I knew there was trouble the moment I saw them. A group of boys. A pack. On the other side of the road.
Predictably it started with wolf-whistles. Then, “What a beast!” And ended with words like ‘pig’ and ‘fat slut’ being hurled like hand grenades at us across the street.
I say ‘us’ but the truth is the insults weren’t directed at me. They were directed at my friend Sonja* – a colleague of mine from my days working in PR in London in the 90s. Sonja and I bonded over our love of Ronan Keating (don’t judge me). She was a truly deplorable cook. Fluent in Spanish. Generous as the day is long. She had awesome taste in music and terrible taste in movies. And she kicked my ass in Trivial Pursuit more times than I like to recall. She was, and still is no doubt, the type of girl who lit up a room when she entered it. She was magnetic and hilarious in that Ellen DeGeneres way.
But none of that matters – apparently – because Sonja is obese.
Hearing those boys (did I say boys, I meant tools) yelling filthy insults at her that day I could feel rage curdling my spirit. But Sonja? You’d swear she hadn’t heard it. I would later realise this is how she copes with the abuse she receives as an overweight woman. She blocks it out. Or at least says she does.
Last week 31-year-old Stephanie Payne spoke out about the verbal abuse that is part of daily life catching public transport as an obese person.
“Stephanie Payne, 31, who once weighed 243kg, said she had been the victim of countless unprovoked, hurtful attacks from passengers.
Ms Payne said she caught an early train so she could have a seat without being abused. Fellow passengers have called her a “fat pig”, sometimes in front of her children. It’s been loudly suggested to her that she buy two tickets because she takes up more than one seat.