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Office Politics

July 3, 2013

Wishful Wednesday

In the long month since my last post, I’ve started a new job and moved to a new apartment. It’s been a busy, hot few weeks here, and there have been a lot of adjustments to make: new people, schedules, bus routes, rooms to unpack and even the light in the new place is different. Instead of cool North/East walls, we have South/West. There is literal rejoicing when the sun goes down, let me tell you.

Let me also tell you about the new people. I share an office with seven or eight other women — all of moderate to small size and, as far as I can tell, all cis, hetero, able-bodied, mentally “normal,” and straight. The occasional man wanders through to pick up his schedule or drop off some paper work, but for the vast majority of the day it’s just the ladies. I’m finding it very, very difficult to fit in. Despite being surrounded by other people, I’m lonely. It’s obvious that, despite being there four weeks now, I’m not “One of the Group,” and I doubt I ever will be. When I was in high school, I knew I didn’t fit in and I didn’t care. My geeky friends and I played Magic the Gathering or hung out in the library, and before and after school I was busy with the band (once upon a time I was first clarinet and played for seven years. Band geeks unite!). It’s different now that I’m an adult and the friends I’ve made here on the island are so far away and we’ve lost contact since our last move, only four months ago. Ryan is, and always will be, my best friend, but I long for adult conversation that doesn’t revolve around children.

There’s a fair bit of body shaming talk that happens at work: what to eat, what not to eat, how pants fit or don’t fit, weight that’s been gained or lost, things they wish were different. Being off to one side, I keep my head down and don’t say much. I figure at this point my best bet is to just keep my mouth shut; it’s too early to start rocking the boat. Between my rough start with the actual work part of my job, and a few small comments I did allow myself to make, I don’t think I’ve made the greatest impression. Still, it’s a job worth fighting for and maybe eventually I’ll make a friend. Maybe eventually I’ll feel comfortable enough with them to slip in a few body-positive or Health At Every Size® comments. I wish making new friends was as easy as when I was a kid — just start talking to someone at the playground, slap them on the shoulder with a “Tag! You’re it!” and away you’d go, best friends until the street lights came on or your guardian called you home.

What’s the most awkward work place you’ve ever been in? How did you handle it? Are you braver than me?

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Calantheliadon permalink
    July 3, 2013 11:53 am

    I have been very lucky over the years to have had workplaces where I (after the initial “get to know everyone” phase) have generally fit in quite well. I love my current job, and have some awesome co-workers, but it does have one downside: everyone in the office, and I mean EVERYONE, other than me, is constantly trying to lose weight. Food is seen as something to be resisted, and if someone doesn’t resist, they’re “bad”.

    I try and slip in non-confrontational, HAES-style messages from time to time, but it is a battle that I think I’m destined to lose. When someone tells you that they feel better at a certain weight, there’s not much you can say – their experience in their body is exactly that – their experience. It just seems a bit pointless when they go on a diet, lose the weight, stop the diet and gain it all back again. Ah, the weight cycling circle!

    At least when I told my doctor that I was never again going to make weight loss a goal, she listened. I know she was skeptical, but she didn’t try and persuade me otherwise. I count this as a victory.

  2. nof permalink
    July 3, 2013 12:17 pm

    I’m currently trying to decide whether or not to try to step onto my company’s wellness committee, which controls our wellness program. Most of the wellness stuff is pretty harmless “Here’s a fun yoga pose to try today!” stuff, but some isn’t. I’ve had some luck calling out stuff outside of the committee (got a lot of agreement when I pointed out that BMI is meaningless and calories in/calories out has been disproven), but would like to do more to move our wellness campaign toward true wellness, not more subtle variations on the theme of “eat less, exercise more”.

    • July 3, 2013 2:38 pm

      Oh DO IT, nof, please! Think of the beautiful sanity points you can save so many of your co-workers! And who knows, you might even start a whole HAES revolution (revelation!) at work… 😉 I say go for it!

  3. BBDee permalink
    July 3, 2013 12:48 pm

    Hi Folks! “not fitting in at the workplace”… yeah, been there & have the tshirt! My worst experience with that was 25 years ago, as a recent college grad from Upstate NY (where cows outnumber people 3 to 1) in desperation for my first “real” job, accepting a position for a small company in northern New Jersey, close enough to NYC to be considered part of the New York “Metro” area. For the first time in my life, I experienced some pretty intense prejudice that actually had nothing to do with my weight! (although I experienced the same level of weight prejudice there as everywhere else). If I had a nickel for every “dumb hick” snark thrown at me, I could still be living off the interest today! People in the NYC area are incredibly prejudiced against those of us from rural Upstate. They all believe the stereotype propagated by their late mayor, Ed Koch, who described us as going to town once a month for a bag of flour and sugar, and that was our only contact with civilization. But on the other hand, I was the only college graduate at my office, so while I was getting snarked for being a “dumb hick” I was also getting it bigtime for being a “knowitall college girl”.

    But after a while I did make one close friend at that office. Although we were “best friends” she snarked me plenty, but I had my moments of giving as good as I got. She had been born & raised in NYC and was talking about going on a camping trip with her new BF and I said “You? Camping?? I can just picture you trying to plug your curling iron into a rock…”

    Looking back on that experience, i’d say it taught me a couple of important lessons: (a) the importance of being kind and supportive to others, that if someone is really your “friend” you shouldn’t be throwing snarks at each other, (b) it’s really not a good idea to get too chummy with your co-workers cuz it can bite you in the heiney and (c) having NO friends is really not so bad after all!!

