I accidentally embarrassed my friend’s boss — but I was right about what I said

A reader writes:

I’m having trouble dealing with fallout from an awkward interaction that took place at work a few days ago. I work in a large organization on an open floor plan. One of my neighbors is Sam, a nice, chatty, younger guy in a different department. We spend a lot of time taking when we have the bandwidth for it, and his boss, Ariel, often cheerfully joins in.

Ariel came up to me out of the blue the other day while Sam and I were chatting, and she brightly remarked that it looked like I had lost weight. I was pretty surprised in the moment and unfortunately fumbled the response. I told Ariel (quietly, I thought) that I didn’t think weight was appropriate to talk about at work. Only I realized right afterwards that this was condescending (she is a good deal older than me and also more senior, though our departments do not overlap) and worse, my voice was a good deal louder than I had thought, and carried to the rest of her department. Two of her direct reports actually gasped and Ariel herself looked shocked.

Since the interaction, she has been quite harsh with Sam, giving him stern criticism when he talks to me even briefly. I understand if she’s embarrassed, but I feel bad Sam is being scolded for a behavior Ariel used to endorse, especially if it is indeed because of my actions. But I worry that actually apologizing to Ariel might make a bigger deal out of the situation than is warranted, especially since I stand by what I said, if not the volume I used when I said it! What should I do?

I’m sure some people would tell you that you shouldn’t apologize, but … I think you’re more likely to get the outcome you want here with an apology. Not an apology for what you said, just for the way it came out.

You’re right that ideally people wouldn’t talk about weight at work — but it’s also true that it’s still a really common topic for discussion, including by kind, well-intentioned people who haven’t yet realized that it can be unwelcome and even harmful. And because there isn’t yet a widespread agreement about this, your response to Ariel probably did come across as overly harsh and chastising. It was more like the response you’d give to someone who violated a widely accepted code of politeness rather than someone engaging in something that’s unfortunately pretty typical conversation.

That doesn’t mean you to have to engage in weight talk at work if you don’t want to, but it does mean that there are politer ways to initially signal that. (But your response would have been a fine thing to say if she had continued to talk about weight after you had already signaled you didn’t want to.)

So yeah, I think you should try to smooth this over by saying something like, “When I said the other day that I didn’t want to talk about weight at work, I apologize for the way it came out. I think weight can be a tough topic, especially at work. I know you meant to be friendly and I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m sorry about the way it came out.”

Note that this language isn’t apologizing for the substance of what you said, just the delivery. That’s the piece here that went wrong (hence the gasping that followed it).

Of course, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. But it does sound like your response to Ariel came out differently than you intended or than you would say it if you could redo it, and given that, why not go back and try to fix it? In addition, there are politics here — Ariel is senior to you and is your friend’s boss. You probably have more to gain personally by smoothing this over than by just strictly standing on principle (and I say that as someone who has many times cut off my nose to spite my face out of a desire to strictly stand on principle).

{ 407 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago

    I like the script Alison provided, but I’d be tempted to let it go for another few days to see if Ariel gets over herself. Quite frankly, she should be embarrassed and hopefully will think twice before making a comment like that again.

    1. MLB

      As a manager, Ariel is handling the situation poorly, but OP was a little harsh. Like Alison said, I’d apologize for the way I came across, not for what I said.

      1. Snark

        No question, but it sounds like the comment came across more than “a little harsh.” If people gasped and Ariel looked shocked, my guess is it came out with a good deal more emotion and force than intended, and I think erring on the side of an effusive apology is probably the way to go.

        1. tangerineRose

          I agree with Snark. An apology for how it was delivered makes a lot of sense and should smooth over things.

    2. SignalLost

      Generally speaking, someone commenting on a changing standard of behaviour in a way perceived as harsh by the listeners does more to solidify the pre-change thought, because “that person who insisted on spouse rather than wife on the invitations was so rude about it!” If OP wants Ariel to hear what she said rather than how she said it, an apology is a great way to make that happen.

      1. Lynn Marie

        Cannot agree more! Generally, first step is if you want kind, well-meaning people to change these kinds of behaviors, do your best to make it easier and more pleasant for them to change the way they think than to reinforce the unwanted behavior through inducing defensiveness. Apologise, because you need and deserve a do-over too; next time you won’t be so unprepared and will react in a more useful way than you did.

          1. Observer

            Come on- OP admits that the way they said it was not really appropriate. Rudeness is rudeness, dismissing that as “tone policing” not helpful.

              1. JSPA

                That comment is agreeing with / expanding modestly upon the comment above it. Unless you’re reading it some other way, there’s no way it can be “tone policing.”

                I guess there’s a standing chance of occasional confusion in this thread because it’s a thread specifically ABOUT tone. So any of many comments on the main topic of the thread can potentially be misread as a comment on the tone of someone commenting (aka “tone policing.”)

                1. Detective Amy Santiago

                  if you want kind, well-meaning people to change these kinds of behaviors, do your best to make it easier and more pleasant for them to change the way they think

                  That is the line I was specifically responding to.

                2. Emily K

                  There’s a lot of psychological and sociological research supporting that statement, though. What is most effective is not always – or even often – the same as what is most natural, satisfying, just, or cathartic.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I don’t see how the line you’re citing is tone policing, though. Tone policing is about shifting the focus from the core of the comment (it’s not appropriate to comment on weight) to the way it’s delivered in order to deploy ad hominem attacks. But in this case, OP has said that the delivery was what was problematic, and OP is not the recipient of the attacks—Sam is. That suggests that OP also thinks there was a problem in delivery that is resulting in bad behavior. Lynn Marie didn’t raise the issue or create a tone-related discussion; OP raised the issue in their original letter.

                  Ariel is certainly not behaving well as a manager or as a grown-up. But OP specifically solicited advice on how to proceed, and so all of the advice is focused on how to limit and specify the manner in which OP speaks (i.e., tone) to Ariel during follow up. Lynn Marie’s framework for how to proceed is useful, in large part because there’s a growing body of research and evidence (aside from the general etiquette framework of it) that backs up her suggestions.

                4. Falling Diphthong

                  What Emily K said. Do you care about being effective in bringing about change, or do you care about being technically in the right?

                  Which, not ironically, is the heart of the letter.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            It’s not time policing to provide information on ways to make your message more effective.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

              Hee, time policing!

              (I actually read that typo as “tome policing” the first time and liked that even more.)

          3. NotMyMonkeys

            What? No. This is not tone policing. The OP admits they came off harsher than intended, and it’s apologizing for that delivery.

          4. Artemesia

            Tone matters. And it matters very much in interactions with those senior to you in an organization. I say this as someone who has done things similar to the OP here i.e. said something that was substantively on point but alienated someone I shouldn’t alienate.

            I don’t think not snapping at the boss and worse yet someone else’s boss is a matter of workplace civility not ‘tone policing.’

            And Alison’s script makes the focus where it should be i.e. I am so sorry about the way that came out.

          5. Overeducated

            I think the distinctions here are whether someone is recommending changing the tone because they think it is an excuse to write off the content (tone policing), or because they want you to be more effective in delivering it as well as maintaining the relationship (framing). I think in interpersonal, manners-related stuff like this where you know the other person well enough to know if they are engaging in good faith and will have a relationship with them that lasts well beyond a single interaction, tone matters pretty much all the time. Which isn’t to prescribe a specific subservient tone across the board, just to say messages don’t come free of content and interpersonal relationships don’t come free of emotions.

            1. SignalLost

              I think this is the key point. If someone is engaging in good faith, you’ll get farther engaging politely. If they’re not, that’s very different.

          6. Annoyed

            As someone who abhors tone policing…

            OP’s tone *was* harsh, over the too, inaporopriate, etc. OP herself says that her tone was not as intended.

            Ergo I wouldn’t call any of ths “policing” as much as a I would call it a prudent and respectful way to walk back from going overboad in one’s reaction.

            Sometimes tone *does* matter.

          7. SignalLost

            There is a HUGE difference between OP saying they made a mistake and Ariel demanding that OP sisal more politely when all present agreed that OP had. Claiming this is “dangerously close to” tone policing is disingenuous and ignores the fact that OP states she spoke more harshly than she intended, and at least 2 people (the gaspers) agree.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago

              If you read the comment that I replied to, you will see that I wasn’t talking about the OP, I was talking about the language in Lynn Marie’s comment.

              1. SignalLost

                Since Lynn Marie did not issue a blanket statement that this is the only way for oppressed people to win their freedoms and since a lot of people don’t actually think beyond the specifics of what they’re reading, or don’t assume that others do, I took her comment as made in good faith and as limited to the scope of workplace interactions, and specifically a workplace interaction where no one was overtly operating in bad faith. You did not. I don’t know which of us is right, regarding the context of the comment, but you’re doing a lot of work on this post to tell people that comments like weight loss are black-and-white not okay, and I’m not comfortable, based on that overall record of actions, that you’re coming from an assumption-of-good-faith place. Those kinds of comments are wrong, but not everyone has gotten the memo – flatly insisting that’s so ignores that for a whole lot of people, this is new. In a similar vein, I have discomfort with assuming others are operating in bad faith regarding tone. If Lynn Marie clarifies further, I may well be wrong, but I think that calling one comment “dangerously close to tone policing” in such an ambiguous environment isn’t the most useful thing. And FTR, I would not disagree with you if we were talking about a situation with, say, racial discrimination at play, but this is not that post. OP and Ariel are certainly presented as being, other than job title, on a footing of equality.

          8. SignalLost

            Additionally, calling this tone policing ignores the use of that in true oppression, where no matter how respectful and appropriate one’s tone, it’s never good enough. This is a case where everyone we know about agrees, including OP, that her delivery was inappropriate for her workplace. She didn’t say her piece politely and privately and then get treated badly by Ariel for being rude; she says she was accidentally rude.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Yeah; I think this is why I’m troubled by this line of argument (which feels a bit of a derail to me, although tone policing discussions might otherwise be valuable and helpful).

            2. Mad Baggins

              Yes, this is my understanding of the meaning of “tone policing” ie focusing on the tone instead of the content as a means to derail. That seems wholly irrelevant to this letter, because the question itself is “was my tone too harsh, and if so what should I do”.

          9. Indoor Cat

            I dunno, Alison talks a lot about tone. Tone (and facial expression, and body language) is a big part of communication. If someone messed up and accidentally conveyed something they didn’t mean via their tone of voice– whether that’s aggression, condescension, contempt, and so on– it’s a good idea to apologize for it.

            Nobody gets thrown in, er, “tone jail” if they get criticized by the “tone police.” All that happens is communication either goes more smoothly or it doesn’t.

          10. Susan

            As my mother used to always say: “c’est le ton qui fait la musique”. Or ” It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Tone matters. It determines whether someone will listen to what one says or summarily dismiss what one says.

        1. Hills to Die on

          I think the fact that Ariel wasn’t trying to be mean is a large factor in being able to move past this. Apology will hopefully reset her to this place of kindness, which is what it seems she was trying to be.

        2. JSPA

          It also creates a chance to put the issue in context (as opposed to, “it’s not OK because surely we all know that it’s not.” Which isn’t the case, clearly.)

          If it’s true, OP can say,

          “we had it drummed into us [at previous job / at university / at place where I volunteered / when my cousin had cancer / when high school friend had an eating disorder / when my friend lost a pregnancy just after she’d started to “show” / when my uncle lost 40 lbs from not eating due to depression during his divorce] that there are too many times where praising someone for actual weight loss will make them sad. And if someone is happy with their weight, or they’ve gained weight and are not happy about it, praising them for looking thinner implies that you think they need to lose weight. It’s so much safer to say, ‘you look great’ without adding ‘did you lose weight?’ That way, if they want to talk about weight loss, they can bring it up.”

          I know there’s also a whole philosophical / women (and men)-are-not-meat / “I’m not a roast, I’m not sold by the pound, people therefore have no need to concern themselves with my weight” argument. If she’s generally “woke” in all sorts of other ways, then sure, go with that. But even the least aware person can usually process “often, people get thin for sad reasons / best not to mention it.”

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I agree, and I wouldn’t wait a few days. Ariel likely thinks she was paying OP a kind compliment, so smoothing this over is going to require OP to be the adult in the room and continue to take the high road.

        So I would apologize (privately) for how the message came out, not for the content. If Ariel gets defensive and doubles down that it was a compliment, OP can use it as a teaching moment and say something like:

        “I know you meant well, but as norms change, more people are finding it inappropriate to talk about a person’s weight, especially in the workplace. It can be really tricky to navigate this, especially because we never know how someone’s physical or mental health affects their weight and discussion about it.”

        1. Anon From Here

          I gotta disagree that the LW should turn this into a teaching moment. They’re already concerned that the comment in question was delivered condescendingly.

          1. Hills to Die on

            I totally agree. I think this would lose the OP any forward momentum. She definitely got the message about not commenting on people’s weight already. Keep the focus on your apology.

          2. Yorick

            You could say something like, “I understand that and appreciate that you wanted to compliment me, but I still prefer not to talk about my weight.”

            1. PersonalJeebus

              Yes–even though the OP is absolutely correct that it’s not a good idea to comment on *anyone’s* weight at work, she is more likely to get a good outcome here by making it about her own preferences and boundaries, and she should keep it simple (no anecdotes or hypotheticals). Making it about teaching or correcting the boss in any way is only going to compound the problem.

              If the OP were the senior person in this scenario, the advice would be different.

        1. Genny

          I think everyone widely agrees that you don’t comment on weight gain, but I think people genuinely believe they’re paying you a compliment by noticing weight loss. People talk so much about dieting and needing to lose weight, that it’s not surprising people want to acknowledge hard work and accomplished goals. There’s definitely more of a blurred line between when it’s okay or not to compliment someone on weight loss.

          1. PersonalJeebus

            I am actively working on losing weight, and while I would be fine with my friends or family noticing my progress (I’d even enjoy it), I would feel pretty uncomfortable getting comments about it at work–especially from someone senior to me. But there are a lot of situations where the line between coworker and friend is blurry, and it sounds like Ariel may have been friendly with the OP by proxy (through Sam).

            Ariel should know better, but it’s unsurprising that she doesn’t.

          2. wheeeee

            I think it is disturbing that the woman made that remark in the first place. I once had someone at work (senior to me, and definitely NOT with good intentions) interrupt a conversation I was having with two other people to say, “You’ve lost weight!” in front of others. It was true, I had lost weight, but it was due to stress from that very toxic workplace and illness.

            So I said, “I’ve been sick” and just looked at her. She looked embarrassed and started to say something along the lines of “Well at least you’ve lost weight because of it…” I just continued to look at her and raised my eyebrows. She backed off – literally – and walked away, and one of the the other people in the conversation, nodded at me, as if to say, “That’s what she does, and that’s how you stop her.”

            It is NEVER OK to comment on someone’s weight. If you think they look great, say, “You look great!” I understand Alison’s advice here but no one should have to put up with comments on their weight at work. It shouldn’t be normalized and apologizing in any way for telling someone it is not OK is normalizing it. An adult who makes such comments SHOULD be made uncomfortable, IMO. The fact that the woman who was chastised is trying to get some (mild?) revenge here tells me that she still doesn’t get it, and regardless of her position in that workplace, SHE is the problem if she’s making such comments, especially to people she perceives as being unable to “fight back”.

            *steps off soapbox*

        2. Annoyed

          I thought it had always been bad manners to comment on others’ bodies.

