my disgusting boss is fixated on my weight

We’ve had questions about coworkers commenting on weight and food choices before, but this one is from a different angle. A reader writes:

My boss and owner of the company is completely fixated on my weight lately. I’m an average 23-year-old girl weighing in at 115 lbs with no weight concern at all. These comments started a few weeks ago and I’ve worked here for 2 years now, maintaining the approximately the same weight. Before I left for lunch last week, he said, “Oh there goes Emily…off to eat at the anorexic buffet.” This was in front of 3-4 of my coworkers. Returning from lunch that day, he said “How was your lettuce leaf and cracker? Did anybody see Emily go to the bathroom and throw that up yet?” Every day there is a comment about it and I am getting annoyed. Really annoyed since he specifically made me let go of a unpaid intern for being “too fat” just 2 months ago. I have lost any respect for him and find his behavior disgusting.

Even better, since he has started making comments, my coworkers have started to join in and make their own jokes about my weight. I don’t think it is appropriate for anybody to be concerned about my body besides me and my doctor.

I don’t know what people hope to gain by comments like this. I mean, if he was seriously worried that you were anorexic, this would be the worst possible way to handle it — so we’ve got to assume that he’s just commenting on your body for the sake of … commenting on your body? Ick. Anyway, regardless of the reason, it’s wildly inappropriate and none of his business.

You need to say something to him. This can be be an in-the-moment response or a separate conversation with him later, based on your knowledge of him and what will likely go over better.

If you go with an in-the-moment response, you have all kinds of options, from “I’m not discussing my food choices at work” to “That’s not appropriate” to simply (my favorite)”Wow.” (I stole that from Carolyn Hax and it’s pretty effective.)

If you decide to talk to him later, privately, you’d say something like this:  “I know you’re just joking around, but I don’t want people commenting on my body or my food choices at work. Not only does it cross a line with me, but I assume it makes other people uncomfortable too. No one should have to feel that their body or their diet is being scrutinized when they’re focusing on work.”

Frankly, you could even add, “We have no way of knowing who might actually be struggling with an eating disorder, or who has someone close to them who is, and these comments could be extremely hurtful to someone.”

As for your coworkers, I’d handle them the same way.

If it continues after that, just ignore it. Don’t engage, and accept that you work with asses.

By the way, if your office has an HR department, you might talk to them about this. They’re going to be more sensitive to the legal issues this could raise and therefore likely to put a stop to it. (As for those legal issues, a male boss commenting on a female subordinate’s body isn’t a good thing … and if it turned out that he was making these comments to someone who was, say, thin because of a health problem, that wouldn’t be good either.) Plus, there’s the whole being-a-jerk thing.

Oh, and the next time someone tells you to fire someone because they’re too fat, say no. Respond like they must be joking (because obviously they can’t really mean that), go to HR, whatever you need to do.

What do other people think?

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 107 comments… read them below }

  1. K*

    Nip it in the bud, the moment they start discussing your weight. He made you let go of an intern because she was fat? Your boss is a jerk of all trades, so tell him & your co-workers that you are uncomfortable with the teasing and you would like it to stop in a firm and assertive tone.

    Although the market is tough at the moment, start putting your feelers out for a new job.

  2. Anonymous*

    I was “spoken to” regarding the one of the last people I hired because she was “so heavy”. It was presented to me in a way that I need to take that into consideration due to “health care costs”. Mind you the woman I hired is overweight but she was also the best candidate I could find.

    My guess with the OP’s situation is almost like this is the boss’s way of “flirting”….it sounds like the recess grounds..if you like the girl you pick on her….I could be wrong but that is the vibe I’m picking up. Usually a person that is so stupid to fire someone for being overweight would be in favor of someone who is more petite.

    If the OP checks in I’d love to know how old her boss is…he sounds extremely immature.

    1. Emily*

      Ah had a feeling you might answer my question since it is so crazy! My boss is in his late 50’s. After a conversation with some of my coworkers at my office I understand that he has a history of this behavior. Apparently he used to always bring up and poke fun of a certain employee’s 2 ex wives in addition to his “member’s” size.

      I felt that I made a strong comment once before telling him that I am going to be forced to go to the local worker’s rights office to report him. He laughed and actually was excited at the opportunity to have to interview with them. After actually making a call to that office it turns out they already know all about his ways and didn’t offer me much help since he hasn’t broke any definite laws.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, only a couple of jurisdictions have appearance discrimination laws. But I wouldn’t pursue the legal angle with him — he’s already laughed it off. I’d do what I suggested in the post.

        (HR tends to be very conservative so would likely to be concerned despite the specifics of the law.)

      2. Katie*

        Wow. Have you asked him why he makes these comments? Maybe you shouldn’t do this if you desperately need your job, but if he continued with this harassment (even if it’s not illegal, it’s DEFINITELY harassment), I’d call him out in front of the entire office. “Why do you keep making comments about this? You’re obviously not worried about my health, or you’d make these comments in private. So what’s the deal? Are you such a little man, that you’ve got to pick on young women to make you feel good about yourself?”

