my manager refers to me as her “supermodel”

A reader writes:

I am the most junior employee at a small non-for-profit. My supervisor is a 66-year-old woman, who is very sweet but a little overbearing.

We work very closely with another organization, who provide services similar to the ones we do, and the head of that organization is a very beautiful, tall 28-year-old woman. (She is also extremely professional, competent, overqualified, and just an overall very kind person, but that is beside the point.) Our two organizations even work out of the same office building.

I assume this must have already been a running joke between the two of them before I started here, but my supervisor would say that the other organization had their “own personal supermodel” working for them. Now that I’ve started working here, I’ve heard her say multiple times that “now we have our own supermodel too.” I don’t mean to come across as vain or ungrateful for the compliment, but when she refers to me this way, especially in front of county legislators, the president of the company, and other various V.I.P.s, it makes me feel as if my actual work is unimportant as compared to my looks. Honestly, I feel like I’m becoming that stereotypical 50s secretary, just there to make the office pretty.

I don’t want to offend her by saying something, but I worry that potential connections are being lost when I’m introduced as “office supermodel” instead of “office manager.”

Eeewww — yes, of course you feel that way. It doesn’t matter how complimentary she intends it to be; having your looks discussed in a professional setting is demeaning and gross. And by doing this, she’s inviting other people to think about and possibly comment on your appearance too.

You absolutely should say something to her. I’d say this: “Jane, I know this is a joke between you and (other organization), but I’d really appreciate if it you didn’t refer to me as a supermodel. I want to be known for my professional achievements and competence, and I really don’t want the people we work with thinking about what I look like; I want them thinking about my work.”

Hopefully, she’ll apologize and say that she’ll stop doing it. But if she becomes defensive or tells you that it’s just a joke, you should say, “I know it’s a joke. But it makes me uncomfortable, so I’d like you stop. Thank you.”

If you’d like, you can add in, “I know it can be hard for young women to be taken seriously, and I don’t want anything that adds to that problem.” (This is optional, but it’s possible that spelling this out could help her understand where you’re coming from.)

{ 232 comments… read them below }

  1. nona

    Alison’s advice is great.

    Think about how you would react if a man did this. A woman saying this type of thing doesn’t make it better.

    1. Adam

      Just what I was thinking. This whole situation is weird but the fact that it’s an older woman instead of a man saying this is still inappropriate, but the gender difference could cushion the immediate reaction into confusing since it’s not how one typically expects this sort of thing to go.

      And even though it is a woman making the statement, she’s likely still saying it in front of men who may now be put in awkward position through no fault of their own.

      1. littlemoose

        That’s a really good point – that the comments are likely making clients/third parties uncomfortable as well, and they may be less likely to speak up because it’s not their workplace or the comments aren’t about them.

      2. HR Generalist

        I was thinking the other way around – if the ‘supermodel’ was a young man. It would probably be very uncomfortable (I find this uncomfortable too!).

        I understand the OP though – I’m in the same boat with an older female manager who acts a lot like a mom to me on some days. It’s not intentional, but sometimes she needs to be straightened out in that regard. Wonderful manager but I think it’s an instinctual reaction, especially because she has daughters my age. Once, in front of all the managers, I told her I was running for a coffee before the meeting started and she said, “Do you need any money?” – laughter ensued.

        Anyway, I wanted to tell a story about a local realtor office who hired a young, attractive man into a junior role and most of the leadership/management was older women. He stayed back and they attended a networking event with me – they were joking about how they were going to change the dress code for junior employees to Chippendale uniforms and leave things like handcuffs/whips on his desk as a joke. I was absolutely mortified. I guess we’ll see more of that sort of harassment/discomfort with women’s lib – I reminded them (as an HR rep) that they needed to imagine if the roles were reversed and they quickly quieted down.

        1. some1

          “I guess we’ll see more of that sort of harassment/discomfort with women’s lib”

          Um, actually, most women just want equal pay and to be treated fairly. I am not a feminist because I feel left out of sexually harassing guys at work.

          1. Jaydee

            I don’t think that’s meant as a stab at feminism and “women’s lib” – just that if men and women are truly equal and treated as such, that there will be more women in managerial positions with male subordinates and that some of those women will feel comfortable saying things that would be harassing/sexist to their employees.

            1. some1

              I guess I assumed it was meant derisively is because I haven’t heard anyone calling it “Women’s Lib” since the 80’s. Similar to the way people seem to only use the term “PC” when they’re annoyed that they are expected to treat everyone with respect.

              Certainly women in supervisory roles should never be objectifying their employees, but I think finishing that story with an outdated term like that makes it sound like some sort of cautionary tale for men who report to women.

              1. Sunshine

                I had the same reaction. The way it was phrased came across a little like “Well, this is what happens when you let those darn females be managers.”

                1. Jazzy Red

                  Yeah. It was meant to be insulting, otherwise the commenter wouldn’t have said that at all. It was common to hear things like that back in the 80’s when so many men wanted all women out of the workforce and back in the house, barefoot and pregnant.

                  Sad that 30 years later, there are still people who think like that.

              2. Mabel


                …people seem to only use the term “PC” when they’re annoyed that they are expected to treat everyone with respect.

                I first read this description of PC in AAM comments, & I really like it.

          2. MK

            Men don’t behave badly because they are men, they behave badly because they can. By which I mean that sexism and many other inappropriate male behaviors are common because men for centuries have been in a position of power to get away with them. As women gain more equality, they will be equal opportunity jerks too.

            1. Aisling

              As women gain more equality, they will be equal opportunity jerks too.

              Exactly. Unfortunately.

        2. Adam

          Your story really highlights how, whether woman or man, people are still people and can easily cross boundaries without even thinking about it. I’m glad you pointed out how that kind of talk was not ok and they seemed to get it.

          1. fposte

            I think women can find it hard to remember that this can apply to them, and that they can be in a position of power that makes this more problematic than they realize. I’m speaking for myself here, too.

            1. Adam

              True. Women as a group have been struggling for a long time to rise up to station that is more socially and economically equitable to men, but if you aren’t mindful there is a big picture that you can lose track of in that once you gain power you do need to use it responsibly.

              *Swings away on a web.*

            2. themmases

              I agree. A lot of times when I’ve looked back on things I said or did that I’m not proud of (especially as a teenager, but occasionally still now), I realize that in the moment I was thinking this is *obviously* harmless and funny because it’s incongrous because it’s coming from me. Articulating that has really helped cut down on it, though, because it sounds ridiculous once you spell it out.

              1. nona

                I’ve been on both sides of this, too, as a teenager. It wasn’t about harassment so much as bullying. Seeing myself as a victim let me be less considerate about what I said.

            3. Anx

              I’ve had similar revelations. I don’t hold a lot of power, but sometimes I forget that just because I’m often dismissed in a conversation as inconsequential because of my gender, doesn’t mean I’m nearly always.

        3. KT

          Wait what? We’ll see more harassment because of “women’s lib”?

          You realize feminism encourages equality, right, not that women should have the ability to demean men?

        4. the_scientist

          I was with you right up until your “women’s lib” comment. Your point is a good one, but “women’s lib”??? Seriously? Wanting equal pay for equal work does not necessarily equal “harassing male coworkers”.

        5. Carrington Barr

          “I guess we’ll see more of that sort of harassment/discomfort with women’s lib.”

          1974 called. It wants its attitude back.

  2. NickelandDime

    I can see this coming across badly to others in the organization too. I can see something like this fanning the flames of jealousy, or starting up talk of favoritism.

    Employees want managers to tout their work skills and abilities, not appearance or clothing!

    1. TotesMaGoats

      Even though the worry about how outside people will perceive this is completely valid and a huge issue. This would be my personal worry as well. I can see how in an office being referred to as the office supermodel could engender some major favoritism/gossip/nastiness. Making work a not great place to be.

