Being Fat at Work

End this warA lot of my friends are bemoaning their return to work today. Not because they dislike their jobs, necessarily, but because of what their work is likely to put them through because it’s the beginning of a new year.

Many companies start New Years Weight Loss initiatives. If your work is doing this, you have some options.  You can simply choose not to participate quietly.  You can not participate loudly (every time someone brings up their diet, bring up your HAES practice for example).  You can start your own HAES-based initiative – perhaps offer to help HR create this kind of initiative. You could also e-mail HR and say one or more of the following:

  • As someone who practices Health at Every Size I am uncomfortable with my superiors at work suggesting something that goes against the health plan that I’ve created with my health professionals. I don’t want to be torn between my health practice and looking like I’m not a team player at work
  • This could be triggering and dangerous for people suffering from, recovering from, or who have a propensity for developing eating disorders, (for me I could talk about this in the first person but even if I hadn’t recovered from an ED I would want to point this out.)
  • As a fat employee I’m very uncomfortable that my employer has a point of view at all about my body size as less suitable than other body sizes, rather than being focused on work performance
  • Suggesting that all of the employees who work here should be actively trying not to look like me makes this environment feel hostile to me.
  • Perhaps remind them that all of these pitfalls could be avoided if the employer focused on providing options  for health rather than focusing on weight or telling employees
  • Consider providing lots of evidence for a HAES intervention
  • Consider offering to help start a voluntary employee walk and roll plan with a weight-neutral, all abilities invited, shame free message
  • Consider asking for a meeting to talk about this further

Even if your company doesn’t do an official weight loss initiative, it’s certainly a subject that can dominate conversation at the water cooler. In this case you can walk away.  You can also answer diet talk with HAES talk. though I would not suggest doing this in an attempt to convert anyone, I have found it effective to talk about HAES in the same way that others talk about their diets.

Some people are forced to undergo tests of everything from BMI, to blood pressure, to cholesterol to see what their heredity might cost them in health insurance premiums. This is highly problematic and unlikely to succeed at any rate which may be something that you can delicately communicate to your HR department.

As a result of these tests many will have to choose between entering a program with absolutely no track record of success and a long record of failure – like Weight Watchers – or taking a stand and spending money they can’t afford (or could find better uses for) on higher health care premiums.  This is massively not ok.  Employe benefits programs built on healthism and ableism need to be stopped immediately.  Unfortunately the government seems to be jumping in with both feet.  Where are we going?  And why are we in this handbasket? Consider telling your employer something like:  It is my understanding that studies show that the vast majority of people who attempt weight loss gain their weight back and many gain back more, so could you please provide me with the evidence basis for the efficacy for your weight loss recommendation?

Size Acceptance activism at work can be really tricky and only you can decide what level of activism (if any) you want to be involved in at work. You don’t have to do any at all.  Whatever you decide, and whatever situation you are in, know that you deserve to be treated with respect, given what you need to do your job (everything from a chair that fits you to reasonable accommodations for any health issues or disabilities etc.)  Whether or not you actually do, you absolutely deserve to work in an environment that is free from fat-phobia, weight stigma, shame, or bullying.

Our Petition to Keep Kids Off The Biggest Loser is now over 2,000 signatures and I have a call with the doctor in charge of the kids on Friday afternoon. Let’s keep pushing on this – a reality show where people dehydrate themselves to the point of urinating blood to win money for losing weight  is not a place where we should be placing kids.

The project to create the Guinness World Record paper mache sculpture – made out of pages from diet books – is on!  Thee tons of ways to help (even if you don’t have diet books to donate)  Check it out here!

Like the blog?  Check this stuff out:

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

The Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs (hint:  Free shipping was supposed to end on Monday but I haven’t had a chance to make the changes to the pricing so there’s still free shipping until I get it done)!  Click here for the details

Become a Member and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 4,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and want to  support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month  To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.

