Thursday, February 14, 2008

Made her cry

Several years ago, when I was still living in my hometown, I was working in a restaurant. I enjoyed the actual work, and most of my coworkers were pretty cool, but there was this one girl who did nothing but whine about how fat she was.

She was a high school student, a cheerleader who was tall and very thin. She had two friends working there, and they would rally around her and tell her how non-fat and beautiful she was.

Now, at the time, I was not as fat as I am now, but I wasn't thin either. I was in the process of becoming the size I am now, because I was willing to eat regular meals. Once I started doing that, my wrecked metabolism responded with glee, piling on stored energy like there was no tomorrow (or at least, no tomorrow that had food available). So, most people can imagine how aggravated the constant "OMG I AM SO FAT" was to me.

I finaly snapped one evening. I had heard it one time too many, and this time, she said it to me instead of to her ass-kissing friends. I said, "Look at you, and look at me. When you run around all day complaining about how fat you are, then what the hell are you saying about me? Do you even think about how it makes other people feel when you do that?"

She ran off, crying. Her friends came up and told me that I shouldn't have been so mean to her. I told them that I was tired of her insulting everyone else who was fatter than she was with her constant complaining, and that I wasn't sorry for telling her that.

After that, I noticed that she had stopped the behavior, which was a relief to other non-thin workers as well. I guess getting her to look at someone other than herself for a change gave her a much-needed reality check.

I want to add that, yes, maybe she was suffering from an eating disorder, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Maybe I could have been more sensitive to that. In my defense, I was much younger then, and didn't know about BDD; she sounded whiny and selfish to me, and having at least one person working there recovering from an ED, we just didn't want to hear it anymore.

I would not say the same things today--I'd probably be nicer, and take her aside and ask her if she's talked to her doctor about her self image. And maybe one could say that it wasn't any of my business to do so, but when someone is making their mental health issues everyone else's problem the way she was, it became our business.


raven said...

how timely! i was just talking to my dude about this very thing last night. he has a very thin co-worker that keeps complaining about being terribly fat. and he mostly wants to either slap her silly or tell her she's right and should start a diet immediately. i think i might point him in this general direction. i don't think i made a lot of sense trying to explain why she might be doing that due to some disordered behavior.

AnnieMcPhee said...

I have a co-worker who is size 14, 60 years old, and goes on and on about how disgusting she is for being so fat. Her doctor is also always on her to lose weight. I told her today that Marilyn Monroe was a size 14, and sent her a picture of Marilyn in a bathing suit, looking beautiful and plump. However, the "I'm disgusting" thing really bugs me. I'm not really sure how to handle it, but I think I'm breaking through in bits and pieces. Sometimes, though, I really want to say, "Hey! Sitting RIGHT HERE!" Heh. But she has never said anything directly about me.

The worker you're talking about just sounds like she was either very vain (AND insecure - the two can go together) and wanted to constantly be told how thin and pretty she was, or that she had some type of BDD. It really could be either. I remember being quite scrawny and sometimes saying I was fat just so people would tell me I wasn't. It was a combination of vanity and insecurity in my case. I liked hearing it (even though I knew it) and I needed to hear something positive. Oh well, you brought her up short on that crap anyway. Not a bad thing to do, IMO.

RaisinCookies said...

I don't blame you for snapping at her like that. However, I think that maybe she didn't even consider looking at you or anyone else in comparison to herself... she sounded very wrapped up in her own body image, and probably never stopped to think "Oh, she's much fatter than me!"

Maybe I'm wrong, but in my limited experience, whenever I get caught up in (privately) lamenting my own body size, I don't really care what other people look like. For me, the size of my *insert random body part here* is unacceptable for me and no one else.

Meh, I'm rambling. :)

RioIriri said...

I understand, I really do--but I think it's important for people to be aware of their surroundings, and to know that the things they say affect other people. I could have been more tactful, and I acknowledge that I'd say it differently today, but I also believe that she really needed to be made aware that there were other people around her, people with feelings that were being trampled on while she engaged in the behavior. In other words, she really needed a clue, and I was more than happy to give her the quarter for it.

Anonymous said...

