1. To the woman who was next to me on the treadmill at the gym: I’m sorry.
My body judgement started the minute you got on the treadmill next to mine.
You were staring at the LCD display of my treadmill the whole time. I kept glancing at you out of the corner of my eye, and there you were again. Staring. Watching my every move.
It made me feel super uncomfortable. I was already insecure about being there, already had to talk myself into even going to the gym because I felt like everyone would point and laugh at my body. You were proving me right and I hated you for it. I screamed at you in my head, begging you to stop staring.
As I climbed off the machine and walked to the squat rack, you called out to me.
“Sorry for staring! I was just amazed at how consistent your pace is!”
I’m sorry I assumed that you were my competition.
And it was beyond unfair of me to mentally pit myself against you in a competition you never consented to. You were just there to make your body feel good, and I dragged you into my own battle with myself.
2. To the woman in the public bathroom, trying to make yourself vomit in the cubicle: I’m sorry.
I saw you crouched there, fingers down your throat. I saw how thin you were. You were shaking. Memories came flooding back to me. I came into your cubicle and asked if I could hug you. With tears down your face, you asked me to leave you alone.
I didn’t. I pushed on and recommended support resources for bulimia. I had to do something. I’d been there and I had to help you.
“No, you don’t understand!” you choked. “I’m allergic to peanuts and I accidentally swallowed one!”
I’m so sorry I assumed. I had no right.
I made an already embarrassing situation worse for you, and I’ll never know the impact that my words might have had on you.
I hope you didn’t start to doubt yourself for my assumption.
3. To the woman at the post office: I’m sorry.
You were wearing a very baggy floor-length purple dress that floated miles away from your body.
You were having an argument with your boyfriend and you were trying (in vain) to keep your conversation quiet. You were upset at the lack of sex in your relationship.
“Maybe if you dressed a little better,” I caught myself thinking.
I felt bad as soon as I had the thought. I knew it wasn’t your place to dress ‘sexy’ in order to be worthy of sexual affection.
But still, the bitchy mean girl in my head persisted. I mentally recommended lipsticks that would suit your skin tone, imagined how much “better” you would look if you just did something with your hair. Your boyfriend was well-dressed and looked like he’d just left the office of a corporate job. How did you meet him? Did you always wear baggy purple dresses when you first met him? Did he wish you dressed differently?
Your boyfriend put his arm around your shoulder and consoled you. “I want you, baby! I can’t keep my hands off you. I just need to wait till I get the all-clear from the doctor. I don’t want to risk your health!”
He kissed you passionately.
I gulped. How wrong I had been!
I’m sorry I judged your fashion and assumed it impacted your sex life. That was wrong of me, and far from accurate and I know it. I knew it even as I was having those thoughts.
4. To the woman who standing in line in front of me at the supermarket: I’m sorry.
You were blonde and thin and gorgeous. I couldn’t find a “flaw” about you.
Your workout gear looked like it cost more than my car and your ponytail had the kind of effortless gloss that I didn’t even know could exist outside of a Pantene advert. The diamond on your left hand almost required sunglasses to look at.
As you turned at the self-checkout to put your bananas into a tote bag, I couldn’t help but notice your large, obviously store-bought breasts bursting out of your workout tank top.
“Those things have gotta be at least an F cup!” I thought to myself.
I found myself doing the “head to toe” look at you and smirking to myself. I wondered what your life must be like. How strange it must be to have the luxury of just buying yourself a new set of boobs every time you felt like it while your team of hairstylists perfectly coiffed your locks. Who bought your car? By the size of your ring, I bet you had a rich husband. Probably a plastic surgeon to the stars. Maybe he gave you free facelifts for Christmas every year. Maybe he was a sugar daddy. The thoughts went on and on.
After you had exited the store, I found myself walking behind you in the carpark and I overheard you talking on the phone to someone (okay, I was eavesdropping).
“No, no. It’s okay. I’ll just max it out again,” you said, describing your credit card bill as you fumbled in your purse for your keys.
My judgement about you was correct — or so I thought.
“I don’t care if I have to sell everything I own, it was worth it just to get my breasts back. Cancer can take my money, but it can’t take my boobs!”
My heart sank.
I’m so sorry.
For my judgement.
For your battle.
For everything that I’m fortunate enough to know nothing about.
All of these experiences taught me that despite how far along I come in my understanding of feminism and bodily autonomy, at the end of the day, I’m still human.
I still make mistakes, I still get things wrong and I’ll never be done learning. And sometimes, I need to check the hell out of my own privilege.
We never fully know someone’s story. We don’t know their pain, what they’ve been through or why they make the decisions that they do. And it’s not our place to assume.
It’s up to all of us to practice kindness, not cruelty.
Compassion, not judgement.
And understanding, not assumption.
Learn to pinpoint the second when your thoughts turn from observation to judgment and locate the source of that judgement. Because that judgment always comes from a place within us. It reflects on the way we feel about ourselves, the stressful time we’re having and even thoughts we’ve been conditioned to view as our own. Today, as you go forward with your daily routine, ask yourself where you could stand to be more kind in the way you interact with others. I promise you, the world will benefit from us all taking a mental step back to assess the way we engage.
As for me?
I can’t promise that I’ll never judge another woman again (inevitably, I will). But I can promise — hand on heart, with absolute certainty — that I’ll learn from every experience. I’ll grow from it. I’ll keep trying to be a better person, keep learning more about myself and dedicating myself to learning more about others.
These four women don’t know me and I’ll probably never see them again, but I learned a lot from them. They deserved better than my judgement, and now I know that.
And for that, I thank them.