          ::searches Miss Manners’ archives::

        3. Kay

          Ehhhh I personally don’t comment on anything weight related to anyone, but I’m not even sure I’d say it’s a norm- a lot of people still consider mentioning weight loss a compliment, and to be fair a lot of people like to celebrate their weight loss. While I agree what Amy did was inappropriate, I also think it’s not that uncommon of a reaction. A lot of people see it as recognising an achievement

      3. batman

        I don’t think this is new, but I do think norms differ among different groups. Even as a kid (back in the 90s) I thought it was rude to comment on someone’s body size (whether thin, fat, or in between) in weight loss.

    3. Hills to Die on

      I disagree on that. Waiting a few days might be okay, but there are long-term repercussions for you as well as for Sam. What if she is asked for input on whether to give you a promotion? Or feedabck on how you handle personal interactions because they are thinking of giving you a sensitive but high-profile client? What if they restructure and Ariel becomes your boss? Or, people just hear through the grapevine that you are prickly / difficult / hung up on weight / embarass people for no reason? (Not saying you are those things; I’m saying that you don’t want saddled with negativity over this.) Just apologize and go out of your way to be nice and kind to everyone, including Ariel. Even though she is handling this with immaturity.

      1. Chelsea

        Totally agree. People who say these things generally believe they are paying a compliment, and to respond so harshly can only harm her professional reputation at work.

    4. Observer

      Why wait? The OP had a valid point, but she WAS rude. True, the manager is not handling things well, but when someone goofs, it’s MUCH healthier to deal with their part of the issue rather than focusing on how badly the other person is handling it.

      If you do the right thing and the other person still continues to act childishly, there’s not much you can do, but you’re still better off. If nothing else, when you need to talk about it, you can show that you owned your part of the problem and took reasonable action to fix what is fixable.

    5. LadyL

      Yeah, I’m really surprised that Allison didn’t comment on how the manager is punishing Sam for something the LW said. Even if LW was unforgivably rude, it’s unacceptable to punish someone else for that, and that seems like a major red flag.

        1. LadyL

          That Ariel is not a person who acts rationally or based on good faith, and treats her employees poorly. If LW wants to apologize because LW feels bad about her tone, that’s absolutely fine and I agree with Allison that is a good route to take. But if LW feels like she needs to apologize to Ariel so that Ariel will stop being short with Sam, well, a rational person wouldn’t be punishing Sam for something someone else did in the first place. You can’t appease someone like that.

          I’m not arguing that means LW shouldn’t apologize, just that LW should definitely be cautious around Ariel if this is how Ariel handles things.

      1. Lady Blerd

        Because that is not what OP asked for and for now, is not something that needs to be escalated beyond a simple apology.

      2. Amelia Pond

        I agree. The fact she’s punishing Sam doesn’t make me inclined to think she’ll behave rationally even if an apology is offered.

    6. NW Mossy

      In my experience, awkwardness is much easier to defuse if it’s close in time to the aggravating incident.

      One of the most effective ways to de-awkward is a low-key but direct acknowledgement, where you both look at the awkward together for 5 seconds, realize it’s not so terrible, and go on about your respective business. However, it gets harder to pull off the “low-key” part after more time has passed, because it sends an undercurrent of “and I’ve been thinking about this ever since” that adds subtle-but-noticeable import to the discussion.

      It’s like fish or uninvited guests – it stinks after three days.

      1. a1

        Agree. In the moment, after I heard the gasps and realized how loud I was I probably would have said “Wow, that came out louder/harsher than anticipated. Eek (or Sorry, or something along those lines).”

    7. caryatis

      Ariel did nothing wrong. “You look like you’ve lost weight” is a normal compliment, and the response is “thank you.” OP is the weird one for having this giant hangup about weight.

      1. SarahTheEntwife

        For many people it is not a compliment, especially if they haven’t lost weight (which just makes the whole situation unnecessarily weird when what you meant was “you look nice today”) or they’ve lost weight due to illness.

      2. RaccoonLady

        When I was in the midst of an ED my boss told me I looked like I had lost weight! I did in fact say thank you, and then I went home that night and didn’t eat dinner because clearly eating less than 600 calories a day was working!
        Obviously this example is never going to apply to everyone you “compliment”, but why not stick to “you look nice today!” Or any other compliment that is not intrisincally connected to someone’s physical (or mental) health.

      3. buttercup

        This is a very ignorant assumption. It’s only a compliment in the specific circumstance that someone was trying to intentionally lose weight (which doesn’t seem to be the case here.). Some people lose weight unintentionally or due to medical issues. (And there is also the sad biases regarding body sizes but that is for another topic.)

      4. JSPA

        This site needs a poll function. Maybe with the ability to include age and general location.

        I’ve been a fairly round yet happily active person in many states and on several continents. So I can vouch that this isn’t any sort of universal. But it’s also not a “thing nobody does anymore.” I still occasionally hear this sort of “praise” in the US, but by now it’s primarily from women (disproportionately white women) who are either over 60 or over 45 and who work in fashion / makeup / other image-focused industries or who are themselves constantly on a diet and have been for years, and forget that reducing weight isn’t a universal interest / goal.

        Men pretty much know how badly this can backfire (for any of many reasons). Younger women; people in computers, medicine, other intellectually-driven fields; and (broadly) African Americans, all seem better at being complementary in ways that actually complement the whole person (not their measurable dimensions).

        In France, weight talk seems far more universal (including overt, unapologetic weight-judging). Germany/Netherlands, you’re more likely to be judged for being inactive than by girth per se. Korea…judgementalism seems to be sort of…a way of life? The way you know when you’re accepted into a group and treated as family?

        Broad strokes, here, and apologies for that.

        1. anonymouse

          This is an incredibly ridiculous comment and insulting to any number of groups. I was unaware your complimenting ability had to do with the color of your skin and your age.

      5. Elsie

        Think about it. The reverse would be rude and insulting. Equating “you look good” with “you’ve lost weight” either explicitly or implicitly implies that people who have gained weight, or the recipient in question prior to the weight loss, do not look good.

      6. Jen S. 2.0

        “You look like you’ve lost weight” is NOT a normal compliment. I lost 75 lbs a few years ago, and when people commented, every single time, it came out sounding like, “Thank goodness you’re finally doing something about all that blubber!” People need to avoid commenting on people’s weight unless the first person brings it up.

        1. JSPA

          Eh, “normal” in the sense of “it’s the norm” has nothing to do with whether it’s generally a good idea.

          It’s too common / still too much the norm, given how often it makes people miserable rather than happy, and given how it reinforces a bunch of toxic social assumptions.

          Nobody should have to say “thank you” to a thoughtless comment that lands like a kick in the teeth, when it’s predictable that a significant subset of the people being “complemented” will in fact be distressed.

          And it’s not like it’s so hard to say something positive that doesn’t have bad presumptions built in.

      7. That Would be a Good Band Name

        I’m going to take an answer from my teen here: No. Just no.

        That’s what she says to me when I say something horribly old and outdated. “You’ve lost weight” is no more a compliment than “you’re hair looks so much better with that cut”. You only appear to be saying something nice. You are really saying that the way the person was before was not up to your standards.

        1. That Would be a Good Band Name

          What I wouldn’t give for an edit button. I hate seeing I’ve used the wrong your/you’re. Geez.

      8. Owlette

        One of my coworkers told me “wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight!” after I came back to work after being in the hospital for 2 months. I almost died. The meds I was on didn’t let me eat and I lost 30lbs. It was awful to my coworker say that, because I was healthier when I was fat! This is to say, tons of people have hangups about weight and it’s incredibly rude to bring up weight in a conversation.

      9. ket

        From a friend: “Monsoon season really did me in this year — I had diarrhea and vomiting for three months straight! You should try it!”

        1. topscallop

          Ha. A friend was visiting DC after living in Laos for a year and working on a humanitarian aid project with UNICEF. We were having a living room dance party and someone commented, “You look so skinny!” Without missing a beat she said, “Thanks, it’s all the diarrhea!”

      10. Confused

        It’s not a great compliment but it was clearly intended as such. Ariel wasn’t trying to be rude, but OP was.

        1. Lizzy May

          Intention is only a part of the equation, though. The reality is in workplaces weight based comments aren’t appropriate (and I think society is moving in that direction) and the damage they can cause is the same whether the comment is meant as a compliment or not.

      11. Tammy 2

        “Nice rack” is also technically a compliment.

        It isn’t appropriate, and is often hurtful, to comment on your coworker’s body, whether you mean it in a ‘nice’ way or not. Period.

        1. Thursday Next

          “Nice rack” is not a compliment, and not intended as one. It is sexist language meant to objectify.

          I don’t think people should comment on others’ weight, but conflating Ariel’s comment with sexist objectification does not advance that argument.

      12. Whimsy and Forest Fires

        Lots of things that are “normal” need to change. It’s still pretty “normal” for white people to ask people of color “Where are you from? No, where are you REALLY from?” or “What are you?” It is not at all “weird” for POC to object to that behavior, even though it’s very common and the people doing it are generally not consciously thinking, “I am deliberately being racist and rude right now!” I don’t disagree that it’s still pretty “normal” to assume weight loss is always a good thing and that people always want to be complimented on it, but it’s a lousy norm that needs to be changed, because it is way, way too common for people dealing with cancer, eating disorders, miscarriages, depression, and other not-at-all-happy things to get bombarded with “congrats on losing weight – you look so much better now!” It does not feel good to hear “I just wanted you to know that I really like what cancer is doing to your body,” or “it’s so great that your anorexia is causing you to slowly starve yourself to death,” even if the person delivering the “compliment” has no idea that that’s what they’re effectively saying.

        If people want to be complimented on their weight loss, they will almost certainly say things like, “I’ve been dieting and exercising more often, and I’m so happy about the weight I’ve lost!” Complimenting people on their weight loss when they have not expressed any desire to lose weight is really, really not worth the risk of being deeply hurtful to someone whose weight loss is not a welcome change with a positive cause, no matter how “normal” it is, and it’s entirely okay for the response to be, “Hey, please don’t do that – there are all kinds of reasons people might lose weight, and lots of them aren’t good” and not “Thank you.” The OP was louder and harsher than they meant to be about it, but they are under absolutely no obligation to pretend that they appreciate a “compliment” that is deeply hurtful to a lot of people.

    8. buttercup

      I think it’s unprofessional of Ariel to be taking it out on Sam (OPs coworker.) I could somewhat understand her being pissed at the OP, or at least uncomfortable, but her taking it out in an innocent bystander makes me really want to judge her character.

      1. moodygirl86

        Yes, that’s what bothers me about the letter. Even if OP was unintentionally rude or harsh or whatever, the way Ariel is treating Sam says more about her than it does about OP.

        Three years ago, a bloke at my work made a comment about the size of my boobs (larger than average), in front of the whole team. We were administrators, it was in no way relevant to our job. I said firmly “That’s not appropriate” and he pushed back with “But it’s a compliment! ISN’T IT?” and glared, as if hoping to cow me into backing down. I replied that some women might consider it a compliment, but I didn’t, and please don’t comment on people’s bodies at work. At that point, our boss walked in, just in time to hear him retorting that I should be glad to have my figure and the praise that comes with it, as most women would. She asked to speak to him in private, and then we never saw him again. Certain colleagues blamed me for “getting such a nice guy fired”. No, I wasn’t sorry to leave that organisation.

        I know OP’s situation isn’t quite the same, but it’s similar in the sense that women get fed up with having their figures commented on. And if you’ve had boobs since age 11 and had blokes old enough to be your dad commenting on it, it gets boring pretty fucking quickly. I don’t blame OP for her reaction, and even if OP had been rude, Ariel’s behaviour towards Sam is 100 time worse.

        1. Serafina

          Gah, the dudebros (or the “I’m so cool I’m not like other girls” women) who defend the creeps are often worse than the creeps themselves (yet they’re often the same ones who bawl, “not all men!”)

          Glad your boss had your back and showed “nice guy” the door. I very much doubt he or his defenders learned any lessons, but at least you don’t have to deal with his “friendly compliments” anymore!

  2. anna green

    I think its really weird that “Two of her direct reports actually gasped”. That kind of seems like not a gasp-worthy thing.

    1. Robbie

      Maybe no one has told off Ariel before? If she is high senior enough, it may be the first time someone has called her out, whether in private or public. I can see some people gasping as a reaction.

    2. fposte

      I suspect this sounded to others like a loud and sharp correction of somebody who outranks you. That would be gaspworthy around my office, where we don’t do loud and sharp corrections at all, let alone upstream.

      1. Hills to Die on

        That, and the fact that many people (including me) would have taken it as a compliment–which is what I think she was trying to do. I totally get the whole point of not talking about weight at work, but to me it isn’t a big deal and this seems to have come from a misguided place of kindness on Ariel’s part.

        1. fposte

          I was thinking an analogue might be proudly announcing somebody returning after their wedding as “Mrs. Newlastname.” As it happens, most women marrying men do take their husband’s last name, and a lot of them really like it, but enough of them don’t that it’s really unwise to make this assumption. However, there are corrections to this that would fly reasonably and corrections that could be large enough to cause problems.

          1. Hills to Die on

            I understand why it isn’t okay; I”m just saying that (to Alison’s point) that she wasn’t coming from a place of ill intent.

            1. fposte

              Oh, I’m not disagreeing with you; just building on the thought. I’m not prepared to say that kind intent is enough to get somebody off the hook (oh, the awful things people kindly say about race), but there’s enough of a root here that I don’t immediately think Ariel is awful for saying it.

              1. Liz T

                Kind intent often isn’t enough–if a kind person had announced me as “Mrs. Hisname” after my wedding, I might’ve thought of them quite differently after that.

                1. fposte

                  Sure, and no disagreement on both the kind intent not being enough and the “Mrs. Lastname” thing. But there are also a lot of people who would be really tickled by that, and more women take their husband’s name than don’t, so somebody who made such an announcement isn’t flying in the face of all cultural currents.

        2. Seriously?

          It was probably meant as a compliment but weight loss can be a very sensitive subject. I was complimented about my weight loss recently at work and did not know how to respond. The weight loss is actually due to some serious health problems that I did not want to get into. I tried to just say “thanks” and move on, but my coworker kept asking what I was doing right. It is an incredibly painful subject for me right now and therefore was a big deal, regardless of intentions.

          1. Hills to Die on

            I understand why it isn’t okay; I’m just saying that (to Alison’s point) that she wasn’t coming from a place of ill intent.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago

              Don’t comment on people’s bodies. It’s not that hard.

              The fact that people are bending over backwards to excuse this is just more of the societal messaging that fat = bad.

              1. NotMyMonkeys

                But as Alison said, that’s a relatively new, progressive movement that not everyone has caught onto yet. So if you introduce them to the idea that commenting on people’s bodies = bad in a way that doesn’t put them on the defensive, then you’re more likely to actually get your point across in a way they’ll understand and respond to.

              2. Delphine

                Yes, I’m disappointed that there are people saying OP should check her own tone. Someone commented on her body and she reacted to that… I think she ought to apologize for her coworker’s sake, but not because her flustered reaction was wrong.

                1. Myrin

                  In fairness, OP says herself that she spoke way too loudly and condescendingly – I think it’s fair for commenters to trust her own perception of how she came across.

              3. Les G

                Look, the issue at hand here isn’t whether the OP was right that Ariel’s comment was inappropriate. It’s right in the title of the post; we’re taking it as a given.

                The question is what OP should do now. And while I don’t have the perfect solution, what she should *not* do is relitigate the issue with her friend’s boss.

          2. Zip Silver

            People get pushy about weight loss for whatever reason. I lost 80lbs several years ago and my go to answer when people asked what I was doing to lose weight was that I ate less.

