Our image of ourselves varies greatly from how others see us. Having always thought that I was average in size, maybe just a little smaller than some, I was shocked one day when a girlfriend mentioned how tiny I was. Because my mind has a tendency to word associate and compare, I immediately imagined Tiny Tim and thought “I’m not tiny. I’m much much bigger!” She must have seen the surprised look on my face because she added, “I mean, you’re very petite.” I immediately replied, “So are you.” Looking at me as if I had just accused her of something incomprehensible, she answered, “No, I’m not as small as you.” Then she gave me that teenage expression, you know the one with the rolled eyes, that says, without words, “Duh!”
I had always believed we were the same size and because I had thought that my reality was in keeping with her reality, I was perplexed and very disturbed that we saw things so differently. She interrupted my thoughts by adding, “I saw you walking next to your husband the other day, and that’s when I realized how tiny you are.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Compared to your husband, you are so tiny,” she answered. “Seeing the two of you walk hand in hand – he, so big; you, so tiny – it was really funny.”
Great, I thought. Because of our different sizes, my husband and I are like a walking freak show. I know that she wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings or be mean, but her observation troubled me nonetheless. From then on, I became more self-conscious about my lacking size whenever I was out and about with my husband. My husband isn’t like a giant, but, admittedly, he is a tad bit bigger than me.
One day my husband and I spent an afternoon shopping in Germany, something we don’t often do together. After awhile I started sensing that people were staring at us. My friend’s earlier observation came to mind, and I insecurely wondered if these strangers were also thinking the same thing my friend had: One very big guy; one very small girl: how odd!
After another guy walked in our direction, with his eyes tracking us much longer than an innocent glance should, I turned to my husband, who was walking next to me and whispered, “Do you feel like people are staring at us?” “No,” he replied. “Good,” I thought, ‘it’s just in my mind.
My husband then surprised me by adding, “Not us. They’re staring at you, not me.” “What?” I asked, shocked and suddenly feeling very alone. Instinctively I put my hands on face to check if everything was in place. I asked my husband if I had something on my face and he replied, “No.”
“Then why do you think that people are staring at me and not at you?” I inquired with a bit of an attitude, feeling suddenly indignant.
“People are always staring at you,” he admitted. “No they’re not,” I corrected. “Yes, they do,” he explained. This is when I would usually correct his English, but I didn’t. I just pressed on, “What do you mean people always stare at me? I never noticed it before.” He looked at me very matter of fact, as if he were talking to a child, and answered, “Everybody here is white, including me. You are not white; you look Asian so you stick out. You know, Germany is still very homogeneous, and people are not used to foreigners; you look different so people stare at you. No big deal, but they are definitely NOT staring at me; they are definitely staring at YOU.” “Great,” I thought, “not only am I considered Tiny to my friends, but strangers stare at me because I look like an alien.” And to think that, up to then, I had considered myself a rock fish, blending into any environment, observing but not being observed (sort of like a cool ninja)…until my friend and husband had to burst my blissful bubble of ignorance. Thanks, I think.