coworkers are reacting badly to my wardrobe upgrade, unpaid days off, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How can I tell my boss to stop commenting on my food and my weight?

I recently got a new job, in a new city (many many thanks to your blog!). I work for a small non-profit and I love what I do. My boss is a theater transplant, and when I first started working, she was losing weight for a role she was playing. There were a few comments about how she was trying to avoid carbs throughout the week, but it didn’t really faze me.

Recently I have lost a bit of weight. I was never fat, but it’s slightly noticeable. She has made several comments about how I’m so skinny and how she wishes she could diet like me. Really all I have done is started running again, because my schedule finally affords it. We ran into each other one morning while I had a coffee in one hand and a brownie in the other, and it was “Look at you and your diet!”

Long ago I had some serious body issues; I was an awkward girl in ballet and never really felt comfortable in my skin until a few years ago. These comments, whether about my weight or diet, have really started to affect me. I’m tracking my weight and I’m constantly thinking about how to cut calories. Luckily, I can recognize the slippery slope I’m headed towards, but I don’t know how to address it with her. I’m uncomfortable going directly to her, but our office is so small, we have no HR person and the next higher up is our executive director.

How do I go about asking her to please keep comments about my weight to herself without admitting to serious problems in my past AND keeping our relationship professional? Our one office space is entirely women, and it is becoming apparent that it is a frequent conversation.

“I’m trying very hard not to let myself think about diet and weight too much, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my weight or my food. Thanks for understanding!”

People. Grrrr.

2. My coworkers are reacting badly to my wardrobe upgrade

I work for a large company in research in the Detroit metro area that will remain nameless. They make things with 4 wheels. My question is regarding work attire. I just lost 30 pounds, and thought I would upgrade my wardrobe. Most of the stuff that I see at work are jeans and polos/ oxford, or some khakis/ oxford, my coworker wears jeans and a t-shirt, etc. What I used to wear were corduroys and polos untucked – because of the weight. In my opinion, the attire at work would probably be considered one step below business casual.

Now, I’m wearing chinos and a nicer slim fit shirt (the shirt is from banana republic – so it’s not like it’s ultra high end) because I now can wear tucked shirts. When I say nicer, I mean this or this with sleeves rolled up. So with respect to my coworkers (engineers and scientists) it does stand out – per my description above. In fact, I knew it would look sharper. Also, since I didn’t have any real summer wear, my transition was rather abrupt. To be honest, I’m also very proud of my weight loss (not that I was ever fat but closer to my athletic 20’s).

I’m 43 and single and thought I’d sharpen up my look – but people are not liking it. I just won a technical achievement award and was rated top achiever at work. I’m thinking they’re thinking that it’s gone to my head and further it’s the “nail that sticks out gets hammered” and “when in Rome…” Or perhaps, they think I’m overdoing it and trying too hard to attract people. I’ll admit I’m very confident – I do give off that vibe. Also, I’m quiet and to others it appears as standoffish. The quiet and standoffish appearance is because I’m shy and truly I yearn for contact with others – my sister said I’m sweet. Most likely, I’m pushing people away. Because of the abrupt transition, people aren’t even looking at me. My boss really doesn’t like it – he’s getting harsher. Further, it doesn’t help that I’m very self-conscious.

Okay, I know the answer would be “you shouldn’t have done it in the first place or should have transitioned slowly. This is all caused by not fitting in. Looking sharper will have to be very subtle.” I guess what I really need now is damage control and would like to know if this will blow over and it will not damage my career.

Well, no, I actually think your coworkers’ reaction is super weird. You’re allowed to upgrade your wardrobe. You’re not required to do it gradually. (And the shirts you linked to are pretty casual anyway!) This is normally not the sort of thing that bugs people. You either have an incredibly bizarre team, or something else is going on. As for what that something else could be — could it be less about the clothes and more about something else that happened around the same time as the clothes? Or is it possible that your self-consciousness is making you think there’s a reaction when there isn’t one?

(Speaking of self-consciousness, I’m so confused by your description of yourself; very confident and very self-conscious don’t usually go together. So I’m intrigued and somewhat confused by the entire thing.)

3. Following up on a promised raise

I worked as a pharmacist assistant in high school (part-time during school and full-time in the summer) for about a year and a half, then had to move to another city for university. Then, after first year, I came back to the same place for the summer, and when discussing the paperwork, my manager told me that he would adjust my rate, which I wasn’t expecting at all. I was happy, who wouldn’t be? But I got my first pay cheque today and the rate is the same as what I had in high school.

Although I’m not working for money (it’s more for experience), ever since my manager told me that he’d adjust my rate, I was expecting a raise, so now I’m disappointed. How should I approach my manager? I’m even starting to feel like I don’t deserve a raise…

“Hey Fergus, you had mentioned that you were increasing my pay rate this summer. I just got my first check and don’t see the increase on there. Is there something we need to do to make it go through?”

Assume it was an oversight and go from there.

4. How to list an internship-turned-contract-job on a resume

A few years ago, I applied to a remote internship for an indie book publisher. Long story short: I got the internship and, after a year, became a paid contractor for them. I was in college at the time and it was a nice position. I enjoyed the work and the pay wasn’t bad. However, I’ve since graduated and I need a salaried position.

How should I deal with this position on my resume and if I’m asked about it in an interview? How should I handle applications that require end dates of former employers? Or should I just not list this position there because I was not an employee? The only other jobs I’ve held are part-time university positions, none of which I had over six months. In other words, probably not very impressive. I don’t want to leave it off my resume, because it’s given me a lot of experience with managing deadlines, working for multiple bosses, and requires great attention to detail. However, I don’t intend on leaving this company as the schedule comes with a great deal of flexibility and I don’t foresee any interference with a full-time job. If that turns out not to be true, I am prepared to quit but I feel a great deal of loyalty towards this company.