            1. Tardigrade

              I suspect they’re looking for someone who has a secret method that doesn’t involve hard work and sacrifice (or illness).

              1. Wendy Darling

                A guy I went to grad school with lost 50+ pounds very suddenly. It was VERY obvious. Someone started gushing about how great he looked (he did not look great — he looked thinner but also completely exhausted) and asked how he lost the weight.

                “Cancer.”

                And that’s why we don’t do that. :/

                1. designbot

                  yeah. My boss and my MIL both commented on how “great” I looked post-pancreatitis. My clothing didn’t fit, I couldn’t muster the energy to put on makeup, my hair was falling out, and my nails had ridges from malnutrition because I hadn’t been able to eat solid food for a whole month, but hey I guess weight is the only thing in life that matters. I HATE it when people comment on weight now.

                2. Ralkana

                  Yep. We had a sales rep who had a contact who told him, “haven’t seen you in a while man, you look really great! Whatever you’ve been doing, keep it up!”

                  Our rep replied, “yeah, no thanks. One bout of cancer was enough.”

                3. Julia

                  A woman in my grad school lost some weight, and the professor inquired if she was okay. Another student interjected with, “but it’s good that she lost weight!” I tried to tell her off, but I don’t think she understood. People…

                4. New Job So Much Better

                  A friend had lost weight from chemo and her hair had started to come back thicker and shinier. Teenage girls would comment they should do chemo to start looking better :(

            2. Anonymeece

              I took my driver’s license picture some years ago, when I was overweight. I’ve since lost a lot of weight, and I’ve had random store clerks, with a line of people there remark, “Wow, you’ve lost so much weight!” and push how I did it even after I demurred. One customer from behind even wanted to see my driver’s license to compare.

              People get very weird about other people’s weight. I ended up just saying, “Oh… diet and exercise” to end the conversation.

            3. anonymouse

              haha yes Zip Silver – no one wants to actually listen to my advice on losing 40 lbs through portion control. It’s much easier to buy into a pyramid scheme.

          3. Lindsay

            I am currently struggling with this at work because I’ve lost 30 pounds in two months, and it’s the result of an eating disorder/having to cut my food budget to save money. I got trapped in the bathroom the other day by an overly-chatty coworker who was disappointed that her daily walks weren’t having any effect and wanted “some tips to get started.” Thankfully I’m known around the office as someone who does not engage in small talk, so I could walk away without saying anything and not have trouble, but I really don’t know what I would do if a higher-up said something to me.

            1. JSPA

              You probably already know this intellectually, but please internalize that making cuts to your food budget can be one of the symptoms of an ED (or depression, if that’s also in play).

              There are very few areas completely without food banks. There are items you own that you can sell. There are filling, nutritious foods that cost pennies a pound (notably oats and beans). So if you’re telling yourself that adequate food is a place you can make cuts to your budget, that’s not something separate from the ED.

              For most people, “being fed adequately” is a default core need (deeper even than housing). If that’s not the way your mind is currently working…you could do worse than opening up to (or telling off!)…well, just about anyone, if that might leverage some help.

                1. JSPA

                  In the context of, “cuts to food budget that are so severe as to lose 30 lbs in 2 months,” and “in the presence of an existing, diagnosed eating disorder.” Otherwise, it’s admittedly a pretty nonsensical statement.

                  The statement about “getting minimal required food” vs other core needs is outgrowth of research on the bottom rank of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Originally the presumption was that shelter was higher priority than food. (That’s still promoted in wilderness survival courses, where it makes sense, because those are generally well-fed people going into…wilderness.) But “shelter before food” turned out to be based on the presumption of an environment where the climate is not survivable without shelter. In subtropical-to-tropical climates where people are often baseline undernourished, “food” slots in after “air” and “water.” (Winter in MN? Shelter comes first.)

                  As for food banks / soup kitchens, give me a ZIP code (one where there’s internet access and office jobs–in that the poster is posting here and is employed in a place with multiple employees) and I probably can pull up some sort of food-related resource. I’ve had quite a few friends who were unhoused and unemployed, at short notice, during one or another coming out process, that I’ve found a lot of places to look.

                2. SignalLost

                  @JSPA My “wow” was directed at the idea that someone on this site assumed that someone else needed their own problems and medical issues explained to them. It doesn’t actually help your case to double down on providing information that Lindsay didn’t ask for, and, presumably, neither wants or needs, and it comes off as preachy and condescending. I’m pretty comfortable assuming that someone who can frame a part of their problem as being an ED issue is working to fix that. I realize that I have also waded into the fray in a very white-knight fashion, and I apologize to Lindsay for that, but she knows her situation best. Until she asks for help, we don’t need to give it.

              1. Lindsay

                While I appreciate the kind words, I’m also in a very unstable housing situation and have to come up with $1000 by the end of the year to get out. I am piece by piece listing pretty much everything I own on craigslist and have cut out paying everything except my essential bills, and it’s still not enough, so I’m limiting myself to spending less than $25/week on food. I’m also trying to increase my income by selling knitcraft on the side, but there are only so many hours in the day. It’s not great, but it’s my reality.

                And I still manage make too much money to go to any local food banks.

                1. JSPA

                  In the states I know best, food banks (as opposed to food stamps) have moved entirely away from means-testing. Worth a phone call to reconfirm! Churches / soup kitchens, even more so.

                  Many areas have Freegans (they’re often glad to share, even if you don’t help on “dives”).

                  If you have a local vegan community, they sometimes host dinners for the curious.

                  Hindu temples, if you’re in a large enough urban area to have them, often have free food (donating for this to happen is part of the devotionals). Ditto the Hare Krishna folks, though you tend to get more of a hard sell, there.

                  At two islamic stores in two separate midwestern states, when I’ve been shopping and said, “don’t worry, I’m carrying this but I won’t walk out with it,” the owner has replied, “if you were desperate enough to steal, I would consider it my gift to you in your hour of need.” (No, don’t shoplift.)

                  If you were to post / tweet, “I have an issue where I can’t cook now, but would love to trade a few home cooked meals this year, for reciprocation in 2019,” I’m guessing you’d get takers (and not feel like you’re a leech).

                  I’m guessing that the housing issue is such that you can’t publicly ask for money to make it happen, by one of the crowdfunding routes, but if that’s not so (or if you have a friend who can post for you), that’d likely bring in enough.

                  Captain Awkward had a great piece on how it’s OK to not pay your “essential” bills (and how to handle shut off threats and creditors) if that’s what it takes, to get safe / get out of a bad situation. I’ll look for it. Your credit score can recover from a significant hit. Your body, not necessarily. (A friend lost her night vision, possibly permanently, to starvation; voluntarily self-imposed, in her case. Another took a permanent hit on her kidney function.)

                  And y’know, the person at work? Suggest the two of you cook together two nights a week (but she has to buy). She may not lose weight. So what? It won’t hurt her, and you may save your own life.

                  Basically, you are a human being. You have the right to treat your crisis as a crisis. Not as something to be hidden, to make sure nobody is uncomfortable.

                2. JSPA

                  found it: https://captainawkward.com/2018/06/08/chat-short-answer-friday-today/

                  Needing more money than you have is not careless, it’s not immoral, it’s just a thing that can happen when something in life breaks down unexpectedly. It’s not a challenge that you must navigate entirely alone, to redeem yourself.

                  Find people who won’t judge, and who will feed you (and/or toss some cash into the “getting out of a bad place” plan).

                  There may be credit unions who’ll give you a small loan (despite iffy credit) if you need a bridge to escape a bad situation. Ditto organizations specializing in whatever the issue is that makes you need to get out of where you are now.

                3. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I appreciate the attempt to help a fellow commenter if she wants it (although I’m not sure that she’s asking for it!), but I ask that comments here stay on-topic. Thank you.

          4. arjumand

            We’re in, if not the same boat, similar ones! About a year ago I was diagnosed with an illness which meant I had to go (long-term) on a medication which would have serious consequences if I didn’t alter my diet. So I did, and since then, the comments abut weight loss have been incessant.
            And guess what, they don’t make me feel good, because I’m in physical pain most of the time (this is one of those medications that ‘cures’ you by a sort of medical carpet-bombing), so the last thing I want to hear is how much better I look now that I’m ill, than I did when I was healthy.
            But I’ve given up on trying to explain, just say thanks and change the subject.
            So a long-winded way of saying that no, intentions don’t really help.

    3. LQ

      It makes me wonder if either the OP came out much harsher than intended or if Ariel is known for being really horrible when people say stuff like this. Especially since more than one person gasped.

      1. Murphy

        My assumption was that OP probably came off much harsher than she intended. (I’m speaking as someone who often comes out harsher than intended, particularly when flustered.)

        1. AnotherAlison

          Yep. I don’t have a very loud voice, so to be heard at all, I often have to raise my voice and take on a tone that sounds harsher than I want. I have been in situations where people are talking over me, to ask questions about the very thing I am explaining, if they would just shut up and listen. I get so aggravated that I know I sound extremely harsh.

      2. AVZ

        I think OP came off as way harsher than she intended and I’m not sure from the letter that she fully realizes it! In her letter, she focuses on the volume of her voice, but I’m willing to bet that tone was as much a factor if not more so. It sounds to me like what her coworkers heard was OP loudly and “condescendingly” (as OP put it) reprimanding a higher-up for what many would think of as a harmless compliment… If OP’s tone was harsh or condescending, I’m sure she would have offended Ariel even if she spoke quietly — I can see why her coworkers were shocked, especially if this kind of thing never happens in her office!

    4. Snarkus Aurelius

      But that speaks to how harsh and disproportionate the OP’s reaction was. If you’ve got uninvolved bystanders recoiling to what you said, then you weren’t as quiet or professional as you thought.

      Even the OP admits that.

    5. Environmental Compliance

      I’m confused by it too, and by the “condescending” comment. I’m also really confused by the boss now being stern to Sam, who doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it. Kinda feels like there’s information that’s missing.

      1. fposte

        It sounds like the boss’s sternness to Sam is focused on Sam’s relationship with the OP. It’s “Don’t you play with that bad rough girl.”

        (It’s also possible that the conversation had been taking up more time than it should previously, especially with Ariel’s aiding and abetting, and this is her withdrawing the privilege now that it’s not fun for her.)

      2. Tardigrade

        OP says Ariel is criticizing Sam when he talks to OP, so it seems like because Ariel isn’t OP’s boss, she’s taking it out on the next closest target.

    6. Lilly

      Depending on the volume it probably came across as LW telling a manger off. If a manager did this to an employee no big deal, but the reverse is shocking in normal workplaces.

    7. Ren

      A subordinant snapping harshly at a coworker’s boss for any reason actually is unprofessional and — hey — not just potentially gasp-worthy (often an involuntary reaction) but potentially grounds for dismissal (insubordination). I would advise apologizing for the tone. Now.

      1. Leslie knope

        Uh, whoa. It’s not insubordination to react to someone making inappropriate comments in a less than ideal way.

        1. PersonalJeebus

          Yeah. Insubordination is refusing to comply with a superior’s (legally allowed) instructions. It would be cool if we could stop applying the term to any instance of an employee not being completely deferential and submissive. We see a lot of tales here of crappy bosses accusing their employees of “insubordination” just for asking a question.

    8. Nita

      Yeah. OP must have been really, really loud. And while I think Ariel totally deserved the push-back, it really can’t hurt to apologize for accidentally turning it into a public shaming.

      Still, glad OP said something. Would be nice if more people who comment on others’ bodies without being asked would get rude comments in return. -Signed, someone who got three comments on my body in two days from randos on the street. Pretty sure every one of them meant well. Still upsetting. I never know if I should be rude to someone who butts in like that because they’re socially awkward, or just feel sorry for them and move on.

    9. Kay

      Really? If someone started yelling at their own boss, let alone someone else’s that would at the very least get raised eyebrows at my workplace. Especially if it’s not work related.

  3. AK

    I’d also suggest asking Sam for another perspective on your tone/volume. I’ve done the same thing and been louder/more stern than I was aiming for without realizing, and it was helpful for me to hear from someone else who I trusted exactly what they took negatively. For example, in a situation where I would’ve said “I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about weight at work”, if it actually turned out that I said “I don’t think it’s appropriate for YOUUUU to talk about weight”, it could provide some more context for what part of the delivery might have been the biggest issue.

  4. Jennifer

    Weight is so tricky at work! It really is. I know of people who have done a lot of work in working out and exercising and watching their diet and I’m sure on some level they’d be a little annoyed if this major life change went completely unnoticed.

    But then I have worked with a woman who had an eating disorder and when it was particularly bad I would just cringe every time people came by saying “Wow, Holly, you’ve lost weight! You look great!” Because I knew from sitting next to Holly that she ate a handful of almonds a day and that was it.

    Hell, I even lost 20 lbs a few years ago due to some pretty severe depression and I felt like garbage all the time and wished I was dead and people would be like “You look great! You’re so tiny!” and I would want to be like “Well, that’s good, because I feel like I’m dying.”

    I kind of wish we’d just say “Hey, you look great!” without any qualifiers if we think someone looks great. It’s still a compliment but it’s not adding in any weight stuff into the message.

    1. fposte

      Yeah, I really hate that this has become so established as an acceptable compliment, but I also think that because it’s so established I see this as more about what communities of knowledge you’re in touch with than a widely recognized mistake.

      1. Jennifer

        True. I always try to look at what someone’s intention is. Do they intend to be kind? If they do, my response should be kind as well. But man, I really wish weight remarks weren’t the norm.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          I’m not sure intent matters so much when you’re talking about something so intensely personal.

          1. Lissa

            What is meant by mattered? I can’t think of a context where it *doesn’t* matter – if Ariel had been making a malicious, nasty remark to OP in order to hurt her feelings I think that would change just about everything!

            I think the fact that what she said is (rightly or wrongly) considered socially reasonable means that it’s going to matter – Ariel will likely be confused as to why what she said was wrong if she hasn’t read all the right articles and books to know it’s not acceptable in some quarters anymore. People around her are more likely to think OP was out of line. It’s less likely that saying something is going to awaken anyone to the problems with talking about weight. I think all those things are affected by Ariel’s intent.

          2. Yorick

            I agree that you shouldn’t comment on weight. But many people lose weight on purpose and really enjoy receiving compliments on it. So IMO this isn’t nearly as egregious a comment as you’re making it out to be.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago

              If you don’t know that someone has been working hard to lose weight, then you don’t comment on it. It’s really not that hard.

            2. Jen S. 2.0

              Those people have the opportunity to invite compliments on their weight. They can bring it up themselves, or when someone says they look great, they can say, “Thank you! I’ve been working hard to lose weight.”

              But if you have no idea whether the weight loss (or gain) is intentional, you should avoid bringing up the topic. “You look great” always works.

          3. Turquoisecow

            I think it matters because it’s incredibly rude and harsh to be harsh and mean to someone who is trying to be nice. Surely there’s a way to say “oh, thanks but I’m actually sick” or whatever to signify that you don’t view the compliment as a compliment without shouting “DONT TALK ABOUT WEIGHT!!”

            If Ariel was known for backhanded compliments that would be one thing but if someone is trying to be nice and you snap back at them? It doesn’t reflect well on either of you, and it doesn’t matter whether she was right or wrong to say it.

            1. PersonalJeebus

              I think when you’re dealing with someone who hasn’t yet been exposed to/internalized the idea that commenting on others’ bodies inadvisable, your best course is to treat them as well-meaning, but still return the awkward to sender. Embarrassment is the best etiquette teacher.