Published in: on January 3, 2013 at 9:56 am  Comments (37)  

37 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love the idea of confronting them with the fact that they’re creating a hostile work environment. I’d love to hear real life stories of people disrupting the conversation like this, if you get any feedback!

    • Co-signed. And if you use the exact term “hostile work environment” it will definitely get their attention, ’cause they’re legally required not to allow that to happen. 🙂

      • Well, no, not in any states other than Michigan. What they can’t do is create a hostile work environment based on a protected class–race, gender, age, etc. Fat is not a protected class anywhere other than Michigan. Now, HR people aren’t lawyers, so they may not know that and be bluffed by using the magic words “hostile work environment,” but unfortunately you generally can’t file a lawsuit just because of a pervasive hostility to fat people.

        The only way to get a “fat harassment” claim to work in most states would be if you can turn it into sexual harassment–if the animosity is directed particularly towards fat women. But that doesn’t really work with company-wide weight loss propaganda.

    • You know, now that I’ve read this post, I’m somewhat considering it. (Not sure if I will because anxiety disorder + confrontation is a trigger = not so great for me.) I’ve already sent communication (and documented it via a non-work account) reminding them about the ED angle and asking HR to provide an “opt out” option at least, for emails that promote weight loss campaigns. Kind of wondering if they’ll respond (they haven’t so far) or if they’ll ignore it and continue to send. We’ll see.

  2. *As a fat employee I’m very uncomfortable that my employer has a point of view at all about my body size as less suitable than other body sizes, rather than being focused on work performance
    *Suggesting that all of the employees who work here should be actively trying not to look like me makes this environment feel hostile to me.

    THIS. EXACTLY. Thanks Ragen, you are brilliant!!! Thanks for offering these words

    From someone that struggles to voice herself in a professional setting at times

  3. I am a supply Educational Assistant with a school board and the conversations in the break/lunch room are left to be desired to say the least. Especially in the elementary schools because they push the healthy eating and fitness thing on the young kids. I’ll stay focused and not go into the children’s lunch time and how the lunch monitors belittle and judge the children’s lunches to their faces…in the teachers break room there is constant self-bashing and body-bashing. They tell everyone about what they are eating is good or not or what they ate and drank over the weekend and how they exercised it off or need to exercise it off. They comment on each other’s food. I am amazed at how this ‘dieting/exercise culture’ is so narcissistic! They are constantly talking about themselves and their bodies and what they do and don’t eat and how much they exercise…blah,blah,blah. Don’t they know there is more to life than themselves? Oh…there is one subject they also talk about on break but it’s not any better…they criticize and judge their students…so sad…I’ve decided I’m bringing my ipod and earphones to work in my lunch bag from now on so I can shut out their negativity and enjoy my lunch!

    • I’ve spent most of my working life in schools, and you’re right–they self-bashing is really thick in those places. The most common thing I saw consumed by women in the faculty room during lunchtime? Salad, diet soda, and a heap of justification: “I’m on a new diet…I’m going to work out this afternoon…I have GOT to lose 20 pounds…I have gotten sooo fat…look at this spare tire…does anyone want the rest of this??”

      There are always goodies in the school for one reason or another–a kid’s birthday, fund-raiser choccie bars or M&Ms, Teacher Appreciation Day sweets sent in by the PTO–and no one in the faculty room would ever take one. Except me–I usually took a little piece and got the Quietly Judgmental Lowered Eye Look With a Slightly Curled Lip in response.

      Funnily enough, the male teachers I worked with never did any of that nonsense.

      In my son’s school back in Germany, there was a woman who patrolled the tables during lunchtime and yanked things out of the hands of children and threw them in the bin if she didn’t think they were “healthy”. One time my son had been looking forward to eating these little gummy snacks all morning, and when he took them out of out his box, she charged up, grabbed them, and gave him a lecture about how he needed to be eating fruit instead. Oddly enough, this same cafeteria dished out large slices of iced cake and other Kuchen and also sold ice cream in the vending machines.

