my coworkers complained that the look of my breasts post-mastectomy is making them uncomfortable

A reader writes:

I recently had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, but the reconstruction on one side failed. As a consequence, I am not exactly symmetrical at the moment and will stay this way until the reconstruction is attempted again (probably next summer).

I decided to not wear an external implant (it goes in the bra and once I’m dressed makes it look like both sides are identical) so even with clothes on it is quite obvious that I am missing a breast. I find the implant (I call it a boob-cushion) quite uncomfortable to wear.

I’ve recently started work again and a higher-up asked to speak to me. He explained that people had complained to him about the look of my breast and that it made them uncomfortable. He hinted quite strongly that i should wear the boob-cushion to not make colleagues uncomfortable. I know that a couple of colleagues had breast cancer in the past and thought it maybe reminds them and makes them uncomfortable … except it isn’t them who have complained. I even spoke to them and they were both really supportive of my choice. I wasn’t told who exactly complained, but apparently it’s a few guys who work in my area (not my own team). I’m a woman in my late twenties and most guys in the office are 40 or over.

My office has no dress code, and if it makes any difference, I don’t wear any cleavage, just jumpers and things like that.

I’m not too sure what to do and how to react. I really don’t like the boob-cushion and it’s really uncomfortable to wear all day, but at the same time if my higher-ups thinks it’s serious enough in an office with no dress code, then maybe I should just bite the bullet and wear it? All i said to my higher-up so far is that I would think about it, but I know he expects me to wear it when I come back after the Christmas break. What should I do?

Oh my goodness, you do NOT have to alter the appearance of your chest to suit anyone else, least of all coworkers.

It is, frankly, outrageous that anyone would even think to complain that your chest isn’t sufficiently pleasing to them — in any situation, but particularly post-cancer. And it’s even more outrageous that your manager would think it was appropriate to pass that along to you, or to expect you to act on such an offensive and gross complaint.

If your manager brings this up with you again, please say this: “I am deeply uncomfortable discussing the appearance of my breasts at work, and hope you will agree that it is incredibly inappropriate for any colleagues to weigh in on how they’d like my breasts to look post-cancer. I hope we can agree never to discuss this again.”

If he replies with anything other than an apology and dropping the matter, you should say this: “I’m sure we don’t want to get into telling breast cancer patients that they need to wear prostheses after cancer. Cancer is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we could be opening ourselves up to legal liability. I will do the company the favor of pretending this didn’t happen, and of course I trust that you will shut this down with anyone who you hear discussing it.”

You can go with either of two different tones here: icy or collaborative. Icy is well-warranted, but if you don’t want to cause tension in the relationship, collaborative (a tone that conveys “let me help you fix this, since you’re about to step in a huge hole and I want to help you out”) can be the way to go.

(I originally had a whole paragraph here about how if this doesn’t solve it, you could say, “What you are suggesting wearing will cause me physical discomfort. Are you directing me to wear something that will cause me pain while I’m recovering from cancer, even though I dress no differently than others in the office?” But honestly if it gets to this point, talk to a lawyer because it’s past the point of reasoning with them.)

Also, if your company has an HR department (a real one, with trained HR people, not just the person who runs payroll and got roped into HR duties on the side), I’d skip all of the above and head there immediately, using the language above.

{ 1,166 comments… read them below }

    1. Murphy*

      Yeah, that was my reaction just from the headline. I’ve read the rest now and I’ll raise it a “WTF! NO!”

        1. AnnaBananna*

          Mine was ‘oh no they di-int!!’ And then there was some cursing after I read what her boss said. My god the man is a clueless asshat.

        2. darsynia*

          The ‘entire’ part had me laughing out loud. My four year old is now disappointed that I can’t quite explain the funny to her! hah!

      1. Unfurloughed Fed*

        Yeah, I’m pretty sure “OH MY GOD. WTF! NO!” is about the only rational response to this.

    2. PB*

      I know! I’m outraged on OP’s behalf. Yes, employers, let’s tell our cancer surviving employees that they don’t look pleasing enough! Great idea!

      1. Anon for this*

        This happened to a woman I work with! Someone complained about her nipples being “too apparent” (meaning, you could kind of see that nipples existed on her chest) while she was undergoing radiation and her skin was literally so burned she couldn’t wear a bra thick enough. The complainer KNEW she was fighting for her life too. It is infuriating that people think they are entitled to people fighting cancer in a way they approve of.

        1. Auntie Social*

          And please tell me why boss didn’t reply “I thought you were going to tell me how happy you are that Sarah recovered since she could have died, but no, you’re complaining to me that her jumper is lopsided?? Seriously??? Get out now and I won’t report you!!”

            1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

              Right? Only one week into 2019 and we’ve already got a strong contender!

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Because female bodies are public property silly girl!

            They should not be commenting on her body at all ever. The fact that she had cancer just ups it immensely.

            OP start talking about your periods too!

          2. Burned Out Supervisor*

            I would have asked the complainer why they’re looking at their coworker’s chest so closely.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              Ha, seriously. ‘What’s next, Boss Man, gonna tell me that I’m using the wrong type of tampon?’.

              Sorry, but eat a bag of d****, homie.

          1. miss_chevious*

            This was my EXACT reaction. My eyes were bugging out of my head at this letter. This poor woman.

        2. No Mas Pantalones*

          Radiated Person here: When you are lucky enough to get nuked, you get a set radiation time and go every day and as a result, you see the same people who also have their set appointments. In my experience, it was a very welcome support group of women who knew what hell we were all going through and we quickly formed a Radioactive Girl Gang.

          I had cervical cancer (I’m fine now) while the rest of the women had breast cancer. Every. Single. One. Their radiation burns made me ache for them. We’d help one another with the salve, bring snacks, and try to make jokes. I told a woman once that I loved her hair–a really cute blond bob–and she whipped it off and said “wanna try it on?!” It was a wig and everyone had a very good laugh at my “WTF?!” reaction. (My chemo didn’t make my hair fall out so I was “the one with hair.”)

          That anyone would make any sort of comment about ANYTHING making THEM uncomfortable about a CANCER PATIENT’S APPEARANCE makes me SO ANGRY I HAVE TO TYPE IN CAPS!

          In addition to HR, I’d suggest a lawyer as well.

          1. OG Karyn*

            The story about the wig reminds me of the story my boyfriend told me about his late wife’s battle with lung cancer, when she started losing her hair to chemo. She pre-emptively cut it into an adorable pixie cut (I’ve seen the photos and as another pixie-wearer, I was in love with it!), and dyed it bright pink, to match the tutu she wore when she went cycling. She apparently said she didn’t want the cancer to define her – she would much rather be remembered as the chick with the pink hair and tutu than the chick with lung cancer. I remember being so impressed with her positive outlook on her appearance, because I know that if I were in that situation, I’d probably have cried at the thought of losing all my hair. She was a badass.

            OP, I don’t have much to add that others already haven’t, other than that you do what makes you happy, comfortable, and confident during your recovery. You are not here to make others feel better about your illness. You are here to make YOU feel better about it. All my thoughts and best wishes are with you during your recovery.

            1. No Mas Pantalones*

              My hair was long during my treatment. We were in a record heat wave (30-odd days over 100) and I wanted to cut it so badly, but I thought that would be disrespectful. I donated it after treatment instead; 4 ponytails over 10 inches each.

              I love the pink pixie!!! And jealous that you can pixie! (My hair is curly–pixie is just floof or plaster.) I once complimented a woman on her awesome pixie cut and it turns out it was just growing in from her treatment too. Pink pixie and matching tutu while cycling. Dang, I wish I were that badass. I will never be that awesome.

          2. Itzaak Hunt*

            I understand from many women that the prostheses feel exactly how you would expect a piece of latex or silicone pressing against a new scar and radiation burns would feel. How about, “Joe, that second degree sunburn you got on your face in Cozumel is making me uncomfortable. Please wear this tight Halloween mask until it heals. Ok thanks.” Except Joe had a great time relaxing getting his, and OP is fighting for her life with hers.

            1. Nic*

              This. OP’s talked about not wanting to wear the prosthesis because it’s uncomfortable – and yet manager’s trying to guilt-trip her into prioritise everyone else’s sensibilities over her own pain, discomfort and recovery? WTF?!

        3. Ann*

          “It is infuriating that people think they are entitled to people fighting cancer in a way they approve of.”
          THIS THIS A THOUSAND TIMES THIS.
          I chose reconstruction after my bi-lateral mastectomy and I, too, had one side fail. It’s not actually uncommon. I have at various times felt embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, self-conscious, angry, sad, or outraged and I sure as hell don’t need some DUDES telling me my appearance makes them uncomfortable. I heard the same thing during chemo — it was “suggested” I wear a cap or wig on my tender, itchy, bald scalp. Fuck these people. I am sick to death of other people’s opinions of how I should handle my medical decisions – and that includes what I do or don’t wear on, around, over, or under my breasts.
          To the OP: You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            It makes me so sick that people feel entitled to comment on your wig or OP’s breasts during and post cancer treatment. Would they be so entitled if it was a veteran with an amputation in their office?? Can you imagine the boss saying “Oh I’m sorry Dave, but some people in the office want you to wear a prosthetic leg because they think you look more attractive with two and they don’t give a damn about that IED you ran over in Iraq.” But nah, because it’s about a woman and boobs or hair suddenly it’s open slather. PEOPLE. UGH. WHY.

            Your medical decisions are MEDICAL decisions and you don’t have to make them “attractive” because the office lads fancied you more with hair or matching boobs. Sending internet support and hugs to you both.