There’s no reason not to list it just because it was part internship/part contractor. Internships and contract work both belong on resumes and job applications.
List it this way, on both your resume and applications:

Targaryen Publishing
Editor (contract) — October 2013 – present
Intern — September 2012 – October 2013

5. Paid and unpaid days off

My employer has recently been giving us Fridays off as an unpaid day off. Their reasoning is building maintenance and low sales days. However, they are taking us to a baseball game, not on a Friday, as a paid day off, with the game admission and food paid for. I want to know if they are able to do this. As far as I am aware, I am a non-exempt, hourly associate. We were salaried until about two months ago, but were changed to hourly. They did not have us sign any new documents concerning our shorter work week or change in pay structure. Are they liable for continuing to pay us for closing the office when it is not due to something unpredictable like a fire or weather? If it helps, we are a California company.

Yes, they can do that. If you’re non-exempt, you only need to be paid for actual hours you worked, so they don’t need to pay you for the Fridays you’re not working. The fact that they’re giving you a separate paid day off to go to a baseball game doesn’t change that. (They can offer you a perk, which is what this is, without it obligating them to pay you for other days you don’t work.)

{ 135 comments… read them below }

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        I’m a theater person but this was so hilarious.

        A theater transplant is, I would guess, a person who transitioned to office work from working mostly in theater.

      2. Adam*

        I laughed.

        Anywho, yeah I think theatre transplant is someone whose passion is for the stage, but whose bills necessitate them spending their days somewhere that actually brings them money. Having known some theater types most of them integrate into regular workforces just fine, but there are a small percentage who simply don’t know when to give their Tony seeking whimsies a little break.

        1. Jacket*

          Very much depends on what part of theatre they came from, too. *Some* actors are great and do just fine. Techies are usually a safer bet, though. :-P
          – A former techie

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      ROFL. I have an Electrical Engineering degree and a TART degree.

      Actors in the workplace can really up the drama!

  1. AnonyGoose*

    I could be missing something, but #2 gives no examples of the behavior she’s describing. I would hazard a guess that this is in the LW’s head, perhaps because she was expecting _some_ sort of reaction to her new look and doesn’t seem to have gotten a direct one.

    1. Chrissi*

      That’s exactly what I thought. She only describes what they are thinking (which, unless you have ESP…) and that her boss has gotten more harsh (which may have nothing to do w/ the OP – under a lot of stress, kid or parent sick, etc). You describe yourself as self-conscious and I think you are being very much so and reading into things that aren’t there, necessarily. I say that as someone that does it – I recognize myself in your behaviors.

    2. LisaLee*

      I agree. I know it’s annoying to be asked, “Are you sure you’re not imagining this?” but really, I’m 80% sure the LW is imagining it.

      No one seems to have said anything about it directly, and the only reaction the LW describes is a sense that people have pulled away, which could very well be just their own anxiety manifesting itself. Likely, the lack of reaction is probably just people not noticing at all, or deciding not to comment on someone else’s choice of dress. That said, there could be specific behavior that the LW just didn’t mention.

      Also, LW, maybe you should check out that anxiety thing? (General disclaimer: I am not a doctor). Clearly no one can be diagnosed over the internet, but your intense worry about this relatively minor event, the way you put yourself down for trying a new look, and the way you’re analyzing your coworker’s behavior reminds me of a lot of my anxiety symptoms.

    3. ScottySmalls*

      I re-read it to make sure I didn’t miss any examples but there is none. People aren’t looking at her and the boss is harsher, but that could be any number of things. Not looking at a person does seem super weird though. How do you avoid looking at someone completely?

    4. A Dispatcher*

      That is a men’s shirt, no? I believe LW in this case is a man, though I could be wrong and I’m not sure it matters…

      1. steve g*

        I’m betting 100 dollars the OP is a guy, we’re talking khakis and tucking in shirts here and a link to a men’s store! Not sure why people seeing a link to a men’s store then write “she.”

        Anyways, I am betting that this is a combo of self-consciousness and confusion at the fact that no one commented. I think people either don’t notice body changes in people or are uncomfortable for whatever reason to mention the change if it makes the person more attractive. I’ve been doing insanity fitness classes since august. For whatever reason april-june saw big changes in my body. Yesterday alone two almost-strangers commented I look different. Family and coworkers (well former coworkers from a few months ago)? Not a peep. Either they don’t notice, or they’re not going to say anything due to the general ick factor of telling your coworker/brother “wow your abs look hot”

        1. Dr. Ruthless*

          Also, there’s a whole thing where if you see someone regularly, you don’t necessarily notice stuff like weight loss, but if you only see them sporadically, and they’ve lost 30 pounds since the last time you saw them, that’s much more noticeable.

          1. Koko*

            A few years back I dropped 20 lbs in about 2 months and believe me, coworkers and other who saw me every day did comment on how much I’d lost once I was about 10 down. (I was only 5 lbs overweight, so losing 10 put me just at the upper end of healthy but there was a visible difference in how my clothes fit and how much fat was on my face.) Once I was about 15 down the comments started to shift towards, “Don’t get TOO skinny!”

        2. KathyGeiss*

          Interesting take from the other side. I operate on the rule that I don’t comment on people’s bodies. Not friends, relatives or colleagues. I’ll compliment people on things they obviously made choices about- new hair cut, new sweater, etc. but it’s too hard to tell if body changes- lost or gained weight- were a choice or something else (illness, etc). I can see how a specific work out would cause changes that are obviously a choice but I’d still rather avoid commenting on people’s bodies. It’s too strewn with potential pitfalls that I’d rather stick to complimenting that great necklace.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I’m with you. Snazzy new shoes? I’m gonna compliment you. Weight loss you haven’t explained? Not saying a word unless we’re in the same weight-loss support group.

          2. QualityControlFreak*

            Totally agree. I stick with things like, “That color looks great on you!” “New haircut? Looks awesome.” Those are things the person chose, and I’m affirming their choice.

            I’ve struggled with weight for decades. In my 20s keeping weight on was an issue, and that continued into my 40s. I don’t think I have an eating disorder, but I’ve always been active and busy and food was not a priority. Add in stomach issues and yeah. Not fun. About the time I hit 45 I finally started keeping the weight on and even added a few pounds over the next few years. Last year I had a TBI and lost my sense of smell, and it seems to have reset my internal clock somewhat. I’m back to having to work hard to keep weight on. One of our clients who I hadn’t seen for a while recently commented on how I’d lost weight and how great I looked. I know she meant well but it’s just a charged subject for me. I told her it was not intentional but the result of an injury.

