A sidewalk sage is a total stranger who feels the need to come up to you and start giving you advice about how to lose weight, tell you what diet worked for them, or make some comment relating to your weight. I think it’s safe to say that all of us have met a few of them, and depending on the person, it can be offensive, infuriating, insulting, and sometimes just plain funny or bemusing.
I think we've all been through a scenario like this: You’re standing on the street waiting for someone. You become aware that someone close by is staring at you, so you turn around and look at them. Very often, it’s a sweet-looking old lady. She’ll be standing there looking at you really intently. You’ll look at her, thinking What the hell, and the eye contact will give her the impetus she needs to come up to you and deliver her sage advice. She’ll walk toward you and say something like: “You know what really worked for me? The grapefruit diet. I tried it a few years ago and lost 50 pounds!” And you stand there, thinking, What the fuck.
These people never cease to amaze me. What makes them do it? Why do they feel the need to go up to a TOTAL STRANGER and editorialize about their appearance? Didn't their parents teach them any manners?
I would never go up to an ugly person and say: You know, there`s a really good plastic surgeon down the street. You ought to go and see if he can fix your face, I hear he's really good.
Or, after one of these people finishes giving you their sage advice, I could easily say to them (but usually never do, because this behaviour floors me every time and I`m usually struck mute with shock): You know, it's really inappropriate to go up to a total stranger and start talking to them about something as intimate as their appearance. I know where you can go to brush up on your social skills and learn how to act like a human being, let me give you the address.
One time, I was browsing at an Old Navy store, looking for some sweats for my daughter Emily. Emily was standing beside me. This young woman comes walking up with a small boy beside her (her son, I assume) and, with a big smile on her face, hands me a little piece of paper. I looked at it and it was a brochure for a weight loss and exercise program. I was shocked and pissed off at the same time. I was – as usual – struck dumb at the gall of this woman. She started talking about how she worked for this place and it was really great and it worked and wouldn`t I like to join? I swear I felt like punching her in the face ... but because Emily was with me, I managed a sick smile. "No thanks!" I simply said and walked away, but I was kicking myself. Emily was tugging my arm, asking me, "Mommy, what did she say?" (even though she`d been standing right there and heard everything). I told her and Emily shook her head. "That was so rude!" she said. I just grimaced and said, Yes it was, and just hurried up doing what we had to do and got out of there.
I always think of the best things to say afterward. When we were in line paying for Emily's sweats, I thought I should have asked that bitch, "How`s the program working for you, any success?" It wasn't lost on me, either, that she was teaching her child how to treat people – that it's perfectly okay to go up to a large person and judge them, as long as you "act nice" about it. And that's exactly what these people do, act nice. As if they want to help you, but in reality, they don't know you, have no idea what your lifestyle or health history is, and most mind-boggling of all, they assume you haven`t given your size any thought at all yourself and this is why they`re kind enough to think about it for you and offer you some tips! You realize you have just been judged, assessed, criticized, and categorized.
So what do we do about sidewalk sages? Just smile and nod, say thank you very much, I'll take that into consideration, I really appreciate your looking out for me like this … Or do we say, Bitch, start walking in the other direction before my knuckles meet your face!
Well, since jail is not a good place to be, the latter isn`t a good option. Smiling and nodding and letting them get off scot-free isn`t an option either. I'm for the happy medium: The next time some presumptuous, rude asshole comes up to you and makes a comment about your weight, or tells you about a diet that worked for them, tell them about the plastic surgeon who can fix their face or the therapist who can teach them some social skills … or maybe even both! Then watch them go mute with indignation and probably think to themselves: "Did you hear what that fat bitch said to me!!!"