            1. Kal*

              If the veteran amputee was a women, they absolutely say that. (Disabled men also have inappropriate shit said to them all the time, but it doesn’t often focus on attractiveness as much.)

              People treat disabled bodies as curiosities that are fun to poke at and ask questions about that you’d never ask anyone else (like examples of people asking kids of disabled people if they were adopted to ask their real question of if their parents really had sex). Combine that with the view that women’s bodies are for public consumption and it is an absolute mess.

      2. Just Elle*

        But wait, there’s more to this here. I think the fact that she survived cancer is so appalling that’s its adding another level of horror here… but its also leading us to fail to acknowledge the finer point:

        One does not need to have come to posses ‘displeasing’ breasts from cancer to have this be completely appalling. If she had naturally been born a bit lopsided, or heck even just been a ‘well endowed’ woman with bosoms that were difficult to hide, or short, or hairy, or have a manly voice… or literally any other physical feature… it would still be grossly, completely, utterly inappropriate for this conversation to have taken place.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Right! Seriously! I had a friend from high school with naturally very asymmetrical breasts. She wore a pad on the smaller one and eventually had one implant. But it was a total pain for her. It’s not just because of cancer that OP has the right to manage their body any way they see fit.

        2. Martha*

          YES. THIS. The cancer adds an extra level of horror, but the manager’s behavior is horrifying regardless.

        3. Eva*

          Very much seconded. It’s an extra layer of awfulness that the OP is a cancer survivor, but in general women in the workplace shouldn’t be obligated to have bodies that please the men around them (or other women, since we don’t know who complained).

          There’s room to talk about dress codes, and of course there are occupations where looking pleasant is the point of the job (models, for example) but in the vast majority of occupations this would be BS no matter WHY somebody at the office didn’t like the look of the OP’s chest, or why it looked that way. Or pretty much anything about her physical characteristics, like you said.

          Women don’t owe it to others to have bodies that are pleasing to look at as an entrance fee to exist in the world. We’re allowed to exist however we’d like.

          1. Just Elle*

            “Women don’t owe it to others to have bodies that are pleasing to look at as an entrance fee to exist in the world.”

            So much yes.

          2. Vicky Austin*

            It reminds me of an ex-friend who used to put down women such as Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, etc. for not being attractive anymore and letting themselves go. I was like, “Um, excuse me, do you realize that they are both senior citizens? You’re not seriously suggesting that they’re supposed to look as hot as they were when they were 25? You don’t look as hot as you did at 25, either. Also, I wasn’t aware that they were models and that their job description was to look attractive.”

            1. ....*

              But a young hot congresswoman is hired and All hell breaks loose then too! I think I might have to get off the internet for like a whole week.

          3. Shoes On My Cat*

            YES YES YES!!! Exactly! I had a friend who’s husband gave her grief because her natural boobs weren’t even/same cup size (as is normal!). It really bothered her so I finally told her to tell him HIS ‘boys’ were uneven. Since there is no good way to check that for oneself, it ended up shutting him down hard.

            But mainly, OP, follow Alison’s advice. This is disgusting, I am appalled & outraged on your behalf and you can have as many internet hugs as you want (0-3,000).

        4. AnnaBananna*

          Oh, I thought this was already commonly accepted. My immediate response to him about being uncomfortable would have been the reminder that it made ME uncomfortable knowing everyone is starting and judging my chest. Lawyer. (cough)

        5. Emily K*

          It’s also no different in that sense than other disabilities that have a physically noticeable aspect, like Down’s Syndrome, an amputated limb, a lazy eye, etc. If the sight of someone else’s non-conforming/disabled body makes you uncomfortable, that’s a YOU problem, not a THEM problem.

          1. Ari*

            This was the first thing I thought of! How would this manager have reacted if someone had complained that a coworkers’s missing limb or cleft lip needed to be covered up because it “made them uncomfortable”? Surely they would have been appalled, and never considered the complaint seriously. I understand that certain things are required of professionalism, but asking someone to change their BODY to make coworkers more comfortable is just so infuriating.

    3. GRA*

      No kidding. This is one of the most disgusting things I’ve heard in a long time. The OP had CANCER, but yes, let’s make it all about how the older men in the office are uncomfortable with her asymmetrical chest …

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        Disgusting is exactly the right word for this. I’m basically speechless and fuming for OP.

      2. Can't Think of a Name*

        In addition to being an ADA violation, they also could be opening themselves up to a sex discrimination/sexual harassment suit (since apparently her older male coworkers think it’s ok to discuss their coworker’s breasts…)

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          As a graduate of the Equal Opportunity Leaders’ Course in the Army…I’m going to cosign on this 100%. Sex discrimination falls under EO/EEO. That question would not have been asked of a man. That manager opened themselves up to a lawsuit, and opened up the company to liability.

        2. Tiny Soprano*

          Exactly! The only reason the boss is even having this conversation with OP (apart from his appalling lack of judgement and empathy) is that SOMEONE HAD A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE OP’S BREASTS WITH THEIR BOSS. Surely this is textbook illegal.

          1. Maolin*

            I am thinking that OP is located outside the US – she uses the word “jumper” which I assumed was referring to a sweater/cardigan, as it is known in the UK. I’m sure, though, that the UK has laws similar to ADA and EEOC. I’m utterly aghast with this letter.

            OP, sending you healing thoughts and wishing you a smooth and speedy recovery. Don’t let those a$$holes at work discourage you – you don’t need to worry about anyone’s comfort but your own. <3

            1. Mirhi*

              We have the EHRC (equality and human rights commission) and the equalities act, plus the European court of human rights and the European convention of human rights, founded in the aftermath of World War II, which forms the basis of human rights law across Europe.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        She isn’t giving them boners anymore and as we all know that’s *the most important thing* ever!

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        I still can’t believe the manager came to her with this instead of telling the complainers how out of line they were!

        1. Hezaa*

          I am SURE the manager saw it as being Neutral and Keeping The Peace and Not Rocking The Boat.

          because who wouldn’t rather dump a bunch of totally inappropriate garbage on a woman and let her sort it out (and hope or assume that she sorts it out silently and alone, as many feel forced to) than stand up to some 40something men and say they’re out of line?

          1. Not Australian*

            Ding-ding-ding! In fact we only have his word for it that this complaint originated with anyone else; he may just be projecting his own issues about how he wants her to look.

          2. Eva*

            That’s 100% my guess. I would bet money that either the manager is the one uncomfortable or the other complaints happened as part of a conversation the manager was an equal participant in even if they didn’t bring it up first.

            Because if the manager isn’t part of the problem them OMG the poor taste in not immediately shutting that down with a complete “WTF is your problem Jim, shut up and I never want to hear you talk like that again” is just as staggering.

      2. No Mas Pantalones*

        Okay, everyone. Go home. Today’s Winner of The Internet has already been selected.

      3. Vicky Austin*

        The men in her office are a bunch of boobs, and that’s tit for tat. Apparently they had something they needed to get off their chest.

      1. RJ the Newbie*

        Just when you think people can’t get any pettier, something like this comes around. OP, this is so awful for you. Best of luck to you on your recovery and in dealing with this petty crap.

    4. Hailrobonia*

      Though I’m an atheist, I think the Bible can give some guidance here…. isn’t there something about plucking out your offending eye?

      So obviously the solution is that if someone has an issue with your lack of symmetry they should poke their own eye out so they will only see you on one side. (Yes, I know that vision does not work that way….)

      1. Jaz*

        Vision doesn’t work that way, but complaints do! “You need to make [complainer] obtain and wear a convincing prosthetic eye. He looks asymmetrical now and my right to have him look the way I want clearly trumps his own comfort or bodily autonomy.”

        1. darsynia*

          I was totally going to dig this one up on Reddit as well. r/dankchristianmemes has some really golden ones, but yeah, this is one of my all time favorites!

      2. Just me*

        Or you could just use the bible to smack them upside the head and say “just what in the hell are you thinking by saying that to ANYONE?” Use a nice big bible like the Guttenberg bible.

        Just what the hell is wrong with some people?

    5. Hills to Die on*

      Appaling doesn’t begin to cover this. Please ignore these asshats and give us an update. >:(

      1. Michaela Westen*

        No, she can’t ignore this because it could cause problems, maybe even get her fired.
        She needs to follow Alison’s instructions with HR (if any) and the manager, and get an ADA lawyer, stat.
        While she’s at it, maybe a course for the complainers called “Women *Are* People”… Grrrrr

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Yes, she should address it with her boss/HR; I mean that she should not give any more energy to these people, nor take them seriously.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, I have no other words. Well, that and I also want to find both the higher-up and the complainers, shake them, and yell in their face: “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING!!!” But I really cannot think of any response other than that.

    7. Adalind*

      Same. I don’t even know what to say except OMG…. I cannot believe this. So sorry you have to deal with this, OP.

    8. Felicia*

      I fully agree with Allison (and it looks like pretty much everyone else here) that this is outrageous and you shouldn’t have to engage with it. That being said, this seems like a good opportunity to bring up the fact that women often fail to advocate for themselves and live with discomfort instead. I bring this up because I wonder if OP has investigated alternatives to her current “boob cushion”. Not that she should have to for anything involving the workplace, but I wonder what would happen if she went back to whoever recommended/provided the cushion and said “This is painful and doesn’t work for me. What else do you have?”