      1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

        It might also create a culture where people think if they’re ugly, they’ll never have what it takes to succeed there.

    2. Sunflower

      Yup! I’ve seen this happen before(however, this was a super toxic work environment where there were much bigger issues) and it really sucks to be the person everyone hates even though you did nothing but be nice to them

    3. Jazzy Red

      Exactly! Most people I know would rather be known as a superstar at their jobs.

    4. OP

      This actually came up after I e-mailed my question in. We work with senior citizens, and we’re planning a spring party for them. An assistant from the other end of the building and I were talking about what were going to wear and apparently after I left the room she made some comment along the lines of “It must be hard to have to compete with her.” to the other girl. I couldn’t believe it! I get along wonderfully with the other ladies in the office but my boss seems determined to put a stop to that.

  3. Not a supermodel

    Be thankful you’ll get the extra “points” for being pretty. You’ll go much farther!

      1. Not a supermodel

        The problem is, it’s proven time and time again that it is true. There are millions of articles out there with statistics clearly showing it is true. Unhelpful? for sure. Incorrect? Sadly not.

        1. nona

          We have no idea what OP looks like. We only know what her manager is saying. Inappropriate comments from a manager aren’t a privilege.

        2. Sarah Nicole

          But if we stop these situations by using Alison’s advice and saying that it makes us uncomfortable, over time the “pretty people” will not be getting “points” at work just for being attractive. Also just because people may silently judge others based on appearance, there is still no excuse for it to be said aloud and create an uncomfortable work environment for others.

          It’s like saying women who are catcalled should just “accept the compliment” and stop complaining. That’s ridiculous and even though it may be a common response, that doesn’t make it okay. We shouldn’t just be alright with things like this – changing them will be better for everyone, men AND women.

          1. Allison

            “It’s a compliment” may have gone out the window; I think the current defenses of street harassment are in the vein of “Aw come on, he was just saying ‘hello,’ why can’t you say ‘hi’ back?” or “he just wanted to have a nice conversation and get to know you, what’s wrong with that?” or “how am I supposed to meet women if I’m never allowed to talk to them??”

            Or the worst, “that’s how my grandparents met, I know it’s awkward to approach a stranger on the street but sometimes great things come of it, why not take a risk every now and then?”

            1. Sarah Nicole

              Lol I’d agree, but there is seriously a guy down in the next thread or two basically saying, “Just accept the compliment.” I think a lot of people still say this to women who complain about being catcalled or constantly talked to about their appearance at work.

        3. Judy

          Actually, I’m pretty sure there are millions of articles and studies to say it’s not true.

          For males, studies show perceived work competency is directly related to how they match the definition of handsome.

          For females, the “middle”, not the high end, of looks generate the perceptions of high work competency.

          1. Zillah

            Yep. Wasn’t there an article either on here or on Evil HR Lady in the last couple months that talked about evidence that HR people routinely (presumably subconsciously) screen the most conventionally attractive women out?

            As Ani DiFranco said:

            “God help you if you are an ugly girl
            Course too pretty is also your doom
            ‘Cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
            For the prettiest girl in the room.”

            If you’re a woman, you really just can’t win.

        4. BRR

          What about when people discount attractive people? When people think others are all beauty and no brains (pardon the expression). They have to work extra hard.

          1. PNW Reader

            Going slightly anon here. We are in the process of hiring an internal candidate to our department. When I first met this woman in a previous role, I was immediately stunned by how beautiful she is. She is exceptionally lovely, in a way that makes people just want to stare. My inclination was to dislike her and I thought of her as being an empty head. That was 100% predjudice on my part; as I got to know her, I realized that she is also a really smart, practical person who is very, very nice.

            Being attractive is seen as being a very good thing. But people can also tend to dismiss those who are extremely attractive, just as I initially dismissed this woman just because she was so beautiful.

        5. Magda

          Actually, studies have found that if women are perceived as “too” attractive, they are taken less seriously in the workplace. The same does not hold true for male attractiveness.

          1. some1

            Yeah, ask that dental hygienist in Iowa.

            Attractive women are assumed to have received their job because they are good looking. And don’t forget the people that think beautiful women don’t need to work because surely they can find a man to support them.

        6. Lizzy

          These studies also indicate that tall, handsome men are the ones who benefit the most; being attractive might help women with some initial advantages, but it really has no long-term effect on their careers. And as others mentioned above me, studies have also shown that attractive women have to fight off stereotypes of being perceived as less competent.

          So how about helping the OP with her scenario instead of being dismissive just because of what some research (which isn’t without bias) has claimed?

              1. Lizzy

                I hit submit too soon. To add on: I have seen plenty of non-supermodel types in sales, but sales is only position; there are plenty of other positions where attractive individuals, especially women, have to fight to be seen as competent. Clearly the OP is having this issue and it really dismisses her case to keep reiterating “Oh, but hot people have it so easy.” There is no denying that there are plenty of instances where being attractive has it advantages; this isn’t one of them and bringing up studies or examples where alleged hot people have it easy isn’t helping.

                1. Joey

                  I don’t think anyone is arguing that hot people have it easy. But they sure do get a lot more opportunities than the non hot.

            1. MK

              Ihave, a great many, actually. Looks certainly help in getting people to listen to your, so it’s a factor, but making a sale is more personality-based. Yes, people may instictivelly respond better to good-looking people, but most of them have enough sense that thye don’t part with money just to enjoy the view.

              1. Myrin

                Yeah, my neighbour is one of the most unattractive men I’ve ever come across and he’s in sales. That being said, he also has a very unattractive personality so I’m not really sure how he got there (or rather, who would ever find him charming or witty or was entranced by his words) but whatever.

                1. MK

                  I don’t think it’s about having an attractive personality, but a persuasive one. The salesperson doesn’t need to charm you, just convince you they have what you want. Alternatively, mayne your neighbour can turn the charn on and off; or is so fed up being nice to people as part of his job that he takes it out on his personal life.

              2. Ann

                Same here. My last company had a large sales force, and I don’t think there were more than a handful of people (male and female) who would be considered better than average-looking. Their personality and sales skills were way more important.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Yeah, I think it’s actually only a small handful of sales fields where looks are such a big thing — medical sales are one of them.

                2. kt (lowercase)

                  I’m curious why medical sales? That’s not one I would have thought of if I tried to guess.

                3. MK

                  The focus on looks to medical sales is insane and I cannot fathom why. I could understand it in cosmetics, fashion, etc, but medicine?

                4. Lizzy

                  My aunt use to do it and now works in upper management in a hospital. She said the reasoning for hiring attractive women (and now a growing number of men) as pharmaceutical and medical reps is because doctors are constantly busy and tend to be extremely picky with how they manage their time in between patients. A lot of pharma companies found that pretty faces were more likely to be given the time of the day. This was especially true when my aunt was doing this in the 70’s and the field of medicine was overwhelming male (still is but my aunt says she is seeing more and more female doctors nowadays). That being said, being good looking wasn’t enough and looks alone didn’t guarantee a sale; you had to smart, engaging and know the product like the back of your hand.

                5. Joey

                  Really all med sales. Personally I think it’s because most doctors are men and they’re treated like gods. Meaning if they want something purchased it will usually get purchased.and anecdotally I would fathom the divorce rate for people in healthcare is particularly high given their long work hours/shifts.

                6. Joey

                  And frankly, from what I’ve seen male doctors have the run of the place meaning few people push back on them if they act um inappropriately and they have absolutely no problem finding love interests. Many single docs I’ve met date young very pretty women regardless of their age/looks. i wish I could say this was isolated, but everyone of my wife’s colleagues I’ve met from all over the country tell the same stories.