      I even had a 12-year-old student who was denied her lunch because she accidentally let fly a bad word, and particularly snotty teaching assistant heard and announced, “You go sit in the office for the rest of period, and I don’t care if you don’t eat…you should have thought of that before you said that awful word.”

      When I saw her in the office, I was stunned because she was a really well-behaved kid. Luckily the office had brought in pizza that day and had a few slices left over, so I took some, saying it was for myself, sneaked them upstairs, and asked the student if she wanted them when she came up to class. She nearly broke down in tears because she was so hungry.

      • OMG. I am NAUSEOUS at the thought of denying food as punishment or someone stealing a child’s food. I don’t give a rat’s fanny if they thought it was unhealthy, THEIR PARENTS are in charge. This truly makes me ill.

        • Agreed. I work in a school district with an extremely high populations who qualify for free/reduced lunch at school as well as SNAP benefits (if they qualify; some do not due to immigration status) at home. While I certainly don’t claim to know what each of my colleagues thinks (and in fact, I know that a few of them are happy to food police in different situations), the only accepted way for faculty and staff to publicly act is to make sure our kids get enough food.

          It’s not okay to conflate personal opinions with how one should act as a professional.

      • Also, I don’t care how old your son is now, give him a hug from me for this.

  4. I am a size 18 fitness instructor at the Y. This time of year can be especially hard for a fat person working in the fitness industry. It can seem like EVERYONE is in a weight loss frenzy. The Y’s annual ‘Lose To Win’ program/competition will begin soon (BIGGEST LOSER is trademarked), and I’m sure I will asked to participate.
    I always decline. So far, no one has ever challenged my decision to opt out, thank goodness. I gladly participate in some other fitness challenges, similar to to Ragen’s Fit Fattie’s Across America (Which I plan on doing) that are not weight loss oriented.
    But since I work at a gym, these programs kind of makes sense- if I worked in an office and was asked to join a work sponsored weight loss program, I would be floored, as it has nothing to do with my job!

    • you must be a real badass! I am impressed. I love when there are fitness instructors who actually look like me. it’s a massive boost. thank you so much for all that you do.

      • Thanks! I always wanted to be a badass! My participants would laugh if I told them someone called me that! Most of my participants are older, or struggle with health/mobility issues- I encourage them to modify the workout and focus on what you CAN do, as opposed to what you can’t.
        For a long time, I felt like I was ‘setting a bad example’ by being a fat fitness instructor- as if the healthy behaviors I display are somehow fraudulant because they did not make me thin. In fact, the only unhealthy habit I displayed (in the past) was the harsh dieting I have done to try to ‘look the part’.
        No more.
        This blog has really helped me see that I can help break stereotypes. Fitness instructors (and fitness itself) can and should come in all shapes and sizes.

  5. This is so timely. My state psychological association just posted on Facebook yesterday: ‘Do you have a resolution to get in shape this year?’ and a link to–get this–a study on increased blood circulation in the brain of rats on exercise wheels. WTF? I couldn’t very well say that and I was otherwise struck speechless. I may go back over to their page today and try some of your suggestions. Thanks!

    • I don’t mind going over to their paging and writing “WTF??!!”. Just kidding. Although, my same reaction.

  6. I hope people do take a stand this new year! Weight is a very personal issue, and people should not have to feel under attack in the work place.