              For example, I have a friend who gained a lot of weight because of her medication, and she carries the extra weight mainly in her lower abdomen, a lot like a pregnancy. She regularly gets pregnancy comments from strangers and customers. “Congratulations!” “When are you due?” She politely informs them that actually, she isn’t pregnant. The reactions at that point vary, but they can all be attributed to acute embarrassment on the commenter’s part, and if that doesn’t teach them to think twice next time, I don’t know what will! My friend does NOT tell them how rude or inappropriate they are being–that’s for them to figure out on their own, or they won’t figure it out at all. She also doesn’t try to make them feel better. Return awkward to sender, and let them sit with it.

              If the OP had been able to tell Ariel, with an expression of strong discomfort, “I’m sure you meant that as a compliment, but I’m actually very uncomfortable getting any comments on my body from colleagues,” Ariel might not have fully understood *why* her comment was unwelcome, but she probably would have realized that she had overstepped in some way. And the OP might be the one getting the awkward apology.

              I definitely don’t blame the OP for reacting that way in the moment when they were flustered. But this is a good learning opportunity for those of us who would like to see our neighbors develop better manners and boundaries (instead of digging in or retaliating when we try to correct them).

        2. Hills to Die on

          I agree with you, Jennifer. We all make mistakes. Nobody is saying that Ariel is juustified in commenting on weight. If someone means to insult you, I think a snappy and direct comeback is fine. If someone is trying to be kind, a kind correction is in order. I would hate to think that people would be harsh in shutting me down when allI was atempting to do is be nice. Especially on a first offense.
          If OP is looking to smooth this over, then that’s the approach.

          1. medium of ballpoint

            I get this idea, but the honest truth is that while it’s your first offense, it may be the 5,693th time somebody’s heard the same, innocent, well-meaning remark from someone else and that can be grating and hurtful. For example, a lot of people complimented my mother on her weight loss a few years back without realizing it was caused by grieving her partner’s death. Should she have been kind to everyone because their intent was to be kind? Maybe. Would she have been justified in snapping at the 35th person to compliment her? Hell yes. Intent counts a little, but it doesn’t wipe away an insulting or hurtful faux pas.

    2. epi

      This is a major reason not to talk about weight at work. There are tactful ways to do it, but unfortunately they are not the norm. I have lost weight due to depression before, too, and the compliments really hurt! I also can’t believe I really looked that good just because I was skinnier. I was sick to my stomach all the time, not sleeping well, and probably not dressing my best either. The comments made it feel like my distress was totally invisible.

      Years later I lost weight intentionally and got compliments that actually felt good. They were from the doctors I worked with, who discreetly made sure the weight loss was intentional, then complimented me, then asked what I was doing. (I was using LoseIt.)

      I realize not everyone would want to be asked this, especially by everyone who notices the change! My opinion is that if you’re not close enough to a coworker to ask a discreet question about whether everything is OK, you’re not close enough to comment on that coworker’s weight.

      1. Jennifer

        Yes! I was also not sleeping well and not eating and when I look at photos of myself from that time I think “I look sick” rather than looking good. But now that I’m better and heavier, it’s hard not to shake the fact that I received SO MANY compliments on my really unhealthy weight and I’d be lying if I didn’t sometimes think “Well, maybe if I got back to that low weight again?”

      2. Dust Bunny

        Yeah, this.

        I would never, ever, bring up weight without an opening to do so. As in, if somebody told me directly, in person, that s/he were actively working at losing weight. If I weren’t absolutely certain that it was intentional and that the individual would be glad to hear that I could tell the difference, I wouldn’t touch it. And even if I knew that, I wouldn’t make a huge deal about it because it, I don’t know, just seems like a weird thing to talk about at work.

        1. epi

          Yes, this is something I sort of wish I had included in my own comment. If people want to talk about their own diet and their own weight, they can let you know by bringing it up!

          I know lots of people don’t want to talk about that either but I do think it’s more of a gray area. There are respectful, fun ways to talk about food or exercise that don’t ask personal questions of the other person or cast judgment on them. Cooking and exercise are hobbies for many people who do like to talk about them in a positive way.

      3. media monkey

        “They were from the doctors I worked with, who discreetly made sure the weight loss was intentional”

        to me, this is key. i am currently on a really strict diet and exercise plan for the next 7 weeks (1 week down, woohoo!) to lose weight, and so weight is right at the top of my mind. i really try not to talk about it to anyone that wouldn’t be interested (other people who go to my gym and know how tough it is, colleagues who specifically ask, friends who i regularly discuss that sort of thing with). i also really try to say “you look great” rather than asking specifically about weight but i know i forget as weight loss is in my mind all the time.

        i really sympathise tho – a friend has lost a lot of weight due to an autoimmune problem. she looks thinner, but she doesn’t look well at all, but someone just looking at her size might make a tactless comment.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago

      The implication of “you lost weight, you look great” is that you did NOT look great before and that is a damaging message.

      1. fposte

        As I said, I really dislike the automatic assumption that lost weight is a good thing; it is annoying when I’m sick with Crohn’s to have people telling me how great I look. But the fact is there are circles where that’s an acceptable and welcome compliment, and I don’t think it’s kosher to completely invalidate that. (And I think if we’re saying it automatically means you didn’t look great before, “You look great!” on its own has the same problem.)

        1. Lissa

          Yeah, or “I love your new haircut!” – it doesn’t mean “it looked like crap before.”

          I do understand the problems with bringing up weight, but that’s honestly because I’ve spent a ton of time on sites like AAM or Captain Awkward, or reading articles people post on the internet where people talk about things like eating disorders or of course the “someone said I looked great but I actually have a horrible illness.” I think people who don’t spend a lot of time in progressive circles or don’t have a lot of friends who’ve read up on these issues probably don’t realise that many people no longer see it as OK.

          And yeah, I do think that matters.

            1. Lissa

              You don’t have to be a progressive to understand it, but that’s where most of those conversations have been taking place. So if you don’t have a personal reason to know that people lose weight for reasons that suck, and you haven’t spent a lot of time talking to people who do, it’s likely you just won’t have encountered the concept in a way that has “stuck”, and will still be mostly used to the idea that “losing weight=positive.”

              I’m not saying it’s true or good. But that’s been my experience. It’s not yet a cultural norm that has really penetrated strongly outside of socially aware groups.

            2. Myrin

              I don’t think it’s about “understanding” or “knowing” in the general sense. I feel pretty confident in saying that the majority of people, no matter how shallow or un-empathetic or cranky or whathaveyou they are, will react with nothing but understanding nods and confirmation when, for whatever reason, you happen to have a general talk with them about how there are a lot of people who lose a sometimes drastic amount of weight because of illness or grief.

              But I also think that for a lot of people, that’s pretty divorced from the concrete situation of noticing someone is thinner and having the almost-reflex of complimenting them on it kick in. I say “almost-reflex” because, like Alison and other commenters say, this is indeed a “common topic of discussion” and something that’s actually considered polite and a show of friendliness in many circles/environments; and if it’s so entrenched in your inner rulebook for social behaviour, you can blurt this stuff out without thinking twice about it, especially if weight isn’t a big topic in your own life.

              And that’s where the “progressive” part comes in. You can simultaneously know that “sometimes people lose weight for reasons that suck”, as you very succinctly put it, but still be used to hearing people compliment others or you yourself by asking about their weight loss, and then following in those footsteps because you’ve never really spent a ton of time actually, deeply thinking about it.

        2. Anon for this

          if we’re saying it automatically means you didn’t look great before, “You look great!” on its own has the same problem

          Disagree – “You look great!” doesn’t comment on a specific change the way “You’ve lost weight!” does. Plus, it keeps things in the undisputedly positive territory.

          1. fposte

            I like “You look great!” myself. But it does, as occasionally the snappish will remind you, suggest that that’s remarkable.

      2. Eulerian

        True.
        I struggled with depression a few years back and struggled with my weight quite a bit – every time I lost a bit, I got loads of compliments of ‘haven’t you lost weight!’ that I really liked. But in the long term they did a lot more damage, because it reinforced the idea that people liked me more when I lost weight, so they must like me less when I either gain weight or am just bigger than those around me.
        It’s true that ‘have you lost weight?!’ comments are really common, but I really think they shouldn’t be – or, at the very least, people should use them smartly.

      3. Annoyed

        So much this.

        Recently I’ve been losing a lot of weight without trying at all. By a “lot” I mean 30 pounds here, 20 there. It’s to the point that my doctors are checking pretty much everything under the sun medically. So far so good.

        Personally I think it’s just that I don’t eat. Not “eating disorder” don’t eat, just “get full very quickly…and stay that way got a long time” not eating.

        People telling me I look great implies thst I was a horrible fatty, fat, fat, fatso before who should have been hiding a belfry.

        On the upside I am pretty thick skinned about my appearance, but not everyone else could roll with it like I can. Not to imply at all that I like or welcome comments though. Just…I can “take” it.

      4. BF50

        Yes!

        Or it’s a generic, canned, and insincere compliment.

        What I get is people insincerely complimenting me on my weight loss, when I have weighed approximately the same for the past 10 years. I have actually gained a few pounds 3-5 lbs depending on the day. So did you want to say something nice but you could not think of anything that was true to compliment me on? Are you internally thinking of my as “the fat girl” and then surprised when you actually see me that i’m not *that* fat, just medium fat?

    4. Decima Dewey

      Talking about weight loss, even as a compliment, is fraught with peril. There are all sorts of reasons someone might lose weight. I was morbidly obese for years, until my pancreas could take no more. My weight dropped like a stone, and I felt like utter crap until my diabetes was diagnosed. I still run into people who compliment me on my weight loss and assume that will power, not ill health was involved.

    5. Mary

      Similar – I didn’t put much weight on when I was pregnant and lost weight very quickly afterwards. I also had a really rough birth and it was a good four or five months before I was really confident that I was recovering and was going to get back to normal levels of fitness and activity. I did a lot of grin-and-bear it when people said things like, “Well, you look really well!” and “Looks like you’ve recovered quickly!” meaning, “you’re not fat!” when I was wondering whether I’d ever be able to walk more than half a mile or do a full day’s work again.

    6. Antilles

      I know of people who have done a lot of work in working out and exercising and watching their diet and I’m sure on some level they’d be a little annoyed if this major life change went completely unnoticed.
      Yes, I first started working out, hearing roommates, friends, and family say “I can tell you’ve been hitting the gym” and “man, you look really great right now” and so on was AWESOME (in all-caps, yes). And on the flip side, if nobody had said anything or seemed to notice, that would have been a serious hit to my motivation to keep at it – I’m not doing it for others, but that positive reinforcement certainly helps when the alarm goes off at 5:45 and my bed is warm and inviting.
      But the key here is that it really requires a personal relationship – telling someone they look great for losing weight when they’re intentionally *trying* to lose weight is completely different than telling someone that when the reason is grief or an eating disorder.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        Your last paragraph is key.

        If you don’t know someone well enough to know the reasons behind their weight loss, then you have no business commenting on it.

          1. OP

            +3. Some of these comments (not this thread but others) are really harsh and your responses are helping me manage how i’m feeling.

    7. Dr. Pepper

      Even if you lost weight intentionally, it still doesn’t mean you’re comfortable talking about it. A family member of mine made some major lifestyle changes and lost a bunch of weight, which of course incited all kinds of compliments at work and demands to know their “secret”. It was highly embarrassing for the family member because they are a very private person and a little shy, and the attention, though flattering and complimentary, was still unwanted.

      1. Hills to Die on

        That’s a good point. My friend Jane was always slender and in great shape, then gained 70 pounds, then lost it all. She was very unhappy and comfortable with people telling her she looks great after losing the 70 and is the reason why I don’t compliment anyone on their weight anymore.
        I think a good alternative is to tell someone ‘You look great today!’ or ‘I love that dress on you – you look beautiful!’ without stating the reason why.

        1. Kelly AF

          I mean, a good general rule is to compliment things that people have full control over. Frankly, weight isn’t one of those things.

      2. irene adler

        This comment really hit home for me.

        Such an awkward situation when folks keep the complements coming, ask how I did it, and I just don’t want to even think about it. I know they mean well. It just makes things so difficult.

      3. Alton

        Yeah, I’m trying to lose weight intentionally, and honestly, the idea of anyone commenting on it makes me really uncomfortable and has been the only thing I don’t look forward to as I make more progress. To me, it’s a personal thing.

        1. Paulina

          I’ve been in this position; quite a few years ago I lost a lot of weight, deliberately, over most of a year. I hated that some of the people I worked with kept commenting on it, because it became what they focused on in many of my interactions with them (and some discussions that I overheard). I would far rather have had the focus on my work, not prolonged personal comments. I expressed that I’d rather not discuss my weight at work; some of them listened and dropped the subject, but some did not.

          Having since gained it back, I even more strongly wish that they would have kept their personal opinions to themselves, however complimentary they meant it. 8 months of people deciding that my weight was an acceptable topic of general conversation was horrible.

      4. Gotta be anon

        I was involved in a Weight Watchers group at work when my young son had a mental health crisis. I lost more weight than typical that week, and the praise from my group was awkward; no one wants to recommend hospitalizing a child as an effective way to see the number on the scale go down. The fact that my stress-related weight loss was due to another taboo topic (no one gives you that uncomfortable side-eye when your kid has a physical ailment; the words “pediatric psych unit” tend to put a damper on any conversation) made it even harder to swallow my explanations.

    8. Blue

      I gave someone this kind of “compliment” when I was a freshman in college, and she very bluntly replied, “I’ve been too depressed to eat.” I was a bit embarrassed at the time, but it sure taught me a lesson – 16 years later, and I’ve never commented on anyone’s weight again.

      1. jm

        Same. I complimented someone on their new thinner figure…and found out he has cancer. I felt lower than a snake’s belly. Never again will I bring up someone’s weight or appearance, unless it’s a new haircut, cute outfit, etc.

      2. Ali also

        The guy I was dating died suddenly and I lost a good bit of weight, a coworker asked me how I had lost the weight and I said that when I am miserable I don’t eat. She exclaimed “Oh you are so lucky!” She knew about the death so I looked at her disbelievingly as she followed up with “When I’m miserable all I do is eat” I just stared at her saying nothing until she went away. It was quite upsetting although when told the story a few weeks later to another co-worker they said I should have replied “Well still got a few more pounds to lose so hopefully my dog will die too” which made me laugh.

          1. Ali also

            Yep, it was just a shame the second person wasn’t there when the original comment was made, it would have been comedy gold because they would have said something along that line in the moment whereas I was just at a loss for words. It has also given me an anecdote to start conversations with friends as to why assuming people are happy with weight loss might not be a good assumption.

    9. Nita

      Yeah. I lose weight when I’m stressed, so to me, someone saying “You look thinner!” reads as “Your stress is starting to show!” I’m sure they don’t mean it that way, but here’s one more vote for this not being the greatest compliment.

    10. Tequila Mockingbird

      Last September, my boss (who works remotely and doesn’t see my team in person more than 2-3 times a year) saw me at a work luncheon and (I can only assume) got me confused with someone else. She asked me–right in front of everyone at the lunch table–“Did you lose a lot of weight?” and when I expressed confusion (I’ve always been a slim person), she kept going: “Like, did you have gastric bypass surgery?” Um, what? I went from baffled to embarrassed and upset and (in hindsight) kinda p*ssed off. She had obviously confused me for someone else on our team, or someone else entirely, but seriously, NOT a cool comment or question to ask someone.