      1. Alas rainy today*

        Well it does happen with silicone boob-cushion (as per naming by Letter Writer) on fresh scar tissue. The prosthesis is heavy and and feels muggy for many months. Please don’t ask how I know. There is a more comfortable alternative, i.e. some sort of homemade knitted wool cushion that can be slipped in the pocket of a push-up bra (Wonderbra tm anyone?). In my country, those are made by volunteers and distributed in mercery shops that donated the wool. The volunteers’ association is US-based. Sorry I can’t remember their name. Unfortunately what is gained in comfort is lost in symmetry.
        I am so enraged that LW had to hear such remark, and from a manager no less! I hope the remark was only clueless (” the poor thing never heard of prosthesis”) and not based on some female staff beauty criteria.
        If I was close enough to the LW to allow myself a suggestion, I would recommend trying a wollen bra-cushion as an appeasing gesture. Or wear a nice fluffy shawl that partially covers the chest.
        And if the subject is ever raised again, please look the speaker straight in the eye and ask what unijambists and one-arm people are expected to do in this particular office?!?

        1. Elspeth*

          OP doesn’t need to appease anyone. She shouln’t wear any prosthetic if she doesn’t want to!

          1. fposte*

            Yes, very much this. I get that people like the knitted covers, but please don’t let that translate into advice that the OP *needs* to try one. She’s comfortable as she is, and that’s fine.

            1. Hepcat*

              True. She owes no one symmetry.

              But I know the name of the group in the US; it’s Knitted Knockers.

            1. Donna Freedman*

              I saw a play called “The High Cost of Living,” which was based on the experiences of breast cancer patients. One of them told a story about how her husband was feeling, you know, amorous. She was in the bathroom brushing her teeth, flossing, putting on face cream, etc., and he was in the bedroom calling out come-hithery remarks.

              So she opened the door, tossed him her prosthetic and said, “Here! Start without me!”

              A visual that *I* have cherished ever since.

          1. froodle*

            I read this as “hot prosthesis” and I was like, oof, hot silicone to the face… well deserved tho

        2. prof-elsie*

          Just for reference, the group is called Knitted Knockers and comes in a variety of sizes and colors.

        3. Ice and Indigo*

          OP, if you would like a knitted knocker and don’t have access to any locally, I’ll make you one; I found the official pattern online. Shout out on this page and we can get in touch.

          However, if you decide the better option is to take your prosthesis and tell your manager to stick it up their backside, that is a choice I entirely support. :-)

        4. Carolyn James*

          I have knitted one of those before for a friend, and she thinks it is comfortable and wears it all the time (chose not to do reconstruction). If anyone wants to try one, I would be happy to knit for them.

          I’m sorry that people are so rude and insensitive. All the acronyms on these posts have been spot on thus far.

      2. Gex*

        If she wanted to do that, she would have. You telling her to go do a search she wasn’t inclined to do on her own, in order to try to accommodate unreasonable requests is being framed as “advocating for herself”.

        Wow. Just wow.

        1. Felicia*

          I made it clear – twice – that I felt she shouldn’t have to do anything to accomodate the attitudes in her workplace. If you’re going to bother responding, please respond to what was actually said and not the handpicked parts that give you the sense of outrage and superiority that you crave.

          1. Jadelyn*

            You can try to paint yourself as The Only Reasonable One Here all you like, but as you can see, nobody is buying it. Gex very accurately summed up your post. You recommended OP “advocate for herself” – by “[investigating] alternatives to her current “boob cushion”.” Your continued insistence that “I never said she had to!” is nominally correct, but we all know that “She shouldn’t have to, but” is not the same as “She shouldn’t have to.”

            You’re saying “She shouldn’t have to…but maybe she should anyway, and here’s how she should do that,” and then getting mad because people are seeing right past the token “shouldn’t have to” to the focus of your post, the “she should, and here’s how,” and addressing that. It’s disingenuous as hell, and the only one who’s blinded by their (manufactured) outrage here is you, as you keep getting outraged at the folks calling you out on what you said.

            1. Susana*

              People… let’s all remember whom we’re really angry with here, and that’s the LW’s asshat manager and 40-something males colleagues.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Funnily enough, people can be mad at multiple things or people at the same time, and I’ve definitely got ire to spare for someone suggesting OP needs to “appease” anyone on this issue.

                1. Susana*

                  I guess I didn’t read it that way, but on re-reading, I see why you found offense at the idea OP needs to accommodate *anyone* on this. I guess I just feel sometimes we veer away from the central issue (or offender) in comments. I agree that it’s appalling to even entertain the idea that OP change her appearance post-cancer, at that, to appease anyone in the office.

                2. Nic*

                  I don’t see anything in Felica’s post about appeasement – that’s the next post down from her.

      3. General Ginger*

        Eh, it’s quite possible that /nothing/ will be comfortable, at least for a while.

        I had a double mastectomy (I’m a trans man) in August, and it still can be unpleasant to wear a backpack or a crossbody messenger, even though it’s already January. My scars are doing quite well, all things considered, but they still just randomly twinge/ache from time to time, as does my whole chest, sometimes, where tissue was removed. This is normal, nerves have to adjust, etc. One side has regained sensation at a different rate than the other, so I occasionally get the “oh, wow, I DO have two nipples, there they are” feelings that are sort of pain, sort of just “vague discomfort/awareness”.

        Wearing any kind of weighty padding would definitely exacerbate all of that, and OP may have found this is the case for her. But even if she could find a “better boob cushion”, she absolutely doesn’t have to and shouldn’t have to.

        1. Elvis Needs Boats*

          I was thinking the same thing. I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction (12 years ago, woo!), and there are STILL things that are uncomfortable for me. It took a really, really long time for the twinging nerve pain to subside for me, but now it’s pretty rare. I still have major areas of no feeling, which I don’t expect to ever regain.

          At the time of my surgery/recovery, I could barely wear anything that touched my chest (for some reason the area just ABOVE my breasts was incredibly sensitive). I had to go shopping for the absolute softest tank tops we could find so that I could wear clothes at all. Couldn’t wear bras, and would have HATED anything aside from soft tank tops/camisoles touching my skin.

          I have SO MUCH sympathy for the OP–and even more outrage on her behalf.

      4. Jessie the First (or second)*

        “this seems like a good opportunity to bring up the fact that women often fail to advocate for themselves and live with discomfort instead.”

        Not applicable here. OP is in fact advocating for herself by not wearing the boob cushion, even though others want her to. She is NOT living with discomfort.

        I do find it… a bit icky though that your response to the OP saying “I am fine not wearing the cushion, I don’t like the way it feels, and I won’t wear one even though other people want me to” is to say “Okay, but have you tried a different cushion? Because you could wear a cushion!”

        1. Felicia*

          I. Did. Not. Say. That. How dare you.

          I said TWICE that she shouldn’t have engage with this sane insane request. But I’m able to see past my outrage to even consider (seriously, just consider, I’m not saying she should bend over backwards to find a solution) that a solution might exist that actually does appease both sides. Everyone is so offended by the (yes, offensive) request that objectivity goes out the window.

          1. fposte*

            But you’re still acting like appeasement is worth considering. It’s not. Nobody needs to be appeased here, any more than people need to be appeased when they complain about women keeping sanitary supplies in their car.

            1. bonkerballs*

              Nobody needs to be appeased, but OP does say she doesn’t want to wear something given to her by her doctors because it’s painful. And that is the only reason given. Sometimes it’s helpful to have it pointed out (especially to women who have been taught not to advocate for themselves in favor of keeping the peace or not rocking the boat or myriad other reasons) that going back to her doctor and saying “this doesn’t work for me, are there alternatives?” is an option. I think for a lot of people (myself included) the option to ask for alternatives because the implant is painful wouldn’t even occur to them. Now, OP may have decided not to wear the implant for other reasons as well as the pain, and of course that’s totally fine. Her body, her decision. But Felicia doesn’t need to be dumped on for simply trying to support another woman in making sure she’s getting all the medical attention she needs.

            2. PhyllisB*

              I think all of you need to chill. I think Felicia was merely saying there are alternatives that might be more comfortable. She’s NOT saying OP HAS to find something else, she made suggestions that might work in case there are times she might want to wear one. It would be the same if a cancer patient said she wasn’t wearing a wig because the one she has is itchy. It would be a kindness to suggest alternatives if she’s interested.
              I think the “advocating for herself” referred to possibly not wanting to ask her doctor if there was a more comfortable alternative.
              If Felicia and this lady were sitting in the break room together and OP mentioned this, Felicia would have probably said something like, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I have some suggestions that might help if you would like to hear them.” Then OP would be free to agree or thank her and say she was comfortable with her decision. But since this is a forum, this is the only way she has to suggest something,

            3. Nic*

              Where did Felicia talk about appeasement? Because I’ve read through her posts multiple times now to try and figure out what was making people angry – and I can only see anything about appeasement in the next post down from hers…

              As far as I can tell, Felicia spends one sentence talking about how OP’s work colleagues are out of line, and then she moves on to the known fact that it’s easy for people (particularly women, who’re often socialised to put up with nonideal conditions) to assume that when doctors/hospitals give you generic equipment, that’s the only equipment/the best equipment that exists, and you should just make it work somehow. And how actually, that’s not always true, and if you know that, you can go back and say “hey this pair of crutches/wheelchair/prosthetic leg/prosthetic boob isn’t working for me. Are there any other options?”, or you can ask your Macmillan nurse (in the UK), or your cancer patients support group for their recommendations.

              I don’t think she’s being pushy, just…making sure OP knows there are multiple options open to her if she wishes, not just two. Because while yeah, mostly people do figure this stuff out, sometimes people are overwhelmed by all the other things going on in their life and are glad to have someone going “hey did you know this thing that isn’t always sung from the rooftops?”

          2. ThatGirl*

            I think people are upset at you because it doesn’t need to be solved, and it’s not what the OP asked. If she had said “how can I appease these assholes” your suggestion would be useful, but she doesn’t want to appease them and shouldn’t have to.