  7. Have you seen this? A friend shared it on Facebook and it reminded me of your work!

    I am now in Week 42 of my walks. Each day, 30 minutes, that’s it. Thousands of you have joined me since that Sunday night on March 18 when, as a joke, I said I was going for a walk. I had read that morning in the paper that there were now more people in the U.S. on anti-depressants than those who go to the movies. I tweeted out that maybe that’s the problem — perhaps if people got out and went to the movies more they might feel better. This unleashed a lively conversation about mood-aletering drugs, the lousy movies these days in theaters, the rip-off prices for 3D films, etc. Finally, someone wrote: “Sometimes I think what I need is just a brisk walk.” I tweeted, “Hey, there’s an idea! I’m putting my shoes on right now.” I went out and came back home after 30 minutes — and a few hundred of you had amazingly joined me where you live. So I went walking the next night, probably out of some sort of obligation because so many had written to say “please let’s do it again tonight!” So I did. And the night after that. By the end of the week it was hard to determine how many thousands were now going out with me on these “virtual walks” in hundreds of cities and towns, but it had taken off like a rocket and so we all went walking every night from that point on. Now it’s 250 days later. What a simple, great idea that person had! Some have asked, “Why are we walking?” “What’s the cause?” There is no cause other than to go for a walk. We do it just because it feels good. We do it because we can. We do it because it’s free and it takes no time. All you need to know is how to put one foot in front of the other (or, for the disabled who’ve joined in, by any means necessary). It’s the perfect slacker/schlub activity. I am often asked “How much weight have you lost from all this walking?” For a while I didn’t understand the question. I mean, why would I want to lose anything? I have enough trouble finding my keys! Then I got it — skinny people (1/3 of the country) want us, the majority, to be like them. That’s so nice of them. But the truth is, exercise does not work, diets do not work, feeling crummy does not work. Nothing works. My advice: Quit trying to be something you’re not, be happy with the life you’ve been given, and just go for a pleasant walk outside. With me. Wherever you are. Get off the treadmill, stop drinking diet Coke, throw out all the rules. It’s all a scam and it conspires to keep you miserable. If it says “low-fat” or “sugar-free” or “just 100 calories!” throw it out. Remember, one of the main tenets of capitalism is to have the consumer filled with fear, insecurity, envy and unhappiness so that we can spend, spend, spend our way out of it and, dammit, just feel better for a little while. But we don’t, do we? The path to happiness – and deep down, we all know this — is created by love, and being kind to oneself, sharing a sense of community with others, becoming a participant instead of a spectator, and being in motion. Moving. Moving around all day. Lifting things, even if it’s yourself. Going for a walk every day will change your thinking and have a ripple effect. You’ll find yourself only eating when you’re truly hungry. And if you’re not hungry, go clean your room, or have sex, or call a friend on the phone. Without knowing it, you’ll starting eating like the French (there is no French word for “fast-food”) — and you will feel better. You do not feel better admonishing yourself or beating yourself up or setting up a bunch of unrealistic rules and goals with all the do’s and dont’s that are just begging to be broken. You wanna know something? I eat ice cream every friggin’ day. I drink a regular Coke every single day. I put butter on things. But I also walk every day. Some days now, I walk twice. And now I’ve started to do some push-ups and lifting stuff. It’s building muscle, and in doing so, has created an extra furnace to burn stuff and create energy. Weird! That, in turn, makes me sleep 7-8 hours a night which is another game-changer. And all the walking and lifting makes me thirsty, so that makes me drink more water — another huge plus! So, you can see from the photo of me up in the box that something has changed. I have no idea how much weight I’ve lost and I don’t care. I don’t care about that or diets or home gym equipment or rules about what I can or cannot eat or anything other than making sure I go on my walk today. That’s it. That’s the big secret. It costs nothing. I feel great. I can see my feet! There they are! Hello, feet! Wanna go for a walk? The feet say YES! Ask yours right now. And if you want, join me. But do NOT go on that walk with me if you are doing so to “get fit”, “be healthy”, or “lose weight”. You are fine just the way you are. Only walk outside with me right now because you know it might just feel good, because it’s a beautiful day, or someone is joining in with you, the fresh air is invigorating, you have to drive down to the drug store but you realize you can walk there, or simply because it’s just nice to be alive for one more day. Walk to walk and nothing else — and the other stuff will take care of itself. I’m heading outside in an hour. Join me. And let me know how it went!

    • This is so awesome! Thanx so much for sharing this Ann! It is very encouraging that Ragen isn’t the only person speaking out about the judgements made on body size! Thank you Ragen for opening minds that used to be so closed!