            2. Dasha

              I’ve seen/worked with/supported/used a lot of different sales people throughout my career. I’ve seen young, attractive, fat, old, male, female, ugly, hot, tall, short etc and the hottest ones weren’t always the best or highest earning.

              Personally, when I’m looking for a vendor I’m looking for someone responsive, helpful and professional. I could care less what they look like.

            3. Holly Olly Oxen Free

              I work for a global software company with very highly paid sales people. Believe me, they are NOT a bunch of beauties, not even close. A good employer will hire sales people that are good at their jobs because they know that ultimately customers want superior products not superior looking sales people.

        7. Allison

          What if I told you that most attractive people want to be valued for their skills and intellect, and get ahead based on merit rather than their appearance.

          I’m somewhat attractive, and I dress nicely for work, but if people were constantly making comments about my appearance – yes, even positive ones – to the point where I felt like they valued me for my looks rather than my aptitude for my job, I’d be pissed.

          1. Joey

            Eh, many good looking people I know are perfectly content having a well paying job that they got in part because of their looks.

            1. bearing

              How many good-looking people do you know who have well-paying jobs that they got in part because of their looks?

              I’m just curious. Can you point to specific people that you actually know? Because it sure sounds like you are saying that there is a certain number of your acquaintances that you are thinking about.

              Or is this just a throwaway “many people” sort of comment?

              1. Joey

                ive hired marketing, sales and my wife has been in sales for a long time. Many many people I know or have interviewed absolutely know they’re good looking and have absolutely no hesitation about using it to their advantage. Hell I once worked with someone who made it a point to list her model career on her résume simply because she knew many people would want to interview her. And it was absolutely true. She got interviews pretty easy and didn’t have that impressive of a resume.and many women I know in high paying sales have gotten fake boobs and do tons of looks maintenance because they absolutely know looks are a big part of the job. And even guys I know in sales are looks obsessed.

                1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

                  Getting interviews is not the same as getting jobs. I find that to be a total waste of time and not a benefit of being attractive.

                  I believe you that some sales people are like this, but I’m not sure what the motivation is. An employer that hires based on looks tells me several things. 1) They don’t hire based on your ability to do a job, 2) my job security is limited because if I gain weight or get older I won’t be as valued, 3) they arent interested in providing the customers with truly superior products, which is a bad business model. All of which means I don’t want to work for them.

                  I’m also curious to know what kind of sales? If its fashion or beauty products I can see that happening more. But I feel like this kind of stereotype happens way more in movies than in real life. Are people really buying sub-par products because the person selling them is hot? Maybe some, but I don’t think most. I think it’s more likely that its a good product that could have been sold just as well by an ugly person. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who bought anything just because the woman selling it had big boobs. They might spend more time chatting, but I don’t think they spend more time actually buying.

                2. Kelly L.

                  Well, if you have an actual model career, then that is a job and it does belong on your resume. It’s not just showing up and looking pretty, and it’s not the same as being joked about as a model when that’s not your job.

                3. Joey

                  It’s not that these people are getting by on looks alone. It’s that they tend to get hired and do well as much for their looks as their ability. In other words they tend to get hired more often than than similarly qualified “ugly” candidates. And many of the ones I’ve seen/know tend to use their looks as another tool in their toolbox to sell/persuade.

                4. Joey


                  It was some modeling she did that was short, a while back, and not at all relevant to the job she was looking for. It was clearly on their to show people she was model worthy.

                5. Holly Olly Oxen Free

                  Joey, I see what you are saying and I believe that it happens on some level. I’ve certainly heard of it happening. However, in real life, I have never actually known anyone who was really achieving anything extra because of their looks, or not achieving because they are ugly. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in education and software so my experience is that smarts are valued above all.

                  Despite the fact that I think most people are pretty average looking and rarely do you come across people who are stunning, I still believe that the successes I’ve seen have been pretty evenly divided among the good looking and not so good looking. Most good looking people I know would be offended if someone implied that their success had anything to do with their looks. If anything they’ve had to work harder to prove to people that they deserved to be where they are.

              2. MB

                Sorry…I know that my response to this is two years late and that the question was directed at Joey, but I’d like to reply.

                There ARE indeed people with well-paying jobs that they got in part because of their looks, my husband being one of them. Being a tall, well-built white male with dark hair, blue eyes, a great smile, confidence and charisma goes a VERY long way to opening doors in this society.
                And I am a minority woman who observes the differences in how people are treated based on looks, race, etc…a person responsible for hiring might not state their reasons for accepting or rejecting a candidate/employee, but sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes they will reject people without even seeing them, just because the candidate has an “ethnic” name (which smacks of racism because who is to say that Lauren will do a better job than Latoya?) But it all kind of goes hand in hand. Racism, sexism, classism, lookism.

                I also know somebody who often brags about being given job opportunities because she is “beautiful”. This person is average at best, but she has very large breasts and the ability to charm people around her, so she never has a problem finding work. She isn’t what I would call a beauty, but she does seem to have a magnetic quality that influences people to see her as an asset in many situations, job-related and otherwise.
                She feels that she is beautiful and subconsciously her attitude causes others to perceive her that way also, which then gives her a lot of leverage into better jobs/connections.

                Of course, no one should state that so-called “beautiful” people never have to work hard because that is unfair and untrue, but we shouldn’t deny that there are far more privileges than there are disadvantages.

        8. LD

          Actually, the research shows that for extremely “pretty” people, there can be a jealousy factor that kicks in to negate the potential positive effect of being more attractive than the average. See research that’s been reported on NPR by Shankar Vedantam, most recently on men being at a disadvantage in hiring if they are considered too good-looking. It’s a double-edged sword.

        9. kt (lowercase)

          Regardless of whether it’s true (apparently debatable), “it’s unhelpful” is an excellent reason to keep your mouth shut.

      2. Steven

        I think we’re deluding ourselves if we think attractive people don’t have some sort of leg up. Maybe it’s not fair, but I think it’s the reality.

        1. nona

          OP’s question is not about that. We don’t know what OP looks like or whether she benefits from it.

          We only know that OP’s manager has made comments on her appearance. That’s obviously inappropriate and needs to stop.

        2. Sarah Nicole

          But that still doesn’t make it an appropriate conversation for a work environment. The OP has the right to feel uncomfortable about this. If someone gives her a leg up because they think she’s pretty, there’s nothing she can do about that if she doesn’t know that’s how they are judging her. BUT she can certainly stop it from being a conversational topic.

        3. MsM

          Attractive isn’t the same as decorative. I think the LW’s absolutely entitled to be concerned whether she’s being seen as the latter.

          1. OP

            Thank you,you found the perfect words to describe how I’m feeling. I’m certainly not offended by compliments, but when it becomes an everyday thing I do start to feel as though I serve the same purpose as the potted plant in her window.

        4. Zillah

          What everyone else said – and a lot of research actually indicates that while good-looking people do tend to have an advantage in the workplace, very good-looking people don’t necessarily get that same advantage – there’s a jealousy and perceived competence factor that can hurt them as well as help them.

          People absolutely do respond well to pretty – but not too pretty.

          It’s irrelevant for the purposes of this letter, anyway, though. The OP has every right to not be okay with this.

    1. Career Counselorette

      The people who say things like this are also invariably the same ones to ask why she didn’t fight him or speak up when sexual harassment or assault happens, incidentally.

    2. YandO

      I don’t understand how being singled out for your looks instead of accomplishments/job is getting “points”?

    3. Empress Zhark

      Not cool. I used to be of a similar mindset – as someone not particularly pretty I envied friends who would get catcalled in the street, hit on in bars and even at work, seemed to get favourable treatment because they were attractive. But then it did happen to me – specifically being catcalled in the street – and I realised that it is not something to be envious of at all and is in fact horrible.

      At work, being thought of as pretty can mean coworkers aren’t thinking of your smarts or your skills. You’re labelled as the pretty one, or the supermodel like the OP.. Not the excel expert, or the one who gets sh*t done. That’s not how you advance in your career.