    • Elizabeth permalink
      July 3, 2013 4:59 pm

      BBDee, this is really funny. I lived in Brooklyn and Manhattan, worked in type shops in Manhattan, and New Yorkers are some of the most provincial people in the world. It’s hilarious that they called you a dumb hick when they often know nothing about the rest of the country, let alone the world. The recent immigrants in NYC were some of the most sophisticated people I would run across, e.g., a cab driver from Liberia who guessed my ethnic background in a dark cab simply from my speech. On the other hand, my partner and I decided New Yorkers were the biggest suckers in the world if you just had the right line, e.g., a famous name. Remember that guy who called himself Kennedy and had the socialites eating out of his hand?

  4. July 3, 2013 2:45 pm

    JeninCanada; I say start looking for new friends outside the workplace first…. you have a musical talent, (something I totally envy!) so why not look for others with that interest?
    Are there any bars or local pubs where live music is played? Have you looked in the local newspaper for other musicians looking to form a casual type jam-band? check local music stores for bulletin boards or flyers advertising musical events or even classes….
    Have you asked any of your co-workers if any of them are musical and or sing?
    Just throwin’ out some ideas….. good Luck! Let us know how things go. 🙂

  5. Dizzyd permalink
    July 3, 2013 7:17 pm

    Jen – what town did you live in in upstate NY? I moved to a small town up by Syracuse and Ogdensburg area with my mom when I was 16 (she’s since moved in with my brother and sister-in-law in NC due to illness). Although the countryside was beautiful, being a teenager there – I hated it! I missed my friends back home, (although I could have stayed with my dad and stepmom back in CA, I would have had to go to a different school anyways, so I figured why not try something new, plus I didn’t want to leave my mom there all by herself) and unfortunately, I got it the opposite way as far as not fitting in at school (I was a junior then). I was the new kid, and unfortunately, the kids there (there were a couple of nice ones) treated me so nastily, that even when there was an area where I could have taken music lessons (my interest was the flute, which I now learned to play as an adult – Fab: hint, hint – but I did learn how to hold and blow the right way into a clarinet! 🙂 ), the damage was done so that I was too depressed to even follow through on my initial effort. It’s sad how people can be so close-minded towards others who come from a different area (too easy to do sometimes) when those people might have found a good friend if they only had allowed themselves to be more open-minded. And the diet talk? Ugh! Good luck.

  6. July 3, 2013 8:03 pm

    This hit close to home for me. I have an idea how you feel. In my department there are two women that also work part-time teaching classes at a local fitness club, one of them sits beside me. The diet talk that goes on beside me sometimes drives me crazy and I have to walk away. Not just women, come to talk to her about their weight loss. There is always body shaming talk. I honestly feel exhausted some days when I go home.
    Just yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend at work about a local runner that just finished a really long run for charity. I mentioned that I would take probably an hour longer (I’m also a runner) than he did to finish the same distance, and my friend’s comment was, “Yes, well he is a runner.” Um, pardon? She backtracked to say, “Oh, not that you aren’t a runner but you know what I mean.”
    Some days, it feels like a non-stop struggle.

  7. Linda permalink
    July 3, 2013 8:37 pm

    I face it every single day. My employer has a yearly “Biggest loser” competition, all of the women obsess on their bodies, other’s bodies and bodies of celebrities. I decorate my cubicle with fat positive images and I occasionally drop facts about health findings. I almost never win, but I view it as planting seeds that may take years to bloom. I mention the friends and coworkers that survived catastrophic illnesses by having safety fat to ride out the storm with and how the doctor calls them “miracles.” I occasionally point out body shaming and I make a point of telling people “how great they look” after they rebound from dieting. And I find other bonds to form instead of FA. It’s not always easy, but I view it as an investment.

  8. July 3, 2013 9:10 pm

    I’ve been on my current job for 2 years now. I’m probably the fattest person in the whole 4 story building. I was cautious at first. I took it slow, worked my way in by being a team player, using humor, bonding w/ my co-workers over similarities and talking about job related stuff. I feel they respect me now, they know I’m a team player, and over time I’ve been able to assert by beliefs about body image, & HAES. I have size positive magnets in my cubicle, one that says “I’m in good shape and the shape is round”, and if someone steps into my cubicle and starts with the bad body talk stuff, I just stay, “stop hating your body!” But I still overhear the women who are on a diet, participating in the Weight Watchers thing that the “wellness” people have going. And sometimes I bring in baked goods (I love to bake). Some people will stop to check out what’s being offered, and actually say jokingly, “you are just being evil!” To that I jokingly reply, “those aren’t for you…just keep walkin’ sister!” To which they usually take a piece and then laugh as they walk away (men usually never say anything negative about baked goods, they take one and say thank you). My advice is to just be yourself and give it time. Bond with your co-workers over the work you do. Over time they will start to notice the things you take a stand on.

  9. JeninCanada permalink
    July 4, 2013 11:43 pm

    Thanks for all the great responses, everyone! I’ll file it all away for future reference and when I can I’ll start passing it on. Maybe a little body positive thingy on my board is a good place to start.

  10. July 13, 2013 6:05 am

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Since I work at night, I mostly see the same old same old “lose weight for your health” bullshit posted on the bulletin boards in the elevators. I’ve never had anyone I work with be enough of an asshole to say anything about my size. I think they know better.

  11. July 15, 2013 6:39 pm

    ***There’s a fair bit of body shaming talk that happens at work: what to eat, what not to eat, how pants fit or don’t fit, weight that’s been gained or lost, things they wish were different.***

    I get so sick of hearing this shit all the time. No wonder we feel like crap about ourselves.

    My Advice: Be. You.
    because you are enough.

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