        You’ll probably get fired, but it will embarrass the crap out of him, and honestly, giving him a taste of his own medicine would be worth it.

      3. Anon y. mouse*

        Ugfh. Well, if you’ve already told him to knock it off, so much for the ‘clueless idiot’ approach. Definitely talk to HR. Hopefully your coworkers are more sane and will be ashamed of themselves if you point out how nasty the ‘jokes’ are and tell them to knock it off.

        Sometimes bullies back down when they know their actions are being recorded. Just making a policy of carrying a voice recorder ‘for note-taking’ or visibly writing down every remark he makes could be a deterrent for some types. (Cell phone cameras are your best friend in other situations.)

        Whatever you decide to do, good luck.

    2. Samantha*

      regarding the person who is a health risk because she is so heavy. That’s crap. yes overweight people are at a higher risk because of their weight. However normal weight people are also at a risk – lots of normal weight people get cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol etc. they also probably smoke and drink both of which aren’t good for you. Perhaps they sunbathe – risk of skin cancer. Lots of overweight people go through life perfectly fine. You can’t base it on weight. Yes it’s a factor but it’s not the only factor. Before you start throwing out risk factors you need to think it all the way through – everyone has risk factors. No one has a perfect lifestyle. Even people with no risk factors can get sick.

      1. Anonymous*

        It isn’t just health risks that are a concern with overweight employees, other medical procedures are a concern as well. Last year there were 5 people in our company (about 150 employees) who had gastric bypass… our insurance rates SOARED after this. We are constantly trying to develop health programs, exercise programs, etc. to encourage a healthier lifestyle.

        1. Mike C.*

          It’s great that your company is developing wellness programs, but understand that 150 employees is really small, and are easy targets for huge health care increases due to your small size.

          There was an episode of PBS Frontline about the issue of medical costs and insurance. The company being interviewed (ironically an advocacy firm for healthcare reform) had to drop much of their care because they were small and one employee had a child that needed extensive care for some reason or another. They too had few employees so that one or two extreme events combined with a lack of an ability to negotiate for better rates led to extreme increases in costs.

      2. Under Stand*

        And there are a lot of companies that WILL exclude you for smoking or drinking. They have it in the ads “need not apply”. And I am not talking small ones either. Blue Cross, Southern Power- the power company of several states in the south-, and many others have enacted hiring practices to exclude people with risky behavior. It is not “crap” as you so eloquently put it, it is a legitimate business decision based on statistics.

        1. Samantha*

          Which is why I’m glad I live in Canada. Where health care isn’t regarded as a business but a basic essential right for everyone.

        2. Anonymous*

          statistics is what got us into this mortgage mess. A healthy dose of reality needs to go along with any numerical calculation with regards to people.

        3. Helen*

          If they exclude every candidate who drinks they are either going to get a very small selection of candidates, or (more likely) a company full of liars.

  3. Anon y. Mouse*

    Oh wow. My teenage brother used to make anorexic jokes, until I told him that one of my friends (whom he knows) had struggled with it. He shut up fast. I can only hope your boss does the same.

  4. fposte*

    One of my thoughts is that somebody who focuses on weight like that may well be projecting some of his own physical issues.

    Not, honestly, that I’d really care in your position; it is, however, an approach you might take in response that could remove some of the fun for him. “Wow, Ted, I’ve noticed you’re really concerned about body issues, and it does seem like you’re going through an anxious time. Are you okay? Do you have somebody to talk to?” A deflection that he’s talking about you, not himself, can be met with an indulgent and sympathetically smiling “Sure, sure.”

    Basically, the goal would be to cast the interaction as his obviously revealing his vulnerabilities rather than his being a naughty, daring banterer unafraid of PC crap, which I suspect is how he characterizes those comments in his head.

  5. Mike C.*

    This sort of behavior – the personal comments, the ganging up and isolation – are textbook forms of workplace bullying. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is “no big deal” or worse that you are “somehow at fault”. It is a big deal and it isn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter what weight you are now or were then or will be at in the future. You are a human being worthy of respect and dignity and you should not have to put up with this sort of behavior from anyone, least of all the people that sign your paycheck.

    You can find information on the issue and methods of coping in addition to the advice AmA has given. AaM has covered the legal and practical issues, but in a situation where you are being singled out by your boss and coworkers, I don’t believe that simply “ignoring it” will do nothing but make them escalate their behavior.

    I’ve witnessed and dealt with similar issues in my previous workplace, and it can do terrible things to you if you don’t watch out. Feel free to ask any questions if you want.

    As to the question of “what do people get out of this”, they get out of it the same thing anyone who abuses other people gets out of it. They enjoy power over others. They enjoy making people feel like they are worthless and incapable of anything better. I understand AaM is trying to put a measured light on the situation, but this has gone far from a simple joke.

    1. Anonymous*

      I was just reading this.. thanks. I wrote at the bottom that I have a medical condition and there is still nothing that can be done in my case. I do appreciate this link though, at least there are some practical steps!