      1. YandO

        who wants to put on their resume/cover letter “Known as the supermodel of the office”?

        1. Sarah Nicole

          Oh that’s a great point! Anything you wouldn’t want to be recognized for on your resume or tell a prospective employer probably shouldn’t be an asset in your current job. I can just see it now:

          Interviewer: “Tell me about something you were recognized for in your last job, maybe something that’s not on your resume, but that everyone knew you were great at.”

          Me: “Ummm…well I was known as the office supermodel…”

          Interviewer: “Yeah, that’s not what I’m looking for here….”

          1. Joey

            More likely they say they have an easy time building relationships with clients and selling or persuading.

    4. Sunflower

      Telling OP to just shut up and let something incredibly inappropriate and uncomfortable continue and she should just thank her lucky stars isn’t conducive advice. In fact, it’s terrible advice since it will only reinforce the behavior and take 1000000 steps back for all people who have been fighting to be judged on their work, not looks. I believe every person faces their own roadblocks and insecurities due to the way they look and just because people’s problems are different, doesn’t make them not real. Even supermodels have insecurities and one of the basic things all humans ask is to not be judged based on the way they look.

    5. RGB

      I don’t think this is really very true. I guess it depends on your definition of “pretty” or attractive. But it makes me a bit sad that you feel that way.

    6. Anx

      It doesn’t have to damage her reputation or professional image for it to bother her.

      This is why it would bother me. I’m not a supermodel, but I’m fairly average looking and sometimes I may be the rare young woman in a room and be ‘the pretty one’ in that scenario. I wouldn’t want to milk it, though, because it bothers me that women’s worth is tied to the appearance at all.

      It’s very similar to the reason why I wouldn’t want a group of men ‘rating’ my appearance on a scale of 1-10. It’s not just because I’m embarrassed to score low, or would worry about being eye candy if I managed a decent score. It’s that the entire concept that my appearance is there to be evaluated. It’s forcing participation in a competition I want no part of.

  4. YandO

    Why do people, in my experience mostly older people, think it is ok to make inappropriate comments then call them jokes and you a sensitive type because you don’t find them funny? I don’t find jokes about you firing me funny or you calling me names or you saying “i feel sorry for you boyfriend (meaning because he’s got a girlfriend like me)”. Call me sensitive if you want. Not funny.

    My boss was crossing all lines and boundaries until I had to tell him he needs to stop. Our relationship suffered tremendously, but at least I am not a subject to the “jokes”. My co-worker has not told him to stop, so he still jokes around by calling her a “slacker” and a “part-timer”. She is neither and it makes my blood simmer whenever I hear him say that. I say nothing, cause not my business, but….argh

        1. Merry and Bright

          Sympathy here. Worked in a highly toxic office a while back and it hurts.

    1. some1

      I notice this especially if a woman is thin – older coworkers are more likely to be the ones who can’t go a day without saying “OMG you’re so tiny!”.

      Seriously, stop it. Women don’t want comments on their figures at work, even if you mean it as a compliment.

      1. bridget

        My first year out of law school, I had a very sweet secretary who was old enough to be my grandmother. She would often look at me and sigh longingly, saying that I was so pretty and thin and young and she used to look like that. It was a compliment, but it was also suuuuuper awkward. I was often tempted to respond with something like “well, I can’t help that I’m 25, but try to take solace in the fact that time marches steadily forward and I will one day receive my comeuppance, probably much sooner than I’d like.”

        1. bridget

          For context, I am young but pretty regular-looking, and she had not been disproportionately ravaged by the aging process. She was actually in way better shape than I was (regular triathlons, stuff like that) and looked great. She was just 65, and I wasn’t.

        2. I'm a Little Teapot

          I think this sort of thing often an expression of hostility and envy for something you can’t control (like being young and pretty) and that is part of what makes it awkward (and part of what makes it definitely not OK).

      2. KJR

        This x1000. I’ve actually had to tell a male co-worker who, every time he saw me, would me some asinine comment about my facial expression, clothing, hair, whatever he happened to notice. I absolutely hated it because I felt singled out (he usually did it in front of people), and because it held no bearing on what kind of worker/employee I was. I finally told him to knock it off. He’s gotten better, but needs occasional reminders. “Stop looking at me!” is not something one should ever have to utter at work. And they weren’t all complimentary either, I might add! Not that it would have been any better if they had been.

        1. Career Counselorette

          Oh my God- we had a group of board members visit our site a while ago, and I was talking to them about the workshop we’d just done. I have very long red-blonde ombre’d hair, and that day I happened to be wearing a purple sweater dress with knee-high boots. I went through my whole spiel about our clients, the workshop goals, etc. and when I was done this older man exclaimed, “Can I just say that I LOVE the DRESS, with the HAIR, and the BOOTS, and just EVERYTHING about what you’re doing right now?” In the couple of seconds while I stammered for words, one of his older female colleagues retorted, with a totally deadpan facial expression, “I liked what you said.” Equally deadpan, I said, “THANK YOU.”

          1. Margali

            Kudos to the female colleague for her comment and to you for your response. Was male colleague abashed at all?

      3. ali

        that is annoying. again, would it be ok if the situation were reversed? “OMG, you’re so large!”. Definitely not ok,

        and other women are usually the worst offenders.

        1. KT

          YES. I’m heavy, but it still makes me cringe when I hear what people say to thin women. “OMG, you’re so tiny, I want you to go eat a sandwich” is not a compliment, it’s mean.

        2. RGB

          I think people in general can just be thoughtless – I am particularly curvaceous, (and plus size) and I would never comment on someones body, ever, not even my friends – and the dumb things that come out of people’s mouths at work blow my mind.

          There is a gentleman who sits next to me who likes to buy his wife clothes on occasion and describes in detail why it’s hard to shop for her body type, but at least she isn’t heavy on the bottom, only heavy on the top you know?
          I also have two young women on my team who like to bemoan that they’re going to get fat at every morning tea or shared lunch – and our male VP gets in on the act “Oh girls dont eat too many cakes, it goes straight to your thighs”.

          People are just dumb sometimes. Not just women, not just men.

      4. Dana

        I worked with my mom when I was younger. It’s gotta be 90% genes because she was over 50 and I was in my late teens and we could wear the same small-sized clothes. I guess we have fast metabolisms or whatever. So we’d have chips and dip out for instance, eating as we please, and almost everybody commented at some point while I worked there “How can you be so tiny?” “You’re so lucky you can eat all those chips and not gain a pound!” “I’m going to have just ONE chip, because I don’t have a body like Dana!” “Look at you two, you’re so skinny!” “I wish I looked like you!” I understood that they meant well (I hope) but it’s so inappropriate at work, especially when you start quizzing me on whether my dad was thin before he died or if my mom’s mom was thin when she was younger BECAUSE OHMYGOSH HOW CAN TWO PEOPLE BE SO SKINNY.

      5. Elizabeth West

        I’m not and have never been tiny (even when thinner, I’m tall), but I would be so tempted to say, “No, I’m not; you’re just huge!” >:P

      6. JayemGriffin

        I hate when people say this to me. Yes, I am thin, because my thyroid is overactive! I can’t sleep for more than three hours a night without medicine. I am literally always too warm. It’s probably a major contributor to my anxiety disorder and my heart problems. But yeah, I lose weight easily (even when I should really be gaining it.) Wanna trade?

        Really, this is a bad question. There are so many reasons for someone to be thin/small, and a lot of them are various unpleasant illnesses.

    2. wanderlust

      I recently had an older constituent (not a coworker) look at me on his way out of an event, turn to his wife and say, “Why can’t you be pretty like that?”