    • What is not included here is that the above post is by filmmaker and activist Michael Moore!

  8. Ragen, this is the first year that I have felt that I have the right to be irritated when I walked back into work on the 1st to flyers everywhere saying everything from “lose weight! Do it for you and your family!” to talking about “weight related health problems”. I rolled my eyes and wrote a nicely worded note to the safety person who put them up, along with a link to your blog. It is so empowering to finally feel that not only do I have a voice, but the resources to provide evidence for my views. You are a rockstar and a rare find. I appreciate you so much! ❤

    • Hi Cori,

      Thanks so much. You are a rockstar for taking action on this!

      Rock on 🙂


  9. Ragen, Thanks for all the awesome suggestion in the “Being Fat At Work” blog this week! I work for state government, and our so-called “Partners for Health” program has slowly been headed this direction. This year, they are forcing smokers to stop smoking or pay higher premiums. I don’t smoke and don’t agree with smoking…no one was born with a cig in their hand. It is not a genetic predisposition, unless you consider that someone may have been born with an addictive personality. My point is, I think next year, they will force those who don’t fit the government’s weight chart to lose weight or pay higher premiums even though many who are overweight exercise and eat more healthfully than their thinner counterparts. Conversely, they have no plans to assist us in paying for a gym membership or weight loss program…I’ve asked.

    • Not smoking is fine, but it’s not really something you have a right to disagree with. It’s a personal choice. This blog is about respecting others’ choices when it comes to food and health. How many times have you heard people say something equivalent to ‘no one’s born with a Twinkie in their mouth’? And it’s true. If people aren’t genetically predisposed to smoking then they aren’t predisposed towards certain food choices either, though I suspect there’s a genetic component to both choices. Someone may smoke because they are more anxious, just like people may eat more because they are naturally more hungry, or they may just want to smoke, just like sometimes people just want to eat a Twinkie. They may mitigate their smoking with exercise. A smoker who excercises may be more healthy than a non smoker who doesn’t, as with fat. As with fat, smoking only correlates with ill health, it doesn’t necessarily cause it. Non smokers get lung cancer, some smokers live until a very old age in great health.

      • I agree it’s a choice (smoking). However, smoking does cause ill health, not just contribute to it. yes, there are people who smoke and live to old age, but it is directly toxic. from the carbon monoxide to the formaldehyde to the nicotine itself, these are toxic substances. To make it worse, those substances don’t stay with the person who is making the choice to smoke, they float around to everuone in the vicinity. Smoking and fat are not equivalent.

        • How has that been proven (that smoking causes ill health rather than contributes to it)? Do you know the studies, or are you going off the fact that it’s something ‘everyone knows’? Studies can only show correlation. It’s not possible for them to show anything more. In mentioning toxic substances you’ve just given a ‘next level down’ correlation-based explanation. Plenty of people will tell you that being fat puts pressure on joints and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood round the body as the ‘next level down’ argument for why being fat is unhealthy, but that’s not accepted here as a valid argument. There is no difference between the basic medical assertion that smoking causes ill health and the basic medical assertion that being fat causes ill health. The ‘correlation not causation’ argument is a strange and radical one and the fact that people can still make this argument about smoking without reflection even after reading the correlation argument does make me suspect that a lot of people haven’t quite understood its implications, and its essential indictment of all science if really followed through.

      • I disagree. Karen has a perfect right to disagree with it. What she doesn’t have is the right to mandate that for anyone else unless it infringes on her space. Yes, it’s toxic. Yes, it’s unhealthy. And yes, it the smoker’s choice to do it or not as he sees fit. Underpants Rule for the win!!

        • As Ragen says, health is not a moral obligation. Anyone has the right to choose to smoke as long as they do not infringe on anyone else’s airspace.