          3. RUKiddingMe*

            The thing is the the male complainers and the manager have no standing to make any requests at all not should they be appeased. The ONLY one that matters here is OP.

          4. Jadelyn*

            There is no “finding a solution” or “appeasing both sides”. And quite frankly, framing it as “both sides” is giving false legitimacy to the wildly inappropriate demands OP’s coworkers are making. There aren’t two sides that need to reach a solution here. There is the OP, and there are the asshole coworkers who are paying wayyy too much attention to her chest and making wildly unacceptable demands of her because of it. These are not two equitable sides deserving of equal consideration, and OP does not, in any way, need to be thinking about “appeasing both sides”. The only solution here is for the manager and coworkers to SHUT UP ABOUT YOUR COWORKERS’ TIDDIES, JFC.

          5. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Oh god, I missed your line here – “a solution might exist that actually does appease both sides”

            That is gross. Really, really gross.

            She doesn’t need to appease people by making her breasts look nicer for them if she doesn’t want to. And she was pretty clear in her letter she didn’t want to.

            What is this “both sides” junk you are talking about here? FFS.

          6. Starbuck*

            “Appease both sides?” These men deserve absolutely no appeasing. Women don’t need any more advice on how to make our bodies more physically appealing to men, we get quite enough of that already.

          7. Database Developer Dude*

            Everyone else said everything I was thinking of after your gobsmacking attempts at doubling down on your inappropriateness…so the only thing I need to say is “Bye Felicia!”

        2. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Oh good lord, Felicia.

          Look – you got on the OP for – and how about I quote you again so you can’t claim you never said this – “this seems like a good opportunity to bring up the fact that women often fail to advocate for themselves and live with discomfort instead”

          This is very literally the opposite of what is happening. She IS advocating for herself – she is not wearing the cushion!! She refuses to wear it to appease people! She is advocating for herself and her needs by choosing NOT to make herself uncomfortable.

          And so given that reality, exactly what are you saying with this comment? She *is* advocating for herself, so you aren’t actually solving an advocacy problem and you don’t really think you are, do you? Because, again, she *is* advocating for herself. Then you go on to suggest she go to her doctor to ask for other solutions. As in, more comfortable boob cushions. Right? Oh wait – I’ll quote you again: “what would happen if she went back to whoever recommended/provided the cushion and said “This is painful and doesn’t work for me. What else do you have?””

          You are suggesting she look for different cushions.

          She IS advocating, just not the way you would advocate.

          The way you’ve concern-trolled by leading with the advocacy bit makes it hard to take your outrage over our reactions to your comment seriously.

          1. Mur*

            Oy, y’all. Calm down. I took Felicia’s comment to mean this is a good time to analyze why this woman, while (for now) sticking with her choice to not wear the prosthesis, would still even consider for a second that maybe her manager and the complainers have a valid point… as in why is she even entertaining this question and wondering if she should “bite the bullet and wear it”, as the OP herself said. It’s so disheartening that she was even asking this question this way, and not instead writing in something along the lines of “omg here’s my submission for Worst Boss of 2019, I figured I’d fill y’all in while I wait to hear back from my lawyer about how screwed these guys are”. “Advocating” to me would mean making sure the fellow women around me are engaged in ongoing dialogue about their very basic workplace rights, and are informed enough to identify situations when they are blatantly being violated.

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              No. There is no valid point here, and I’m a man, not a woman. That manager should have known better, and so should Felicia have.

            2. RUKidding*

              No OP isnt asking if they have a valid point. She is asking if because women are so conditioned to appease males…no matter what… if she should, for her career just give into this sexist bullshit.

              There are not two sides. They have ZERO right to bring it up/ask. They are gaslighting her. She sees it but is double checking to mske sure she is seeing what she’s seeing because yanno women are irrational and stuff.

              Basically it’s “hey this is happening…it’s bullshit right?” That’s it. No “other side,” no legitimacy for the males and/or the manager and certainly no need to appease any of them.

              They can all fuck right off and I hope she gets a lawyer that will make it painfully clear to them, the boss, grandboss, and coworkers in the form of terminations across the board, and to the company in terms of a shit load if money paid to her.

        1. Outraged*

          Perfect solution. I was going to suggest keeping it on her desk.
          These guys haven’t even begun to feel uncomfortable.

    9. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

      I haven’t been this ANGRY IN A LONG TIME. I feel like yelling and crying at the same time, I can’t even imagine how the OP must feel. MY GOD.

      1. Gina*

        I thought that woman losing a lawsuit about having to wear high heels at work was the lowest point but this is a whole new level of low.

            1. Itzaak Hunt*

              I loved the food at Earl’s (BC) but I found it disturbing that female wait staff wore short dresses and heels while male staff dressed comfortably. Amazingly, my husband and son didn’t even notice until I pointed it out. I’m glad it’s illegal to require that discrimination now.

          1. Itzaak Hunt*

            Pumpkin and all other squashes are horticulturally speaking, fruits, but culinarily speaking they are usually treated as vegetables. A fruit is an appendage to a plant that is seed-bearing (or was in the ancestral plant, in the case of some hybrids).

        1. JD*

          Excessive pedantry warning: I think it makes sense to have separate definitions of “fruit” and “vegetable” for botanical vs culinary purposes. From a botany perspective, pumpkins have seeds, therefor fruit. But in terms of how you’d prepare them for eating and what they taste like, a pumpkin (and a tomato, and a cucumber, etc) are all in fact vegetables (to the extent that vegetable is a well-defined category which not really but whatever) and I don’t see why botany should get linguistic priority over something most of us do multiple times per day.

          Signed, someone who has spent a ridiculous amount of time explaining why they should be called “sea stars” and not “starfish” so yeah…

          1. Karen from Finance*

            I don’t know if you know this already, but they ARE called “sea stars” in Spanish!

        2. Tiny Soprano*

          A fruit which would surely be uncomfy to use as a prosthesis… but if you carve it nice and put a light inside you have one spooky boob at Halloween.

      2. Karen from Finance*

        Seriously, my head went straight to murderous thoughts. I would have gone ballistic. OP, you don’t have to deal with this crap.

      3. Artemesia*

        I am having so much trouble imagining men actually complaining to the boss about this. And am an old lady who has lived most of her career in very sexist environments/decades. I can’t see even the biggest dolts I worked with actually complaining about this. So I am also wondering if maybe the boss took a casual comment (I CAN imagine these men making fun of her) and decided to elevate it to ‘complaints’ because it bothers him. But really!!! Ridiculous.

        1. Kat*

          Yah I wondered that too. If behind the LW’s back the men are making crude jokes or snarky comments about her appearance – which is sooo inappropriate – and the manager took it upon himself to tell the LW about the complaints, further compounding the inappropriateness of the situation.

    10. Bostonian*

      Audible gasp when I read the headline. The rest of the letter is completely crazy. I didn’t even initially think of it with the framing that her boss was essentially telling her her chest wasn’t physically appealing (my initial WTF reaction was the fact that they were being insensitive to someone post-op with cancer), so A+ to Alison for putting it in that language, because it really illustrates how ridiculously out of line this request is.

    11. Cat Fan*

      Sometimes uncomfortable issues have to be raised by managers and it’s difficult to do even when it is a legitimate issue. I do not understand how this manager figured that he should discuss this at all. I’d really be scrutinizing everything else this manager does as well. He is not using very good judgment here.

      1. Anon Anon Anon*

        I agree. The manager is even more appalling than the people who complained. He’s in a position to know better and to take responsibility for the outcome. He had an opportunity to shut this down and instead, he basically sided with the people causing the issue. I would be pretty sketched out by this company.

        1. Just Elle*

          Right?!
          Option 1: Uh, guys, I don’t really feel comfortable talking to this woman about her boobs. Can’t you just… not look… or something?
          Option 2: You’re so right, how dare she! Let me go have a super awkward conversation with her because obviously this situation is serious enough to warrant the temporary pain of the conversation.

          …what human chooses option 2? It’s NOT EVEN THE EASY WAY OUT!

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            It’s the easy way out if you view making women uncomfortable as easier than telling men that their opinions aren’t needed.

            1. Just Elle*

              But… you don’t even need to rebuke them… just feign disinterest or unwillingness to rock the boat….

              (yes, I understand and agree with your point, but I refuse to acknowledge any part of this is logical)

    12. Comms Girl*

      Yeah, that was my reaction too as I read the title – then it got way worse. I literally cannot believe this happen.

      OP, please do not give in to these idiots and go straight to HR if you have a proper department as Allison suggested. Or go straight to a lawyer. And also, when you’re in a position to do so, my personal suggestion is that you start job hunting for a better job with respectful colleagues. These people are clearly scum. I’m so furious on your behalf that I can’t even find the proper words to describe how beyond despicable this is.

      1. Comms Girl*

        Posting again to clarify that obviously her colleagues should the ones being written up, possibly fired if they persist on this disgusting behaviour. But speaking for myself, I wouldn’t want to stay much longer in a workplace where both my colleagues had the nerve of asking post-surgery me to ensure my boobs were symmetrical; and worse, where my boss was 1) too blind to have immediately killed that discussion and 2) so spineless that he actually *thought* this was a legit complaint and enforced it by asking me to give in to their demands.

        OP, I do hope you have a swift recovery and that you can tear these idiots a new one. We’re all rooting for you and hopefully expecting a happy ending to this :)

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I wouldn’t want to work somewhere where the male gaze was more important than my competence.

          ::looks around:: Nope, not 1965….

    13. Amy*

      Alison is too nice here. This is just too beyond the pale. Please OP, just go right to, “Are you telling me female employees must have attractive breasts in order to please male coworkers?” Because that’s exactly what your supervisor is saying, and that’s beyond the pale.