      What an awkward thing to say on so many levels…. offensive to me, offensive to her. Why in the world would you ever think that was appropriate? He came of age in a time when sexism was more acceptable… but it’s time to get with the program, dude.

      1. some1

        Ugh, about 10-11 years ago I got in the elevator at work and there was a guy on one side and a woman on the other. I stood in the middle. I guess they were together because the woman said, “Do you like it?” in an annoyed way. The guy asked, “[do I like] What?” and she said, “Her figure.” I’ve never run off an elevator so fast in my life.

        1. KT

          To me it sounds like they didn’t know each other. I’ve said that to guys before I didn’t know. If they’re being gross and eye-balling a woman shamelessly, I’ll call them on it to embarrass them.

          I’m a jerk :)

          1. KT

            I’m not trying to embarrass the woman, I’m trying to call out the guy for being a jerk sleazeball. A woman should know when a guy is acting liking that, so she can be on guard and get the heck out of there.

            1. some1

              You might not be *trying* to embarrass her, but when it happened to me, I was. I wasn’t doing anything except riding an elevator, I didn’t need to be informed that a strange woman wanted to know if a strange guy liked my figure.

              1. KT

                Fair point. If it’s me, I like to know (and have appreciated when women have called out men doing it to me) so I can give that guy a piece of my mind. But to your point, not all women want to know or know how to react.

                1. some1

                  Well if she doesn’t know if you are trying to help her or if you’re a jealous girlfriend, I don’t think she can be blamed for not wanting to be a party to the discussion.

      2. Career Counselorette

        I can’t even think of what I would do in this situation except channel my inner Louise Belcher and just rush him screaming.

    3. MK

      My first supervisor in my current field, on learning that I hadn’t yet turned 30 and holding a job that common perception assumes is done by greybeards, said in a kind, jokey manner “So you are our organization’s kindergartner?”. He said it once, in private, and we both laughed. It was never, ever repeated, much less in the presence of people who had to respect me as a professional. Now, that was a joke.

      Even an inoffensive, funny remark will lose it appeal if it’s repeated all the time.

    4. Zillah

      IMO, the best way to respond to “you’re too sensitive” is “maybe, but I still want you to stop.” It’s worked wonders for me to sidestep arguing about whether I’m too sensitive and keep delivering the same message.

    5. Anx

      I don’t mind the company of people who like to challenge other people.

      I am endlessly turned off by people who take joy in making other people uncomfortable.

  5. Cube Diva

    “I know it’s a joke. But it makes me uncomfortable, so I’d like you stop. Thank you.”

    This is a fantastic line I’m going to use for all sorts of sexism-related “jokes.” It’s another way of asking them to stop without getting into whether a joke is funny or not. Seriously, golden. :)

    1. BRR

      This is such a great line for when it’s somebody that you like.

      I also enjoy “wow” and “I don’t get it, can you please explain it to me?”

      1. Cube Diva

        “I don’t get it, please explain” is my absolute favorite, because of the uncomfortable squirming that happens next.

      2. RGB

        These are also my favourites!
        Wow and then silence with eye contact works a treat.
        And please explain this to me, I don’t get it is reserved for overtly racist and sexist comments I hear at work, because I am basically a horrible person and enjoy making someone tell me very very clearly how they are being racist and/or sexist and watching the thought process while they realise they’re going to have to verbalise it.

    2. Chocolate lover

      A few weeks ago, one of the commenters said they used something like this to shut down inappropriate comments “I hope you’re not saying that to me because you think I agree with you.” I thought that was great, too, I’m saving both of these suggestions.

      1. fposte

        Oh, I thought that line was so brilliant. I need to keep it on hand somewhere so I remember it when it becomes relevant.

        1. BRR

          I’m waiting to bust that out. We have a nice range of responses depending on who you are talking to (chain of command and if you like them). This should all go in Alison’s unplanned office etiquette book.

          1. HHB!

            or it can go on the unplanned Zazzle store merchandise. “I hope you’re not saying that to me because you think I agree with you.” can go on the TShirt and “Holy Hanakkuh Balls” can go on the coffee mug.

        2. Cath in Canada

          Me too! I also really liked someone’s suggestion of “I want you to stop doing [thing]. Are you able to do that?”

          Maybe we need a “greatest scripts” collection page on this site!

  6. Dasha

    OP, I don’t really have much to add but personally, I think your feelings are valid and it is totally inappropriate. Although I think it’s an absolute that you talk to your boss, I think she might not realize how damaging (and weird?) these comments are. Again, please do talk to her (these weird comments should stop), but don’t let this sour your relationship with her if everything else is good is what I’m getting at.

  7. RGB

    OP I feel for you, I went straight into a corporate environment at 21 and at 30 people still assume I am in my early to mid 20s and the weirdo comments I get that are appearance based sadly persist. Luckily/unluckily I am very direct so usually I just scoff at anyone who says anything about my appearance or ignore it. Funnily enough I think this is a very North American thing, I have never had so many comments about my appearance working in the UK/Australia/New Zealand. And my foreign-ness allows me to probably get away with borderline rude responses. Not a suggestion for everyone :)

    I think Allison’s advice is great – my observation from working alongside attractive young women in a corporate environment is that comments like this will continue to follow you around and you need a way to be comfortable in shutting them down firmly, and letting your work speak for itself.

  8. TheGirlWhoBuysTheCookies

    OP —
    I totally get why this is upsetting! You are presumably there working hard every day to grow your career and it would be way better if your boss said, “This Jane, she is our super organized office manager (or whatever!)”

    Keep in mind, when people hear her refer to you as a supermodel, it makes HER look bad (or behind the times), not you.

    I agree with Alison said completely. In addition, I will share how I handled a similar situation in my first job out of college. I was the assistant to the VP and handled various confidential, time sensitive, long term planning tasks. During the busy months, I was the person who kept the office stocked with snacks. During the busy months, we had our international counter-parts visiting from all over the world. The president of the company always introduced like me like this: “This is Jane, she buys the cookies!” laugh, smile, walk away with the guest. I was only 24 but so very annoyed and had no idea how to handle it. I started doing this when I was introduced to people: I would stand up, approach them, shake hands, welcome them to the office, smile and say, “I DO buy the the cookies, when I am not doing that I work with “Joan” on X, Y and Z.” It was friendly, low-key, but very pointedly reframing their thinking about my role.

    Good luck!

  9. Allison

    Reminds me of something that happened during my very first internship. I was working for an organization that gave out grants to local nonprofits that helped underprivileged girls get active, and we were on a site visit to a community center. As we were talking to the woman who ran the program vying for a grant, she said something to the tune of “not all the girls who come in are skinny like Allison.” I actually had no idea how to react, but when we got back to the office I was assured that the comment was inappropriate

    1. some1

      “Hi, can we give you money to help girls while I body-shame my female coworker and the girls in our program out of the other side of my mouth?”

      1. Allison

        More like “we want money to help empower young women, come on over so I can talk about how fat the girls are while also making your intern feel super awkward.”

  10. Brett

    Trying to figure out if this is better or worse than being called “Frodo” and “the hobbit”.
    (I’m 5’0″. No idea how my co-workers know I have hairy toes.)
    I actually have playfully but strictly enforced a “one short joke per day” quota. Over time, that’s led to no short jokes, especially when I tell them “no repeats”. :)

    1. Sheesh!

      People can be SUCH d-bags! Who would think that is okay? I think you handled it very well!

    2. KT

      My brother deals with this on the other end. He’s 6’6, and people comment on his height a dozen times. Ask him if he plays basketball, ask him how he can breathe up there, etc.

    3. Windchime

      I can relate, Brett. I’m on the other end of the spectrum; I’m a super tall woman. People still ask me “How’s the weather up there?” and “Do you play basketball?”. Uh, wow, such an original joke. Never heard that one before.

      People love pointing out differences like this. Not sure why they don’t realize how hurtful it can be.

