It's Not Personal

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    I’ve been a server for a while—a little over two years—and have hated almost every moment of it. During my first week of university, where I studied journalism, a professor told the whole class that we “probably wouldn’t get jobs in the industry.” At this point, I’d already taken out a 27 thousand pound loan and couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else, so I finished my three years and hoped for the best. And it seems that the professor was almost right. All that’s followed since graduating has been a string of internships, freelance jobs, and chasing down those freelance people to pay me the little I’m worth. But it’s not all that bad, because I’m living in New York City, where I’ve always wanted to be. Like all major cities in the world, however, they require a shit load of money to live in and I can’t live on tap water and air. Also, I need somewhere to sleep. Which is why I work as a waitress. Many creative people do it; I’m not ashamed of working in a service job while gaining enough money so that I can write on the side and do what I love. Service jobs do test you. They are tiring, demanding, and don’t pay what they should. It also doesn’t help that many customers overstep their boundaries when it comes to dealing with a server, so, I’ve made a short, easy to follow list for anyone who enters a restaurant or bar on how to treat their female server:

    Do not, I repeat, DO NOT TOUCH ME

    If you need another beer, water, or want to know where the toilets are, simply ask. Even if it’s loud, I am paying attention to you and when I’m close enough to hear, ask me. A polite “excuse me” will whip my head around because as I said, I’m doing my job and I’m looking out for if anyone needs anything. You do not need to poke me to get my attention. You do not need to tap me on the shoulder. If you are walking by me, you especially do not need to touch the small of my back in order to let me know you are behind me and move me out of the way. Whenever I go to the service station or kitchen I am in very close proximity to others and I have never need to touch anyone I work with, so you don’t either.

    Don’t click (snap) your fingers at me

    If I haven’t checked on you for a while and you desperately need something I don’t mind a small wave. Bare in mind that you are not my only table in the restaurant and unless you have booked the whole place out just for you I do have other customers to serve. Sorry. Now, if you’re waving like a person drowning at sea, keep in mind that my boss might see this and I’ll get in trouble. Make eye contact with me, make a small universally understood singing the bill gesture. Don’t, however, click at me like I’m an animal. Remember your place: You aren’t a member of the royal family in the middle ages and I am not your servant. You’re drinking happy hour priced beer and wings.

    Don’t flirt with me

    Do I go to your place of work and flirt with you? No, because that would be highly inappropriate. Regardless of whether this is a place where people come to relax, drink and enjoy their time after work on a Friday—I do, in fact, work here. This is where I make my money to live. Furthermore, acknowledge that you are putting a server in a position where they are unlikely to be rude as you are the paying customer. I cannot tell you to "fuck off" like I would if I weren’t clocked in. I cannot leave the premises if you are being overly creepy. Most of what I can do is smile, laugh and pretend your unwanted attention is exactly what I want. I do not want to be flirted with at work. No one in the restaurant industry does. I solely want to make my money and leave so I’m not on my feet anymore.

    Don’t make me give you my number

    Yes, this has happened to me and a few people I’ve worked with. Customers, unaware that we can’t say no because 1. we’d get in trouble for being rude and 2. we need the tips, have taken our phones and put their numbers in or followed themselves on Instagram. Realize that we will block, unfollow you as soon as you leave. You’re using your position of power over us and this is creepy behavior and no one likes it.

    Don’t write your number or a message on the bill

    I will show all of my co-workers and laugh at you. I might also give your number to someone that isn’t me just to fuck with you. Not only will my co-workers see this, but my boss also will. Surprisingly, I don’t get to personally keep these bills and whatever you write will be passed around. For this reason, I will share a note I once received: “You are hot. I like your accent. Plz phone me so I can show you a good time.” Tempting, I know.

    Don’t wait for me after my shift

    When I’m asked what time I finish I will not give you the right answer because that’s a weird thing to ask. Are you assuming we’re going to do something together once I finish and that I don’t already have plans? Do you think I’d rather spend time with someone I served beers for than go home or do whatever it is I plan on doing? Always assume it’s a no. And, if you wait for me at the bar and watch me until we’re closing I will guess that you want to kill me. I’ve had to sneak out different entries of restaurants and walk my friends out because of people like you. It isn’t attractive or serendipitous that you’re waiting for me to finish and for me to realize you’re still there. I can see you; I’ve told my co-workers about you and we all think you’re a weirdo. Go home.

    Don’t ask me my political/religious views

    If you’re a Trump supporter, don’t expect me to agree with you because you’re my customer. So, don’t get upset if you ask me about him and I give you an answer that you won’t like. You don’t know me and I don’t know you. The only thing I’m interested in is knowing what you’d like to eat and drink and if you’ll leave me an ok tip. I don’t care if you served in the military and love what Trump is doing for you. I don’t care that your granddad was a coal miner or that you don’t like paying taxes. I don’t care if you don’t believe in climate change. Frankly, I’ll think you’re stupid and probably pay less attention to you, meaning you’re doing yourself more harm by venting to me.