          3. Rose*

            ugh THANK YOU. I loose weight when I’m stressed. I can’t eat if I’m upset. I’ve never been overweight, but I’ll go from the higher end of healthy to the lower end. It’s SO frustrating to have people tell me how “great” I look. Awesome. My mom has cancer. I’ll be back to my normal weight in a few months. Glad to know you think it’s too chubby. Byeeeeeeeeee.

        3. little mermaid*

          To be honest, I find it great that there wasn’t much commenting on the body. I’ve lost some weight and I HATED the comments that came. Sure, I’m trying to be healthy and I’m proud of my achievements, but my co-workers quizzing me about how exactly I did it and all that? Hated it.

    5. Engineer Girl*

      I was coming here to say the same thing. Rule #1 – Never ever tell yourself what others are thinking – ask! Telling yourself stories is a wonderful way to sabotage relationships. Assuming what others are thinking is the nuclear way to destroy any hope of closeness and friendship. If you have any insecurities you’ll map them on to everyone else. Not good.
      I grew up in the Detroit auto culture (even interned at one of the big 3) Most Detroiters really don’t care about weight or fashion.
      Instead of thinking about what others think of you, think about others and how wonderful they are.

      1. betty lou spence*

        I grew up and still live in the area and engineer girl is right: no one cares how you dress. I’d bet if you asked your coworkers what you wore yesterday none of them would remember. In fact, I don’t think my husband would know what I wore yesterday.

        1. the gold digger*

          I work with almost all male engineers. Most liberating thing in the world. I have not bought new work clothes in almost a year and wear pretty much the same thing every week.

        2. E*

          Reminds me of a blog where a lady wore the same dress all year as a challenge. Her motives might have been more about spending less on new clothes and fashion, but the principle remains: no one cares (or should care), wear what makes you happy.

      2. YandO*

        I live in Detroit Metro currently and I confirm this. It is not the common culture here to care about clothes or fashion. Cars on the other hand….

      3. Sigrid*

        I also live in the Detroit metro area and honestly, no one cares. I get a lot of flack for driving a Honda, though! (And I’m in medicine, not even anything connected to the auto industry.)

    6. AcademiaNut*

      That’s what I was thinking.

      The LW describes himself as very self-conscious, and to him the switch in clothing and weight loss was a really big deal. So he was expecting a reaction. But scientists and engineers in general are not known for picking up on subtle changes in wardrobe. So in the absence of an actual reaction, the LW is making up scripts for their thoughts – if they’re not complimenting him they must be… The way they are behaving might not have changed, or they might be instinctively reacting to how the LW’s body language has changed.

      If he had started wearing a suit and tie, *that* would get noticed, and might draw some flack (or, in my job, questions about what VIP you’re meeting with to discuss funding). But going from a polo to a button down shirt will likely not even register.

      Through empirical testing, I have determined that dying your hair neon colours will get noticed, but is not enough for senior scientists at a conference to be able to distinguish between you and the other (brown haired) female grad student.

      1. Thinking out loud*

        Haha, spot on. I am a female engineer in an office that is almost completely make, and I am constantly called the names of women very different than me.

      2. Ethyl*

        ::groan:: I once made a joke about “is the CEO coming or do you have a job interview” to a coworker wearing a suit and tie once and it turned out he had just come from a funeral.

    7. Jen*

      I work in an environment that’s professional but casual. Most people wear jeans and a nice shirt and if you dress up it’s not considered normal. However, I tend to wear dressier pants and a nice shirt every once in awhile because it makes me feel good about myself or if I have a big meeting where I’ll be interacting with people outside my immediate office area.

      When I first started my job my boss didn’t spell out the dress code for me and I dressed in business casual. Then when I saw everyone wearing jeans, I started wearing jeans. (Just for the record during my interview my coworkers were all dressed up so I figured that was the norm.)

      After I started wearing jeans one of my coworkers said “You’re finally dressing like the rest of us.” Even though she said that I still dress up occasionally because I like to. When I do I’ll get comments like “Are you going on an interview,” etc. But my coworkers are joking when they say those comments.

      My point is although I do dress like the rest I also dress up and do what I want because it’s the way I want to dress. My husband does the same thing. He works in IT and can wear t-shirts and jeans every day if he wants. However, he always wears a nice shirt and jeans and sometimes mixes it up with casual dress pants.

      We also do that also because we feel like we get stuck in a clothing rut and wear the same clothes every week. :)

      My point is this. Don’t care or think others are judging you based on you dressing up. If you want to you should. Just perhaps mix it up. But I also agree with the others that you shouldn’t think you know what others are thinking. I tend to do this and it’s caused problems for me and has made me unnecessarily upset at times. If you think there’s an issue, talk it over with your boss. Say something like, “I wanted to check in with you to get any feedback you have about my work. I’m always open for suggestions and guidance and I would love any feedback.” You can definitely do that before your review as well.

      But from my experience people don’t really care what you wear as long as it’s not ripped clothing, showing off body parts or isn’t offense.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I got that “oh, you’re dressed up, what’s the occasion?” thing in college when I’d dressed in a skirt and blouse because I was tired of jeans and they looked appealing in my closet. I was mildly annoyed, so I said, “It’s Monday!” in a “didn’t you know that?” kind of voice. “Oh, do you always dress up on Mondays?” so I said “yes!”

        and ever after for the remaining 3 years, I did. I found that it stopped the commenting, actually (since I saw the same people over and over).

          1. LJL*

            Me too! Especially handy when you are dressed up because you *do* have a job interview, but you don’t want your co-workers to know quite yet.

        1. Rose*

          Once, post breakup in college, someone asked me why I was dressed up because I was wearing jeans, a shirt that wasn’t from my sorority/a high school sports team/tournament, and had straightened my hair. That’s when you know it’s bad lol.

    8. BananaPants*

      Agreed. Regardless of whether #2 is male or female, there are no concrete examples – just what SHE thinks her coworkers are thinking. I work in an engineering organization where jeans and tee shirts are not OK, but the typical apparel for men would be chinos or corduroys with a tucked Oxford shirt or untucked polo. I’m female and usually do the same, except I buy blouses meant to stay un-tucked.