      1. Mike C.*

        The best thing I can say is to surround yourself with people that you care about and who care about you in return. There were too many former coworkers of mine that were so brow-beaten they started to believe the terrible things said to them. They began to believe that this workplace was the only one that would take them in and that they’d never have another shot anywhere else.

        For anyone reading this, don’t fall into this trap!

        Even if things aren’t this extreme, the increased stress and frustration need to be dealt with in a healthy manner. I was losing sleep, gaining weight and in general not always a fun person to be around. But I had that support network of my family, friends and my wonderful fiancee. That helped me get through the frustration of looking for new work – now that I’m a month into a new job things have really turned around.

  6. Lina*

    Ok, I admit it. I’m Lina and I’m a Diet Pepsi addict. It’s not usual for me to drink four cans a day, especially if I’m working. It’s like my brain can’t function without some Diet Pepsi in my system. Ninety percent of the time, I had a can on my desk at work. This is because it usually took me an hour to drink a can. I like to take a sip every once and a while. It’s like what coffee is to other people.

    You would be surprised how many people hate Diet Pepsi. At least one person a day would lecture me on the effects of artificial sugar on the body: cancer, bone loss, weight gain, diabetes. Some people have approached me about it at least ten times. I understand someone bringing up something once out of concern, but frequent offenders need to stop.

    Even the school nurse sent an email with a shady internet link (probably not credible) to all the staff about the danger of diet drinks.

    The first time someone gives me advice I listen politely and thank them. After the first time, I try different things. Sometimes I answer in a matter of fact way that I love it. Sometimes I explain that this is my substitute for coffee while pointing to their tenth cup of coffee sitting on their desk. Sometimes I explain that I don’t smoke or drink; this is my only vice and a minor one at that.

    All of these retorts didn’t help. In the end, I just smiled politely and changed the subject or left the room.

    1. Karen*

      That’s obnoxious. I could see a concerned coworker that you were close to maybe saying something or making a lighthearted joke, but again, diet sodas aren’t THAT big of a deal (we’ve had them around for ages, and people aren’t exactly dropping dead). The continued comments and emails are just rude; people need to mind their own business. It’s not like you’re snorting cocaine at your desk!

      1. Lina*

        I think the major problem is, just like the in the case the asker, it became an inside joke that everyone wanted to keep alive. But making coworkers into parts of a joke isn’t an ideal work situation.

        1. Long Time Admin*

          Lina, you said: “But making coworkers into parts of a joke isn’t an ideal work situation.”

          No, it’s not an ideal work situation. It’s bullying. I suggest you start answering these jerks by saying you don’t want to hear any more bullying remarks from them.

          This goes for the OP, too. START USING THE WORD “BULLYING” WHEN PEOPLE BULLY YOU. Call it what it is and stop pretending it’s OK. Someone will wake up and stand with you.

          I’ve seen loads of cases of bullying in my 40+ career of office work, most of them in my current work place. It doesn’t stop unless it’s addressed. Start by calling it by it’s name.

          1. fposte*

            It certainly *can* be. But Lina’s situation is one that could also be an example of how it doesn’t have to be bullying to suck. Vapid office jokes and people inserting themselves judgmentally into others’ lives aren’t bullying per se because they’re not usually about power, but they’re thoughtless and counterproductive. I’m not speaking of Lina in particular, because I don’t know the scope of what was going on there; just saying that even if everybody in the office thinks it’s cute to call somebody “Diet Coke girl” and ask where her can is every day without the slightest intent of diminishing her, it’s not likely to be welcomed by the recipient. In other words, knowing you’re not doing it to tweak somebody doesn’t mean you should keep doing it.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Thanks for saying this! I actually think both Lina and the OP’s situations are ones that *could* be bullying but might not be. I mean, the OP’s boss sounds like a huge jerk and bully, but the other people in her office might not be bullying at all — in fact, particularly given the subject matter, in a culture where thinness is prized, they might misguidedly think it’s good-natured teasing. Hell, they might think they’re bonding with her, not separating her. (I had a friend who would have been flattered by these comments, as messed up as that is.)

              I have no idea which it is, of course, but I also think the rush to assume it’s office-wide bullying is probably too quick, and perhaps based on other situations people have seen rather than what we actually know so far about these.

              1. fposte*

                I also think it’s worth making the point because people who honestly know they’re not bullying might not have realized that they should still knock off what they’re doing. I know I’ve certainly done stuff good-naturedly that probably was pretty tiresome to be the recipient of.

            2. Lina*

              You have it exactly right. It wasn’t about power or diminishing me. I was very well respected in my office and I had influence in my own right. I was also well liked and I think people thought I was approachable.

              I think co-workers were either concerned (like a pushy mom) or wanting to connect (like I’ll start a conversation about the Diet Coke in your hand before I ask you this). I guess they thought the joke was a bonding experience. It was annoying sometimes, especially if they caught me on a day that I didn’t have time to discuss Diet Pepsi habits.

              I agree with AskaManager, it wasn’t bullying in my case.

              I like Pepsi Max too. I alternate usually.