    Don’t ask my co-workers where they’re from

    This is a less insulting one as I’m clearly white and British (although everyone assumes I’m Irish, for whatever reason I don’t know). But don’t ask my blatantly non-white co-workers where “they’re really from” because that is insulting. Wherever they are from is none of your business nor will it change how they serve you; they don’t have the time either to intricately explain their family tree. Moreover, don’t assume that they are one thing, because you might be wrong and further insult them. Just because someone is speaking Spanish doesn’t mean they are from Mexico or want to hear about your crazy trip to Cancún.

    Don’t ask me to drink with you

    I don’t know how many times I need to repeat this: I am at work. I don’t want to and cannot drink while at work. Even if you beg to ask my boss if it’s okay I am not allowed. I can’t afford to drink at work because unlike you, I’m not sat down and relaxing. I didn’t choose to be here on a weekend, my schedule required me to be. I’d much rather be out with my friends drinking at a bar, too. I am not. I am at work. If I say I can’t the first time, don’t try to convince me with a slurred sales pitch about only living once.

    Lastly, do tip

    I’m poor. I’m tired. I’m overworked. My feet hurt. My soul is drained. The least you can do after making me list all the beers on tap (only to pick Bud Lite), run to the kitchen for extra ranch dressing, fix the wobbly table and box your food up is leave a decent tip. Even more so if you’ve been inappropriate with me. I have had plenty of tables that have flirted and asked me out only to leave a shitty tip. Shame on you for thinking I want to go out with a stingy person.

    Image Courtesy of Lynn Mimistrobell via Flickr


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  • toomuch e9766

    Tonight, I was meant to go on a first date with a man who I met online. He seems funny, clever, kind and cute, but I’m relieved he canceled. Instead, I’ll be taking the bus home where I will cook some pasta with halloumi and chorizo and watch Insecure until I fall asleep on the sofa.

    My new plan is hardly exciting, let alone romantic. So why do I feel so content? It’s not because the guy no longer appeals to me — he likes “Sexy Sax Man” and Hamilton; how could I resist?! No, it’s because I am scared.

    I am what fashion calls “plus size,” what doctors term “overweight,” and what the boys I went to school with would laughingly refer to as “fat.” I am a size 18 in many stores and my body type is supposedly the average in the UK, where I live. But it feels like allies and people of similar shapes are few and far between in fashion, the industry in which I work.

    When I’m in the mood to meet someone, I often use dating apps, where I feel forced to lay my “flawed” body bare in my profile. If I don’t make it clear that I’m fat, I worry I’ll be accused of catfishing or lying and end up disappointing the poor sap who fell for what must have been a masterful use of filters and Photoshop.

    My body doesn’t have the features many men and women think make being fat okay; my wide hips are not in proportion to my cup size, and my big ass is wider than it is round. While I appreciate how a curvaceous, Kardashian-like figure is now viewed as desirable, I can’t say I share their attributes. Those hourglass figures remain unachievable for many women.

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    We all have our insecurities, and dating puts us up for judgement, which is particularly scary in swipe culture. But weight is an equalizer when it comes to criticism; society will not value you on any level if you are fat — and it’s not just deemed to be unattractive physically. You’re also lazy, stupid and perhaps even unable to perform sexually. The judgement attached to size is horrendously unfair at both ends of the scales, but fatness is something we’re told is safe to mock and be disgusted by.

    Even if by some miracle a man finds me attractive, I worry he will be questioned by his friends as to why — Does he feel like he has to settle? Does he have a fetish? Does he just want a girl who is probably so grateful to have a boyfriend she’ll be okay with him cheating? I have the same worries when a guy I am seeing is of a similar size to me. And it often feels like there’s a double standard for slim women paired with bigger men. Men are “allowed” to be fat and can still be considered attractive while it’s a cardinal sin for women.

    I’ve been single for a few months now because I wanted a break from dating. Now that I’m open to the idea of getting back out there, I’m frightened that all of the self-care I’ve cultivated will fall away. I worry that people think I deserve to be single because of my size. I was cheated on weeks before I was due to get married, and I know that these insecurities are related to that event. I felt like the shock, pain and humiliation were almost to be expected. Of course, my fiancé would stray, given my appearance, even after a 13-year relationship during which my weight was not a negative factor.

