When a Salesperson Asked What ‘Those Things’ on My Legs Are
It was a lovely store, bright and welcoming with the smell of lavender and just what I needed to cheer me up after a long day at work. But as soon as I walked in, I was greeted with, “Oh hello!” and a big up and down stare from a salesperson. She marched right up to me and asked in a high-pitched voice, “What are those little things on your legs?”
She was very close to me and then pointed directly at the leg braces I have worn all my life. Her arm lay suspended like an arrow toward the plastic cylinders with straps that cover both my legs. Her gaze was intense, unyielding.
I was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare bone disease that makes my bones so brittle and fragile, they constantly break. These braces are a type of amour I wear against the world every day, usually over leggings. To me they mean security. I stared at her, affronted, and repeated, “Little things?” Maybe in the hope she might realize what she was saying, but like a drill sergeant questioning a new recruit, she barked, “Yeah, those things… those things on your legs! Are you OK? Did something happen to you?”
“No, I’m fine,” was my curt reply as I circled around her and tried to look busy looking at something on display. But I was suddenly filled with a huge wave of anger. I was fine, I told myself, there was nothing wrong with my braces, nothing especially wrong with me — I was just born with a different reality than most people.
Heat pressed down on my chest, making my pulse race and my cheeks burns. I wondered, was this the only thing people saw in me when I walked into a store? Why was this woman who did not know me pointing at me and signaling me out? I’m wearing lipstick, I have on a cute flower shirt, and most importantly, I walked into a room with a smile, and my legs the only thing people see?
I took a few deep breaths, pushed the thoughts away and thought about leaving the store. After all, I didn’t have to shop in a place I was uncomfortable. But then I knew I would leave in anger and that the rest of my afternoon would somehow be tinted. The curious thing is, I deal with version of these comments all the time, but the way they had been directed at me made me feel off-balance and attacked. I found the face cream I had come to buy, and when I was at the register, sure enough, it was the same salesperson who rang me up.
I had a choice. I could walk away and not say anything, or I could stay and help someone learn a lesson in compassion. I smiled and said in a calm, friendly way, “I want to tell you something: next time someone with a physical disability comes into your store, you might want to be careful the way you ask them about their bodies. We are people that have a lot of things going on, and our disabilities are only a part of our everyday lives. Most importantly, we are fellow human begins who won’t appreciate being pointed at a made a spectacle of. I have no problem taking about my disability, but not everyone will feel like I do.”
She rushed to apologize and said she noticed she had made me uncomfortable. “No need to say sorry,” I told her, “but it is important that the next time someone comes into your store, you think [about] what you say, and most importantly, how you say it.”
“Thank you for opening up to me… thank you for that,” she said, and she reached for my hand over the counter. And we stood there for seconds, maybe even minutes, sharing our existence as humans in compassion and understanding. It wasn’t easy for me to address the issue that made me so uncomfortable, but when I left the store, it was with a small smile and no anger in me.
The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.