It’s everywhere. On any given day at work in a “normal” office job environment with literally only 5 co-workers, I have experienced the following:
On a group text: “Anyone want me to pick you up something unhealthy from McDonalds?”
Me, in my head, because some battles are not worth the emotional energy of fighting: “It’s not unhealthy if it is providing pleasure, satisfaction, and sustenance. It’s not inherently unhealthy just because it comes from a fast-food restaurant. It’s NOT unhealthy if it’s providing convenience and nourishment during a busy day and when considered in the totality of your overall dietary habits/patterns. It’s not inherently unhealthy UNTIL you layer on the guilt and judgement of eating something that you plan on eating anyway, so why the additional commentary and side of negativity? Is that REALLY necessary and is that REALLY going to curb your eating habits when you already plan on eating the food anyway? What does this typical negative judgement towards food choices accomplish? Nothing but diminishing the pleasure of enjoying a simple, fast, and tasty lunch on a busy work day.”
Entering the building with a co-worker: “Let’s take the stairs, it burns X% more calories than the elevator!”
Me, in my head, because it gets really frikking old trying to argue sometimes: “Or, let’s take the stairs because it feels good and we have strong legs and able-bodied privilege and we should be grateful that we are ABLE to take the stairs. Let’s take the stairs because it feels good to treat our bodies with movement throughout the day, especially with how much we are sitting at our desks all day and my legs ache to move sometimes. Let’s take the stairs because we can.”
Co-worker enters office wearing jeans for the first time, “I finally fit into these jeans again, I’ve lost 10 pounds!”
Fellow co-workers, “Good job! That’s great! What have you been doing?”
Co-worker, “Oh cutting back on wine and eating less bready, cheesey stuff…you know, comfort foods.”
Me, in my head, because who am I to interject unsolicited opinions: “good for you for choosing alternate forms of self-care besides drinking to excess or comfort eating foods if you feel like that was problematic to you as a maladaptive coping mechanism. But let’s not forget that most intentional weight loss is temporary and most intentional diets will fail within a few years–if not MUCH sooner. Please be careful not to take these compliments to heart as an indicator of your success or worthiness as a human because you are wonderful, brilliant, competent, compassionate, hard-working, and beautiful in your own right and weight loss is such a fleeting thing. Please know that you can treat your body with respect and honor your cravings and, yes, even eat for comfort from time to time without it being “bad” or “problematic” or an indication that you are failing at something.”
Co-worker, “Oh, I’m drinking this detox tea, it’s going to go straight through me, it’s got dandelion root,”
Me, out loud, because sometimes I just have to say, fuck-this-shit, “wow, massive amounts of diuretics, really, that’s probably not really healthy for you…” Yes, sometimes I give the unsolicited “health” advice when constantly bombarded by BS diet culture day-in and day-out. It’s a work in progress.
Co-worker, “My toddler just told me my tummy is like a pillow. Gosh, if that won’t get me back on track. Babies and kids can be so brutally honest!”
Me, in my head, as my other colleagues joined in to commiserate: “OMG. Shoot me now. WHY?! WHY do women do this?! WHY is this such normalized behavior and commentary and beliefs?”
Me, out loud, “What makes that a negative thing? He’s a baby, you’re the one who assigned a negative judgement to the statement. To him maybe a pillow means soft and comfortable? That’s not a bad thing, especially to a child.”
Later, I was able to pull up my Instagram feed and show her the following:
A day later, this colleague walked through the office and thanked me for sharing this.
Every. Single. Day. there are comments thoughtlessly uttered regarding food, bodies, or exercise that indicate how deeply ingrained diet mentality is with the women around me. Body dissatisfaction is a given and so normalized, it’s sad!
Last and final example, a photographer came to take a new staff photo, as we all gather together in the hallway, the photographer says, “let me give you all tips on how to stand to make you appear thinner in the photos.” And she proceeded to provide a litany of “tips” to make us look “better.”
Me, out loud, “I’m sorry, but I have to speak up and say, everything you just said is totally against every thing I believe and stand for. Nothing is wrong with the way ANYBODY looks and there is no merit in trying to appear ‘thinner’ that makes anyone look ‘better’ than they naturally do. I had to speak up, I’m a body image coach, and I know 99% of people want that kind of advice, but I can’t listen to it and not say something. Sorry.”
To which fellow co-worker says, “It’s okay, I’m totally okay with tips on how to appear thinner, so please, keep giving them!”
Me, out loud, ” [insert co-workers name here], I know you do, and I just wish you could know that your body is fine exactly as you are. But I know that’s not a common mindset to have…but I can’t not say it.”
Yes, I wanted to explode with how asinine it felt that a group of amazing, powerful, brilliant women who are doing the work to make our community a safer place for abused and neglected children (that’s the day-job line of work I’m in), yet we’re reduced to needing to look “thinner” for staff photos. Why is that a thing that even happens in life?!
I acknowledge I have thin privilege, and I cannot fault a woman who may experience oppression or negative attitudes towards her very existence based on body size or appearance. I am not frustrated with my co-workers, or close friends or family who are entrenched in diet mentality. But I can hate diet culture for the power and energy it sucks from these people. And I am constantly bewildered by how diet culture bleeds in to so much of the day-to-day of living a “normal” life.
It’s hard to know when to speak up and when to shut-up, and unsolicited commentary on someone’s body or diet or whatever is NOT appropriate, but I’m only human, too. Swimming upstream in a world of harmful and damaging messaging is hard, it can wear you down. I have no answers, no groundbreaking insights, no revolutionary musings. More than anything, I just felt the need to vent my frustrations of trying to live a life free from body dissatisfaction and diet mentality when still immersed in a world obsessed with it!