              1. fposte*

                I think versions of this happen to just about everybody who’s pregnant at work, but at least that eventually stops.

              2. Joy*

                I am a Diet Mountain Dew addict and have also lived Lina’s scenario for quite some time…Maybe they notice our soda more than other people’s coffee because our container is shinier…Hey, maybe we should try carrying it in a brown paper bag :-)

    2. Anonymous*

      I drink a lot of diet drinks too. It was the only soft drink my parents had in the house, so it was the only thing I had growing up. As such, I think non-diet drinks taste too sugary and leave me with a bad sticky feeling.

      Whenever people bring up those sketchy studies, I just flatly respond “I don’t care”. The direct, flippant response has always stopped them from pursuing the matter. Also, I now think pepsi max is better than diet pepsi!

  7. Karen*

    Wow. He made you fire someone because they were overweight? And yet he makes you feel bad because you’re “too thin?” I hate to do it, but I’m pulling the misogynist card on this fool (though that’s based on the assumption that the intern he made you fire is female). Regardless of the appropriateness of commenting on any employee’s physical traits, this guy sounds like he feels the need to belittle women of all shapes and sizes based on their physical appearance. And what does he look like, anyway? Is he a tan, perfectly toned, extremely handsome man? I doubt it…

    As another poster mentioned…run. Run, run, run.

    1. Mike C.*

      They aren’t being targeted for their gender. As you know bullying, despite the physical and mental harm it causes, is perfectly legal in all 50 states.

      In fact, one of the best defenses against a discrimination claim is evidence that a boss treats everyone terribly.

      1. Anonymous*

        Our OP, who is a woman, didn’t specify if the intern was a male or female. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, the intern was a female. Do you mean to tell me this manager’s bullying is “perfectly legal in all 50 states” despite the fact he is only targeting women’s weight – either big or little? To me, while he is not saying anything in the gender issue, he is targeting one specific gender.

        1. fposte*

          The OP makes it clear the boss has been a bully to men as well. Unless you’re in a jurisdiction where weight itself is a protected category, it’s not likely to make a difference that he bullies men on a different topic than he bullies women.

  8. Rose*

    Maybe send a company-wide email? I know its extreme, but it seems like a punch in the face is too subtle for this guy. Maybe say that you would really appreciate the comments to stop and you feel like its getting out of control. Then point out that if a sex harassment suit goes down, people other than the boss could be sued.

    The bonus is that if they ever do get sued, this will be a “smoking gun” of the harassment.

  9. Emily*

    You have no idea how much all your support means to me! In a different situation I’ve broken down and cried like a baby because I was so embarrassed or frustrated with him. He came off me for a little while after that but now always tells me that I’m weak/sensitive and just “a 20-something year old girl.” He has even told me to “buck up and go toe to toe with him.” He wants me to fight him, but frankly I don’t get that worked up over my job where I want to participate in a screaming match with the boss. I went to my doctor and got on a prescription antidepressant to get me through the day. It helps and I definitely handle his “attacks” better. I know I’m being bullied and have been desperately searching for another job. I feel like I need to talk to others and keep telling myself I’m not the crazy one!

    Yes, the intern was a female. That was the worst day ever to tell her said had to end her internship after only 3 days and I could never tell her the real reason. The big problem I have is that my company does not have an HR department. Definitely nobody that could or would stand up to the boss, because they take the abuse as well. I do see that he is definitely more of an ass to the women than the men.

    Thanks again for all your suggestions! I sincerely appreciate it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Emily, is your boss the owner? Who does he report to? Is there someone in the office who is either at his level or above him who you can talk to?

      Long-term though, I agree you need to get out. This guy’s problems aren’t going to be solved by a talking-to (although it could lessen them).

      1. Tex*

        Dear AAM – First line of the OP’s post: “My boss and owner of the company…”

        I really don’t think there is another option beyond leaving. Maybe a “That is completely inappropriate” comment by OP when the bullying starts may temporarily stave off some more comments. Perhaps a better bet is to talk with co-workers if the OP has a good relationship with them. Once the little sycophants stop participating, the boss may feel that he has to move on and just stop. Either way, the power is mostly in his hands….so try to let it slide off your back, find the joy in networking with other people and jump ship when you can to a BETTER place. (I once switched jobs with no pay increase, but the change in atmosphere did wonders for me.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Whoops, forgot the owner part! Yes, if he’s the owner, the best thing to do is to get out. Besides, a guy with judgment this bad has to be screwing up in other areas too. Just make sure you line up another job first!

        2. Anonymous*

          Tex – Even some of the coworkers are joining the boss’s side in the bullying; read the second paragraph of the OP’s letter: “Even better, since he has started making comments, my coworkers have started to join in and make their own jokes about my weight.”

    2. Under Stand*

      Ask him if he takes so much joy if being a jerk to women because he secretly wishes to be one. Then next time he starts in trying to call you anorexic, tell him that you saw this wonderful dress at such and such store and you just know he would look so cute in it.

      I know you won’t really do it, but embarrassing him may be the only thing that may get him to stop.