          For the record, each of my in-laws (who have been divorced forever) is 98 (!) years old and has smoked all his or her lives. My mother-in-law still smokes about half a pack a day, and she smoked at least a pack a day since she was 12 years old. I have intermittent asthma and absolutely LOATHE being around cigarette smoke (and even fireplace smoke sometimes), but I totally support my mother-in-law’s right to smoke in her own home. When I’m there, she will smoke in another room or, in good weather, outside.

    • My problem with this kind of treatment is that it’s inherently biased, even if in the case of smoking it’s a voluntary behavior that can be stopped (with difficulty). The justification is always “it’s risky and increases our health costs, so we can stop it,” but it only ever applies to groups that can be marginalized. No one tries to force promiscuous people to avoid STDs. No one penalizes people who bike to work in NYC for the greatly increased risk of traffic accident. No one prices in the added risk of adventure travellers who mountain climb. It’s just a superficially scientific justification for discriminating against a disfavored class. Smokers today, fat people tomorrow, and who knows what’s next?

      • Ooh, Brian. VERY well said. I think I love you.

      • Yes, Brian. Very well said…and that was my point…not to get people on a tangent about smoking. Yes, my point was…state employees who are smokers in my state (Tennessee) are being targeted this year, and fat people will probably be next year.

  10. Actually, I work in the computer field, and thus have worked in male-dominated workplaces for my entire adult life. Men are WORSE than women at this Resolution To Lose Weight thing! The only thing they do differently is that they don’t try to pull me into their orbit at the same time. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. There is certainly less self-bashing overall, so I guess it’s a good thing.

  11. I thought that you in the USA had it much worse than we here in thr UK do, but it’s starting to get worse and go down the road you are on, on the weight loss=health and other unrelated ideas, though they try to link them! Just heard a news item here that a council authority in Westminster, London is thinking of stopping/cutting people’s welfare payments if they don’t take up exercise/fitness programmes given by their doctors!

    Again, I’m sure as you are having both in the workplace and elsewhere, diet and “fitness/gym membership advertising is worse than ever at this time, making this time of dark days even more depressing than it already is. I was concerend to see two particular adverts, one for “Special K ” saying, “It’s not about numbers, what will you gain when you lose”, completely contradicting themselves? The other one is for Weight Watchers and we have various “celebrities” saying that, “It not only works, it works for LIFE”, now that is scary as don’t imagine they have any proof/evidence of this?

    Marion, UK

  12. The worst thing about all of this resolution culture is that I am finding myself tempted by it! I picked up a magazine that looked like it had recipes in it at the Whole Foods checkout counter and it turned out that it was actually a 52-week meal plan for a restrictive calorie diet–yes, with recipes. I looked at the calorie counts of the days and actually thought “Hmmm, this seems pretty reasonable. Maybe I could do this.” Then the logical part of my brain took over that was like, um NO that is not reasonable to have every meal and snack for the next year dictated for you. Someone at work was talking about intermittent fasting as an alternative for caloric restriction and the same “That seems like something I could try” thought flitted through my head unbidden. I really need to get a handle on that impulse to jump at all of these idiotic things when I know that I’ve spent half my life dieting up the scale.

    • I’ve done that too – I think it’s just an old habit from the days of trying every diet that existed. Those habits don’t go away overnight and I think it’s awesome that you are recognizing it and staying on top of the impulse!


    • I understand where you’re coming from. *hugs* Stand strong, and I’ll stand with you.

      Also, a good friend said this this week: “I don’t do resolutions. Life is not something to be resolved, but to be lived to the fullest.” I love that.

  13. Yep, the stupid weight loss initiatives postings on the bulletin board have begun.
    I’m not confronting this because I have had this job for almost 10 years, and I don’t want to make waves. It is one of the few jobs that accommodates the crap patterns of my mental illness. I’ve only had three absences that weren’t pre-arranged. So yeah, cowardly, I know. But I’m not going to confront them.
    Still, that shit has been triggering me all month. It makes me angry that my fat ass can’t just show up and do my job without being reminded that I shouldn’t exist.

    • I don’t find that cowardly. You’ve just learned how to pick your battles wisely.

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