I can totally relate. I have said similar things to my SIL after I had just heard enough. I am 190lbs...she is maybe like 125...we are the same height...and she is ALWAYS talking about how much weight she has to lose. I tell her that until she is my size she has no reason to go on a diet and lose weight. However, she does have some serious self esteem issues (her mom does too...she is anorexic/bulimic) so I know there isn't a whole lot I can do. But dammit it pisses me off when she talks about how gross she is when she doesn't have any kind of fat roll on her body...and stomach hangs over my underwear!

Anyway, DH and I are going to have to talk to her and my MIL one day to not talk like that around our kids. I don't want them growing up thinking the same things and end up with an eating disorder.

Either and I both are only human. Sometimes mouths run away before our brains can catch up.


Addy said...

I've never commented here before, but this post made me very sad. I think I could have been that girl. Before I discovered feminism and eventually FA, I said those things about myself, completely disregarding anyone around me. I agree with RaisinCookies in that I really wasn't thinking of anyone's body but mine, but it is no excuse for not taking other people's feelings into account. Thank you for sharing your experience; I've learned so much from you and kind of want to issue a blanket apology to anyone I came in contact with from ages 15-22!

Rebecca said...

My sister, who wears a size six, does that too. It's not BDD for her - she's more or less happy with her body when she's on the low side of a size 4. It's just that she's completely absorbed the media message that beautiful is a size 0 with a perfectly flat stomach, and compared to that, size 6 with a bit of a belly is (relatively) fat. It used to really upset me to hear her complain, because if she was hideously fat, what did that make me, but now that I've discovered FA, I just feel bad for her. I'm not sure how to help her realise she looks amazing.

Tracy said...

While raisincookies is right, and it's possible that your thin co-worker wasn't even thinking about your size ... I think the opposite is possible as well: that she was quite aware of it, and expecting you to prop her up with "Oh, don't worry, you look so much better than me."

I've had exchanges like this with co-workers, and they went something like

Coworker: "OMG! I've gained so much weight since I was a teenager! I'm disgusting!"
Me: "Well, most people are smaller when they're teenagers."

And the woman blinked at me like I'd forgotten the script. It was clear to me that she expected some form of "Don't worry, I'm the disgusting one here."

Kelly said...

Maybe it wasn't tactful, but I've wished I said that a lot of times. I know there are a lot of people with body image issues, but there are also a lot of people who are self-absorbed and insensitive. I think the number of people who suffer from a legitimate body-image disorder is small in comparison to the number of average to thin women (and men) who call themselves "fat". Perhaps a gentler way of saying "quit calling yourself names and trying to make the rest of us feel guilty" is in order, but SOMETHING does need to be said.

Kira said...

You live and you learn, right? I can certainly understand the temptation to say what you said. I've been in similar situations when I was younger, but then I was so insecure about my weight that my response was to just not say a word. It does sound to me like she was very caught up in herself, and was likely completely unaware of the effects her comments might have on those around her - both her actions and her response suggests this. Perhaps you helped her pull her out of herself a bit, gave her that bit of a clue.

Ms. Heathen said...

I'm afraid I did the same thing to some poor girl in a Dress Barn not that long ago. She was two stalls over complaining about how fat she was at a size 10 and I was in my stall choking back tears because I didn't fit into the largest size they carried. (Dress Barn had been my last hope in an entire week worth of shopping to find clothes for my MIL's funeral.)

Let me tell you, having a size 28 girl stalk out into the mirrored area to call you a selfish skinny blankety blank is probably not going to make your week. I told her that she should be grateful that she could still shop everywhere for clothes instead of whining because she couldn't see her damn ribs anymore. Not my proudest moment ever, but I hope after seeing my genuinely fat body fitting poorly into the biggest dress in the joint she felt a bit better about herself.

(Incidentally, it took me two weeks to finally find a dress in my size appropriate for a funeral, by then the MIL was long dead and buried and the whole family was pissed that I'd skipped her funeral.)

RioIriri said...

Ms. Heathen,
Do you have a Fashion Bug in your area? I have had such good luck with their stuff, and they come in big sizes.

Nan said...

Interesting one to try to handle tactfully. Having witnessed a fair amount of that sort of behavior from people of all ages, it strikes me as being the more fishing for compliments and reassurance type of behavior, but one never knows. . . and I'm the type of person who probably would have reacted by snapping "Will you just STFU. No one cares" when a quiet chat about body image and HAES would be much more useful for all concerned.