      #2, if you’re female and work with mostly men, don’t expect lots of comments or kudos on your weight loss. Even if they notice they’re unlikely to say something directly to you since a woman’s weight or appearance can be a sensitive subject. If you’re male I don’t even know if they’d say something; most people in a professional environment won’t comment on body composition or weight unless it’s extremely dramatic (like well over 50 pounds). In my experience the majority of engineers and scientists working in a business casual environment aren’t the most label-conscious people in the world, so they’re unlikely to notice your Banana Republic shirts versus a similar shirt from Target – much less care or comment. I have no idea what my coworkers were wearing yesterday and I doubt any of them noticed my outfit either. If you were suddenly in a suit every day, yeah, but not going from a very casual look to a casual look.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        my experience the majority of engineers and scientists working in a business casual environment aren’t the most label-conscious people in the world,

        Actually, they consider high end labels to be a bad value. You know, cost per wear kind of thing (which they have calculated down to the penny). On the other hand, clothes are irrelevant to the actual cool things they are working on, so usually get ignored.

    9. Ariadne Oliver*

      I think OP #2’s phrase “I just won a technical achievement award and was rated top achiever at work” could be the real reason she is sensing a difference in her coworkers’ attitudes towards her. Jealousy at work is as common as coffee at work. Someone who has high standards and ambition, who willing to work hard and gets recognition for achievement will frequently become a target for the general “herd” (those who do not have high standards, ambition, or the desire to work hard).

      Being confident with one’s ability is not opposite of being shy or introverted. Having a quiet personality can go hand in hand with being a high achiever. However, being a bit shy can color our reactions to our interactions with other people. We can’t read other people’s minds (and I usually find I’m completely wrong when I try to do that), and there could be different reasons for their behavior, things that have nothing to do with you.

      OP, you mention your boss seems “harsher” towards you. What does that actually mean? Is your boss normally hard on you and only you? If your boss is more abrupt with you lately, it could be that she or he has some other problem to deal with, and it just feels that way to you. Our personal lives and problems do have influence on our actions all day long. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your new look. (Dressing nicer, at your age, is 100% appropriate, as long as you’re not wearing formal gowns to work. Express the real you!)

      Both you and OP #1 are attaching way too much importance to reactions to your looks. OP #1, I know you are dealing with a sensitive body image perception, but really all you need to do about your boss is tell her you’ve taken up running and that’s what’s keeping you fit. Then drop it from your mind and focus on the work you’re doing. I know it’s easier said than done, but it can become easier the more you try it. Neither one of you should be expecting emotional support from the people you work with. Your emotional relationships should be with people in your “real” life – not so much with people in your work life. It’s normal to want acceptance from well, everyone we come in contact with, but the majority of that acceptance should be from your family and friends.

      1. AnonyGoose*

        While this may be the case in a more toxic work environment, I disagree that most workplaces would have some sort of herding sheeple jealously sniping at someone for getting recognition. I’ve been the one receiving such awards in several jobs, and the one seeing a coworker get a (very well-earned) award as well. I’ve rarely encountered an overall culture that was not supportive of either.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Really? I have, and plenty. The office I’m in now, people who have my title are all pretty supportive of each other. But some of the people at the top and quite a few at the bottom of the hierarchy are *not* supportive of each other.

    10. Ren*

      I’m hearing that there are feelings of shame happening around achievements. Shame causes us to imagine slight against ourselves and put limitations on how much we deserve.
      When you speak to people thinking you’re better than them, you’re pushing against beliefs that there are people in the would that are better than you, and that you are less. You aren’t a snob or thinking too much of yourself for achieving things in your life. You need to own this as a fact or it will limit you for the rest of your life.
      The solution here is to counter your shame with honour and pride. When you wake each day, spend time honoring both what you want in life, and the choices you make to achieve it.

  2. Something Professional*

    I’m a little confused about what reactions OP#2 is getting to their new look. They don’t mention any specifics in their letter beyond people not looking at them and their boss getting harsher. It’s hard for me to imagine those things would be due to switching from corduroys and a polo to khakis and a button-down… That’s not really a huge transition at all.

    OP, I guess unless people have actually mentioned your clothing, I would suggest you start thinking about what else could be going on. Or, if the changes in behavior are specific enough, maybe ask people about them? It’s not inappropriate to check in with your boss about why he/she is getting harsher, for example. You might get some valuable information this way?

  3. Just Visiting*

    People like the boss in #1 piss me off, I don’t care if this is “women’s culture” or not, it’s unacceptable. A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with ADHD and the medication made me lose a noticeable amount of weight. I didn’t look unhealthy, since I was a chubby before, so it just looked like I was on a diet, especially since I never ate the snacks in the office and I ate very small lunches (as I literally couldn’t eat a lot of food). I worked in the same office all through the time I lost the weight. The women in my office wouldn’t shut up about my weight loss, not even when I was visibly put off by the comments. I don’t have an eating disorder but if I did I’m sure it would have sent me spiraling. Of course I didn’t want to tell anyone I was taking stimulants, so I had no idea how to deal with the “what’s your secret?” kind of questions. Most people don’t react well to “I don’t want to talk about my weight, thanks.” I’m probably going to be starting the pills again in a few months when I have better insurance, and I’m already plotting how I’m going to cover the inevitable weight loss at work. Shapeless baggy stuff, I guess. :/

    1. LisaLee*

      I feel you. I recently lost weight thanks to a painful medical condition and everyone and their mother feels the need to comment on it. Not only does the circumstances behind it make it an unwelcome subject for me, but it’s bringing up a lot of the body image issues and insecurities I thought I’d left behind in high school.

      I really wish we had a culture where it was rude to comment on another person’s body.

        1. LisaLee*

          I don’t think we consider it rude (or as rude) to comment on weight loss though, since it’s supposed to be a good thing.

          1. Ariadne Oliver*

            Mentioning anyone’s weight or age *IS* rude. Just ask Miss Manners, or my mother. What one should say is “you look so wonderful!”, and then stop.

            When people get to my age (ancient), the people we see who have lost weight often are battling cancer or other very serious diseases. It’s considered the height of rudeness and insensitivity to comment on it.