    3. arm2008*

      “buck up and go toe to toe with him.” – I have never found arguing with a 2 yr old to be intellectually stimulating nor rewarding.

      I suggest coming up with a phrase that you use each time he pulls some half-wit comment about food/weight. Something like “Joe, I am not interested in discussing this with you.” To use this you would stop dead, look at him, lower the pitch of your voice just a little, calmly say it without yelling, then walk away. Broach no further discussion, do not answer any retort. No laughing, no smiling, no “I understand you’re joking,” no let’s make up and be friends.

      This may seem like an odd suggestion, but a good women’s self-defense class could help you deal with this dope (and the others you will run into after him). It would need to be a balanced class, one that deals with not just physical self-defense. A well-rounded women’s self-defense class includes boundary setting skills, body language and other things that build your power. Depending on where you are located I can offer suggestions on where to find this type of class.

      1. Anon y. Mouse*

        Seconded. Not only is it very satisfying to kick and punch stuff in the dojo, there’s something about knowing how to defend yourself physically that gives you confidence in everything else. I’m not recommending violence as a solution here (although I’d sure be tempted!), but self-defense training is a great way to build confidence.

        You’re not weak or crazy for not wanting to ‘go toe-to-toe’ with this guy. I’ve known extremely few people who would do that, and even fewer who would actually prefer it the way your boss seems to. None of them were people I enjoyed working with, and when I had one for a boss I got out as soon as I could. Normal people treat each other with respect, and like it that way.

        Good luck. You can try and stand up to this guy, although be aware that he’s experienced at swatting people back down at this point. I hope you find a new job soon.

        1. arm2008*

          Just to clarify – I love kicking and punching, but what I’m recommending is a comprehensive women’s self-defense class which typically incorporates some practical physical self defense techniques (likely NOT kicking and punching), but also includes a heavy does of boundary setting skills. Much of this happens in the verbal arena – someone says something inappropriate to you, how do you effectively respond verbally and with body language to tell to back off.

          As much as I’d like to recommend it, it just isn’t appropriate to use a palm heel strike to the bosses nose when he asks if you’ve thrown up your cracker and lettuce. It is appropriate to respond in a way that establishes boundaries that he is not welcome to cross.

          1. saro*

            A self-defense class and reading the ‘Gift of Fear’ completely changed my life. I recommend it for everyone, men and women. I truly believe I wouldn’t have been promoted to management if I hadn’t learned about setting boundaries.

            Once I took the class, I realized that I can set boundaries and rarely have had people who test my boundaries more than that once. I don’t think I come off as overly aggressive, btw, just that people know not to be inappropriate with me. Recently, I had an older male colleague make an inappropriate sexual remark (it was really over the top) and I just looked at him with a straight face and said, “That was weird, don’t ever make such an inappropriate comment to me again. And while we’re at it, don’t say that at the workplace again either.” It was in front of 3-4 other colleagues and I later had 2 female colleagues come up to me and thank me. He’s said this to other women as well and they didn’t say anything.

            1. saro*

              And I’d just like to add that I don’t want to come off as victim blaming or that the LP is any way responsible for her boss’ stupid remarks. I got excited about spreading the gospel of setting boundaries. I am sure there will come a time when I can try to set boundaries and that person will still try to cross them.

      2. Mike C.*

        Something about not wresting in the mud with pigs comes to mind here…

        Also, the defense class will teach you something much more important – self confidence. That’s really what is being attacked in these situations.

    4. Samantha*

      Ok someone that says “I’m weak/sensitive and just “a 20-something year old girl” – he is definitely bullying and seriously that is sexist. Unbelievable.

      Emily I hope you keep us updated. I feel for you. I’ve never dealt with a bully that wants you to fight him – most bullies will back down if you can fight back. They thrive on the power they get from people who won’t fight back.

    5. Katie*

      The comments about your gender, and if his history of attacking people over body issues is primarily with female employees, this could qualify as sexual harassment. I would check again with the organization you contacted before, since apparently they have a history with him, and see if all previous complaints have been registered by women. If so, you might actually have a legal case against this a–you know the rest.

  10. MaryBeth*

    I may be completely off-base here, but here’s my question after reading this: is anorexia/ other eating disorders covered by the ADA? The reason I ask is because if they are, then even if you don’t have an eating disorder, but your boss is regarding you as having one, wouldn’t you be covered? Just a thought, but I’m not an expert, just an undergrad studying HR.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m not sure if anorexia is covered by the ADA. I believe it would be an illness that prevents someone from doing their job completley or part of their job. Also, they can not be discriminated against in terms of hiring, firing etc. As far as making comments about it, she stated that she is a 115 23 years old with “no weight concerns.” If she does not think that there is anything wrong with the way she eats, then how can she be qualified under the ADA. (And of course she needs to be approved by her doctor and other officials).

      1. Joey*

        That’s incorrect. If he regard you as having a disability you’re protected. Whether or not anorexia is covered is a grey area, but I don’t think that’s the best approach.