      Jennifer is right: Weight is a tricky topic at work. If you don’t know someone personally outside of work, or what’s been going on in their life, don’t comment on their perceived weight changes. You can pay them a compliment like “Hey, you’re looking good lately!” without making any reference to weight. Especially in front of other people. Just don’t.

  5. DoctorateStrange

    I have a lot of feelings about how Ariel is taking out her negative feelings on someone else, just because they happen to be friendly with you. Even if you choose to apologize, look at it this way, she will probably make a mental check of not asking things like that in the future.

    1. miyeritari

      you should apologize for political reasons and for your friend, but it’s kind of BS that ariel is taking this out on sam, and i would have that color my interactions with her for the forseeable future.

    2. valentine

      The gasping, retaliation, and the triumph of a great response in the moment are why I hope the OP lets this lie. Ariel seems like she wouldn’t distinguish between “Maybe I was too sharp” (I’m not convinced of loudness. I think it felt loud because of everyone’s overreaction) and “I shouldn’t have stood up for myself/told you you were wrong.” Ariel needs that Bartlett wrongness meme and “Does no harm but takes no mess” is a great reputation for OP to have.

  6. Yojo

    Considering the volume (and I have to assume tone)–embarrassing Ariel in front of multiple subordinates, I think LW can bypass the “I wasn’t actually wrong” concern because the apology really needs to be more alone the lines of “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.”

    1. Washi

      I don’t agree! I do think it would be smart for the OP to smooth things over, but I don’t think a particularly abject apology is necessary. I think most people have had the experience of being flustered and saying something a little louder and more bluntly than we realized, and given the context, that’s totally understandable, since it’s really not a good idea for Ariel to be commenting on other people’s weight at work.

      My only concern is that Alison’s apology would probably work well for a reasonable person, but by taking her embarrassment out on Sam, Ariel might not be the most reasonable of people.

      1. Birch

        Yeah, and any apology at all could really easily be construed by Ariel as an acknowledgment that OP’s reaction wasn’t valid, and Ariel will just continue thinking it’s OK to make comments like that. Some people don’t process the nuance of that kind of apology.

        1. Marthooh

          Ariel will keep on making the same kind of comments she’s already been making, or else she won’t. LW has no control over that.

    2. LGC

      Nah, man. I think LW is well within her rights to tell anyone that she’s uncomfortable with a topic. Voicing her discomfort was perfectly valid. The places where she went wrong were 1) seeming like she was telling Ariel how her workplace should be run and 2) doing so loudly enough that she shocked two of Ariel’s other reports.

      Importantly, this doesn’t mean that Ariel didn’t do anything wrong. She may be significantly older than LW, but right now she’s acting like a child. And honestly, in a perfect world, Ariel would read this letter and immediately realize she is being a jerk. And a much bigger jerk than LW ever was in this situation. And SHE would be apologizing for her behavior.

      But also, this might not be the hill LW wishes to die on.

        1. LGC

          Exactly – but it’s a really close call.

          I’m in agreement with Washi that any apology could be interpreted as validating Ariel’s behavior. On the other hand, LW isn’t Ariel’s parent, and being the bigger person is worth a shot.

          1. Marthooh

            But failure to apologize could also be contstrued as validation of Ariel’s behavior. It’s too late for LW to try to get Ariel to acknowledge the original point.

            1. LGC

              But at this point, I don’t think it’s even about the original comment about OP’s weight loss – it’s about OP “dressing down” Ariel, and Ariel then proceeding to stomp around like the world’s second largest toddler throwing a temper tantrum.

              I’m a firm believer in treating people as they want to be treated, and it reads to me like Ariel is asking to be treated like a two-year-old. However, since I think that OP sending Ariel to nap time or time out is not going to fly very well, it might be worth OP acknowledging that 1) she did accidentally hurt Ariel’s fee-fees and 2) she probably shouldn’t have hurt Ariel’s fee-fees, even inadvertently. It’s difficult because I do agree with Birch in that she might not interpret an apology in the correct way – but in the end, it seems like OP acting like the bigger person (…oops, sorry!) might have the best chance of a good outcome.

    3. mmppgh

      I would agree with you. Ariel is embarrassed and pissed right now. The response was unprofessional and over the top for the situation at hand, especially since it was said so publicly. Those things are ALWAYS better said 1:1. The fact that people actually gasped suggests it didn’t come off as just a little bit harsh, but A LOT harsh.

  7. Hey Karma, Over here.

    I like Alison’s script. My concern about addressing Ariel at all about this is potential fallout. She is apparently retaliating (on/at/toward/to?) Sam because you criticized her. You want to tread very carefully around criticizing her reaction toward criticism.
    I’d talk to Sam. Ask if he’s noticed how Ariel is acting and if he thinks it’s about your remark. His reaction will be somewhere between “yeah, she does that. Ignore it.” and “yeah, she does that, never toward me and I’m leaving because of it.” But before you interact with Ariel (since it’s only for his benefit) make sure you know, 1) if he is on board with this 2) that ultimately you can’t fix their professional relationship.

    1. Project Manager

      I agree talking to Sam first is wise, for a few reasons: 1) He may be able to give you better insight into how your tone came across and 2) he may know something that you don’t. Maybe her harshness with Sam doesn’t have anything to do with this interaction or maybe he can help you navigate the apology based on prior experience.

    2. Observer

      Actually, it’s not only for his benefit. OP did something that caused the people around her to gasp. If she doesn’t smooth this over, it could seriously limit her opportunities in this place, and the way people talk and think about her. Making it clear that she knows she didn’t handle it well is a good way to come back from that.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.

        This is a very good point. But I’m not sure that talking to Ariel is the best plan for this. I don’t think she should go to each person and bring it up, but I still think talking to Sam and getting his take on his boss and his coworkers is important before acting.

  8. Myrin

    I think what might also have contributed to the gasps and shock is that you stated this as an absolute, as an “I didn’t think weight was appropriate to talk about at work”. This might just be the way I personally talk but the only topic I would should down so brusquey would be stuff that amounts to “wanna hear about that new sex toy I bought?”. With anything else – yes, even politics and thelike, stuff that we agree on here doesn’t belong in the workplace unless your work directly relates to it – I’d always choose the approach of making it about myself, like “I really don’t like talking about X at work”; I can well imagine that it was the “this is not an appropriate topic for everyone and at every workplace” undertone that made your answer seem harsher than you intended.

    But that’s actually just an aside – I agree with Alison’s answer and I like her script and her proposed actions a lot!

    1. Lissa

      Yeah, I agree, and I think it’s worse because it’s telling a boss what isn’t appropriate to talk about at work. Whereas “I don’t like talking about it at work” is more about yourself, not telling the boss she doesn’t know professional norms or that you know better than her.

      1. Myrin

        This is completely off-topic but I’ve been thinking for like a year or more now that we must share a brain or something. Your comments always say exactly what I’ve been thinking as well and I’m just sitting here baffled because how?!. Point being, I really enjoy everything you post because it often says very aptly what I’ve been trying to express all along but haven’t been able to phrase to my satisfaction.

        1. Lissa

          Oh man, that’s awesome! I was just thinking in the comment chain above that you said much more eloquently what I was thinking as usual, and wrote half a comment in response before realizing I was just repeating you! So yes, you have a Canadian brain twin. :D (also having a very excited high schooler reaction that someone noticed me, haha)

  9. SandrineSmiles (From France - At work)

    Weight is so tricky, period, not just at work, sadly. If you have to say anything at all, because it’s indeed unfair to your friend, put the emphasis on the fact that you maybe apologize for raising your voice ? Or something to that extent.

    I’m someone with a very loud voice and sometimes I can’t quite control the volume, especially when I’m sortof angry or just excited. So I’d try and work around that.

    With that said, that’s pretty weird that she’d take it out on your friend like that. Nooooooot cool.

  10. mark132

    I don’t think there needs to be a blanket ban on comments about coworkers physical fitness. But you have to be aware of your audience, and the conversation flow. If a coworker is commenting on their diet they’ve been doing for 3 weeks, I don’t think a question on how it’s working out is over the line.

    But questions out the blue are usually not good.

    1. Iris Eyes

      Unfortunately in the US your place of employ has a vested interest in your health, that’s how group insurance plans work. My coworkers making lifestyle choices that negatively impact their health is likely to impact my household finances.

      1. EmilyG

        I doubt this is true to any extent that would excuse mentioning it to the coworkers. The biggest factor of higher health costs is, in my understanding, administration. Anyway, I am extremely slim with a strong family history of diabetes–does a heavy person deserve to be bothered at work about their health more than me?

      2. Typhoid Mary

        “your place of employ has a vested interest in your health.” No, they have a vested interest in SPENDING LESS on your health, which is very different.

        “My coworkers making lifestyle choices that negatively impact their health is likely to impact my household finances.” No, your EMPLOYERS choosing not to provide adequate healthcare is what impacts your household finances.

        Your coworker’s health is never your business.

  11. T

    I don’t think you should apologize. I think Ariel’s behavior over such a minor thing speaks volumes about her. A manager (a good one with half a brain in their head) would know better than to make a comment about someone’s weight, the only way this could be even be close to being appropriate is if the person was incredibly open about being on a diet or constantly talking about exercising to lose weight. I personally at one point lost a significant amount of weight due to illness, and I probably would have been offended if someone said something to me as it was none of their business. Ariel’s treatment of Sam is just absurd, he’s done nothing wrong and now she’s punishing both of you for your comment? Sounds like you have a crappy boss.

    1. Phoenix Programmer

      I agree that this is a crappy boss – but not because of the weight comment. A lot of great well meaning bosses don’t know the relatively new and progressive social rjule that weight loss is taboo to discuss at work.

    2. Murphy

      I think this is one of those times where you apologize, not necessarily because you’re sorry, but in an effort to smooth things over and move on from it. It’s in OP’s interest to have a decent relationship with Ariel (even if they don’t directly work together) and if she’s friendly with Sam, likely doesn’t want him to suffer either. It won’t cost OP anything to apologize. (I agree that Ariel’s reaction seems over the top, and that OP should apologize more for the way that her response came out than for what she actually said.)

  12. Phoenix Programmer

    Yeah – sadly a lot of people see weight loss as a universally acceptable compliment topic.

    It’s not but that is not widely understood yet. Also a lot of things that Alison talks about re: culture varies widely from office to office. Everything from Holiday parties to Facebook norms vary widely from the ideal that Alison posts here.

    1. pcake

      That’s so true!

      Years ago, I had the worst stomach flu I’ve ever had. I couldn’t hold down food for pretty much a week. When I was up and around again, everyone told me how great I looked and complimented me on my weight loss. You can imagine how great that felt, especially since I was gaunt and pale and didn’t look good at all…

  13. Icontroltherobots

    OP – I agree with Allison, you are 100% right to not want to discuss your weight at work but Ariel probably thought she was being nice, and you hurt her feelings by rejecting the compliment. She clearly needs to feel included to allow the behavior to continue.

    She has just shown that if she cannot be part of the “club” she’s going to take her toys and go home. In this case her toy is Sam’s free time. Some people are petty like this. After you apologize, I would try to mend the fence by encouraging her comments on a more appropriate topic.

    If she keeps punishing Sam, you may need to take your social conversations outside her earshot.

    also, depending on her level of “hurt feelings” you might want to sprinkle in some “I’m weird about this topic”, “It’s me being overly sensitive” which is gross, but it sounds like she has a very strong need for social inclusion.

    1. straws

      I was thinking something along the same lines. Throwing in something like “weight is a sensitive topic for me, and it affected my tone/volume/choice of words/whatever” might be relatable for Ariel and help her to rethink her own words.

  14. Typhoid Mary

    “You’re right that ideally people wouldn’t talk about weight at work — but it’s also true that it’s still a really common topic for discussion, including by kind, well-intentioned people who haven’t yet realized that it can be unwelcome and even harmful.”

    I appreciate that people are still learning, but I would gently like to suggest that weight talk isn’t just something “that ideally people wouldn’t talk about” in a professional setting; there’s actual harm done by this kind of culture. We’ve already seen people commenting in this thread about coworkers with eating disorders, for example. And overweight/fat folks are less likely to be given jobs and promotions, all other things are equal.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the script Alison provided, and I know we’re trying to set the LW up for the best chances of success (where success means a smooth relationship with Ariel and a workplace free of weight talk). I just think it’s important to remember that while Ariel is “still learning,” there’s actual harmful impact to her behavior, and frankly I don’t think the LW has done a single thing wrong (when people are rude, as Ariel was, sometimes we are taken aback!).

    If she wants to apologize for tone in order to smooth things over, that’s great, but I really hope she decides not to back down on the content.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Yes, this.

      It is actively harmful to compliment people on their weight loss. This is not just because there may be reasons behind the change that aren’t desirable — food insecurity, eating disorders, or other mental or physical illnesses — but also because the compliment hinges on the assumption that it is better to weigh less than you did previously.

      Of course many people believe that, and many people try to lose weight (and some succeed in doing so) because they believe that. But it’s harmful to reinforce that belief, especially at work, where heavier people are widely discriminated against in hiring, promotions, salary, and perceived competence.

    2. Kalico

      Absolutely agree. It needs to become common knowledge that commenting on weight in a workplace (and honestly basically every place) is not appropriate. It might help to put it into the context of Ariel made a personal comment about OP’s body. Talking about weight is so normalized that people often don’t realize just how personal and inappropriate it is to make judging comments about it, even ones they think are “positive.” It’s particularly harmful when you think about how it’s often women who have to field comments like this (though certainly men do as well, and I don’t know if OP mentions their gender). I’ve gotten to the point of never mentioning weight loss even when talking about my own fitness program. Many people are very triggered by weight loss talk (I have several friends who are) and I think it’s best to avoid it in general.

    3. OP

      Thank you for this comment. I totally agree that Ariel’s comment is both a product of our weight-obsessed, sexist culture as well as a reason this culture persists. I’ve had ED issues all my life and can say for sure that my binge eating is worse when I’m feeling judged by the people around me. There’s real research to back up that demeaning people for their weight makes their nutrition worse. So, yeah. This comment isn’t just an insult, it’s a health setback, and I want to be mindful of the fact that it could be the same way for other people in my office who heard her comment too.

  15. Anon for this

    As someone who completely agrees that weight should be a non-topic at work and that “skinnier=better” is a dangerous mindset that needs to be removed from all of our brains, I’ve started answering, whenever someone “compliments” my weight loss, “Oh, I’ve actually been pretty sick lately. But I’m feeling much healthier now!” It gets the message across.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      I was going to say something similar, like “I wish it were my choice right now, but the doctor says I’ll be back soon.”

  16. Birch

    Uhhh have to disagree with AAM here. Unless on the off chance everyone involved knew OP was trying to lose weight and was already open about it, there are so many ways this could have been way more traumatizing than it was, and Ariel needs to learn that before she does this to someone who just lost a pregnancy or is thin because of a serious health condition, etc. IMO there is no tone OP could have used that would justify needing to apologize. The gasping was a total overreaction–even if it was said in a harsh tone and even if the topic of weight often comes up at this office, it’s perfectly fine to tell people you don’t think it’s appropriate when they comment on something personal!

    I don’t understand why Ariel is throwing Sam under the bus for daring to talk to OP, and it gives me the feeling that she doesn’t want to take responsibility for saying something inappropriate and is shifting the focus to Sam to get it off herself. OP definitely should talk to Ariel and make it clear that her problem was with what Ariel said, and to please not worry about policing Sam’s conversations with OP.