            1. anonanonanon*

              I’m wary of even saying “you look wonderful” to someone whose lost weight, especially if you don’t know if they lost weight by choice or through a medical issue. Also, it kind of insinuates that they didn’t look wonderful/beautiful before and that’s just as problematic.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Oh, this is interesting. I sometimes say “you look great!” or similar to people who I am relatively close with if I haven’t seen them in a while, but what I mean by that is pretty much never weight–it’s usually shorthand for “you look happy/confident/well-pulled-together/generally good.” (I wouldn’t do this with someone who wasn’t a friend or very friendly acquaintance, though. Certainly not a random coworker.) It never occurred to me that it might be being taken as a comment on their weight, so that’s definitely something I’ll be cognizant of in the future.

                1. Ariadne Oliver*

                  Turtle Candle said what I meant.

                  The only person whose appearance I regularly comment on is Mr. Oliver. He finally stopped wearing his favorite striped shirt with his favorite plaid pants, and seems to like the “solid piece with patterned piece” suggestion.

          2. Diddly*

            Yeah generally if you’re thin or you’ve lost weight ppl think it’s perfectly acceptable to comment on your weight.
            V v v annoying. People would comment on how small I was at work (when they were near my weight/size – I’d actually say smaller) and then commented on how frequently I snacked. Mixed messages but also uncomfortably nit-picking in that you’re tracking what I eat and how big I am. I’ve always been this size and ppl make you feel uncomfortable about it potentially because they’re envious – means I generally don’t shop with other woman because they make me feel bad about what size clothes I’m buying – which is weird if you think about it.
            For OP #1 maybe you should say something like – are you tracking what I eat?! That’s making me feel uncomfortable.
            Or in response to the diet/weight loss – running really works for me – and then leave if you can. Perhaps make it a broken record. That’s the way we were told to get rid of difficult customers (if you can’t help them and they won’t listen – on the phone.) Whenever she comments on the weight – it’s the running.
            Or you could be rude and comment on their weight….

            1. E*

              Ask folks if their comments are relevant to your work. If not, redirect them to work topics.

      1. Stephanie*

        We do live in a culture where it’s rude to comment on other people’s bodies. Some people are just plain rude.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        Amen. Last year I had a problem with weight loss. I lost weight and had trouble putting it on; I had to eat double my normal amount of calories just to not lose more weight. My doctors were not that interested in finding out the problem, and fortunately it went away on its own. It wasn’t as bad of a problem as yours, but because I have never before in my life had a problem putting on weight (I had the opposite problem), it was a little bit alarming for me. I hated people making comments on it, but people sure felt free to do so. Some people I think did it because they hadn’t seen me in a while and they were caught off guard, and it just slipped out. But for others, it was inadvertently hurtful.

    2. Ariadne Oliver*

      When people ask “what’s your secret?”, tell them “diet and exercise”. Most of them will shut up because they don’t want to do that to lose weight. It should become your standard and only answer to that stupid question.

      You don’t owe them anything more than that. I know you don’t want to be as rude as these etiquette-challenged people, so smile when you say that. And never say anything other than that (regarding your weight loss).

      1. Uyulala*

        That’s what I was thinking. Or just tell them what they can already see: “I eat smaller meals and don’t snack during the day.”

      2. Hiding on the Internet Today*

        I like answering “Cocaine!” With a happy, bright smile.

        But grinning sarcasm is my stock in trade.

        I also don’t want to discuss my diet, my excersize, or my health in general with rude people. There are no follow ups to illegal drugs, no questions about which diet, no sighs about how they wished they could get to the gym, no asking who your dealer is. The pause for processing lets you get away.

        1. Just Visiting*

          Ha! I love this!

          I wouldn’t want to say “diet and exercise” because it’s not true, and also… makes me feel like I’m someone I’m not? I’m a queer, unfeminine woman who doesn’t wear makeup, doesn’t believe in mainstream beauty standards, etc. It almost feels like if I say or imply I’m doing it on purpose, then I’m the kind of woman for whom becoming/staying skinny is an important part of my self-image. I’m not sure if this makes any sense? I guess my point is that I think diet culture is bad for women, so I don’t want to sell out to it just to get someone off my back for a few minutes.

          (Aside: I also had a new GP refuse to prescribe me my pills, which I had been taking at the same dose for over a year at that point, because “there are easier ways to lose weight.” That’s how pervasive and insidious diet culture is, that she assumed I was taking them for the side effect because I am a girl. I would take stimulants even if they made me gain weight.)

          1. TL -*

            Eh, diet as in “tries to eat a healthy diet” is different than diet as in “trying to lose weight by following X fad diet.”
            So you could just say “eating healthy and exercising,” if you’d like.

          2. Michelle*

            That’s disgusting of your doctor! I hope you found someone else!

            My 17 year old daughter chooses not to take her ADD meds because she feels that not being able to eat or sleep isn’t worth it. (I think she’s old enough to decide for herself.) Assuming that you’d put yourself through that just to lose weight, and not because you want to treat your actual medical condition, is so degrading and insulting! Not to mention sexist.

        2. Persephone Mulberry*

          This is great.

          JV, in your shoes I’d probably go with, “Oh, I’m on a medication that kills my appetite,” as nonchalantly as possible. It’s the truth, it’s got a hint at a medical issue which should hopefully shut down most follow up questions, and people take meds for all sorts of reasons, so no reason the not be matter of fact about it.

        3. Koko*

          Or build up to it: “Oh, you know, just sensible choices: diet, exercise, 8 glasses of water a day, and cocaine–shitloads of cocaine.”

    3. anonanonanon*

      Honestly, when people comment on it or ask what my secret is, I’ve always just outright said some variation of “I was diagnosed with a medical issue that’s caused some difficult life changes.” It usually makes people uncomfortable and embarrassed enough that they stop asking, and saying you don’t want to talk about a medical issue tends to get a better reaction than “I don’t want to talk about my weight”. (My issue was a bit different than losing a drastic amount of weight, but rather back and forth between periods of extreme bloating and having to restrict what I could eat, so people just assumed I was dieting or losing weight.)