        I’d take the sexist approach. Something like ” I notice you only make comments about the way women look and not the guys. Do you have something against women?”. If he still doesn’t get it you could add “I know you think you’re only joking, but do you realize you’re setting yourself up if someone complains to the EEOC?”

    2. Under Stand*

      Is Emily from the United States? Her comment about the local worker’s rights office made me think she was not. If she is not then the ADA would definitely not apply.

    1. Andrew*

      Absolutely true. Any job that puts you on antidepressants is toxic and isn’t worth it. This is your life we’re talking about!

  11. KellyK*

    Wow, that’s awful. And if he’s targeting women, it’s sexual harassment. (This is the opinion of an employee who’s taken training on harassment, not an HR or legal opinion.)

    If you can’t get out yet because you haven’t found another job, and you don’t want to report sexual harassment because it’s more trouble than it’s worth, I guess the best thing you can do is find support wherever you can. The resources Mike listed, venting to friends and family, etc.

    Since your doctor prescribed antidepressants, maybe they could recommend a good therapist as well. I agree with Emily that having to be medicated to deal with work is awful, but it wasn’t clear whether you have depression and this is making it worse, or you’d be fine if you weren’t being bullied. Either way, if you want reassurance that you’re not crazy or blowing things out of proportion, people who sees all kinds of issues on a daily basis can put things in perspective really well.

    You’re not the crazy one; your boss is a sadistic jerk and a bully, and that kind of behavior is ridiculous.

    1. fposte*

      It sounds like he’s bullied men, too, though, with the penis size jeering. (Though that would be kind of amazing to see presented as a defense in court, wouldn’t it?)

  12. Anonymous*

    Why wait this long to say something to defend herself? The comments just keep rising and the group that is commenting is getting larger and larger, while she’s collecting everything deep inside her. Next time, and I hope there is no next time, when any comment happens regards your food choices or anything about you that you don’t like it, you need to say something. Being quiet gives people the impression that you are ok with it and keep hurting your feelings. Also, I see this as a seperation of one employee from the rest of them, which is not good.

    1. Another Anon*

      Why wait so long? Because if she makes a fast comeback on the first time she’ll be “sensitive – just like a woman!” A great deal of bullying goes on just to test workers’ ability to “take it.” Women get a bigger share because their ability to withstand it is more in doubt. Unfortunately, setting boundaries, however well phrased, just shows some people that one “couldn’t take it.”

  13. Anon.*

    Hi Emily,
    I’m so sorry that you have to go through something like this but very glad that you reached out to Alison and everyone here at AaM. The advice that I’ve seen here is very sound and I hope that you follow through and are a able to stand up to this bully.

    That being said I wonder what type of job you have – are you specializing in a ceratain area/industry or are you more broad in job type (Administrative Assistant/Receptionist etc). It sounds like you’ve got a solid few years in one position/at one company and that will help you in your new job search, if you choose that route (which, imo, you should persue asap)

    Regarding ramping up your job search I’d like to extend an invitation to you – my Linkedin address

    I’m not in HR but I do have a large network across many states and can possibly help you network with people in your field/state. It’s a good start towards a job search and it will help you to feel empowered.

  14. Anonymous*

    This really strikes a cord with me. I have a protected medical condition that my boss constantly makes fun of.. and he includes coworkers in it too.. so they all think I am some kind of crazy “always sick” person.
    Meanwhile this is a documented medical condition I am dealing with.

    Unfortunately it’s so tough, even when you have a medical condition to get any sort of help.
    I have lost all interest in my job, and it makes me sad because I used to love it. I am switching careers… and I hope you do too.

    Maybe document some of this.. after you speak to him I would write an e-mail (short and sweet) going over what you discussed. So you have some “harassment” documented. If you go to HR make sure you mention that he is causing a hostile work environment and you feel harassed. use those words, don’t sugar coat it.

    We have no HR :(

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with that!

      One thing here though that a lot of people don’t realize is that “hostile workplace,” in the legal sense, must refer to hostility directed toward you because of your membership in a protected legal class (race, religion, etc.). If it’s not linked to your protected legal class, then a hostile environment isn’t illegal. The same goes for harassment or bullying based on anything other than your protected legal class. Just working in an insanely hostile environment isn’t what the law means when it talks about “hostile workplace.”

    2. fposte*

      Anonymous, while as Alison points out Emily’s situation doesn’t count as a hostile work environment, yours might be different. If you’re being harassed based on an ADA-eligible condition (I’m guessing that’s what you mean by “protected”) and your work place isn’t exempt from the ADA (are there at least 15 employees?), my impression is that that would indeed be a breach of the law (dunno if it would be HWE, but it could still be illegal harassment). You might want to check with your state’s EEOC.

  15. Cruella*

    Fight fire with fire: “I’m sorry my weight bothers you. Some people are just naturally thin, I can see you are NOT one of those people.”

  16. SME*

    I’m less reasonable about this than everyone else, I think. I don’t see any reason that you shouldn’t be just as hostile and outrageous as he is. Why NOT go toe-to-toe? That’s the only way I’ve ever stopped bullying in the work place.

