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Monday question: Weighty office talk

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 10, 2011 06:17 AM

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Today's LW has a story that may ring true to many of you who have worked in offices: 

The background is, I'd been overweight for most of my life and gained a lot of weight at the end of college during a bout of depression. When I was 24, I started hitting the gym and eating healthier. People at work noticed and would remark on my weight loss, and at first I was excited. I will fully admit to answering overly personal questions about diet and exercise in the beginning because I was so glad people were noticing. It's validating when you're working hard. And being newer in an office with a political landscape I still do not always know how to navigate, I wanted to be perceived as friendly.

It's been two years now. I get that I made a dramatic change and that when most people in the office comment on it, they mean well. But some people can be so inappropriate that it makes it hard to take any comments at all. I've been told my lunch is "sad" in front of a crowded kitchen. (I don't eat in the kitchen but it is hard to avoid making food in there.) I've been told I'm a "fraction" of what I was, which is difficult to take as anything other than a slight to what I looked like before. I've been told that I'm a good size now and to not lose any more weight by multiple colleagues. It's been suggested I starve myself (this one I have no problem responding to). Colleagues have asked exactly how much weight I've lost. I'll get flustered and say I don't keep track. 

Thankfully, it has now been long enough and we've had enough turnover that people aren't remarking on my size as much but I still get a comment once or twice a week about what I eat. I feel like people are projecting their issues on me or using me as a vehicle for their feelings about food, etc, and that isn't quite fair. I'm a colleague, not just a body.


I know this is a long letter, but I'm really looking forward to your examination of this issue on your blog. For me, it's not just how to respond to a remark. It's about navigating the world as a person of newly acceptable size. Being thin is marketed as a problem solver, and it is not. You don't lose weight from your head. Whatever was in there before is still going to be there. People choose to lose -- or not lose -- weight for a variety of reasons, many quite personal, and it does not mean they want to crap on what they looked like before. It's all still me.


Let's break this down into two separate questions: one, what is the best way to create an office culture where people don't police each others' food and bodies; and two, when you have made a positive change, how do you manage other people's reactions to the "new you"? (Whether that change involves weight loss, getting in shape, becoming more extroverted, "taking out the gray" like Loretta on "Moonstruck," or going to night school.)

I'll post my thoughts on Friday -- and various news and musings about social behavior throughout the week. 

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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