      Sometimes I just default to my standard “Why do you ask?” when someone asks me about weight/kids/marriage/dating/other personal issues, because it puts it back on them to answer why they want to know such a personal question. In my experience, most people tend to change the subject. It may be a bit abrasive, but I’ve learned to stop caring about the feelings of rude people. If they feel guilty or embarrassed about asking a question they have no business asking, then maybe being called on it will make them think before they speak.

        1. Mander*

          Ugh. This happened to my uncle. He’d been a very obese man for a long time, so when he suddenly dropped a lot of weight people congratulated him on it. Only problem was that he was dying of pancreatic cancer. Even people who knew he was sick told him how good he looked.

    4. SherryD*

      I hate this culture of constantly yammering about weight. No one at my work feels the need to comment on my weight, thank heavens. But it’s a pretty regular topic of discussion around our open-space office. And I’m sorry for sounding like a snob, but it’s usually discussed with the level of sophistication of a Cathy comic. If they have to talk about it, I wish they’d save it for their breaks.

    5. simonthegrey*

      Likewise, I gained weight around the time of a miscarriage last year and I have not lost all of it. It is going down again, with kickboxing twice a week, but being told I am losing weight is still a rather sore subject because of why the weight was gained. I don’t mind being told I look more fit, but simply being told “you look so good” isn’t really a compliment since there can be pain associated with it.

  4. Christy*

    “I was never fat.” “Not that I was ever fat.”

    This really burns me. I hate the culture around weight and size where people need to specify “yes, I lost weight, but don’t worry, I wasn’t one of *those* people who needed to lose weight.” So many people think of fat as disgusting or of obesity as really disgusting (not saying the OPs do) that we feel the need to clarify like this even when we ourselves have made a conscious effort to lose weight.

    As a currently fat (and obese) person who is working to lose weight steadily, congrats on your weight loss! It takes effort. But geez, did you really have to clarify that you were never fat? Like, thanks a lot.

    (Sorry for the early morning feelings.)

    1. BananaPants*

      Yeah, that seriously rubbed me the wrong way. Overweight/obese people are already at a disadvantage in the professional world because so many in our society view being overweight as a character flaw due to lack of self-control in eating, lack of discipline in exercise, etc. I’m fat – not for lack of trying to lose weight – and it’s really disheartening to hear things qualified to the effect of, “I lost weight but was never FAT to begin with”. It further stigmatizes those of us who are overweight and makes it clear what a person REALLY thinks of us.

    2. JHS*

      I think your feelings are totally valid and understandable, but I took it as the OP saying her weight loss wasn’t dramatic, which kind of serves to emphasize how closely the boss was monitoring her weight. For someone with/recovering from an eating disorder, like OP, who probably already paid attention to even being one ounce heavier than she wanted to be, that kind of close attention to her weight by the boss set her off into being in the eating disorder mindset again. In no way am I saying it would be ok for the boss to comment on her weight if her weightloss was more dramatic, but I just mean she put that in for context rather than because she was trying to make it seem like she was separating herself from other people to make sure she wasn’t associated with someone who was “fat.” In any case, good luck with everything! Slow and steady wins the race from a Weight Watchers Lifetime Member who’s been there!

      1. UKAnon*

        This is exactly how I read it – that she was clarifying that this wasn’t a dramatic or noticeable weight loss unless you were looking closely.

      2. Ariadne Oliver*

        Yes, this.

        I also read that phrase as a clarifying comment that the weight loss wasn’t very significant, and that people were paying MUCH closer attention to her appearance than they should.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          That’s what I thought too. It still would be inappropriate and offensive if the change had been drastic, but there’s an added level of… oh… creepy if it feels like they’re tracking every tiny change. Sort of like, it’s equally inappropriate to question why you shaved your head vs. why you trimmed off two inches of hair, but there’s added bonus wtf if they’re even noticing your split end removal.

      3. Anonymouss*

        Although for OP Number 2 saying it, after saying that he ‘couldn’t wear’ tucked in things before makes me think that it was dramatic enough in some sense if it ‘so dramatically’ changed what he could wear (or thought he could wear).

        Which is BS. You can wear tucked in shirts at any size and be perfectly presentable.

    3. Nancie*

      For the first, I’m hoping/assuming she just meant it wasn’t a dramatic change to her weight.

      The second might be the same, I can’t tell. Maybe it’s just the repetition that makes it seem worse.

      1. Christy*

        It was totally the repetition. (Though I really liked having the two different perspectives juxtaposed.)

    4. TootsNYC*

      Isn’t it possible that it’s just a way of saying “The change wasn’t that drastic” or “I was not at a weight that would have made people think much about my weight”?

      But I get your reaction, truly I do.

      1. Christy*

        No, I’m sure you’re right. It just chafed (like my thighs). (I’m allowed to make fun of myself, right?)

    5. Computer Guy Eli*

      I’m sitting at a staunch 431lbs at 6’2, Losing weight and yadda yadda.

      But being fat -is- disgusting. I mean, no one should be grilled for being fat, but it is gross.

        1. Computer Guy Eli*

          It’s fine to be happy in your body, but it’s crazy to think that you’re just as attractive/good looking when you’re my size as opposed to a healthy size.

          1. QualityControlFreak*

            Eli, I hear ya dude. It sounds like you feel unattractive at your current weight, and you have every right to feel however you want about your own body. But attractiveness is highly subjective. Your definition of “gross” and mine probably don’t match, for example. My spouse and I are totally different body types. Are we attractive to each other? We’ve been together upwards of 30 years. Cut yourself (and others) some slack. You’re taking steps to change your physical appearance to make it more aligned with what you find attractive, and that’s fine. But there are other folks out there with their own ideas of what’s attractive, and their ideas are as valid as yours.

          2. Tomato Frog*

            I have found that I can find people unattractive without considering them disgusting or gross, though.

            1. Mander*

              This. Perhaps I’m a bit more sensitive to such things as a fellow fat person, but the only time I look at someone and think that they are gross is if they are visibly dirty or very smelly. And that is true no matter what size they are.

          3. Anonymouss*

            Then call me crazy!