    I had a higher-up (not my manager) for awhile who would stand in the middle of the office and rage at me for unreasonable things. (Such as asking a question so that I could better do what he’d asked me to do.) Finally one day he got purple in the face, he was yelling so loud, and he kept hollering, “I’m the boss! I’m in charge! I’m the boss!”

    To which I replied, loudly enough for everyone to hear, “Actually, you’re not. Your boss is the boss. And what you’re telling me to do directly contradicts her orders, so until she tells me otherwise, I’m not doing it.” I maintained eye contact, refused to look away first, and stood square in front of him (he was one of those guys who likes to jut his chest out in a display of gorilla-style dominance).

    You know what he did? This guy who had been bullying and harassing me for MONTHS?

    Shut his mouth, walked away, and a week later had one of his other subordinates apologize to me for him. He never gave me grief again.

    Sometimes you have to get in the mud with the pig.

    1. Lesa*

      SME, it sounds to me like you chose NOT to get in the mud with the pig. You stood your ground, didn’t back down, asserted your position, and didn’t get dirty at all! Bravo! Just want to make the point that it’s possible to confront someone’s bad behavior without using bad behavior to do it. Sounds to me like you did it just right!

      1. SME*

        That’s so nice of you to say! Thank you! At the time, I felt like I was totally going crazy, over the top, outrageous – that’s how accustomed I got to just taking the abuse. Nobody should get accustomed to it!

  17. Anonymous*

    This situation reminds me of an issue I’ve been pondering for awhile. Of course everyone should know that “technically” a person’s weight should not matter. If they are able to do their job then what does it matter if they are overweight, underweight, or just right. If a person is extremely over (or under) weight I might worry about their health, though. I’m not skinny myself and I often worry this might keep my from getting a job. If a hiring manager has to select from 2 equally qualified candidates, won’t they pick the “healthier” one? On top of this a famous career coach came and spoke at our company last year and basically said beauty does matter. What does everyone else think?

  18. Anonymous*

    Amazing these “bosses” have their jobs. I guarantee there are worse things going on in this company than these comments. If they feel free to say whatever they like about things like this, they are doing far worse things that no one has noticed yet.

    If you do have an HR department and they know about this, shame on them. If I ever heard of one of my employees with an issue like this, it would handled immediately. At a minium, the “bosses” would be apologizing to you in person and a letter would be put in their file to guarantee no future behavior like this would EVER happen again.

    Sorry you have to work at a place like this!

  19. Nichole*

    Hang tough, Emily. This situation stinks, and hopefully you’ll find a new job soon. I don’t have too much constructive advice here-this guy sounds like one of those that’s so full of himself that nothing anyone says bothers him, therefore anyone who is offended by him is thin skinned, especially if she’s a she (I’m guessing any man who stands up to him in an appropriate way is told to quit being a *insert one of a large library of rude terms for “woman”*). I suggest using keeping your head up, ignoring him whenever possible, and start a good will campaign towards customers, coworkers, and colleagues outside the company. Making friends=networking, and networking=new job.

  20. Emily*

    I am gaining more confidence with every post I read. Thank you all so much. I do work in the advertising field and unfortunately there aren’t many positions in this town. My plan has been to get through this winter and move on to a whole new town, not because of my job, but because I have wanted to live in Washington for a long time and would be much happier working for a nonprofit or a place actually doing good in the world. I have been applying to jobs related to my field of study for the 8 months or so. All my work is on a computer so I hate to leave this position and lose any skills.

    Today I was told that I am not to go to lunch with a good friend/co-worker of mine since HE is 35 years old and the boss said “I know what I would be thinking if I were to go to lunch with her.” He said it concerns him what other people may think we are doing. WHAT!? I am close friends with his WIFE as well and have been for years. My boyfriend and I often spend our weekends watching football together with them. Plus they just had a baby. It is just getting crazier and crazier. It seems to me that the boss is a pervert and can’t understand why others don’t think the way he does. I’ll keep you all updated!

    1. Anon y. mouse*

      Okay, that’s rapidly moving into creepy controlling/stalker territory. I’d be worried to hear that from a partner, let alone a boss! If he’s escalating and you have to stay in that job for the near future, please find a way to shut him down. Just a “Does it affect my work?” and simply repeating the question if he says anything other than ‘no’ might have some effect. Set boundaries before this creep goes any further!

      When you say Washington, do you mean State of or DC?

    2. Under Stand*

      Advertising. There you have it! You have to go toe to toe. Your job is to be in your face. And you are not. He is trying to turn you from a mouse to a lion. Is he an A about it, yeah, but that is probably why he got where he is. That would also say why body image is so important to him, advertising!

      He is pushing buttons to get you to become aggressive. And it will continue until he decides you will never change and he fires you or until you get in his face.

      1. Anon y. Mouse*


        There’s nothing about the advertising industry that requires people to be ‘in your face’ or otherwise jerk-ish to coworkers.