      1. casualruffian*

        Yes, yes, yes. The fact that she’s mid-20s & the likely complainers were 40s men really skeeved me out.

        1. Artemesia*

          The boss should have said, ‘so look into her eyes when you speak to her.’ And then shaken his head in disgust.

      2. ....*

        I’d blast them on social media and I HATE people that blast people on social media. but F this. Even if she lost her job I’ll be she could raise the funds to coast off of within a day of it going viral.

    14. CandyFloss*

      Pretty much. You learn a lot about people when you get cancer. One thing is that some of you co-workers are monsters.

      1. Sabina*

        Sadly this is true. Who would think that so many people would want to share their horror stories of their friend’s sister’s cousin who had the exact same cancer and died a painful, lingering death with a person newly diagnosed? Or push stupid snake oil treatments while shaming the person with cancer for giving in to “Big Pharma”? This breast shaming thing is of a different magnitude however and needs to be squashed with extreme prejudice.

    15. RUKiddingMe*

      Right?! My reaction was “fuck those guys!” I mean what even?!

      OP you are not required to perform any specific apoearances, breasts, face, anything, for anyone, ever. Those males at your work dont like it? Tough. Go to HR!

    16. Anonandon*

      Yep! JFC who the hell would ever think this was a good idea?!?!?! This poor woman works with a bunch of entitled a**holes.

    17. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OP, I hope you sue the shit out of these m—–f—ers. (Or allow them to feel as disgusting, contemptible, and craven as they’re behaving.)

      And f— their “wear a prosthetic” bullshit. Seriously, if one had a testicle removed for testicular cancer, would he be told he has to wear a prosthetic because his groin appears lopsided or otherwise displeasing? I cannot remember a post that has made me more livid than this one.

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Tell them to stop looking at your breasts or you’ll file sexual harassment charges.

    1. Sarah*

      “So let me get this straight: the appearance of my breasts is not to people’s liking and you are asking me to change. Is that correct? I need to wear a prosthesis because my coworkers don’t like how my breasts look and they seemingly cannot control themselves enough not to look or remind themselves that their opinions on my body aren’t actually relevant? And I should wear something hugely uncomfortable after a massively invasive surgery so that I better suit their aesthetics?”

      I probably wouldn’t be able to keep myself from saying that, which…Alison’s advice is much better, use her language, but my God. This is actually jaw-droppingly bad.

      1. PoorUnfortunateSoul*

        Right. They’re basically asking that she wear an uncomfortable prosthesis so that they can ogle her and be satisfied with what they see.

        I literally can’t image the thought process of the men who not only felt this way but felt justified enough to bring it up to their boss. And then the fact that the boss thought this was an acceptable request??

      2. ANon.*

        Oh, I would totally say that. Actually, no, I wouldn’t; I would WRITE it in an email to the manager. I would want this documented, and force him to write out his response!

        1. Laurelma01*

          ANon,
          I agree with you. Send an email to the manager, telling him what he said to you and that it was inappropriate. Than CC it to his boss & to HR, if you have an HR, and bc: it to your private email address. This individual needs to be terminated. If he thinks this is acceptable to repeat, and actually thinks it’s appropriate to attempt to enforce such a gross request, he needs to be gone. Hate to see what else he’s said or done where women are concerned that’s unacceptable over the years.

      3. Jadelyn*

        This is about where I come down. “I’m sorry, are you telling me that some of my coworkers have been looking at my chest intently enough to be bothered by my POST-CANCER-SURGERY appearance? And you support them in this, to the point where you think I’m the one who is in the wrong here and should change how I manage my appearance so that they can look at my chest in comfort – again, while I am dealing with the aftermath of C A N C E R???”

        This is horrifying on every possible level, from every possible angle, and the complainers and this jackass of a manager should be summarily fired – and in any future reference checks, the company should be very clear about why they were fired.

      4. Can't Think of a Name*

        Normally I’d say use Alison’s language, but this whole situation is so infuriating that Sarah’s honestly might be a good bet. Hopefully it will wake them up to how outrageous they are being

      5. Amelia Pond*

        So do men get to dictate how our breasts look at work now, if they don’t like how they look? Is a woman with small breasts going to be requested to wear a push-up bra with extra padding? If they don’t like how large breasts look, will those women have to wear binders? Seriously, if this is how a woman with breast cancer is being treated, other women don’t stand a chance either. I cannot express how angry this makes me. There are just no words strong enough.

      6. Kat in VA*

        “I just had major surgery to remove a body part that could have killed me which happened to be my breast. Sorrynotsorry my tits aren’t up to your standards. Oh, and GFY.”

        I can be excruciatingly professional when the situation warrants it.

        This situation does not.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        And this one might even be shocking enough to fall into the “or so egregious” category. Certainly, if the boss even dares to bring the issue up again, the claim would probably be a slam dunk ADA/Title VII sex discrimination case.

      2. learnedthehardway*

        Agreed. In fact, I would be prepared to bet significant money that this company has a bigger problem with sexual harassment than this single (COMPLETELY EGREGIOUS) example. I mean, you don’t go from “generally respectful work environment with good values and ethics” to “astronomically inappropriate and frankly cruel” at the drop of a hat.

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      +1 and make sure to say the word “breasts” as often as possible to really drive home how inappropriate the whole subject is. Don’t soften it with “chest” or “front” or “body” or anything other than breast. Use it so often in the sentence that they squirm.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Good point. “So, some of my coworkers are looking at my breasts, and they don’t like the way my breasts look right now. So they complained to you that my breasts are making them uncomfortable. And you want me to wear a breast prosthesis, so that my breasts will be more comfortable for my coworkers to look at?”

        1. myfemmebot*

          Yes I support this. It’s so not even about that the prosthesis would be uncomfortable for OP, this is ALL about how off the charts bonkers the request is. The sense of entitlement of OPs colleagues is unbelievable. That there was actually space for them to seriously request a breast change to make them comfortable, and for management to back up the request. !!!!!!

          1. Jadelyn*

            Well, we all know that’s what they *meant* (ugh). I’d stick with “comfortable”, though, just so nobody can try to brush it off as OP exaggerating or accusing the men of something.

        2. AKchic*

          Email it. But change it to “… so that my breasts will be more pleasing for my coworkers to look at so they are no longer discussing their dissatisfaction of my breasts with you, so you are not tasked with relaying their displeasure of the appearance of my breasts back to me.”

        3. Tiny Soprano*

          I’d also squeeze in the word ‘cancer’ as much as I could too just to really drive the point home.

    3. Liane*

      “Tell them to stop looking at your breasts or you’ll file sexual harassment charges.”

      Just saw this post. An early front-runner for the poll of infamy.
      And I am pretty sure Alison’s scripts translate to the quote, for anyone with half a brain cell.

  2. Linzertart*

    WOW. This is so outrageous. All I’m going to say is, OP, I hope you are feeling well and your recovery continues to progress and I am so sorry you have to deal with this.

    1. starsaphire*

      Flames. Flames, on the side of my face.

      OP, it is my hope that you continue to recover, and that you can put this nonsense squarely where it belongs — back in the laps of the jerks who think you owe them performative attractiveness at work.

      I stand behind everything AAM said, all the way down to the lawyer.

      1. teclatrans*

        This is exactly what I came to say, FLAMES. Really, the only thing I can do is splutter…

        …nopr, found my words. OP, if the manager doesn’t accept your refusal and shut this down hard, you should consider talking to a lawyer about both ADA and sexual harassment. They are complaining about your breasts not being pleasing to them. AUGH.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      +100. Hear, hear. I can’t like this comment enough.

      Those coworkers are crass and cruel. Definitely follow Alison’s advice and don’t give them another thought. Sending you the very BEST wishes!

  3. Audrey Puffins*

    The letter writer’s use of “jumper” rather than “sweater” suggests to me she might be in the UK (or Australia but I don’t know how much jumper-wearing they’d be doing at this time of year); obviously in the UK we don’t have the Americans with Disabilities Act, does anyone know what our equivalent is?

    1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      The Equality Act 2010, under which cancer is automatically considered a disability (as is ‘severe disfigurement’, which – wording aside – this might also fall under).

    2. Tisme*

      Disability Discrimination Act.

      So sorry to hear that the Op has to deal with this nonsense. Best wishes for the future to you op.

    3. Armchair Analyst*

      Ah! I was thinking of an article of clothing that is like a dress, but crossed with an apron or pinafore or overalls that is often called a “jumper”. Usually this is associated with primary school teachers and is not considered fashionable at all – more “frumpy”. I guess either interpretation would work here, but good catch. Thank you for informing me.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I like jumpers!

          (When I was growing up, they were a loose-fitting overdress with a tank-style bodice that you wore over a turtleneck. Nowadays only little girls wear them, but at one time, grownup women did as well)

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          I still have a jumper I bought at age 12 and it fits me better now (at almost 37) than it ever did then!

    4. Anon Anon Anon*

      She could be in Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa. The letter could have been written at a different time of year.

      1. Buu*

        Sure and she’s obv not said for good reasons, but if she wants to use the response that states the legal ramifications for her employers bad actions then she needs the appropriate one. Was just linking in case it is helpful or for anyone reading this looking for appropriate resources. There may be similar helplines in other countries too.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Thankfully, the behavior OP has described described is illegal in all of those countries.

    1. Fergus*

      WTF! I was thinking same thing, this is definitely sex /andor disability discrimination with a possible side of sexual harassment.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        It’s gender discrimination, because you know for sure the manager wouldn’t have approached the OP if they were a man. It’s also disability discrimination because of the cancer, and it’s sexual harassment because it’s someone commenting on the appearance of her breasts. Congrats, clueless manager, you just scored a hattrick!

