By Sarah Ryan

In my twenties, I developed a thyroid condition that led me to gain a lot of weight. Unfortunately, I also worked with a group of people notorious for commenting on any and all female bodies wandering past their line of vision. Hearing remarks like “Wow you’ve gotten bigger. You still look good though“, had my already low self-esteem spiralling. 

Once the pesky thyroid was treated and the weight dropped off, it was time for the backhanded compliments like “You look so much better than you did before.”, which also made me feel like rubbish. 

If I mentioned to the culprit or the manager that it was not appropriate, I was told to “Stop being so sensitive.”. Eye roll. 

Maybe I Am Just Sensitive. Surely It Isn’t That Bad?

Fortunately, body shaming in the workplace is becoming widely recognised as a form of workplace bullying and discrimination. Management and HR are more likely to take action to stop it these days. And rightly so, considering it can cause pretty severe mental health consequences in some individuals, from anxiety and depression to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. 

While body shaming is targeted at any gender, women are more likely to be discriminated against, and overweight people are more likely to be shamed than other demographics. According to research, 25% of workers surveyed admitted that they would hire who they perceive to be a person in a healthy weight range instead of an overweight candidate, even if they both had the same credentials. 

So, what should we do if we find ourselves on the receiving end of a body comment we did not appreciate? We need to start speaking up. 

I’m Scared To Speak Up. What If I Lose My Job?

This fear is totally valid; some employers could label you as ‘problematic’ and try to dismiss not only your concerns but you from your job. However, approaching the issue with the right people in the proper manner should have any ethical workplace or colleague understanding your viewpoint and willing to work through it. 

If not, know your legal rights. In most countries, unfair dismissal is a thing, and you will have legal recourse if you feel you have been terminated unfairly. 

So How Do I Deal With It?

You have two options when it comes to who you approach. The first is to speak directly to the co-worker concerned, saying something like;

“You just said (insert statement). Can you explain what you meant?” 

People often make offhand remarks without thinking them through, and this phrase might just get them to stop, think, and apologise. 

If the co-worker is a repeat offender, or you feel like you cannot talk to them directly, your second option is to go to HR or management and ask them to deal with it accordingly. 

Always use a polite but firm tone when calling out your co-worker. Avoid fighting back or body shaming them, adding fuel to the fire. A helpful phrase you could use might be; 

‘I have decided to no longer make or accept any comments about my body, or the bodies of others. I would appreciate it if you could respect this wish.’

You may find yourself being questioned for your stance, and if you don’t want to talk about it, try saying:

‘It’s a decision I’ve made, that’s all.’ 

Remember, if they push the issue, you can ignore it or walk away, as you are not obligated to justify your position to them.

They Didn’t Take It Well, And Now I’m Uncomfortable. What Can I Do Next?

Sadly, there are individuals in some workplaces who won’t take kindly to being called out on just about anything, no matter how diplomatic you are. They’re usually the workplace bullies. 

According to one survey, 60% of people who reported a work bully said they were then regularly undermined, 30% said they were victims of rumours, and nearly half quit their job. 

In these cases, it is essential to know your company’s policies, document everything you can, and then file a report. Seeking emotional or legal support may also be recommended should the situation escalate. 

The Comments Have Upset Me. How Can I Feel Better?

The best way to get body shaming comments to bounce right off the wonderful you is to foster a healthy sense of self-acceptance. If you are comfortable with who you are, what others say is of very little consequence. 

Of course, it is easier said than done. I personally use a lot of body-positive affirmations and therapy, but for those of you just starting your self-love journey, these tips from a psychotherapist may be helpful. Consistent practice of these things will bring more confidence to speak up to workplace bullies and make it less likely that their words will have any lasting effect on you. 

Go on, reclaim your self-confidence and shine like the star you are!