        He doesn’t somehow have the Emily’s best interests at heart. Make all the bullshit excuses you like about why he’s doing it, but these are not the actions of someone who wants the best for Emily. He’s being a bully and tearing her down. That’s the opposite of trying to build someone’s confidence. When there’s a disconnect between someone’s actions and their stated goals, the actions are telling the truth and their words are bullshit. Every time.

        It may be possible to stand up to him and make him back off, but it’s tough to do. It may be an option for Emily, it may not.

        1. Under Stand*

          You do realize that Profanity is the tool of an illiterate man, don’t you?

          After your first line, all your arguments are discarded.

          1. Anon y. Mouse*

            Nope, I’m pretty sure ‘bullshit’ is the most appropriate word here. If you’re so offended by it that you can’t even consider the rest of my statement, the internet might not be the place for you.

            Sorry, AaM, I’ll stop feeding the troll now.

              1. Anonymous*

                I have seen Anon y. Mouse on here before, and s/he contributes to the discussion rather than detracts.

                And I agree. That whole “in your face” argument for the marketing industry is far-fetched. You are confused. This is workplace bullying at its finest, not a boss teaching his employee to be more assertive. A boss doesn’t do that by picking on someone’s weight, let alone even mentioning it.

                And sometimes, profanity gets straight to the point. I concur on the BS comment.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I consider myself pretty articulate and I love profanity. Different people have different comfort levels with it. (For more on this, search for “profanity” in the search box to the right and you’ll find a whole post on it!)

              1. Anonymous*

                It’s working on Mozilla Firefox but not on Internet Explorer. I even cleared my browser cache in case it was holding onto an old webpage.

  21. Ashley*

    During my job hunt I’ve been utterly shocked how concerned people are with weight. It baffles me. I mean my waist size has absolutely nothing to do with my work ethic and ability to get the job done.

  22. Seattle Writer Girl*

    Good grief! I thought it was bad that my male co-workers always seemed to like to comment on how much I was eating at the office (“Wow, Seattle Writer Girl. That’s a lot of M&Ms! You must be hungry!”)–nevermind that I was a size 4 and what I eat and how much I eat has no personal impact on them–but this has got to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of!

    1. Anonymous*

      That reminds me of what my father does whenever he eats out.

      If he ever actually eats everything on his plate and the waiter/waitress comments “Wow, I guess you really liked it!” He always responds with “Yeah, I guess I’m a huge pig!”

      I love the uncomfortable silence that always follows.

      1. Anonymous*

        A restaurant I went to as a kid used to give out “Clean Plate Club” buttons, but I think they were just for the kids. I had a ton!…and I was the skinny kid (the one who could eat anything and not pack on the pounds).

  23. Jaime*

    Top to Bottom this is controlling, bullying behaviour. You need to get another job as soon as you can. As his employee, it is unlikely that anything you do will change his behaviour. You can certainly change your responses for your own satisfaction and sense of pride, but please do not delude yourself into thinking that he will change. I imagine his demand that you fire your intern over her weight is just one in a long line of demands he’s made to see if you’ll do it. So, knowing him as you do, what do you think would have happened if you’d refused? Almost certainly he would have hounded you and if you still hadn’t given in, he would have fired her himself (or maybe made someone else as another exercise of his power over you all) and possibly you as well.

    At this point, the only thing you can do is to walk the tight rope between self-respect and continued employment. Seriously, I don’t think I can exaggerate how much toxic I think he and his company environment must be. He won’t respect anyone that he doesn’t perceive to be more powerful than him and employers (ie, subordinates) will not generally fit that criteria. And yet, depending on how narcissistic he is, he’s also more likely to view people more powerful than him as a threat. Toxic. Please do your best to remove yourself from this situation.

  24. Jamie*

    Some excellent comments about how to deal with this, so I have nothing practical to add…I just wonder why people do this?

    As someone who as issues with food, if there is food offered I usually don’t partake. My way of doing this is just not eating, and if pressed I will smile and say “no thanks, I’m good.” I don’t talk about it, I don’t make it their problem. There is a lot I don’t/won’t eat – but I have never asked them to accommodate me or change anything. I’m a grown up and I can figure out how to keep from starving to death.

    Since I make zero demands in this area I fail to see why I should be expected to explain whether I’m picky, have food allergies, dieting, or following a nutritional plan. I do bridle at how invasive people can be about food.

    I’m at the point in my life that it just irritates me, and I blow it off. But there was a time that this kind of scrutiny did trigger things for me in a bad way. That’s totally my problem, and not the business of co-workers…but given the prevalence of eating disorders in our society and how long issues and triggers remain even after one is “recovered” it just makes comments like this so stupid with no upside.

    OP – your boss is jerk.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m with you. I consider it a flaw I own to be picky, and some people hate me for it. If they at least tolerate me for that, then they aren’t worth it – and that goes for family, friends, and my boss.

  25. Ryan*

    I like “Wow” but I think if this is in response to comments that have been ongoing the ship has sailed on acting surprised. It’s better just to be up front and say that it’s inappropriate and that it has really been bothering you. (both true)

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