    2. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      That was my first thought once I picked my jaw up off the ground.

      Upper management dude and complaining dudes should be incredibly ashamed of themselves. I can’t imagine what kind of horrible human being you would have to be to think any of this is okay to even think, let alone say.

      1. Mary*

        In fact his cajones are so large that the way they look is making me uncomfortable, and I think he should probably do something about that.

      2. Ruth*

        His cojones are so large that they are making me uncomfortable. He needs to do something about them. Perhaps insert them into his mouth to keep him from saying stupid stuff?

        1. PVR*

          They look a little uneven and I’d prefer he wore a cojones cushion to even them out so I feel less uncomfortable (emotionally that is).

    3. Me (I think)*

      Yup, one week into 2019 and we already have a contender.

      Any decent boss would have told the complainers to STFU and get back to work.

      Un-freaking-believable.

    4. JustAClarifier*

      I was JUST about to say this. We are barely 7 days into the New Year and we already have a horrific contender. Good Lord. Well, as the Leap year boss would say: MORALE IS HIGH

  4. Justme, the OG*

    WOW. The gall of those people, your boss included. You are never under any obligation to alter your appearance for the “comfort” of others. This is bananacrackers.

    1. SierraSkiing*

      I think there are some circumstances where asking an employee to alter their appearance through clothing or grooming can be justified, like dressing at the right level of formality for the office. But asking someone to alter something about the shape/appearance of their actual body? Like making them wear a prosthesis? That is where it gets wildly inappropriate for me.

      1. Justme, the OG*

        Yes, but formality of the office setting is not about the comfort of an individual employee but rather the adherence to office norms. This situation is more like someone telling me that I’m taller than the boss in heels so I need to wear flats than I need to wear business casual rather than casual.

        1. fposte*

          Oh, I think it’s a lot worse than that; this is like saying that going around on crutches with an empty pant-leg isn’t work appropriate, so we require you to use a prosthesis on that leg, whether you want to or not.

          1. :-)*

            This is indeed the equivalent example.

            Too bad it hurts, but others don’t like how it looks on you so deal with it. WTF!

          2. Flash Bristow*

            Yup, that’s how I saw it. We are offended by your having a missing arm and require you to wear a fake one. After all, you had two arms when you took this job. What on earth were you thinking of, not having two anymore? It’s distracting us from work and putting us off our lunch! Disgraceful!

            Seriously… OP you have all my sympathies. I don’t think I’ve heard anything this ridiculous in a very long time. I wish it was a joke. But fear it isn’t…

          3. Seeking Second Childhood*

            YES. Or the runners & cyclists using athetic prosthetics had to switch off to one that’s covered up to look like the missing limb.

          4. LKW*

            This is exactly what I was thinking, I can understand “Please wear an eye patch instead of having a gaping hole in your head” but this is equivalent to, “I know you had your right arm amputated, but left handedness bothers some of the employees, can you please wear a prosthetic with a pen attached?”

          5. Decima Dewey*

            A Pennsylvania politician was known for losing a leg in Vietnam, and using Canadian crutches to get around. He tried wearing a prosthesis, but decided he was wearing it for other people’s comfort rather than his own, and that he didn’t need to do that. Neither does the OP.

            1. Becky*

              Huh, I never knew “Canadian crutches” was a term for what I would call elbow or forearm crutches.

            2. whingedrinking*

              Adam Hills, an Australian comedian who was born with one leg, had a bit on Mock the Week where he talked about how, growing up, the only thing he felt he was really missing out on compared to other kids was being able to wear flipflops. So his doctor made him a prosthetic with a toe-groove.

          6. General Ginger*

            Unfortunately, I think it’s actually more like “going around on crutches with an empty pant-leg is just not as much of a turn-on to look at as both your legs were”, in this particular situation.

        2. my two cents*

          it’s on par with asking the men of the office to stuff their trousers ‘for appearance of normality’. It’s super gross, and the VERY obvious line they have crossed was having asked OP to modify their appearance to satiate the idiot coworkers, instead of telling them off.

    2. Statler von Waldorf*

      Really? So if I came into the office wearing pants thin and tight enough that you could tell if I was circumcised or not, I am under no obligation to alter my appearance even if it makes my co-workers uncomfortable? That’s not how the real work world works. We can agree that this situation is bananacrackers and not even a little bit OK without getting into false hyperbole.

      1. Joielle*

        Wait, what? You’d be obligated to alter the appearance of your pants, not your penis. Obviously.

        1. my two cents*

          can you just imagine? lol
          “so, *people* have complained that you are uncut, so we’re going to need you to wrap this around your member to give the appearance of having been circumcised to avoid making *others* uncomfortable.”

      2. Sophie before she was cool*

        You’re under no obligation to alter your… um… circumcision status, but you could absolutely be required to dress in a way that’s consistent with professional norms. The OP here is wearing the same clothing as everyone else, and it’s her *body*, not her *clothing*, that’s making people “uncomfortable”.

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          I don’t see a distinction between altering the appearance of my body and the appearance of my clothing, which may be the disconnect here. A better example of my point might be when I have been required to shave off a beard for non-safety reasons before, which is altering the appearance of my body, and if I don’t have a religious exemption it is completely legal.

          None of this makes what this LW is going through OK, to be clear. It’s icky and gross and so very not cool. However, suggesting that an employer has no ability to demand that alter your appearance whatsoever is absolutely false, and I would hate for someone to get fired because they mistakenly believed it.

          1. gwal*

            The fact that breasts are much more sexualized in contemporary society than beards is relevant but you seem to be ignoring that fact, for one.

                1. Lauren*

                  Also the fact that there’s a big difference between “please be clean shaven because it makes you look more groomed and therefore professional in our opinion” and “please wear this prosthetic that CAUSES YOU HARM after having a MEDICAL PROCEDURE, because otherwise seedy men twice your age won’t be able to ‘enjoy the view’ when they look at you inappropriately”

          2. Rectilinear Propagation*

            But that’s still a safety issue. No one is being made unsafe just because OP’s breasts aren’t symmetrical.

            No one has said that your employer can’t ever ask you to alter your appearance, Justme said you don’t have to alter your appearance for someone else’s “comfort” and the scare quotes are there on purpose. Asking someone to adhere to a dress code or follow safety policies aren’t equivalent.

            1. fposte*

              I think that’s not a fruitful direction, though, since companies often forbid beards where it’s not a safety issue, too. But beards are not a permanent portion of your anatomy.

              1. Tiny Soprano*

                And shaving a beard doesn’t result in painful scar tissue that you boss is now insisting you stick a fake beard to because your beardlessness is making your co-workers ‘uncomfortable.’

          3. Le Sigh*

            This really isn’t the same as a beard though and this isn’t about safety. A better example is that a coworker loses an arm or hand or ear in an accident, and a coworker wants them to wear an painful prosthesis because it makes them “uncomfortable” to look at.

            Except in this case, the fact that it’s about a woman and her breasts adds a new, gendered layer to an already bad situation–whether they intend to or not. Women have faced a lot of harassment in the workplace that includes a gendered focus on appearance, so no matter how they mean it, that’s how it comes across. And now it makes it clear they’ve been paying undue attention to her chest and pushing her to conform to societal expectations of being a woman, instead of just minding their own damn business.

          4. Yorick*

            The person who said the employer can’t make you alter your appearance said that it’s wrong when the purpose is solely to make other employees comfortable.

            Making you shave a beard for safety purposes is different than saying, “many of your coworkers don’t feel comfortable about your beard, you need to shave it.”

          5. Le Sigh*

            This isn’t about safety and it’s not the same thing as your beard. This is more like a coworker losing an arm or ear or hand in an accident and asking them to wear a painful prosthesis because it makes you feel comfortable.

            And because she’s a woman and this is about her breasts, it adds a new, gendered layer to this shitcake of bad–intentions be damned. Women have dealt with a long history of workplace discrimination, including based on appearance, and that is not a good look for this group of men telling this woman she needs to have symmetrical boobs so they all feel…comfortable? Seriously? No matter how they think they mean it, that’s how it will come across.

            Yes, employers can ask you to alter your appearance but they need to watch themselves before they fall into bias–whether it be about religion, race, gender, or ADA protections, to name some. It’s icky and gross, but also likely discriminatory. And I would hate for someone to not fight back because they didn’t realize they could.

            1. Le Sigh*

              Ooops, sorry folks, computer glitched out and posted two slightly different versions of this.

          6. Elizabeth West*

            Well both male and female genitals are typically hidden in clothing, but it’s hard to hide breasts; they’re just sort of out there no matter what you do. Unless you’re trans, you’re unlikely to bind them. And a beard is transitory–you can’t shave off your breasts and regrow them. It’s a false equivalency.

          7. Totally Minnie*

            If you’re going to use a beard as a comparison, this is more like working for a company that requires all male employees to have beards when you don’t have one and aren’t able to grow one, so they require you to wear a hot, itchy, uncomfortable fake beard that gets in your way and distracts you from doing your work. And if Alison were to receive a letter from someone describing that scenario at their workplace, we’d all be commenting about how stupid and unnecessary that would be.

            This situation is exactly that stupid and unnecessary, with a heaping addition of sexism and ableism thrown in.

          8. pancakes*

            “…I would hate for someone to get fired because they mistakenly believed it.”

            Who exactly do you imagine is going to be fired based on a nonsensical hypothetical you concocted?