      1. Dasha

        I can so relate. Tall is wonderful and short is too but people realllllly need to stop pointing it out. I don’t understand why people think it’s OK to make comments on people’s heights… /rant

      2. Brett

        My wife if 5’10”. We get a lot of stares and occasionally end up explaining how we ended up together, which is really simple.
        I was completely comfortable with women being taller than me. She was completely comfortable with men being shorter than her. Between those two things, we were a perfect match.

      3. Ife

        I’m not sure where they expect the conversation to go after that either.
        Observer: “Wow, you’re so {short/tall}.”
        Person of non-average height: “Yep.”
        At least that’s how it goes for me every time. I cannot figure out what response they’re expecting!

      4. OP

        Oh, man. I apologize that this is a little off topic, but I’m on the taller side also and hearing “Do/did you play basketball?” is similar to nails on a chalkboard for me. Haha. I never did, so especially in high school it would turn into 5 minute long discussions about why not. I never understood why everyone thought I needed to so badly. :)

  11. Chickaletta

    This type of behavior towards women in their 20s is all too common. It is so damn hard to get taken seriously during that time, whatever your skills or experience or education. I was far from being a supermodel, but the one thing I had going for me was that I was thin. You’d be amazed (or maybe not) at how many times older female colleges and managers asked me what size I wore or how much I weighed. If only I had the gumption to turn the question back on them, their faces would have gone ashen.

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      Sure, I’ll tell you my weight. But first you have to tell me yours. No? Then I guess I won’t say either.

  12. Frequent Reader

    This question reminds me of something that happened in my office. One of my coworkers was visibly pregnant, and it her husband shared the same first name as another one of our coworkers, let’s say their name was Jim. When an occasion came where we were all being introduced to someone new, co-worker Jim would introduce pregnant coworker’s baby bump, as “Jimmy Junior”… leaving the impression that she was pregnant with his child. He thought it was hilarious. She did not.

  13. puddin

    I don’t have much in to add in terms of advice, but some thoughts jumped into my head and now onto screen..

    1. Jealousy fueled jokes highlight just how threatened one feels, so in an effort to avoid those feelings people use this ‘humor’ tactic to thinly veil a dismissive comment about the object of their envy. The boss is effect saying, “You may be young and pretty, but I am still better than you. I think.”

    2. This is why mostly disapprove of the princess industrial complex, it creates and nurtures this idea of women as pretty things and not thinking, feeling, and powerful people. (Although the princess ‘role models’ have gotten better recently.)

    3. Just imagine the economic collapse that would happen if all of the sudden all women were happy with themselves.

    1. Ife

      #2 … the princess industrial complex… name a product and you can probably find some Disney-princess branded version of it. I could never put my finger on exactly why until now though.
      #3. I think that could be said about a lot of things in our society. If people suddenly realized they really don’t need X, they’ve just been led to believe it’s necessary, so many industries would be out of business. :)

  14. TeapotCounsel

    I’m going to risk the wrath of all the posters on this site.
    OP: Let it go. Take the compliment and smile, because it’s a compliment. Beauty isn’t an either/or. You can be both beautiful and smart. And, odds are, if you’re in your 20s, you’re beautiful. It’s really hard to look bad if you’re under 30.
    The person calling you a super-model isn’t some creepy old guy like me. It’s a 66 year old woman. She has no designs on you. Her attitudes won’t change. She thinks you’re beautiful and competent.
    Saying something to her will just sour the relationship.

    ok, now the rest of you can “reply” and vilify me.

    1. some1

      “And, odds are, if you’re in your 20s, you’re beautiful. It’s really hard to look bad if you’re under 30.
      The person calling you a super-model isn’t some creepy old guy like me.”

      I just threw up in my mouth.

      1. TeapotCounsel

        I just threw up in my mouth.
        Was it my comment about youth and beauty, or my self-identification as “creepy old guy”?

        1. some1

          It was the fact that you seem to forget that the LW is *at work*, where her beauty is completely irrelevant. You basically also outed yourself as That Guy who leers at the young women at his work.

            1. some1

              Newsflash: I was/am a young woman who works with men. How would I know the type if all of you are as discreet as you think?

              1. TeapotCounsel

                Exactly. We’re all creepy. And you know “the type.”
                Now tell me again your objection to being stereotyped?

              2. TeapotCounsel

                I wish I could take back my earlier comment (the one above) because I don’t want to be snarky and hateful. I don’t mean my comment that way. I just wanted to make the observation that if it’s not okay for young women to be stereotyped or thought of as pretty, then it is also not okay to view all older men as “creepy” because they’ve committed the crime of noticing physical beauty.

                1. Zillah

                  I don’t think anyone is suggesting that “noticing” physical appearance makes you creepy, and I’m not sure how you got there from the OP’s (female) supervisor calling her a supermodel.

                  But more importantly, those two things are not in any way equivalent. The young women in your example are being singled out because of innate characteristics that they have no control over. The old men in your example are not – and, moreover, they’re singled out when they act on noticing appearance, since if it was just in their heads, no one would know. Those are so different they’re not even in the same solar system.

                  Like, as a pretty young woman, I’m super offended that you’re equating them.

                2. TeapotCounsel

                  That’s a good point, Zillah, and well-taken. Seriously. This site is good for me, because it gives me insight on how others think, and I’ve learned something. Now, do I think OP should say something to 66 year-old woman? No, I don’t. But to the extent that our conversation here went further than that, fine. I really didn’t fully realize how offended young women (at least the ones on this site) get about compliments to their appearance. So, good to know.

                3. some1

                  “Creepy old man” was your phrase, dude, not mine. And making a point to tell her that she’s probably beautiful if she’s under 30 so she needs to smile and take it if anyone makes comments she doesn’t like is pretty insulting.

                4. Jamie

                  committed the crime of noticing physical beauty.

                  What does noticing have to do with anything? I notice what color my co-workers hair is, or what cars they drive…noticing things is a side effect of having vision. But beauty is like the things I mentioned, completely and totally irrelevant to people working with them so if you’re noticing someone’s looks with more interest (or investing more time in doing so) than you’d notice what car they drive that’s not okay.

                  Rana stole this from Captain Awkward and I stole it from her but it’s a safe bet that no one at your work is looking pretty at you. As their looks have nothing to do with you if you aren’t keeping your eyes on your own paper it’s creepy.

            2. Elizabeth

              Trust me. You’re never really discreet. Even if someone isn’t calling you on it, they’ve noticed.

        2. KT

          I think it was a combo, with the addition of telling women to smile and accept belittling behavior.

    2. Zillah

      Yeah, nope. Honestly, you don’t get to tell people how to feel about being objectified, and that’s especially if you’re “some creepy old guy” telling a young woman how she should feel about being objectified. I’m actually really concerned that you apparently read this site a lot and don’t see how inappropriate that is.

          1. Zillah

            You were right! We do tend to call people on being patronizing sexist jerks! It’s just a thing we do. It’s really nice to know that it’s become such a recognized aspect of the comments section.

            1. TeapotCounsel

              It is recognized. The level of indignation of some of the commenters here is quite remarkable. I read so many of the comments here and I think, “um. let. it. go.” A 66-year old woman calls someone beautiful and suddenly there’s this raft of comments about inappropriateness? Really? Life is so charmed that we’re going to worked about that?

              We should reserve the indignation for the episodes that really deserve it like the sicko posting Facebook posts of ShortOP.

              1. Zillah

                Different strokes, I guess! I find your reaction to this letter and thread quite remarkable, too, and I also wonder why you don’t respond to most letters saying, “Really? Life is so charmed that we’re going to get worked up about that?”

                Problems don’t need to be “OMG! The roof is caving in and we’re all starving and riddled with smallpox!” to be problems, and I find it interesting how it’s often only when gender dynamics come into play that people start insisting that they do.

