I had it to say now, maybe I’d just say, “Maybe I’ll be back once you start actually making clothes for everyone.” But 16-year-old me was onto something. It’s a real problem that clothing retailers aren’t serving a large part of the population, that it often costs more to buy larger clothes, and that attractively designed clothes often aren’t available for larger people.
I only experience this problem a fraction of the time, and I know there are people who struggle with it a lot more. But I’m not sorry I said something. I’m glad I didn’t give that store any money or let them make me feel bad about my body. And I try now to pay attention to this, to buy clothes from places that offer a full range of sizes, because even if I can fit something, I don’t want to support stores that are leaving out lots of other people. I don’t do that perfectly, but it’s a battle I want to choose.
I’m 16, stocking shelves at the bookstore where I work. An older man starts asking me questions. Where’s the religion section? Where’s the biography section? Have I heard of this author? Have I heard of that author?
At some point, my spidey sense starts to tingle. This dude is creepy. He’s leading me deeper into the store, cornering me in the back. I leave and go back to stocking shelves. He finds another reason to ask me questions. He lingers in the aisle watching me.
Finally, he speaks up. “I find you very attractive,” he says.
And there are so many times in my life when I’ve frozen in the presence of men, especially predatory ones, but this time the feeling that surges through me is contempt. My head snaps up. With my nose ring and nerdy glasses and thrift store clothes I can’t believe this dude can’t guess that I’m in high school. “I find you very old,” I shoot back, and he flees.
How many times in my life have I wished for that same fire! But too often I’ve been poisoned by the feeling that I have to be nice and gentle, only to endure all types of creepy and aggressive behavior. I am the person who remembered to say please when asking the man trying to masturbate on me in the movie theater to go do that somewhere else. I wish I chose my battles more often in this venue, and that I spared people’s feelings less. I’d be better at defending myself if I did.
For a lot of my life, I’ve been known for my patience. But I don’t want to be known for that, because too often patience has made me take a raw deal. It made me stay in a miserable marriage, endure a bad situation at work for literally years, put up with all sorts of behavior that I shouldn’t have to put up with.
On a smaller scale, but one that still matters, I’m that person who winds up taking on lots of unpaid work, serving as de facto counselor in every group I join, driving people to the airport at 4 am because I can’t figure out how to say no.
It’s not that I want to be unkind. It’s just that when everyone around me is admiring my martyrdom and self-sacrificing nature, that’s a good time to look at why the hell I’m sacrificing myself so much.
So the point of all this is that, for me, I want choosing my battles to mean choosing to fight more, not less, to speak up rather than to restrain myself.