    I don’t deserve romance, sex or love because I am fat, and so anyone who takes the leap of faith to date me should be vetted closely first to check that they’re sane. I feel like they need to fill out a questionnaire before meeting me to make sure they’ve read the T&Cs, with all my vital statistics on the page in plain sight. I fear meeting someone for a first date unlike much else; I worry that the man will feel disappointed at best, misled at worst. And if they’re disappointed, I know there’s only one thing they need to say to justify it to others: “She was fat.”

    Insulting phrases I’ve heard over the years have stayed with me, even if I wasn’t on the receiving end. For example, “A fat girl with no boobs is God’s cruelest joke.” I’m no pin-up or hourglass, but I happen to mostly like my body. I don’t want to change it dramatically — my goals are to feel strong and toned and fit before considering if I want to lose weight. I’m not envious of other women’s slim thighs, more so their ability to run 5km.

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    My health and fitness goals are for me, but it feels like debate about my body is public property. I am made to feel as though I’m wrong, so why should I expect to find someone right? The implication is that I can’t hope to find a partner unless I lose weight. However, I feel like my fat is a part of my identity; changing my body, even if it was for “the better” feels like I’d be changing who I am. But I don’t want to have to change myself to find love. I strongly suspect the dramatic weight loss to attain the “acceptable” body would not last, seeing as I’d have to change my lifestyle, too. As well as changing my body, I’d also be changing how I spend my time. I would be unrecognizable. And despite the risk, I really do want to be seen as I am.

    What may just be my paranoia about my weight isn’t helped by the zeitgeist focus on wellness and athleticism. When scrolling through Tinder, I am in the minority — it is truly a challenge to find someone who doesn’t list “going to the gym” as one of their interests or hasn’t got a photo of themselves running a marathon as part of their profile. Everyone seems very keen to point out how frequently they feel the burn. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s because they just really, really want you to know they’re not fat. I actively avoid anyone who writes “I do love my gym,” because to me, this is not only an indication we’re incompatible thanks to our different lifestyles, but because I struggle to believe anyone who likes fitness would find me attractive.

    I recently went through a phase that had me feeling unsexy. I think I like myself, but I worry I’m too awkward, too chatty, too pale, too silly, too tall, too neurotic, too immature, too serious, too annoying, too boring, too needy, too lazy, too big, TOO MUCH. I literally take up too much space. I find it hard to accept I’m allowed even one shot at happiness, let alone multiple dating options. In the darkest depths of my psyche, I debate if I will never find someone to love me, as my slimmer, prettier, smarter and funnier friends all find partners, and so I steel myself further for my inevitable decline into being forever single. I spiral downward from there — I think about how nobody will want me, and eventually my friends will find it too hard to fit me into their lives full of partners and families. And then my own family will feel distant and resentful because they don’t understand me. And at the root of it all, it’s because I am fat.

    I may never be able to distance myself completely from these insecure ideas, but through therapy I’m learning to allow this negativity in order to better understand where it comes from. I’m actively working on taking actions to help me move forward with my life. My perception of self will inevitably influence how people treat me in dating and my judgmental attitude is likely holding me back far more than the numbers I see on the scale. It’s not fair for me to decide that someone who enjoys Crossfit wouldn’t also be down to hibernate with me and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race or share my deep love of mozzarella. I need to respect how we all genuinely find different attributes attractive and how the outcome of that really can be as positive for me as it would be for someone half my size. I’m learning to risk rejection on the road to affection with a resilience that’s not attached to someone else’s opinion, but I’m also determined not to stand in my own way.

    In my scarred but hopeful heart, I know I need to trust others as much as I have grown to trust myself. Are some people cruel when it comes to criticizing size? Yes. It makes dating really hard for people like me, and it hurts each time. But just as the shapes of our bodies are beautifully diverse, our minds are all wonderfully different, too. I believe I deserve fun, respect and compassion, and to paraphrase Gloria Gaynor: As long as I know how to love, I know I'll survive dating. In this spirit, I shared a bottle of Prosecco with friends before replying to the offer to reschedule that date with a big, fat yes.

    By Jen Kettle

    Illustration by Shanu Walpita

    Jen Kettle is a writer and editor living in London. Currently the Lead Sub Editor at trend forecasting company WGSN, Jen has also edited magazines focused on fashion and weddings. She is an advocate of plus-size beauty and self love to promote greater equality and diversity. Jen is now working on a project focused on film and fashion. Follow her on Instagram or on Twitter.


    Shanu Walpita is a London-based trend forecaster and editor with a not-so-secret illustration side-hustle. She's been drawing for as long as she can remember, often lost in a haze of lines and quirky characters. Her illustrations and GIFs have caught the eye of retailers, brands and agencies over the years, sparking unexpected collaborations and commissions. She doesn't put too much thought into her doodles, mostly treating them as a form of escapism and freestyle storytelling. You can check out more of her stuff on Instagram.

    Published January 29, 2018

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