            I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and with groups like ‘fatpeoplehate’ etc I know there are people who would solidly throw me into the disgusting category without hesitation.

            But I don’t find myself unattractive. Nor does my loving partner.

            So I guess I’m crazy.

      1. Sam P*

        Child abuse is disgusting. People dying of preventable disease is shameful. People being fat is people’s bodies having larger mass than other people’s bodies. Get some perspective, Dude.

    6. LBK*

      In addition to the other possible readings given above, I also read this as just being realistic about weight. I think on some level it’s refreshing when people don’t consider themselves fat when they’re any size above model thin, considering how heavily that idealized imagery is pushed as the only normal and/or healthy size. Particularly for someone that suffered from an eating disorder, reorienting your expectations about what constitutes being “fat” is pretty significant.

    7. a*

      I mean – I understand your point, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that OP said she was starting to exhibit signs of an eating disorder. Eating disordered people sometimes will think of their own bodies differently than they think of others; they’ll call themselves “disgustingly fat” but think that other people carry the weight well or not really even care about what other people look like at all. Or, they might feel like they have to clarify, “No, I’m not fat/was never fat” but they won’t care about other people being fat.

      My point is, I try to view comments about weight with a little more leniency when they’re coming from people who might have an eating disorder.

    8. Ann Furthermore*

      I totally get this, and it rubbed me the wrong way too. I am also someone who struggles terribly with my weight, and sometimes it feels like obese people are the last group it’s OK to shame or make fun of, except for smokers. And it’s not just this comment, I’ve seen several letters here with the same sentiment: I lost some weight, but I was never fat. Well gee, thanks, because god forbid someone might think you’re one of *them.*

      But I also get that because of my own personal situation, I’m probably more sensitive about this than I should be.

  5. YandO*


    I think you are imagining it AND I think you view yourself above your group of co-workers now that you dress, look, and work “better”

    I don’t think this is who you are, but we all end up in these mode one tine or another. Please re-examine your view of yourself and the world around you, so you can reconcile the very confident with very self-conscious.

    And congrats on all the positive things that have happened to you recently.

  6. TootsNYC*

    “I’m trying very hard not to let myself think about diet and weight too much, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my weight or my food. Thanks for understanding!”

    Practice this. Memorize it, as if it were lines in a play. So that it just spools right out.
    Practice saying it *on cue* (i.e., say her line first, then yours). Over and over.
    Try out a couple of different inflections until you get one that sounds friendly but sort of firm; then practice that over and over.
    You’re trying to make it automatic.

    Then say it, word for word, every single time.
    And if she responds by saying, “Oh, it’s just that I admire you!” or “That was a compliment,”
    say it again, word for word.

    The idea is that by using the exact same words, she’ll start to notice how -often- she does it.
    And that you’re really firm; it’s A Policy with you.

    By always responding to follow-up questions with your Policy Statement, you’ll keep her from spinning the conversation out by simply shifting topics slightly.

    Good luck!

    1. Dr. Speakeasy*

      If you say the exact same thing over and over again to someone you’re going to come across as hostile. When dealing with a boss, I’d go with versions of the same thing over again with different politeness markers but not the exact same thing on repeat.

      1. Brooke*

        I actually like the idea of saying it word-for-word every time. Why treat someone with kid gloves if they’re being disrespectful? Subtlely tends to be lost on those folks.

  7. TootsNYC*

    For #2, with the wardrobe upgrade–if it *is* that people make small comments about how spiffily you’re dressed (and I can imagine that, though not as easily in a men’s environment), just wait it out.

    They’ll get used to it. Even for women who work at a fashion magazine, a reaction to a change in the style of your attire is something that’ll fade eventually.

  8. Amber Rose*

    I’ve never had this trouble with people commenting on my food until recently and now I really understand why it bothers people. Before the most I ever heard was “that smells good” which is true and a compliment (I used to cook my lunches), or “what is that it looks tasty” which, again. That was rare anyway.

    But in this new job it seems like people make a point of walking by and saying like “sushi again huh” and its making me super self conscious about my food choices. To the point where on bad days I don’t even eat. How do they not realize how weird this is?

    Anyways, I just needed to rant about it a little. Alison’s script is awesome.

  9. ThursdaysGeek*

    For #5 should there be any questioning about why they went suddenly from salaried to hourly? Or is it only exempt/non-exempt that has definitive categories?

    1. The Bookworm*

      I was wondering why they were changed from salaried to hourly too. Did the job duties change, or did the employer just change them?

      OP can you clarify?

    2. Mike C.*

      Yeah, it sounds like the boss wanted to give them 20% salary decreases without officially decreasing salaries.

      1. LBK*

        Well, making a non-exempt employee salaried usually means assuming that they’ll always work 40 hours per week. If you’re working significantly fewer hours per week, I’d find it hard to argue in favor of continuing to pay you the same amount for any reason other than out of the goodness of my heart.

      2. KJR*

        At least they got the extra day off to go with it! During the recession we got a 20% pay cut but still had to work a normal work week. Kept our jobs during a very tough time though, so that’s something.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, it’s an exempt/non-exempt change that would be more significant. If they were non-exempt and stayed non-exempt, there’s no reason they can’t move from salaried to hourly.

    4. LBK*

      Being salaried is one of the criteria taken into consideration when determining someone’s exemption status but it’s not a requirement – so you can be non-exempt and salaried (I am now and have been in my last two positions as well). Assuming these employees otherwise meet the criteria for being non-exempt, it’s not illegal to change them from salaried to hourly, because they were actually getting more than what the law requires before.

    5. HR Caligula*

      Nothing questionably legal about salary to hourly, as long as it’s above Fed or State minimum wage hourly is always legal.

  10. Ellie H.*

    For what it’s worth I would not want to say ““I’m trying very hard not to let myself think about diet and weight too much,” just the second part. To me, saying that would be being way, way too personal about something private. (I get that different people feel differently about this and perhaps have a different kind of relationship with a boss though.) I would not even say something like that to a good friend – just to my boyfriend or maybe family members. It’s enough just to say “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my weight or what I’m eating.” I also have post-eating disorder weirdness, but it’s not anyone else’s issue to deal with or accommodate – and it wouldn’t make unwelcome comments about weight or food any more or less appropriate. To me it’s dragging a personal issue unnecessarily into something for which there is a good enough reason (basic decorum!) even without it.

