You’re at work and someone walks in, it’s noticeable that they lost weight and someone says,
“Wow! You’ve lost weight, you look so great!”
What that co-worker didn’t know was what that person they were praising was going through:
Depression from losing a loved one.
An eating disorder that has taken over their life.
Inflammatory bowel disease.
The list of reasons weight loss happens could go on and on… Weight loss is assumed as desired-but that is not always the case. And it says so much beyond what is said. It is not a compliment because they hear:
Your body was wrong before
Smallness is valuable
What you’re going through doesn’t matter
The disordered thoughts are right
Our words encourage the thin ideal that 95% of women cannot achieve. It encourages weight cycling which is strongly correlated with increased risk of further disease. It continues women (and men) questioning their worth and value and tying it to a number on the scale or pant size which has nothing to do with either or even health.
So what can we do about it? How can we make a shift from a workplace that embraces and encourages wellness and diet culture to one that is inclusive of all bodies,. aware of the harmful effects of comments both on people in larger bodies or with disordered eating?
Employees and Co-workers
Check your privilege
Those of us who have privilege (be it thin, white, cis, positional, hetero, male or other) must take steps to call out the negative and impactful culture.
People who identify as fat and have the energy to do so can too but if we’re being honest it’s going to be harder… not impossible. Not for nothing. Just harder. There’s a higher chance of getting pushback and ridicule-so when we can, we must use the privilege we have to help… and if someone in a larger body (or any other marginalized body) doesn’t want our help, even if well intentioned, we have to respect the hell out of that too. We don’t get to be the savior-we just get to be supportive if and when needed. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because we all deserve to take up space in this world.
Call in (or out as needed) diet talk
What you are eating and why does not matter. If you are on a diet for any reason, no one needs to know. It’s boring, uninteresting, and triggering to those who struggle with their relationship with food.
DO NOT POLICE OTHERS FOOD. You can think foods are good/bad, healthy/unhealthy (which they’re not but I’ll save changing your mind for later) - either way you don’t need to comment on what you
Set boundaries for yourself and others. Hear someone talking about their own or others food and/or diet? Shut it down. Change the conversation, simply ask that they don’t talk about it, or if you have the time and energy explain to them why it’s problematic
Instead you may be able to talk about how delicious the food is (be sensitive that some may not even want to hear this), you can share a recipe when asked, you can talk about how great it is to sit down to a meal together, or something that has nothing to do with food at all.
Like diet talk, body chat must be called in (or out)
Bodies are never okay to talk about. Period. No weight loss talk. No weight gain talk. Don’t talk about other peoples bodies, your own body, your daughter’s best friends mom’s body. Just don’t talk about bodies. Don’t talk negatively about bodies. Don’t praise bodies for aesthetics or thinness or anything that has to do with how it looks. Don’t talk about the health of a body (that you likely do not know-because by looking at a body you cannot know).
If you must talk about bodies (which you probably don’t-so first ask yourself if you really truly do) then if you decide you still must do so with caution, quietly, not in front of many people and if the other person shuts it down, acts uncomfortable, or any other sign that what you said was inappropriate hard stop.
Think about what you’re doing, saying, and partaking in.
The couch over the plastic chair, the rolling desk chair without arms when most have them, any language that moralizes bodies of different size. If you can sit comfortable in a chair with arms, a smaller seat, or have the ability to shut down negative body talk, do so.
Talk to co-workers (family, friends, etc) living in larger bodies
Their lived experience is invaluable. What they go through day to day will say much more about the environment you’re working in than I ever can. If the environment is toxic they’ll know. Ask how they are. Support their needs when you can. And be open to criticism. They may choose not to talk about it and that’s okay, too.
Don’t have relations with anyone, co-worker or otherwise, in a larger body? Question that. Then for now turn to amazing work already being done by individuals out there, such as Virgie Tovar, Lindy West, Jes Baker, and so many more.
Those with Positional Power (Owners, CEOs/Managers, Team Leaders, Human Resources)
In addition to all of the above -
HIRE PEOPLE LIVING IN FAT BODIES
And pay them the same as you would anyone (preferably the thin, white male) of their position and credentials.
Then, give them the same opportunities, recognition, and trust you would of anyone else in that position for the work they do.
Make sure your space is accommodating and welcoming to all bodies.
We have laws in place to protect and accommodate some disabled bodies and we should take size of bodies into account as well.
Furniture without arms will fit most bodies-consider making half (or all) chairs this option.
Check weight limits on the furniture as well - if it is <250# make sure you have at least some furniture available for all sized bodies. No one should need to worry if a flimsy chair will support them at work.
Provide options that sit higher off the ground, too. Getting up and down should be simple and easy as possible for all bodies-larger, disabled, or otherwise.
Make initiatives to inform yourself and employees about appropriate behavior, about inclusitivioty of diverse body sizes, and about how they can prevent a toxic environment.
Reach out to local health at every size practitioners about talking to employees
Have a no tolerance policy on bullying or size discirmination
Do not approve ‘wellness initiatives’ that focus on weight or numbers
Weight loss contests, tracking calories or food, counting steps can be detrimental and encourage disordered behaviors in all bodies.
Focus on initiatives that truly encourage wellbeing: Basic self-care, sleep, hydration… and make sure whoever is leading it is knowledgeable on the subject and aware of disordered behavior.
Ask those living in diverse bodies how you can better support them.
Listen to what they have to say too. If they feel the environment is toxic take initiatives to change it.
Be open to criticism and suggestions of your own behavior.
Be open minded to experiences that they have are likely very different from yours if you have thin privilege
Know this list is not all inclusive and my secondhand experience through clients, talks with friends, and books by people who identify as fat will never replace the lived experience. If there is something I missed or was off on, I would be happy to know… and would love to hear what you can, would like to have (or have) done to make your workplace more inclusive and safe for people of all shapes, sizes, and beyond below.