          9. Temp*

            Men must be clean shaven and staff must have no visible tattoos or piercings is a little bit different to ‘you must replace the body part you had removed due to Cancer to make men in the office comfortable when they look at you.’ The fact the OP lost a breast and finds a prostetic one uncomfortable isn’t anything like you wearing trousers so tight we can see your willy. Your willy is still there and you can wear trousers which are safe for work and everyone is happy. OP can’t regrow a breast, and shouldn’t have to fake one because the men ogling her are uncomfortable with the thought of a woman who doesn’t have the right number of breasts for their enjoyment. And also, if you happened to have a willy so big that any standard fit trousers would show the outline, I would fully support your right not to tuck it between your legs for female comfort, and I would support your right not to have a manager tell you that your bigger than average willy was making people uncomfortable and you should find a way to hide it, even if that caused you pain, such as having it tucked between your legs all day would. Apples to apples here Statler!

          10. Cat Fan*

            In your example your pants are way too tight. The letter writer did not say she’s wearing super tight tops. She’s wearing normal business appropriate tops like everyone else around her.

      3. Beanie*

        I believe they were specifically referring to body appearance, not dress code. Two separate issues.

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Can we just call a moratorium on men commenting on this post? Between you and Les G, I am already over it.

        1. Les G*

          Wow.

          This comment is disgusting–like the circumcision comment, and not at all like my good faith comment about making assumptions.

        2. Wendie*

          Please! Until you know what it’s like to do a daily breast exam (or teach your 5-year-old daughter what that means), buzz off!

          1. fposte*

            That’s not universal, though (and I’ve only heard monthly, not daily). I’m on the side of scholarship that says it doesn’t help, so I don’t.

          2. Essess*

            I would like to point out that it is a common misconception that men do not get breast cancer. Men have a higher mortality rate from breast cancer because they assume that they can’t/won’t get it.

          3. NerdyKris*

            Hi, I have gynecomastia, am a man, and have to do breast exams because my family has a history of breast cancer, so tone it down a little, please.

        3. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Personally, I– a woman– enjoy hearing from men who are equally outraged, or have been in this position, or have never thought about what they would do in this position. Statler’s opinion is hardly the norm or indicative of what most men think. I will also say that I would not be at all surprised if there are women out there who think that yes, we should all be symmetrical and make sure our appearances fall into established norms. (I do not agree with this at all, but I know SO many women who would.) So basically, I don’t think you can silence any opposing/outrage-inducing opinion by asking men not to chime in.

        4. On a pale mouse*

          Do we really need to ban comments based on gender, when the content of a comment is what’s actually relevant?
          Anyway men can have breast cancer and mastectomies (my dad did), which could make a noticeable asymmetry for some men, so they’re not immune to this issue. (Although the sad truth is that this manager probably wouldn’t have said this to a man in OP’s situation.)

          1. Susana*

            Yes, of course men can get breast cancer and have mastectomies. But in this case, it was the sexualized nature of OP’s breasts (or at least, of co-workers losing at them). The co-workers didn’t like looking at a young woman who didn’t have two symmetrical, perky breasts. That is beyond gross. And would not have happened if a man had a mastectomy.

        5. Database Developer Dude*

          Or instead of a moratorium, we just let those of us men who get it shame the others into shutting up? I have a burning desire to kick that manager in the head….

        6. Kelly*

          Who exactly is “we”? And why are you trying to be a moderator here. Kudos to Allison for asking you to stop.

      5. Liz T*

        Hey all, why are we doing this?

        We all agree that offices are allowed to have dress codes. We all agree that OP’s situation is ridiculous. Why are we implanting hairs to split?

          1. Liz T*

            Thank you! It just came to me, but unfortunately I think I’ll have many opportunities to use it again, especially on the internet.

      6. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Are you misunderstanding on purpose?

        As Mpls says down below, “Your clothes are subject to a dress code. Your body is not. Bodies are not part of the dress code.”

        No one has to change his or her actual body to suit the aesthetic sensibilities of anyone else. Your boss cannot ask you to grow a bigger penis, and OP’s boss cannot ask her to grow a larger breast.

      7. aebhel*

        …..no? Because the issue in that case is your inappropriate clothing, not your actual body. People can be asked to alter their clothing to conform to appropriate office norms; they cannot and should not be asked to alter their actual bodies, wtf.

      8. Temp*

        Men must be clean shaven and staff must have no visible tattoos or piercings is a little bit different to ‘you must replace the body part you had removed due to Cancer to make men in the office comfortable when they look at you.’ The fact the OP lost a breast and finds a prostetic one uncomfortable isn’t anything like you wearing trousers so tight we can see your willy. Your willy is still there and you can wear trousers which are safe for work and everyone is happy. OP can’t regrow a breast, and shouldn’t have to fake one because the men ogling her are uncomfortable with the thought of a woman who doesn’t have the right number of breasts for their enjoyment. And also, if you happened to have a willy so big that any standard fit trousers would show the outline, I would fully support your right not to tuck it between your legs for female comfort, and I would support your right not to have a manager tell you that your bigger than average willy was making people uncomfortable and you should find a way to hide it, even if that caused you pain, such as having it tucked between your legs all day would. Apples to apples here Statler!

    3. ....*

      Also sometimes you might be uncomfortable a little bit with something but you have to keep it inside because thats the KIND and HUMAN thing to do. Sometimes when you see someone with disability you’ve never seen before or someone who’s visibly very ill or disfigured it can make you feel a little uncomfortable inside because of the unknown. But you don’t say anything to them! I’m actually fuming.

  5. Lance*

    What you should really ask them is why they’re even looking that way at all. Seriously, your manager should be shutting this down hard, not relaying it to you.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Seriously, this is a prime example of what not to do when someone brings this kind of complaint.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      No kidding. “Please let me know who is EVALUATING MY BREASTS AT MY WORKPLACE, so I can discuss this issue with HR.”

    3. Scarlet*

      Exactly. I’m European and not familiar with US laws on sexual harrassment, but the fact the both the boss and the complaining coworkers are men makes this extra-icky (of course, it would be 100% inappropriate for women to bring this up too!). Wouldn’t commenting on your coworker’s breasts constitute sexual harrassment?

    4. Less Bread More Taxes*

      I’d think a manager’s first point of call would be to address any employee who is spending enough time looking at another employee’s chest to get “uncomfortable.” What creeps.

      1. Nikki T*

        Right…I don’t even look at my coworkers hard enough to know what outfit they have on, let alone what their silhouette might look like!

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Seriously. I’m currently trying to imagine what my coworker who sits next to me, and I’ve already talked to 3 times and crossed paths with by the coffee maker this morning is wearing right now… I have no idea. I think a black top? No idea if it’s long sleeve or short sleeve or has a design, etc.

          1. Pandop*

            I can tell you the coworker who wore an almost neon jumper yesterday isn’t wearing it today, as I am not seeing a flash of neon out of the corner of my eye as she moves around the office. Couldn’t say what she is wearing though.

        2. Beanie*

          To be fair, if it’s a very obvious asymmetry, the eyes will naturally be drawn to what seems “off”. But a grown adult would realize it’s an injury, make a mental note, and move on, and would avert their gaze from the area (even if they have to force their eyes away). These coworkers and boss are clearly not acting like grown adults.

          1. sb51*

            Yeah, there’s someone in my life who chose not to have reconstruction and usually wears a prosthesis, but sometimes doesn’t, and it does catch my eye occasionally in a “wait something is strange oh right” way. It’s no biggie.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              My high school boyfriend’s mother had a mastectomy on one side and I had no idea until she told me , over a year later – and we were significantly closer than coworkers. It sounds like she dressed similarly, too: sweaters, salwar kameez with dupatta, etc.

            2. On Fire*

              A former coworker had a preventative double mastectomy. She told me she felt self-conscious and felt that that’s the first place people looked: her missing breasts. I told her she might be right, because a) everyone knew about the surgery and b) she did look different. BUT! Nobody was judging her or complaining about it – it was just like sb51 described: “something’s different oh yeah, now I remember.” It was honestly a bigger thing in her mind that it was to coworkers, and that’s completely normal – it was a huge change for her!

          2. Emily*

            Yes, this.

            I don’t think it’s unreasonable to notice that someone only has one breast (or differs in another fairly obvious way from the physical norm), but the appropriate behavior after noticing is to move on and treat them the same way you would anyone else.

            1. many bells down*

              I had a friend who had a glass eye. Although it matched his other eye, it was noticeably not-real. To this day I have no idea *why* he had a glass eye, because we never discussed it.

              1. Jenna*

                My husband had a glass eye. After a while some of our friends would forget (and ask us out to see a 3D movie. Um. No?).

                I’ve had breast cancer and a double mastectomy. I opted to not have reconstruction and I have work the silicone prosthetics maybe twice? They are not worth the bother to me.

            2. Callie*

              Yes. It’s ok to notice. It’s not okay to say anything or have an obvious “wut” reaction. That’s part of being an adult, is moderating/controlling your responses to things.

          3. Kitrona*

            Yeah, I could see noting it mentally, like “that’s unusual”, but then to *voice* that, and not only that, to COMPLAIN about it? WTActualF.

            (I read this to my housemate and she exploded. Entirely warranted, but I just gave her the gist of it and it’s still disgusting enough to raise voices over.)

      2. It's mce*

        I would go HR just so they are kept in the loop. The fact that the manager agreed/responded to deliver such a message is awful.

    5. Le Sigh*

      The mind, it boggles so much.

      “Boss, are you suggesting a) that my coworkers are staring at my chest instead of working, which is already concerning; b) I must cause myself pain and discomfort by wearing this device, in order to conform to society’s notion of how to be a woman, something you would absolutely not ask of a man, and is extremely gendered; c) I, a cancer patient, cause myself greater pain despite being protected under the ADA, just so these grown men don’t….feel uncomfortable while again, staring at my chest instead of working? Meanwhile, we all have work and deadlines, and you’re all instead spending your time building a layer cake of lawsuits?”