                1. KT

                  Exactly. Having concerns with one issue does not mean we can’t care about another; they’re not mutually exclusive. We can say BOTH behaviors are inappropriate.

                2. Sunflower

                  Yes! This is an issue where it’s really the little things, not that big things, that add up to a huge problem.

                3. LBK

                  That is a fantastic point. I see it happen with any kind of prejudice, really – less so with race, but certainly with sexual orientation (“it was just a joke”, “if that’s your worst problem you have a pretty good life”, etc.).

              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                TeapotCounsel, I’m confused. Do you honestly not understand how this would be undermining and why someone would want to be known for her competence and not her looks, and why introducing her with a comment about her looks would harm her? I’m really having a hard time believing that you skipped over all that in the original post and don’t recognize any of that.

                Painting this as “indignation of some of the commenters here” and acting like it’s something about this site is wildly out of touch with reality and, frankly, offensive and unwelcome.

                1. TeapotCounsel

                  Do you honestly not understand… why introducing her with a comment about her looks would harm her?
                  When I first posted, no, I didn’t fully understand. I just didn’t think that complimenting on looks was something that rose to the level of confronting the boss, and I didn’t see it as undermining. I see now that others view this very differently, and I’ll adjust accordingly. I’m not going to sit here and insist that I was right; I see I was not.
                  I am troubled by the tone of the responses to me. Perhaps I brought that on myself by the way I wrote my comments. It wasn’t my intent to be offensive. I had a feeling that the discussion wouldn’t be well-received by some, and I feared that I would simply be labeled a sexist in response, but I certainly didn’t expect the strength of the responses I received here.

                  Painting this as “indignation of some of the commenters here” and acting like it’s something about this site is wildly out of touch with reality and, frankly, offensive and unwelcome
                  I don’t think, nor did I say, it’s “wildly out of touch.” In fact, I really like this site, think that you’re advice is spot-on about 95% of the time, and many of the commenters here are quite insightful.
                  I do think that, sometimes, some commenters get a little self-righteous about issues that I think others should be let go. And I’ve noticed that sometimes you agree (not about this particular issue, but others). Many times you respond to commenters that there’s nothing to be done about their issue and/or the OP should “let it go.” I thought that advice applied here. Others disagree. You disagree. Ok, good to know. I’ve learned something about what compliments I should and should not give in the workplace.
                  So, I’ll take a mea culpa for my notions and the way that I expressed them.

                2. LBK

                  I don’t think you’re reading the situation correctly, though I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not. This wasn’t a random “You look pretty today” compliment, which I would generally agree shouldn’t be taken so seriously depending on the context. This was presenting someone as nothing more than their appearance in a professional context, which is potentially extremely damaging to that person’s reputation.

                3. LBK

                  I don’t mean to come across as vain or ungrateful for the compliment, but when she refers to me this way, especially in front of county legislators, the president of the company, and other various V.I.P.s, it makes me feel as if my actual work is unimportant as compared to my looks.

                  This excerpt from the letter pretty much says everything you need to know.

                4. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I appreciate that, thank you.

                  Part of what I was responding to was that you’re talking in a pretty flippant manner about issues that are serious ones to the people affected by them. For example: “I really didn’t fully realize how offended young women (at least the ones on this site) get about compliments to their appearance.” It’s not about compliments to their appearance; it’s about having people make your looks A Thing in a professional context where you need to be taken seriously and be known for your brain, and it’s about routinely being treated as a decorative object / having your looks assessed (by this boss, by strangers on the street, by lots of people in lots of contexts). That’s very different from “compliments.”

                  Also, it’s not really cool to tell people an issue isn’t a big deal when you are not in the group of people impacted by it, especially when there are dynamics in play like gender, race, etc. It’s better to say “I didn’t realize this was a big deal; can you explain to me why?” And then listen.

                  And it’s not about being offended — it’s about being fucking tired of having to deal with it from so many different quarters so very frequently and about stating clearly that it’s not okay.

                  And the “(at least the ones on this site)” makes it sound like there’s something different about commenters here, when in fact this very issue is pretty widely established as really harmful to women, both generally and specifically at work. It’s not some weird sensitivity that only a small minority of women have, or that this site specially caters to.

                  Anyway, I don’t mean to berate you; I get that you’ve given a mea culpa. I just wanted to explain why you got the reaction you did.

          2. SerfinUSA

            That comes off as a rather trollish comment, but maybe I am misreading the anticipatory gleefulness.

    3. KT

      The thing is, no one is denying one can be beautiful and smart. The problem is when your coworkers/boss only acknowledge the beauty portion. It belittles authority, credibility, and intelligence to discuss someone’s looks in a professional setting when being introduced to clients and vendors.

      It’s all about context. If the company has a black tie event and a coworker shows up looking stunning in an evening gown, it’s perfectly appropriate to tell her she looks lovely. The event is about socializing and dressing up. A compliment is completely fine and will likely be kindly received.

      It’s completely inappropriate to tell that same coworker that she looks beautiful in the midst of a meeting. This event is NOT about dressing up or being social–it’s about WORK, and that’s where the conversation should stick.

      Also as a side note, don’t tell young women to smile. We’re not here to amuse you or make you happy. Our facial expressions are our own, so if you tell me to smile, expect a very different reaction.

      1. TeapotCounsel

        I’m not entirely sure what that means, but allow me to explain further. I find this site very valuable because it gives me insight into how people in my workplace think. It would never occur to me in a million years that telling someone that they wearing nice boots would be offensive to some. Yet, here I learn that it may be. Good to know. I’ll file that away for the future.

        Similarly, the perpetually indignant on the site can learn something, too. Older folks do not think like you. They — rightly or wrongly — think it’s okay to tell someone forty years their junior that they look good. Now, you can be offended by that, and you can rail about its unfairness, and you can wail about how nobody should be paying attention to your fashionable dress and boots, and you are certainly right about that. So take comfort in being right. But the fact of life is this: life is unfair like that. And so, if you call out someone — especially someone who is your boss and is forty years older — about how what is genuinely intended as a compliment is offending you, then you should know you’re going to piss people off.

        Which is why I recommend the indignation be held in reserve for things that matter, like the Facebook photo sicko, or the boss who lies, etc.

        1. some1

          Neither the LW nor any of the commenters here advocated getting “indignant” over being told they have nice boots or that they look nice. That’s not even close to being called a supermodel in front of VIPs at work.

        2. Jamie

          Reverse the genders and the ages. Some older man was giving a presentation on a business topic and a younger woman who was the audience for the presentation gushed about his tie, and his tasseled loafers, and fabulous suit.

          It is not okay for anyone of any age to make personal comments about appearance when the topic of the conversation is work. It comes off as if you don’t give a rats ass about what that person had to say.

          The difference is in the original scenario the take away is that the young woman giving the presentation would rightly feel she wasn’t being taken seriously by him as a professional. Because historically and sadly today young women are so often treated as decorative that it would be Occam’s razor.

          In my scenario no one would question the older gentleman’s professionalism because older men, as handsome as some may be, are not routinely dismissed as mere eye candy. So in that case the young woman who was inappropriate would out herself as being unprofessional without damaging the recipient of her remarks.

          That’s the difference.

          When was the last time an older man was afraid his job was in jeopardy if he didn’t submit to the sexual advances (or at lease play along with the innuendo) of a young woman? I am sure some where it’s happened, but I doubt very much it’s a common occurrence. Otoh I don’t know one woman who doesn’t have more than one story of being absolutely legitimately no room for misinterpretation harassed at work at some time in her career. Usually when they were young and on the bottom of the ladder. And that is not hyperbole – I literally do not know one woman who doesn’t have a story that would make any decent person cringe.

