An open letter to the lady who leaned out her car window to tell me I was fat

Dear Lady Who Leaned Out Her Car Window to Tell Me I Was Fat,

Why did you do that? Was my appearance really such an affront to society that you felt it your civic duty to pull alongside me as I walked down N Street last week, lean out the passenger window and yell, “You shouldn’t be wearing white tights! You’ve got big legs!”?

And why, when I walked away from you in obvious shock, did you persist? Why did you keep shouting, “You need to wear black! Black tights will make your legs look smaller!” as the car kept pace with me for half a block?

You weren’t even driving, so you had to coordinate this effort with your friend. Did you both see me through your windshield in my sleeveless vintage dress and white fishnets and decide on the spot to confront me? Did you turn to your friend and say, “Stop the car! I’ve got to give that chunky girl some fashion advice! And keep following her until I’ve delivered the gospel of the black tights!” Or is shouting at strangers something the two of you do so frequently that you already have a routine worked out?

I’m not being rhetorical here; I’d really like to know. As a pedestrian, I am frequently the beneficiary of shouted comments from passing vehicles, and I never understand why. Usually, I hear men screaming some unintelligible come-on, like “HeybabyniceassIwannaaa …” as they race by. The more persistent ones slow down to deliver a similar litany while keeping pace with my walking, causing me to wonder if this behavior has ever gotten anyone a date in the history of motor vehicles.

Then there are people who hurl insults from cars like water balloons. My friends and I have been called “bitch,” “dyke,” “fag” and “asshole” and have simply been screamed at by motorists, though I have to say that your backhanded fashion advice ranks as the most lengthy and inexplicable car insult I’ve heard. So, I’d like an explanation, if not from you, then from the other car-shouters of the world.

Why do you yell at strangers? Are you drunk with the power of your zero-to-60 anonymous bully pulpit, knowing you can say anything to people and zoom off without facing their reactions? Do you have a special version of Tourette’s syndrome that kicks in whenever you strap on a seatbelt and forces you to scream invectives at random? If so, perhaps we should develop a special bumper sticker that signals your condition. That way, the pedestrian you just called a whore can see it as you drive past and know not to take your words personally.

Truthfully, when a stranger like you makes a special effort to insult me, it’s hard not to take it personally. Logically, I know it’s ridiculous to let a mannerless interloper sway my self-esteem, but your comments bruised the part of me that worries about how I look. You’re a woman, too, so you’re probably familiar with the kind of nagging body-image insecurities I’m talking about—that little voice that says, “Don’t eat that. Look, she’s skinnier than you! When was the last time you saw a treadmill?”

Normally, I ignore that voice, but yours was rather loud. After you drove off to wherever, I spent the rest of the night furtively glancing at my legs in shop windows and uttering pointless protests like “But I wear a size six in jeans!” and “My dress and shoes are brown! Black tights would look awful with this outfit!”

Later, it occurred to me that you freaking out over the sight of someone else’s legs probably means your body-image issues are worse than mine. If I may be so bold as to offer you some advice, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t be wearing such a negative attitude. You’ve got a big heart. Try offering compliments and smiles; they’ll make your insecurities seem thinner.

Best wishes,