    1. T

      I agree, someone may think they’re giving a person a compliment, but what if the weight loss is due to something like cancer, illness or a death in the family? How awkward. This is why I keep my mouth shut unless I really know the person.

  17. gecko

    Yeah, it’s quite likely that Ariel hasn’t been a part of any discussions about changing how we talk about weight at work, never had the chance to notice the cultural change that happened under her feet, and so was pretty put off by the harshness of your response. For instance–a relative of mine recently lost a lot of weight on purpose, and was pretty distraught that no one complimented her about it at work–she was asking me, “do people just not compliment anyone on weight loss anymore?” I told her, yeah, especially younger white-collar workers try not to talk to their colleagues about weight at ALL anymore. She just didn’t know that shift was happening.

    Please don’t think of going to talk to Ariel again as compromising your principles. Going to talk to Ariel again to apologize for your tone and to explain what you meant is actually reinforcing your principles–because then she’s not going to leave the whole situation thinking “wow, OP is MEAN AS HELL about this one thing and I don’t like her,” she’s going to leave the situation going, “wow, it looks like I stepped in a sensitive cultural topic and that’s really embarrassing but OP apologized to me and let me save some face; I’ll be more careful in the future.”

    There aren’t magic words for informing Ariel, especially because she’s now been put in an embarrassing public position, but if you want to inform her and have a hope of saving the relationship it’s probably best to talk to her.

  18. Belle8bete

    Oh boy. I mean it’s good Ariel didn’t fire back with “it’s not appropriate for you to chatting so much during work. Stop wasting company time.”

    I get that it is better for people not to talk about weight at work, but when are trying to give a compliment (especially if they would enjoy hearing a statement like that themselves)…and they are indirectly higher up the chain…and they’ve been Cool about you talking during work…yes this is a bad way to go! Obviously that isn’t always true, but in this case, you came off as a giant jerk. You may be right in the bigger picture, but it didn’t land right.

    I’m not sure we should all assume Ariel is a bad manager. Each one of us would feel embarrassed and shitty in her shoes, and would be annoyed, probably thinking “I’ve been nice to them and lenient and she gets snippy at me!?!”

    Time and place and tone really make or break an interaction.

    I’m super down with Alison’s advice. It’s important to give people an out on things like this, too…like if it came up it might be okay to say “thanks for the compliment…I really avoid talking about weight at work, but thanks! How was the cupcake from the coffee room?”

    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      This is gross.

      Saying “you lost weight” is not a compliment in every situation and no one should have to thank someone for making unwanted comments on their body no matter what the intent was behind it.

      1. Hills to Die on

        There’s more than one way to smooth things over. I think that saying Belle’s approach is gross is a bit harsh. But that’s just me.

        1. Delphine

          Saying that you should accept backhanded compliments about your body and weight from higher-ups or else you’re a “giant jerk” is kinda gross.

          I don’t thank people when they say I’m “eloquent” (i.e., speak better than they expected a brown person to speak)…I don’t care what their intention was or that they were really just trying to compliment me.

          1. Hills to Die on

            I missed the giant jerk part, or Alison must have deleted it. I get that you and others don’t care about someone’s intent, because it’s more important that they know they are wrong. If that’s the OP’s stance I would say an apology isn’t in order at all because the mission is already accomplished. If OP wants to smooth it over, then there’s language there for that.

            Pesonally, I like to take the approach that I should be careful about treating others with kindness. For me, it includes giving people the benefit of the doubt AND considering their hearts and intentions. I won’t be changing that anytime soon. We can agree to disagree.

            1. Belle8bete

              I said that body weight shouldn’t be commented on

              I pointed out that letter writer’s reaction didn’t land well in the context and probably never would, because it’s like bringing a bazooka to a knife fight.

              I offered language that might be useful to shut down such comments without super upsetting someone who has no ill intent in their words.

              You can be right, and you can be fired and right. You can be correct in your views but still present them in a way that causes huge problems because you are reacting in a way that will inevitably seem like overkill to the people around you.

              1. Belle8bete

                And my other point is that if you are in a generally good work environment and the manager has been chill in the past and apparently allows you to chat at work and is friendly, then responding harshly to a seemingly first time “infraction” is not the way to go.

                It’s giving people the benefit of the doubt. That doesn’t mean take garbage from others…it means to look at context and the individual before responding. Otherwise you will enjoy a life of high blood pressure and misery.

    2. Bea

      What?

      No. Backhanded compliments are tacky at best. I’m over the “but she means well!” malarkey. It’s telling someone they look better now that they’re lighter. I lost weight due to stress that lead to a lot of suicidal thoughts. But hey, they thought I looked good…how kind.

        1. Bea

          I’m much better, thank you. The meds made me put the weight back on. Now you get the weird judgey comments from the same people, hence my annoyance doubling down!

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        I’m sorry you went through that.

        I am not here for the “but it was meant as a compliment” excuse. That doesn’t work for men who make unwanted comments about women’s bodies and it doesn’t work here either.

        1. Archaeopteryx

          There’s a difference between saying “thank you” to a problematic compliment vs. correcting it in a way that still acknowledges good intent. There’s a sliding scale of how deliberately un-woke someone has to be in order to not realize that what they said was wrong, and this weight issue is toward the lighter end of that. Sure, if the manager had said something racist or otherwise clearly beyond the pale, snapping at her would have been more warranted. But this whole idea of ‘Calling-Out’ culture, where every response to a social infraction must be aggressive and put the person in their place, is counterproductive and immature. The LW wouldn’t be betraying her principles by giving a gentler response, and you can acknowledge that they meant to say something nice while still pointing out the problem. And the message can be a lot more effective that way, even if it’s not as satisfying as shutting someone down.

          1. Mad Baggins

            +1 to all of this.

            I am very confused by so many comments saying “but OP was right, you shouldn’t comment on weight.” That’s the premise of the answer! Of course OP is right, but if she yelled “STFU ABOUT MY WEIGHT!!” then her reaction would still be overly harsh and inappropriate.

      2. EmilyG

        I’m sorry you went through that! Your username makes me think you’re a woman, and I think this can be very gendered… like “oh good, she’s gone back to being ornamental as she should be” without caring how you actually *feel*.

    3. Dr. Pepper

      She’s retaliating by being harsh to Sam for the OP’s statement to her. Doesn’t sound like a check in the “good manager” box to me. If Ariel feels embarrassed and shitty, then she should keep it to herself or limit her coldness to the OP and leave Sam out of it.

      I encourage you to read with an open mind some of the above comments on why talking about weight is hard for people for many different reasons. It’s not “just a compliment” to many of us. It can be a very emotionally fraught topic to people for many different reasons. Our culture places such a high value on weight and physical attractiveness; weight and all the judgement and negativity that goes with not being the “correct” size makes it a delicate topic, and thus best kept out of the workplace.

      1. Guest

        Also, I know a lot of people who are not even close to being overweight who have received compliments on weight loss. It sends a message that a woman should strive to be not just a healthy weight, but super thin.

    4. Birch

      No, you are not obligated to accept something offensive meant as a “compliment.” Horrifying things have been said under the guise of compliments. The one that comes to mind: “You’re so smart/pretty for a *insert offensive reduction of an individual to their race/gender/disability/age/occupation*”

      “You look great” is a compliment, and even then there are far better things to compliment at work than someone’s physical appearance.

    5. John Rohan

      Wow, the responses here are so over the top I sometimes wonder if we live on the same planet.
      The list of things that are now potentially offensive is so long, there is almost nothing left one can say. That’s no longer in the realm of sarcasm, it’s now becoming reality. At a minimum, it doens’t make Ariel a villain for not keeping up with what is offensive to everyone else.

      1. Lissa

        I think this is happening because commenters are all coming from very different places. In some workplaces/spaces, any type of weight/body comment would be really egregious,so if you’re used to that, OP was in the right. But, if you’re from a place where diet talk is the norm and “you lost weight!” is a compliment, as it still is in lots of workplaces/cultures, then OP’s response will seem weird and out of nowhere.

        It’s like with language issues – we don’t all agree on what words are inappropriate to use. Some people equate the casual use of things like “crazy” almost with racial slurs, some see it as insensitive/annoying but not a huge problem, others don’t even realize there IS a conversation about those words. And when all those people start talking about it with their particular framework behind it it gets fraught.

        1. Hills to Die on

          Well said. People are not trying to be difficult – they have real expereinces behind their feelings, and they aren’t alone. Which isn’t to say that anyone is trying to be insensitive in not being familiar with the way other feel – it just isn’t the culture they are in. It has taken me a lot of practice and patience to become a better person and professional, and trying hard to understand perspectives that I really don’t get or agree with. It is an exercise in just practicing being thoughtful and kind.

          1. Myrin

            It has taken me a lot of practice and patience to become a better person and professional, and trying hard to understand perspectives that I really don’t get or agree with. It is an exercise in just practicing being thoughtful and kind.

            For what it’s worth coming from a random internet commenter, I really think you’re doing a splendid job at doing just that!

        2. Lehigh

          Very true, Lissa.

          My grandfather apparently had a personal policy that one doesn’t comment on anyone else’s appearance, good or bad, because it is not one’s business. I always thought that was a cool idea–but I also thought that he was only able to get away with it (aka, it did not hold him back socially) because he was a rather curmudgeonly man, and/or perhaps because he was from an older generation. Culturally, in my area, women complimenting each others’ appearance in various ways is standard polite conversation. It is often seen as the ideal way to strike up a conversation!

          It is interesting to hear that some circles do follow my grandfather’s policy…but yeah, it’s certainly not universal.

      2. Mindboggling

        I share the same sentiment. I prefer to be in a society where it’s customary to make and accept compliments and goodwill behind them. To automatically assume a hostile position of “what, I didn’t look good before?!” in response to a simple “you look great today/lost weight/nice haircut” is mind boggling.

        1. Dr. Pepper

          But why is it so important to you to be able to compliment someone’s appearance? This is a genuine question.

          Is it about making the other person feel good? Perhaps consider a different form of compliment. Not everyone enjoys having their appearance commented on, good or bad, for all the reasons discussed here (and more). If you’re genuinely happy to see someone, why not say that? If their presence fills you with joy, why not tell them so and leave out what they look like? Or compliment something they have direct control over, such as a project they’ve completed, or a skill they’ve acquired, or some other accomplishment. Or, as often as not, giving compliments is about making yourself feel good. Hey, look how nice I am! It’s not about the other person at all, it’s about saying a generic phrase that’s supposed to make someone feel good but it’s not terribly important if it does or not. You get to check the Nice Person box and move on.

          Of course, what kind of relationship you have with the other person makes a HUGE amount of difference. People you know well and are close to are different from acquaintances or coworkers. Telling a good friend you love her haircut or joyfully acknowledging your mother’s weight loss is different than saying the same to someone you don’t know very well and certainly don’t know intimately. There’s nothing wrong with compliments, but perhaps take a good hard look at WHAT you are complimenting about someone else and WHY you feel the need to do so. And perhaps consider that they are not coming from the same place that you are in regards to their personal appearance.

      3. Dr. Pepper

        It’s not hard. Do not touch or comment on someone else’s body. Their appearance is not your business, nor is their presence an invitation for you to touch them. That’s it. Very simple. There are SO MANY other things to talk about that what someone looks like.

        1. Yorick

          I think it’s pretty off-topic to bring up touching. Commenting on someone’s weight loss is not the same as groping.

          1. Dr. Pepper

            Why? Both can feel very invasive and are often socially condoned. I’m not talking about groping. I’m thinking of all the unwanted hugging, rubbing of pregnant women’s bellies, laying a hand on someone’s arm or shoulder, and the like. But you’re supposed to like being hugged! It’s friendly! Rub your belly for luck! I’m just a touchy-feely person! It’s friendly! The same excuses are given as for saying unnecessary things about other people’s appearance. It’s nice! It’s friendly! Why can’t you just accept it?! These things pop up here on this site all the time.

            1. Thursday Next

              Commenting on weight is not the same as rubbing someone’s belly or giving unwanted hugs. The distinction between literal and figurative invasiveness matters here.

      4. motherofdragons

        Well, either you (the general “you”) care about offending people, or don’t care. For those who care about not offending people, this kind of information (i.e., “It’s not cool to comment on someone’s body”) is helpful. If one does not care about offending others, then one need not worry about the “list.”

        I care about not offending people, so yes, I have a mental list of things that might offend someone and I avoid those comments or topics. And yet, I still manage to make conversation and have relationships and get through my day just fine.

      5. Annoyed

        They were always offensive. What you are witnessing is people refusing to just roll over and keep taking it.

        Don’t touch or comment on others’ bodies. Full stop. It’s really not that complicated.

        1. Amelia Pond

          Exactly. It was already problematic but people didn’t (and sometimes still don’t) feel like they could express it. Frankly, I find people that complain about “all the potentially offensive things” suspect. I think what it actually means is “I’m unhappy I can no longer get away with saying all these offensive things anymore.”

      6. Whimsy and Forest Fires

        The thing is, at least with this particular issue, it’s really not a matter of any “list” one has to “keep up with.” It just requires some level of empathy and awareness. I don’t think there are very many adults who are truly oblivious to the fact that people sometimes lose weight because of serious illnesses, eating disorders, grief, or other unpleasant and unhappy things. Getting from there to “I probably shouldn’t act as if weight loss is inherently a good thing if I don’t know the person I’m talking to well enough to know the cause of their weight loss and how they feel about it, because I might be cheerfully congratulating them on having cancer” isn’t really a very big leap. There are some issues that might require “keeping up with” relatively new norms of etiquette, but “don’t comment on people’s weight unless you know them well enough to be sure your comments will be welcome” isn’t really on that list. People have lost weight for reasons that aren’t pleasant for the entirety of human history. It’s possible that more people are willing to point out the problem with “congrats on losing weight” in recent years, but the simple fact that “congrats on losing weight” carries the risk of effectively meaning “congrats on being seriously ill” or “congrats on deeply grieving the death of someone you loved” isn’t a recent development in any way.

        (I could get into the many, many other issues with the ideas that being thinner is inherently better or that people’s bodies are good topics for work conversations in general, but honestly, “I might accidentally be complimenting someone on having cancer” should really be enough in itself to get people to stop saying “Ooh, you’ve lost weight! Hooray!” to people they don’t know very well.)

      7. Belle8bete

        I have watched many people ruin relationships and cause many problems due to tone. They were right on the issue itself, but the way they went about expressing it or explaining it was done poorly. I’ve messed this up, too.

        The problem with this is that it undermines your issue and now everyone is focused (sometimes justifiably) on the fall out of the reaction versus dealing with the initial situation.

        But in a workplace or even in many social situations it is naive to think that “I am right so I can express that however I want” is going to fly. It’s not. You will have consequences and it will cause issues. And you can choose to be unfiltered and respond raw/however you feel in the moment, but then you will find people will respond to that in their own way—and it isn’t always just because they are terrible ignorant people.

        As I said earlier—don’t bring a bazaooka to a knife fight. I’ve had colleagues who did this constantly and frankly I disliked working with them…not because of their perspective (I usually agreed with that) but because they responded to everything like it was a level 10 disaster, and caused additional issues by being unprofessional in how they addressed problems. Then they would dig in their heels. It sucked.

      8. Rhoda

        For goodness’ sake. You’re being ridiculous.
        It’s not about a list of offensive things. It’s about consideration for others.
        Just ask yourself whether what you say would upset someone, while remembering that other people have different experiences. Not hard.
        You don’t need a degree in gender studies to comprehend that some people lose weight because of stress or ill health.

