It was a typical Wednesday morning. Running late, I ducked into the neighborhood Starbucks, and emerged with my regular quad grande skinny mocha and a spinach feta wrap.
Uh huh. Quad. I have a little caffeine issue.
But back to our story. I got back into the Honda I drove that day, set up my breakfast “table” so as not to drip spinach juice on my dress, and checked my mirrors, pulling out of the spot in the busy lot. I backed up, watching the Honda behind me, checked next to me, and stopped. A man waited to pass.
He motioned for me to pause. Thinking I had a car issue, I rolled down the window. I recognized him from inside the ‘bux (big sunglasses and a man-bun are remarkable in suburban Maryland), but I was still a teensy bit cautious.
“I just wanted to tell you that you have wonderful legs.”
Apparently it wasn’t a break light out.
Recovery. Smile. “Thank you,” I said. It took many fibers of my being not to dismiss it with a deflective statement. I thanked him deliberately and purposefully. “You made my morning. Thank you.”
“No, thank you,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” I retorted, as I pulled away and buzzed up my window again. Somehow, that simple nicety felt like a retort instead of a mannerful response.
I drove out of the shopping center parking lot a smidge thoughtful and mildly conflicted.
“Good thing I put on a dress this morning, or I wouldn’t have gotten that compliment.”
“Was I just cat-called?”
“If I was just cat-called, am I OK with it?”
“But I like my legs, their shape, and their strength. How could someone complimenting me on them be bad?”
“I have on small wedge heels today, and I still got a compliment on my legs. Didn’t even need the 5” heels to get it.”
“Did I want a compliment?”
“Interesting that I got the legs compliment on the day I wore a dress slightly shorter than I’d usually wear to the office. I wonder if I’d have gotten the compliment in a longer skirt.”
“Is it OK that I’m happy I got a compliment?”
Let me set the record straight. My hipster-in-the-burbs complimenter had zero creep factor. His words were respectful and straightforward. My gut is that he was doing nothing more than trying to share a little happiness at 8 in the morning.
So why was my brain going a mile a minute, dissecting the encounter?
Part of my mental state is certainly feminist rhetoric. Then again, I’m not one to spurn physical attributes or their application for concern over objectification. As I’ve written before, I’m happy and confident in my physical presence.
There is a difference between understanding the power of your own physical impression and being objectified. Pages and pages have been written about how much first (and ongoing) impressions matter, and how we need to be aware of the message we send with our appearance. When someone turns that appearance against us, particularly openly and purposely, however, is where we we push up against objectification and discrimination.
Whether my simple, practical choice led to an almost cat-call, I'm not sure.
Whether my dress choice opened me up to, shall we say, closer observation, I’ll never know. Any speculation about man-bun-man’s choice to say something to me is just that: speculation. I choose to accept the compliment as such. While it set my brain a-hummin’ with some pretty juicy considerations, I’ll take the smile it put on my face and the reminder of my physical strength as a source of power, and use it kick today’s virtual ass.