        3. LBK

          And so, if you call out someone — especially someone who is your boss and is forty years older — about how what is genuinely intended as a compliment is offending you, then you should know you’re going to piss people off.

          I wasn’t too indignant before but I’m pretty indignant now that your suggestion is basically to sit down and shut up when faced with sexism.

        4. RGB

          Perhaps I am lucky, but I have never worked for a manager who wouldn’t want to hear that they had overstepped the mark, if framed politely and professionally.

          Perhaps it’s your generation showing, but I am empowered in the workplace to give feedback to anyone at any level and you’re framing this as if the OP is going off cock-handed to moan and whine about a perceived unfairness, to her busy manager who has better things to do – which makes me think you don’t understand the issue at all?

        5. Snork Maiden

          I wonder if there is some way Alison can give you a heads-up on when the next post will be. I’d appreciate your feedback in the first comment as to whether or not this is an issue we should use valuable outrage on, or whether we should nod softly to ourselves and close the tab. I also find this site valuable because it gives me insight into how people like you cogitate. It would never in a million years occur to me to tell other people how upset they should really be.

        6. Book Person

          This isn’t a “Hey Book Person, I like your boots!” scenario here. This is someone introducing the OP /to senior members of the company/ and /other professional contacts/ with what boils down to as “This is Book Person. She’s hot,” instead of “This is Book Person. She runs our Marketing team” or whathaveyou. Are you honestly unable to grasp the nuance between the two?

          One valuable lesson about compliments to keep in mind as well (I think I learned from Captain Awkward) is that it’s always better to compliment a choice than an innate feature. Someone’s cool boots, or nifty waistcoat. Not someone’s eyes or figure.

          1. Zillah

            One valuable lesson about compliments to keep in mind as well (I think I learned from Captain Awkward) is that it’s always better to compliment a choice than an innate feature.

            I think CA has talked about this, because I’m remembering it from there, too. It’s 100% on target – unless it’s incessant, very few people will be offended when you essentially compliment them on their taste in something – clothes, jewelry, shoes, whatever. But that’s different from “you’re pretty.”

    4. knitcrazybooknut

      Even if we set aside your bad advice, you’re also ignoring the experience of anyone who is under 20 years old and is considered ugly. Not everyone under 20 falls into the “beautiful” category. You’ve just marginalized anyone whose appearance falls outside the norm once again.

      A compliment can be an attack. Taking the compliment and smiling is not always safe, let alone appropriate.

      1. Myrin

        Seriously. I was bullied as a young teenager because my classmates apparently found it super funny how I wasn’t very appealing to look at. I’m 24 now and I like how I look but I’m absolutely not considered beautiful by any conventional norm (unless maybe red hair being pretty? I have no idea) – sure there might be a few people who find me attractive but I’m certainly not goodlooking by any societal standards. This “It’s really hard to look bad if you’re under 30.” thing is baffling to me (especially as I’d say I share university classes with many more not-really-good-looking people than with ones who would be considered attractive).

        1. Anonforthis

          It’s not baffling when you consider who the comment came from: a 60-something man, particularly one who has no issues with the objectification of young women. At the risk of sounding ageist, he is waxing poetic about youth because he is too far removed from it to remember what it was actually like. But in reality, most 20-somethings (and most people for that matter) are not “OMG beautiful.” For men like him, however, it is not really about conventional beauty; it is about youth — it is forbidden fruit to him.

    5. Jillociraptor

      It’s so fascinating how people respond to “Here are my feelings about a situation affecting me” with “Yeah, I don’t like your feelings. Get different ones.”

    6. kt (lowercase)

      Wow, you are being really gross in just about every way, to an extent that looks like deliberate trolling (“I knew the posters here wouldn’t disappoint!”) Get a hobby. Trolling is pathetic.

      1. Kelly L.

        I think this may be the guy who only hired pretty young women and was worried they were all going to fall for him too much.

    7. I'm a Little Teapot

      Well, at least you admit you’re trolling.

      Or maybe you’re trying the “I know this is an unpopular viewpoint, but…” tactic so that you can bask in how *brave* and *original* and *special* you are because you’re the only one on the site who doesn’t realize this behavior is inappropriate for work.

      Also, being a 66-year-old woman doesn’t preclude her having “designs” on OP. Not all women, whatever their age, are straight, and I’ve been creeped on by a fellow bi woman before. (Not at work, fortunately. But in a very gross fashion involving attempted groping and worse, in front of my mother to boot.)

      1. nona

        Sorry that happened to you! I’ve been there, also. My best friend in high school.

        And I’ve gotten weird comments from straight women. People are weird. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    8. LBK

      I think you’re misunderstanding the difference between creepy and demeaning. Commenting on someone’s appearance at an inappropriate time is creepy. Reducing their talent as an employee to the sole point of their attractiveness is extremely insulting – it is not by any means a compliment.

      When you refer to someone as “the department ____,” you’re paring them down to their most notable trait. When this is a job-related trait – department sales champion, department code guru, department problem fixer – it’s positive because it means you’ve developed such a reputation that above all else, this is the aspect of you as an employee that stands out above all else. When you call someone the department supermodel, you’re saying that beyond any other talents this person may have, the one aspect you’d choose to define them by is their appearance.

      You have to understand how that’s not a compliment when you’re talking about a work context where presumably they want to be known for their skills on the job and not what their face looks like, right?

      I also have to say I take offense to the idea that someone who puts effort into their outfit is only looking for physical attention. It’s nearly impossible for women to win when it comes to dressing appropriately in the office if they want to be taken seriously. Too fancy and they care more about looks than work; too plain and they don’t care about being professional. Oh how challenging it must be to look at a man and judge him on his work before his clothes – and yet most people seem to have no problem doing so.

    9. Anonforthis

      Well at least women 30 and older can feel a sigh of relief that won’t have to deal with your gaze, nor feel obliged to comply with your compliments. ;-)

    10. nona

      It’s not a compliment. It might have been meant as one, but the reason she said it doesn’t matter.

      I don’t care if someone bothering me about my appearance has “designs” on me or not. They generally don’t! That’s beside the point.

      You don’t say this kind of thing at work.

  15. Bertie

    Perhaps the boss means nothing nefarious and is unintentionally offensive in her attempt to combine compliments on what a great “role models” and “superstars” these two ladies are? Because that would totally happen in my workplace.

    1. Jillociraptor

      Oh, I think that’s undoubtedly the case! I grew up in the rural midwest and I can imagine so many of my mother’s female friends doing literally this, with absolutely no ill intent and little recognition that someone could find it damaging or uncomfortable.

      The measure of true good intent, though, is if how the manager responds when the OP mentions her discomfort. Most basically kind people respond to things like that with remorse and willingness to change. But those that get defensive and insist that their intent what they say trumps its effects? Kind of reveals that they’re not really all that nice and well-intentioned.

    2. Jamie

      I don’t know – that’s an awfully generous way to look at it. Which just means you’re far kinder and less cynical than I.

      I think the word supermodel is ubiquitous enough that they’d have to know how it would be received. Besides, it started in reference to the other woman who the supervisor noted as also being gorgeous.

    3. Pickwick the Dodo

      “You’re such a rolestar!” is going to be my new go-to compliment.

  16. OP

    Someone might have beaten me to the punch, or maybe she reads this blog also (uh-oh). Yesterday, As we were passing in the hall, she complimented my dress, and said “It makes you looks like– well, I can’t say supermodel, I guess that’s inappropriate.” in kind of a grudging tone. Now I really don’t know what to do. I’m leaning toward letting the whole thing go for now and waiting to see if she says anything else. I don’t want to bother the wonderful community here because you’ve all already given me a lot of great advice, but could I trouble you for a little more?
    Also, on that note, I’d really like to thank Alison and all the commenters here for all your advice and kind words. It’s nice to hear that I’m not completely crazy (yet (; ).

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