    6. Smarty Boots

      Well, people may intend it as a compliment, but it’s inappropriate and I’m 100% behind the OP on this. Ariel should not be talking about other people’s bodies, and it’s on her for feeling embarrassed.

      Ariel was out of line and now she’s being a petulant baby.

      OP, if you want to, you could apologize for being loud. But don’t apologize for anything else.

  19. Bea

    Argh. What a crappy reaction to being embarrassed. It’s certainly the issue that comes with ever correcting someone about their inappropriate comments.

    I agree for your own sanity an apology for doing so loudly and possibly too harshly will hopefully smooth it over.

    If she was just not talking to you, I would leave it. It’s affecting your colleague and his relationship with his (crappy) manager, so do it for Sam not Ariel.

    1. Belle8bete

      I agree with this assessment that it’s not a great reaction to being embarrassed. I don’t think we should assume this manager is the worst ever but you have a good point about that.

  20. Dr. Pepper

    While I don’t think you *should* have to apologize, I think in the interests of harmony and diplomacy it’s a good idea to do so. And definitely do as Alison suggests, apologize for being brusque and short with her, NOT for the actual message. Weight IS an inappropriate topic comment at work, just like any other aspect of anyone’s physical appearance. Many people still don’t realize how fraught the topic is, and “you lost weight!” is often a generic type of compliment on the order of “you look great!” or “I love your shirt!” It’s not meant to really *mean* anything. Which sucks, because in reality it definitely DOES have a lot of meaning, and that meaning varies quite widely. If it happens again, try to simply thank the person and change the subject.

    1. straws

      The best compliments I’ve received were a combo of how I look and a decision I’ve made, such as “that dress looks amazing on you!” It’s something I have control over and makes no mention of my actual physical shape/size. The worst was “you look great, you’re so thin!” I got a ton of those when I also happened to be an alcoholic with a side of substance abuse. Thankfully that time in my life was short lived, and I was able to move on without too much damage to my life. But it gave me SUCH a complex when the weight came back on, and I’m lucky I didn’t end up with an eating disorder and/or sliding backwards from all those “compliments”.

    2. motherofdragons

      Great point about how many people, however well-intentioned, see comments like “You look so thin!” as akin to other positive compliments with the same sort of casual meaning. But they just aren’t equal in terms of potential for offense or harm.

  21. SheLooksFamiliar

    OP, is it more important to be right, or to do the right thing?

    Please do apologize to Ariel for the tone and volume of your comment, even if she’s not behaving as a good manager should.

  22. John Rohan

    It looks like Ariel tried to pay the OP what most people would view as a sincere compliment, and the OP didn’t take it as a compliment. I think the OP was a little harsh in her response. However, since there’s no indication of bad blood between the two before, I would chalk it up to a misunderstanding on both sides.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      Don’t say that “most people” would view it as a sincere compliment. Read through the comments here and educate yourself about why it’s not appropriate to comment on weight loss.

      1. John Rohan

        The comments here are way over the top, and it’s unlikely they reflect society at large. I would be willing to bet my life savings that if you took a poll, most people would see “you lost weight” as a compliment.

        At a minimum, you shouldn’t assume bad intentions on the part of Ariel, unless you have other reasons to.

            1. Mia

              As a brown lady who’s had random, well-meaning people compliment my “tan” (which is actually my permanent skin tone), I’m gonna go ahead and say complimenting someone’s skin color is also a no-go. I think it’s just ideal to not arbitrarily comment on people’s appearances unless you’re close enough to them to *know* it will be taken as a compliment.

        1. RaccoonLady

          I mean, at the height of my eating disorder I definitely saw it as a compliment. One that made me think my anorexia as doing the right thing and prolonged my condition.

          1. Guest

            This. I think it’s almost worse when normal weight or underweight people are complimented on weight loss, as it sends a message (even though most likely not an intentional message) that it’s great to look as thin as possible.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar

          Instead of digging your heels in over the assertion that ‘most people’ would consider comments about weight loss a compliment, how about saying ‘many people’ would? That is a more accurate and relevant viewpoint in the context of this site, and in general. To know what ‘most people’ think, we’d need to conduct a customized survey.

          Also, let me assure you from personal experience: ‘You’ve lost weight’ is not always a compliment, and it is inappropriate at work.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar

              Perhaps so, but sweeping generalizations like ‘most people would think…’ aren’t helpful.

      2. John Rohan

        And btw, that old and tired “please educate yourself” phrase that people use so often here, is offensive as well. It suggests mansplaining, femsplaining, and general unwarranted condescension. It’s also discriminatory against people who may have not had a formal education.

        1. Hills to Die on

          I agree that we are all here to learn and be better professionals. Many people here are nice and try to explain things objectively. Some people are coming froma place of hurt, and I try to be understanding with them and get their perspectives.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          I don’t understand this comment entirely or what a formal education has to do with this, but surely I would think that if you’re saying something that’s inadvertently upsetting to a non-insignificant number of people, you’d be interested in realizing that. No?

          1. a1

            Yes, I would. But I also find “Please educate yourself” to be highly condescending, and often patronizing as well.

            1. Lissa

              It is, yeah, because it implies there’s one “right” answer and if the person just looked around briefly they would find the right answer. On a topic where there’s a big variety of opinions, educating yourself is not actually as easy just typing “how many types of camels are there” into Google.

              It’s also often used to just mean “you’re wrong wrong wrong and everyone should know it”.

              1. Owlette

                “Educate yourself” isn’t exactly meant for you to Google the one correct answer, though Google may help. I’m taking Detective Amy’s comment to mean that you can really learn about other people’s experiences by reading through their comments here, “educating yourself” on why a lot of people don’t like comments on your weight.

                Though, I can see why just seeing the phrase “educate yourself” by itself could be condescending.

        3. JB (not in Houston)

          What? The comment was to read through these comments to learn about why commenting on people’s weight isn’t a good idea, not “you’re uneducated for not knowing this.” If you can read through all the comments of people explaining how hurtful or downright harmful it can be, and you’re response is this comment, I don’t even know how to respond to that.

          1. Serafina

            Sure it is…it’s an imaginary counter invented by truly desperate sexist dudebros who simply cannot handle that they are no longer considered the senior authorities in any random subject by virtue of their sheer, overwhelming manliness and (even worse!) get called out on trying to assert their dudethority!

            They’re so agitated about their dudethority being questioned (and labeled) that they’ve been groping around for years to come up with (in their tiny, fragile manbrains) is an equivalent action by women so that they’re absolved from having to examine (let alone, dog forbid, CHANGE) their treatment of women.

            There ya go, I just femsplained femsplaining.

      3. Observer

        The fact still remains that most people do actually take it as a compliment. That doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to comment unless you know the person well, or that the number of people for whom it’s not a compliment is not significant. But it’s still not close to a majority.

        Responding to a common and innocently intended mistake with a correction is one thing. Responding to someone with gratuitous rudeness is another. And what the OP described WAS rude, albeit unintentional. When that rudeness is directed towards someone who is your superior (and at work that concept DOES apply), it’s also stupid to not move forward to smooth things over.

    2. Bea

      Yeah. You’re right. We’re just such a highly sensitive society. Pesky liberals and their feelings. Everyone else loves it blah blah blah.

      Let’s just go back to when you could be outwardly sexist and racist while we’re at it. Change is soooooooo boring and costly.

  23. Guest

    Wow, I’m really surprised by the harshness towards OP here. Grounds for dismissal–really? While OP may well want to consider apologizing, I don’t fault her at all for getting flustered by such a personal comment made by someone she doesn’t know well. It would be really different and much more serious, in my opinion, if OP was snapping at the supervisor regarding something work-related.

  24. Mary Anne Spier

    As someone who once lost 75 pounds in a year, I can tell you how annoying it is to have to hear every day from half a dozen coworkers that you’ve lost weight and you should keep it up. It made me so self-conscious. I started wearing my bigger clothes again to hide my body. I told people I didn’t like talking about it. When they didn’t listen (same people) would say talking about it made me uncomfortable. When they would bring it up again the next day I finally started saying, “I don’t discuss that topic. You’re making me uncomfortable.” One family member in particular was really weird about it, alternately gushing over it and trying to get me to eat things I didn’t want to eat. I know these interactions said a lot more about the other people who wouldn’t respect my boundaries than about me.

    Doesn’t matter, though. It broke me. I’ve put a lot of the weight back on. I want to take it off again and I keep saying, “OK, this week I’ll work really hard!” but then I imagine how much crap I’ll have to hear from people day in and day out about my body and frankly I don’t think I can go through that again.

    So for anyone who thinks it’s rude to say you don’t discuss weight in the workplace, I’m asking (no sarcasm here) how you would shut it down. I need a script.

    Person: Hey, have you lost weight?
    Me: …

    What do I say? I need to shut the topic down and subtlety doesn’t work.

    1. Hills to Die on

      I am so sorry.
      I would say that I don’t want to discuss my weight. When I am having a hard time getting across to people, I just repeat the same thing over and over. ‘I don’t want to discuss my weight.’
      Person: Hey, have you lost weight?
      You: ‘I don’t want to discuss my weight.’
      Person: But you look good!
      You: ‘I don’t want to discuss my weight.’
      Person: How did you do it?
      You: ‘I don’t want to discuss my weight.’
      Person: but–
      You: ‘I don’t want to discuss my weight.’

      After a few tries, they get the message.

    2. Submerged Tenths

      Person: Hey, have you lost weight?
      Me: You can see that I have. I prefer not to discuss this further, thanks.

    3. Observer

      What you experienced is utterly ridiculous. Commenting on someone’s weight the first time is one thing. Continuing after they tell you they don’t want to discuss it? Inexcusable. That CANNOT be explained away as a generational shift, or changing mores, etc. It has ALWAYS been rude an inappropriate to push a topic (even a “complimentary” one) once the target tells you that they don’t want to talk about it.

      Which is to say that although I don’t have any good scripts, I am so, so, so sorry that you went through that.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar

        Actual exchange with a former nosy co-worker:

        Co-worker: Wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight! I need to drop some pounds, how did you do it?
        Me: Well, the love of my life fell in love with another woman and broke my heart. Pretty simple.
        Co-worker: I hate to ask, but what have you been eating?

        She was a rare example of brass, no doubt. But the words, ‘You lost weight!’ don’t make me smile anymore.

    4. Dr. Pepper

      I am so, so sorry. Please do what’s best for yourself and pay no attention to these people. I commented above on a similar situation that happened to a family member of mine. They lost a bunch of weight (purposefully, though lifestyle changes) and suddenly EVERYONE had something to say about it. As a private person, it was very embarrassing for them, even though the attention was positive. Know that you’re not alone in that situation.

      My stock answer to invasive questions is “Why do you need to know?” You can say this kindly, calmly, blandly, annoyed, irritated, or openly hostile. Select tone as needed. Repeat that and “I don’t want to talk about it” ad nasuem. Be a broken record. Be boring about it. “Why do you need to know? I already said I don’t want to talk about it. Now, about project X…”

    5. LQ

      I’ve had some success with a really annoyed “That is the least interesting thing possible, did you know that there is a major octopus metropolis off the cost of Australia, they named it Octlantis.” (though mostly with friends and family, only one coworker, I try to keep the really annoyed voice at home, and oddly work wasn’t as bad). I would guess you could do a cheerful version of this too. And always having an X is important. I generally have a few things in my back pocket anyway. Random facts, things about work, “gossip”, I really like random animal facts for this. If you are still having trouble you can get a little more aggressive with it and have the X be something that your main problem people will have a lot to say about.

    6. Koala dreams

      Maybe you could say that you don’t own a scale anymore. This works for me when people ask if I have put on weight.
      “I have no idea, I haven’t owned a scale in years. It’s so freeing!”

  25. caryatis

    I really disagree with the social norm OP is trying to push here. I agree it’s probably more tactful not to comment on *someone else’s* weight, but–where will it end? Can’t I talk about my own fitness? Am I not allowed to talk about going to the gym? If I eat lunch at the office, is someone going to be triggered by seeing it is healthy? At a certain point, I think the burden is on those who are hung up on weight talk to do some combination of 1) losing weight and 2) dealing with their own psychological issues.

    1. Mary Anne Spier

      If you look at my comment, I am someone who is pretty negatively affected by people’s comments on my body, whether they think they’re being nice or not. But my boyfriend is a total gym rat and I’m not at all triggered by his exercise, his food choices, etc. It’s a big part of his life. I also don’t get upset if someone tells me they’re running the upcoming 5K or had a great salad… talk about yourself all you want. Just don’t give me unsolicited advice or pry into my own fitness stuff. Just my personal opinion.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      No one is saying you can’t talk about yourself.

      We are saying DON’T COMMENT ON OTHER PEOPLE’S BODIES. Why is this so difficult for people to understand?

          1. just my opinion

            Eh, I read multiple posts of “why is this so hard” and making your point in all caps as rude also

            1. motherofdragons

              This comment was probably the most forceful, sure. I just went through all of her other comments and don’t get see “incredible rude”ness elsewhere, though. And it’s frustrating to see a forceful and direct response to a negative comment be the one labelled “incredibly rude.”

              1. Yorick

                I’ve seen more than one “what’s so hard about this” comment, which IMO is an overly aggressive stance for something that, in most circles, is somewhat rude.

            2. Hills to Die on

              Same. I am all about hearing what you have to say, but it takes all the enjoyment of the commenting section out and closes people off.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Whoa, hey, I appreciate the education you’re doing on this post, but I also need you to be patient/kind to the people you’re talking with (and if you find you can’t, I’d rather you step back than get heated with people). Thank you!

          1. Thingsthatmakeyougohmmm

            Readers are tuning out what you are saying because of the way you are saying it. Seems pretty close to the situation the LW is experiencing.

            1. Courageous cat

              Please, please please google tone argument. I hope you don’t use this kind of argument in other conversations.

              1. Mad Baggins

                That’s literally what is happening though. OP responded so harshly that it was hard for Ariel to see OP’s point. This whole letter is about what tone is appropriate.

        1. OP

          I’m sorry to see that Detective Amy Santiago was judged to be out of line here because I’ve found her comments really helpful and validating while caryatis’ remarks are incendiary and appear to be deliberately unkind. Another comment caryatis made was “The correct response [to my situation] is ‘thank you'” — which makes me uncomfortable to say the least as it implies a desire to control other people’s behavior (most often women’s), which isn’t terribly kind. And in this comment, their (I think) invocation of the “those trigged SJWs!” discourse suggests a lack of empathy and a willful misunderstanding of where I’m coming from with this letter by comparing comments on other people’s bodies to comments on one’s own. Alison, I always appreciate your insight and thank you for making this post, so I don’t mean to be rude at all, but I do want to say that Det. Amy has shown a lot more kindness than some others in these comments. Thanks for reading.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I disagree 100% with caryatis, but it’s okay for people to have different points of view here. I stepped in here because I thought it was getting too heated — the issue was tone, not substance.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago

            I’m glad you found my comments helpful, OP, and I’m so very sorry you’re dealing with this.

            I was definitely getting heated and completely respect why Alison asked me to take it down a notch. If you’d like to talk more, you are welcome to get my email address from Alison and contact me directly.

          1. Forrest

            She’s “had” to repeat it that many times because she’s responding to different commenters with the same comment.

            “Hearing” her doesn’t mean people are going to change their opinions. All it means is she’s made her point. It makes no logical sense to determine her point has been successfully “heard” only if the conversation stops entirely.

