If you’re a woman struggling with negative body image or weight issues, there’s a chance you have one or two stories about a mean clique of girls in your middle school gym class or a stepmom who fed you asparagus and rice cakes for an entire summer. Maybe? Well, in my case, my first personal fat shaming was served like a cherry atop a nice, tall manila file sundae.
Whenever my lovely work superior, Tammy*, gave me a project, she made it a point to call me to her office, close the door, order me to sit, and spent a half hour explaining to me that she only calls me to assist her because she wants to teach me how to be competent, all before I was secretly given contradicting instructions from everyone else on the team. One day, ten minutes before COB, I was called to her office to receive congratulations for “actually doing something correct.” She went on a tangent about her new diet and her weight loss, ending her ramblings by slowly looking me up and down and saying with a smile, “Ugh, I could never just…be fat again. ”
I wasn’t bothered that I was being indirectly teased about my weight. I just found it highly disturbing that a grown woman would put so much energy into bringing another grown woman down and at work of all places. Throwing hints at the supervisor only made matters worse, since all she would do is bring my complaints back to Tammy. Work, something that I spent most of my time doing, made me feel like a hopeless joke. What was I to do when I had so little control over my situation?
After taking a few mental health days, I came back with a fairly simple game plan. Firstly, I vowed to always slay with kindness. I made sure I was kind to everyone in the office, especially my bully. She raised her voice at me and threw documents at me and created seemingly demeaning tasks for me. And I responded with a genuine smile and a promise to work expeditiously.
I graciously rolled with her punches even when I was being told I screwed something up. She was desperate for some sort of emotional reaction from me. During one of her daily half hour spirit-breaking ceremonies– I mean “meetings” — she said to me, “I know this probably isn’t what you want to be doing with your life. What was your college major?” Tammy was visually disappointed to learn that I was satisfied with my job and did not feel like the failure she wanted me to be.
In addition to my attitude adjustment, I mastered the art of hyper-preparedness and letting my work speak for itself. I made a point to be kind, but I was not a kiss up. If Tammy was going to criticize my work, it was going to have to take an hour and some elbow grease to come up with an issue with any validity. I can recall a silly lecture she gave on a color coded spreadsheet I created (that most people understood except her). That legitimately amused me.
I became an excellent note taker. Upon receiving a new project, I annoyed her with questions about specifics (that she may or may not have purposely left out) so that when I presented my finished product, there was zero room for knit-picking. Double-sided copies? Hole-punched? Can you tell me what time you plan to return from lunch so I can make sure I’ve emailed you a draft by then? Would you like this set done first or the other?
Other work superiors loved my commitment. I was being entrusted to work on projects with other senior employees and even folks above the supervisor’s pay grade. I would have taken time to relish in my personal defeat, but my experience as a victim of workplace bullying had finally become less than insignificant in my life.
Some people are just natural achievers and hard workers (with the two not necessarily being related). Others, like myself, must learn from personal mistakes and challenges. I am fortunate enough to no longer work with Tammy anymore, but my poise, my zeal and my mother-like attention to detail will continue to make future clients and colleagues very happy.
*Names have been changed because at FEMpotential, we are professional, not petty.
Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam via Pexels.com