    1. NutellaNutterson*

      Definitely agree here. There’s also that conundrum where “trying hard not to think about it” means you’re… Guess what? Now thinking about whether or not you’re thinking about it. Which is the definition of thinking about it.

      I’d rather give a “huh” and look of confusion at every opportunity.

      I had a time of health-related weight change, and if I was feeling particularly sassy, I’d reply to comments in a peppy tone like I was accepting the ‘compliment’ but say “yeah, they thought I had lupus!”

  11. Frustrated*

    I’m the guy in #2. Don’t have time to post more, so I’ll follow up a little later. I’m not fishing for compliments, in fact what I want is quite opposite, more like subtle sharp. I’m quite competent at my job, on the other hand I’m very shy (indeed both can happen) and self conscious. Getting the once over by people, playing having word/parsing/sniping games was not my intention. I’m thinking dressing down is easier than dressing up.

    1. Saurs*

      When you follow up, can you clarify exactly what is going on, examples of what colleagues are saying or doing that is making “dressing up” for you so difficult? It’s a bit confusing. You think you are pushing people away, and suspect that co-workers are judging you as overconfident, but it’s hard to gauge the validity of those impressions or offer advice without clarification.

      1. AnonyGoose*

        Yes, please do. Without examples it is really difficult to imagine what sort of “sniping games” are being triggered by a very minor shift in attire, especially when it sounds like what you’re now wearing is still in line with the dress code that other departments adhere to.

        1. TootsNYC*

          the “sniping games” he’s referring to are the ones here in the comments, I think.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      #2 I think you should dress how YOU like and what is appropriate for your office environment and not worry about it. The only think I might think of here, is that you could be looking more “dressed up” or professional than the rest of the whole office, including the managers? While there is nothing wrong with this, you really have to judge your office culture. If your office is ultra-casual, yes, it could be weird to have a coworker show up in a suit or even dress shirt & chinos, as it can look like they’re job hunting or something… you get my drift on this I hope. They shirts you pointed out seem pretty office casual normal to me, but if the culture in your office is typically t-shirts and jeans, I can perhaps see a bit of odd or weirdness until people get used to your new look (and they will).

  12. NicoleK*

    OP #2. Either people noticed and chose not to respond or just didn’t notice. A former male coworker always wore dressier pants, buttoned down shirts, and dressier shoes. When he wore jeans and a t-shirt (happened 2-3 times in the year he worked at the organization), I did notice but did not comment on his appearance.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      As we shouldn’t, right. In the reverse, I hate it if you wear a suit and people start questioning/commenting that you must be job hunting!

      1. NicoleK*

        Totally agree. If someone’s dressed up more than usual…if I say anything at all, I’ll say, “you look nice today” and leave it at that.

  13. Leslie*

    Ugh the food thing! I had a manager who would comment on everything I ate! If I had a bag of chips it was “Oh, just giving up on that diet huh?” (I’ve never dieted). If I ate a salad it was “Trying to be healthier? Good for you!” If I had an apple it was “Health snack. Good idea.” If it was a candy bar it was “Man, you really don’t count calories, do you?” Everything. EVERYTHING. I finally asked her to stop and she did…for about two weeks. Ugh do no miss that job.

    1. SH*

      Ugh! My boss told me I need to eat healthier and said he was going to find a doctor to lecture me on habits. When I had my physical, I was told I’m totally healthy but it was recommended that I stop drinking so much coffee because it makes me anxious. I wish people would focus on their own bodies…

  14. Retail Lifer*

    #2: I’m guessing you’re a guy who is working around a bunch of other guys most of the time. Guys generally aren’t going to notice the types of changes you’ve described, but even if they did I’m pretty sure most of them wouldn’t say anything about it because they’d feel weird about it. Seems like you might be wanting people to notice that you’ve lost some weight and are dressing nice now (and who wouldn’t?) and you’re mistaking their lack of attention for them not looking at you at all. They probably aren’t treating you any differently; you’re looking for some acknowledgement and you’re not getting it so it feels like you’re being snubbed. But your well-earned self-confidence could be rubbing people the wrong way, too. They might take it as you being cocky and that’s why you’re being treated differently now. But it also could all be in your head.

    As someone who has battled with being self-conscious, I get all of this. Even though you’re feeling more confident now, that self-consciousness can sneak back up on you and make you perceive things incorrectly. Congrats on the weight loss and the wardrobe upgrade. It sucks that no one is paying attention, but I hope you did this for yourself and not for them.

  15. Ann without an e*

    LW#2 I am an engineer and have noticed that a lot of people in our profession are professionally confident but socially self conscious and awkward. There are lots of things that could be going on.
    1. They are men, when was the last time you noticed/ commented on another man’s weight loss or clothing choices?
    2. Women, while we will notice will not say anything b/c in our experience some men conflate “oh nice shirt” with please ask me out. We know that not all men do this most of you are normal, but we don’t know who is who until we have said Nice shirt and then it goes sideways. A woman you know well might say, “Oh is that a new shirt? It looks nice.”
    3. You work with a bunch of engineers, they might notice if you came to work looking like a zombie, maaaaybe. And then they would just think it was cool and ask you technical details about how you made that wound look so real.
    4. You work with a bunch of engineers, you have dropped 30 lbs and are dressing nicer which moves you out of work into social and so now they are being awkward.
    5.You coincided your upgrade with your weight loss but they saw it coincide with your awards and your co-workers and manager might have decided that you are looking to get promoted and feel threatened.

  16. Brooke*

    I (average weight) had a manager (overweight) who would constantly make comments like “you’re lucky. YOU can eat that doughnut.” It was awkward but I never said anything to her or HR, which I regret.

    In hindsight (always so clear, right?) it was indicative of her overall lack of professionalism – a much greater issue than inappropriate food/weight-related topics. Toxic, really. I ended up leaving.

    1. Brooke*

      P.S. I also had another manager who would always make a different variety of negative comment when I was eating a food she considered “bad” or “unhealthy.”

      My body! My food! Leave me alone, nosy managers!

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