    3. Hills to Die on

      I think the general compliement is okay (‘You look nice today’), as is talking about your own weight loss and health (in moderation).

    4. SehrAnon

      Agreed. I have lost, and it’s not all on me to constantly worry about others’ feelings. I pretty obviously eat the same few meals at work to save calories and make prep easy.

      But, lately, my gym is shut down for a two week remodel. So, I had to ask work to let me use their workout room and get a special keycard. And I often refuse treats by saying something like “no thanks, I am short so I have a low calorie limit.” I don’t comment to people about their weight or choices. I just don’t know either, where it ends.

      1. Elsie

        This may not be what you mean, but I’m not sure it being “on you” to “constantly worry about each others’ feelings” extends to avoiding making comments that most agree are inappropriate. That’s not constantly worrying, that’s being polite. You can apply it to all people. Don’t comment on other people’s bodies/food/health/choices. No need to worry about it or do so constantly.

        1. Yorick

          This is not what SehrAnon was talking about. SehrAnon was responding to a comment about talking about one’s own body.

      2. Dr. Pepper

        That’s exactly where it ends. You’ve already found it. Don’t comment on others people’s bodies. That’s it. Use the gym at work and refuse the communal donuts to your heart’s content. If someone has a problem with that, that’s their problem.

    5. Joielle

      Oh come on. It’s SUCH a clear line that I have a hard time believing comments like this are in good faith. You can’t talk about someone else’s diet, workout regimen, or weight, unless they bring it up first. You can talk about your own diet, workout regimen, and weight, but if that’s all you talk about, people will start to find you boring. Nobody is triggered by seeing your salad, assuming you’re not waving it in their face. This is not hard.

      1. Elsie

        YES. This. So much better put than I would. I honestly think excessive comments on food or health are boring, a bit personal for work, and border on inappropriate/TMI no matter the topic. Mentioning a certain regimen, medication you take, condition you have once, fine. You wouldn’t want to go on and on about your medication, migraines, or digestive habits unless it really seemed like the other person was interested in hearing about them. I think you can apply the same logic to food and diet.

      2. just my opinion

        I’ve actually seen comments from people who DO get upset hearing someone talk about their own weight loss (never on this site though). Some people feel that size acceptance means not discussing changes in size at all- even your own. I don’t agree with that at all, but there are people who feel that way, so it’s not as if caryatis is suggesting something unheard-of

        1. Dr. Pepper

          This is true. And I think it has *some* merit, but this is yet another situation where a little common sense will tell you where the line is. If you frequently talk about diet, weight, and fitness and make judgemental comments about these topics, or if you incessantly talk AT others about these things, you are a boor and should shut up. Others will be offended and will have every right to be. Having a normal conversation from time to time with someone who is interested in discussing these topics with you? Not a problem and anyone who is offended by that has some personal issues they need to sort out privately.

          No need for hand wringing and “where does it end?!”

      3. DataGirl

        “Nobody is triggered by seeing your salad, assuming you’re not waving it in their face. ”

        This is not true. I have a lot of allergies and therefore dietary restrictions so I eat what most people consider to be pretty healthy. I’m also pretty small of frame. I have had people at work comment more than once things like “The reason you get sick is because you eat too healthy” (I have known gut issues, mostly because of those allergies). People who don’t eat healthy or are unhappy with their own fitness sometimes (oftentimes, imo) are triggered by people they see as being healthier or thinner than themselves. And while there is an increasing campaign to ‘end fat-shaming’ it’s still very popular to skinny-shame “Real women have curves”, anybody?

        I agree from the standpoint of not knowing where a person is coming from (eating disorders, pregnancy, other health issues) that it’s a bad idea to comment on people’s weight/diet/fitness unsolicited. But people in the comments today are being pretty over-the-top in eviscerating this person who, in their own mind and in the mind of most of their colleagues, said something totally innocent and got attacked in response. You can educate without being mean and by apologizing for the TONE and volume of the response, that will go a lot further than just leaving the boss feeling attacked.

        1. soon 2be former fed

          Fat woman here. “Real women have curves” is a response to the fashion industry making us invisible, similar to “Black lives matter” being a response to unjustified killing of black people by law enforcement. It might have been better to say “real women have curves TOO, or “black lives matter TOO’, but these statements don’t mean that non-curvy (thin) women are not real women, or that non-black lives do not matter. BTW I have never shamed a thin person and they do not trigger me in any way.

          1. NotMyMonkeys

            I’m not sure we should be equating race with body size. But anyway, I see what you’re saying, but that doesn’t mean the phrase isn’t problematic.

            1. Thursday Next

              Thank you. I think there has to be a way of framing the inappropriateness of commenting on other people’s bodies without comparing it to racism.

        2. Guest

          Yes if people are making these comments to you, that’s just as intrusive and inappropriate. Discussing health and personal appearance at work, unsolicited, is just not a good idea.

    6. What's with today, today?

      I’m a normal body weight, and when I lose 20-30 pounds, it’s because I’m sick with Crohn’s disease and probably haven’t eaten anything but chicken broth and Ensure for weeks. I’m not saying weight talk is off limits, but if you said something about my weight loss, I would tell you the truth. “I’m extremely ill and having to work through it while being treated because this is a part of life I just have to deal with it. I haven’t eaten anything solid in weeks, and my body is eating my muscle mass to survive. I’m miserable, starving and I hurt all over.”

    7. Dr. Pepper

      Talk about yourself all you like. Be prepared for others to be bored, but don’t worry about offending them.

      Do not comment on other people’s bodies. That’s it. That’s where it ends. Other people’s appearance is not your business.

    8. motherofdragons

      “At a certain point, I think the burden is on those who are hung up on weight talk to do some combination of 1) losing weight and 2) dealing with their own psychological issues.”

      I completely disagree with this. People you might categorize as “hung up on weight talk” are people who are dealing with illnesses, including eating disorders. Believing, let alone saying, that they should just lose weight is quite harmful. For someone with an eating disorder, losing weight is actually dangerous.

      I’m here for the advice that commenting on others’ weight should not be happening at work. I agree with you, it’s not tactful. It’s pretty easy to remove that particular topic from one’s conversational repertoire, with practice if it’s something that’s ingrained, but doable nonetheless.

      To your question about “where will it end” — the actual issue at hand is whether or not it’s a good idea to comment on others’ weight. Most of us here seem to agree that it’s not. Speculating about what’s at the end of the “slippery slope” ignores the middle ground and our ability to discern something rationale from something absurd (like “don’t ever eat a salad in the presence of others”).

    9. Mary

      Wow you are so far out of perspective here. This is not a slippery slope. It ends here: don’t comment on other people’s weight. Talk about yourself all you want.

    10. Someone Else

      Where it ends is other people. That’s really the key phrase. Talk about your own weight if you want. No one said not to do that. They said don’t talk about other people‘s weight. That’s it. Your physical appearance is a reasonable topic for you to discuss. Don’t talk about others’.

  26. Insert name here

    A few years ago…

    “You look like you’ve lost weight! That’s great!”
    “Yeah, the cancer came back.” (pause) “No, not really. I’m fine.”

    That was effective at making my manager think twice before making such comments in the future.

    People should know that such comments aren’t always welcome, especially in the work place and particularly when there is a power differential.

  27. What's with today, today?

    I have Crohn’s disease and when flaring I can very easily lose 20-30 pounds in a month to six week (I can’t eat at all when flaring, chicken broth and nutrient shakes are it), so I deal with comments like this in all aspects of my life. I usually work through flares because it’s just a part of my life and I don’t want to go on disability. (I’m on Humira and currently in remission)
    When someone compliments me on my weight loss during a flare, I tell the truth, “Oh, I’m really sick with a Crohn’s disease flare, and have only eaten chicken broth for three weeks.” That stops the comments, is completely true, and hopefully, the commenter learns these types of comments aren’t always welcome.

  28. Leslie knope

    Hmm, these comments are kind of strangely handwavey. I’m surprised at the assertion most people would find it a compliment (they wouldn’t) and the manager meant well so OP shouldn’t be offended. Nah @ both those things. Also yikes at some of th comments acting like she should prostrate herself in penance or something. It would be really weird to be disciplined over this and she has a right to be upset by intrusive comments. Sure, you need to be civil in the workplace (with obvious exceptions) but acting like she should grovel is kind of odd tbh. She wasn’t in the wrong, a cursory apology for her tone~ would be fine.

  29. Sherree

    Wow, I think OP is overthinking this. It sounds like she previously had a warm relationship with this woman and pulled a “special snowflake”. I am sure Ariel’s intent was to give a compliment, kinda like asking someone how are you but not “how are you”. If I commented on someones weight, I would expect an innocuous answer. I would just drop it and hope Ariel gets over it, because based on the tone of the letter, the op could end of making matters worse.

  30. Heynonniemouse

    If I were the LW, I would be really cautious about reopening this. Ariel is vindictive and clearly not all that rational in her behavior, since she’s punishing Sam for the LW’s actions. At a minimum, before I said anything to her I’d want to talk to a couple of people who’ve known her for longer and see how she’s like to respond to an apology, especially if the LW is planning to apologize solely for tone and not content. If Ariel is the kind of person who will be riled up again by anything other than a groveling acknowledgement that LW was 100% in the wrong, then letting it lie might be the best approach. LW doesn’t want to annoy Ariel into something like taking a list of grievances to the LW’s own manager to try to get her punished.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      I agree. And this is why I support talking to Sam if OP is still thinking of talking to Ariel. He knows better if revisiting will make things worse all around.

  31. Falling Diphthong

    My voice was a good deal louder than I had thought, and carried to the rest of her department.

    I think this goes to the heart of the problem, and to the focus of a future apology. This is what you do when you mean to publicly pull someone up short–it’s how people react sometimes to sexual harassment, or racist jokes. It’s “No, Pat, I DON’T know what you mean. Why don’t you explain to everyone?” The same comment, delivered quietly and calmly in private, lands more as “I know you didn’t mean it this way, but this is how that sort of thing can come across and it made me uncomfortable.”

  32. Rosemary

    I learned a long time ago, when I was young and brash, to never never comment on weight. I saw a formerly chubby judge I had occasionally appeared before in a grocery store. He has lost a ton of weight and I carried on about the weight loss and how good he looked. He was charming and gracious as usual. Found out later – cancer.

  33. Kes

    Wow, I think people are really overreacting here on both sides. I do think Ariel clearly meant what she said as a compliment, and I think many people would take it as such. That doesn’t mean she was right to say it – I agree that it is better to avoid commenting on weight, and I don’t think OP was wrong to want to try and correct her on this – but I do think it’s relevant because a lot of people don’t know or realize the reasons this is problematic, and Ariel might well have been willing to reconsider if approached less harshly, whereas now she’s on the defensive. I think it’s clear OP’s attempt did not go as intended (she admits as much), and that it came out much louder and harsher than OP meant. As such, I think she would be better off to apologize to Ariel for her tone/the miscommunication, without apologizing for the content of what she said, as Alison suggests.

  34. Mary

    I think I’m living on a different planet, because to me, there is no condescending way to deliver the message that someone’s weight is not an appropriate topic of conversation. I’d probably throw in some expletives. How dare the boss get so offended at being called out on that. I know I’m on my own here, and I’m fine with that. But in the future, OP should link up with Sam on Gchat and angrily type these kinds of thoughts to avoid being overheard.

    1. Drama Llama

      You’re free to do whatever you like, but your response would likely come across unnecessarily aggressive therefore people will not take you seriously.

  35. Amelia Pond

    I, personally, wouldn’t be able to apologize because of the fact she’s punishing the friend (coworker?) for something he didn’t do. That’s just vicious and unnecessary. But, obviously, that’s easy for me to say in my position. The fact that two people actually gasped at this, along with the other behavior, isn’t necessarily a red flag but is maybe a yellow one.

  36. Happy Pirate

    It is such a common topic and is far more likely to be used as a compliment than otherwise. I’ve lost a lot of weight this year (intentionally) and just about everyone in the office has commented to me. If they try to push the topic I usually just say that I keep a portrait of myself locked in my attic or that I’ve taken up heroin as a lifestyle choice and it doesn’t fail to deflect the awkwardness.

  37. Drama Llama

    If other people gasped and Ariel was visibly shocked, it is likely OP came across much harsher than intended.

    Loudly correcting a senior coworker on matters of etiquette is seen as inappropriate, unless it’s something truly outrageous (like if Ariel said something blatantly racist or sexual). While many people have genuine reasons to dislike comments about weight loss, they are still largely socially acceptable. It’s definitely not something that justifies a loud rebuke.

  38. Empty Sky

    What happens if they bring it up? How does that change what’s appropriate/not appropriate to say?

    Case in point: a colleague of mine from some years ago who I noticed had started running (I’m a regular runner and began seeing her out multiple times a week). She was very overweight, and it seemed probable that losing weight was one of her goals. On general principles though I stayed off the weight topic entirely and limited myself to having running conversations with her – I was encouraging and complimentary, but limited it to the topic of her training progress and persistence.

    One day when we were talking she mentioned that her main goal with the running was to get her weight under control. Even though this was not in the least surprising to me, I was so used to following my mental rule of never bringing up weight that I made an embarrassed non-response, the conversation ended awkwardly, and it never came up again. What would the socially adept but work acceptable response have been in that situation?

    1. Dr. Pepper

      Probably something along the lines of “That’s great! I really hope that works out for you.” If people bring up sensitive topics of their own accord and want to discuss it, I’m often fine with it. I definitely don’t ask extra questions and generally just listen and say supportive things, but hey, if you want to talk about your own personal thing, that’s cool. If it’s uncomfortable for me, I just say something noncommittal and try to change the subject.

      1. Empty Sky

        Thanks. I like ‘supportive but incurious’ as a framing. The latter in particular is the exact opposite of how I tend to be in conversation – I like to explore the intricacies of a topic, express opinions etc. Technically I suppose by raising the topic they have given me the green light to do that to some extent, but I wouldn’t want anyone to feel like they’d opened Pandora’s Box by accident and couldn’t get it closed again.

  39. Zoe

    I disagree with apologising and would leave it. It seems as though you are wasting work time chatting to Sam anyway and shouldn’t be there in the first place. The manager is right to pull you up for that. I would just head back to my area and stay there during work time, and save the casual chats with Sam for lunch or after work.

  40. long time lurker

    I feel this situation a lot. I’ve lost a bunch of weight in the past year – probably 20% of my initial body weight – and it’s quite noticeable, especially since I wasn’t overweight in the first place (I was on the high end of normal and have become slim-to-average). People have reacted really oddly sometimes. Thing is, I’ve lost the weight as a side effect of a medication I take for ADHD, and my ADHD is not public knowledge. So when people say ‘how did you do it?!’ I can either:

    – lie and say ‘diet and exercise’ (and support the harmful narrative that all you need for significant weight loss is willpower, and risk making people feel bad if they’ve been trying to lose weight and haven’t managed to)
    – tell the truth and say ‘stimulants!’, which either forces me to disclose my ADHD or makes it look like I have an addiction to a controlled substance
    – demur and just not answer, which reads as a weird response to a direct question.

    I think you’ve gotten a lot of good advice above, OP – I just wanted to commiserate about how awkward weight loss talk can be and how there really aren’t any good options sometimes.

    1. wittyrepartee

      So it sounds like you might be willing to be a little less circumspect than some people are in these situations. What about “It’s a side effect of a medication I’m taking” or if you’re cool with a white lie “thyroid hormone”.

      I also take ADHD meds, so- I understand not wanting to tell EVERYONE that you had ADHD.

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