      1. Minocho*

        Layer cake of lawsuits. I love this. I would rather this poor woman not have to deal with this in any way, but the mean and vindictive side of me wants all the lawsuits, winning all the money.

          1. The Original K.*

            For real. When I read this I remembered that scene from Mad Men when Joan told Peggy she wanted to burn down the office.

      2. Flash Bristow*

        Good point. I know someone who had testicular cancer.

        I’m just trying to imagine the reaction if women in his workplace complained that his package was now too small and requested he stuff it to spare their feelings….

        OP if you don’t manage to get it shut down promptly, maybe giving that analogy will make the point. Otherwise, are you a union member? Dunno if you’re in the uk? but that would be my next port of call here.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Wow, thank you, Flash Bristow. I was racking my brain trying to think of an equally asinine situation to be ‘imposed’ on a man. Your example is absolutely outstanding, and clearly articulates how stupid the manager is to even suggest to the OP that they alter their body for the comfortableness of colleagues.

          I appreciate that you’ve expended brainpower on this, and would love your permission to use this, should I ever run into this situation (in my [US] Army Reserve capacity, one of my functions is EO, and this situation clearly falls under it).

        1. boo bot*

          8.5 X 14 inch rectangular cake, yellow frosting with blue lines, blue or black lettering: “WTF?”

          Symbolism you can eat!

    6. Donna Noble*

      Yes. I am so glad someone brought up the sexual harassment angle. Men 20 years older than LW complaining about her breasts? WTActualF?

      1. WellRed*

        I also wondered if the fact she’s in her 20s contributed to their discomfort, in a way it wouldn’t have had she been an older woman. I realize that’s gross, but, well, the whole thing is gross.

        1. EH*

          Yep, in the minds of some folks, young women are *supposed* to be decorative (e.g., “You’re so much prettier when you smile!”). Gross.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Remember how the men of the internet freaked out when Angelina Jolie talked about having a preventative mastectomy? A beautiful woman is obligated to remain beautiful for their enjoyment, obvs. /sarcasm

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              Didn’t Angelina Jolie get genetic testing that showed she had a gene that indicated a predisposition to breast cancer, the more virulent kind?? In that case, to me, it’s a no-brainer. She was comfortable with the idea of removing her breasts, so I say she needed no one’s permission….especially in doing something to keep herself alive.

              I also get that some women may not be comfortable with the idea of doing that to themselves. My opinion on what any woman *should* do is irrelevant [and honestly, I don’t have one. I’m not a doctor].

      2. Jadelyn*

        Anyone, of any age, complaining about her breasts. Or anyone’s breasts. (Yeah, I agree there are bonus “ick” points for the gender/age differential, but I want to make sure we’re all on the same page that this still wouldn’t be okay even if it were a woman her own age saying it.)

        Maybe we just decide that the rule is, Coworkers Don’t Have Breasts. Even if they do, we don’t acknowledge them.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          When I’m at work, the only breasts I ever intend to comment on are the ones I want to purchase from Popeyes when I get hungry.

          I noticed there are a lot of commenters here not in the US, so let me explain: Popeyes is a fairly popular place to get great (in my opinion) fried chicken.

        2. Steve Nordquist*

          TFW I am shoving my state of mind out of style intervention into gratitude and it’s mistaken for complaint.

    7. Bilateralrope*

      If her breasts were big enough before the cancer it’s possible people could tell at a glance. So noticing might not be problem behavior.

      But complaining is a big problem.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, basically you should not ever be commenting on a coworker’s breasts in any circumstances.

      2. General Ginger*

        Nah, if your coworkers don’t spend time staring at your chest, it’s entirely possible they won’t notice. I had a very sizeable chest, and AFAIK, other than my cubemate, my coworkers didn’t really notice my double mastectomy. My cubemate noticed something was kinda off, but assumed that I’d lost some weight due to the recovery from whatever surgery I had.

    8. Bostonian*

      I know, right? The fact that multiple men in this office felt OK admitting that they were looking at OP’s chest and don’t approve of it says a lot about this office culture…

  6. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I always wonder about the managers in these situations. If someone came to me with this kind of complaint, I’d blink at them and wonder if I’d heard them correctly. Stop wasting your boss’ time in 2019, everyone!

    1. Khaleesi Esq.*

      This is unfair, but my first thought is no one is complaining — the manager is the one uncomfortable. (And seriously, what employee, male or female, would complain to a manager about this anyway?)

        1. Krabby*

          Yeah, my first thought was that it was the boss as well. I have known a lot of managers who use non-existent ‘anonymous group complaints’ to couch their own criticisms of their employees during performance issue meetings. Most managers who play that card can’t handle taking responsibility for actually managing their employees, and tend to shoot from the hip based on ‘gut feelings’ without thinking about the consequences to everyone else, since they weren’t the ones who complained /right/?

          This stinks of that shortsightedness.

          1. Krabby*

            It also stinks of misogyny and disgusting, pathological behaviour, but I’m sure others have said that better both above and below.

          2. Magenta*

            Using that as a management technique is terrible!
            I once had to tell someone he smelt, it was bad enough that we had to have the conversation, it would have made it so much worse for him if I had put the blame on anonymous others in order to make it easier on myself! He would have thought people were talking about him behind his back. (Ok they were, but him knowing that would have just make the whole situation so much worse!)

            1. Krabby*

              Haha, that’s actually the exact situation where I learned about this. I’m in HR and one of the managers was talking to me about someone on his team who had bad BO and he basically said, “I’ll just tell him we’ve had some complaints.” I explained about that making it so much worse, so he told me I could deal with it if I cared that much. After that, I started noticing how many times in performance meetings the guy would say things like, “Well I heard from the folks in X department that you haven’t really been performing at the level we need,” and “Jane is telling me that you dropped the ball on Z account.” It’s fine if it’s true, but he did it so often that it came down to him never saying, “I have a problem with how you do A, B and C.” Of course, when it was time to reward someone and praise their work, the same never applied. Basically, he got to be the good guy in every situation and was constantly throwing everyone else under the bus.

          3. Tiny Soprano*

            My old boss used to do that. Except one time he tried it on in a team meeting (to say that others on the team were complaining about a colleague’s short smoke breaks when really it was just him that didn’t like them) and we all turned and looked at him and said ‘wait, WHAT?’ It took days to remove his foot from his oesophagus…

        2. The New Wanderer*

          After all, the only person the OP knows has said anything is the manager. In any case, whether he’s making it up or repeating an actual complaint, the manager fully owns the cluster he just started and I hope HR/upper management takes him down over it. Truly unacceptable.

      1. teclatrans*

        It makes me wonder whether they actually came to him and lodged a complaint, or if they sat around discussing her tits and what a shame it was and hoo boy, seeing one missing was really killing their libido. Or something along those lines. Ick, ick, ick.

        Also, FLAMES.

        1. Steve Nordquist*

          So this is the only reason they made Iron Man Reactor bling, fwiw. Plenty of also-derivs. snark where that came from. It is super awkward to say oh I like the way you’re upright a second day or become uncertain. Have had coworkers in peculiar suspension.

      2. Demotion-question-haver*

        This what I came here for. My gut instinct was that no one has complained. This guy — the boss — has a problem, and it sounds better if he says “people” are complaining.

        1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          My boss does *exactly* that. “Some folks have said” really means “This is my issue but I’m going to make it seem more legit by blaming others and not dragging myself into it at all.”

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oh crap, I have not thought of it, but it’s possible. Though, it looks like he named the complainers to OP?

        1. my two cents*

          I think it was more of a case where OP had already talked with the various other cancer survivors in the office…that when pulled aside this time, OP tried to respond to the manager’s “complaint” with offering to discuss it with the other survivors directly…only to be told it wasn’t any of them complaining. Here’s hoping that ‘higher up’ had enough brain cells to not name anyone specifically.

          Also agree that it could be the higher-up’s issue entirely, and the ‘group complaint’ may be entirely fabricated.

          1. OP :)*

            Hi, my manager didn’t name anyone, and apparently neither did the higher up who told her about the complaint. I’m just assuming since there’s some creeps (i’ve said it) in the office who stare at women’s chests all the time and i know the two women who had cancer and they’re both cool with what i decided. Maybe i’m wrong in assuming though! (Not that i would ever be brave enough to confront anyone even if i knew who it was by name)

            1. Krabby*

              This came from someone above your boss!? That makes it even crazier because it means that the message somehow made it through multiple levels of authority without someone saying, “This is insanely inappropriate and we’re not doing this.”

              At the end of the day, the only people who have any right (and honestly should still know better) to complain are the other survivors in your office. It’s really crappy that your management team thought this was an okay complaint to entertain, let alone actually bring to your attention.

            2. Laurelma01*

              It shouldn’t have been said, much less repeated. Am hoping that you have an HR Department and let them handle this (like they should).

            3. Elbe*

              This is not a good sign. This is shockingly inappropriate behavior and the company culture must be horrible indeed if it can go through multiple levels and employees without being shut down. What type of people are steering this ship?

            4. Chalupa Batman*

              I think it’s pretty damn generous of you to even consider that someone might have a legitimate reason to make such an outrageous complaint. When I saw the line about “maybe it brought up negative emotions in other survivors,” I thought that it’s not ok to comment on someone’s post surgery body at work EVER, but you’re awfully nice to be that considerate. I would give exactly no one the benefit of the doubt in this situation. I hope this comment section helps you find the right balance of your apparently kind nature and our collective urge to light this WHOLE PLACE on fire.

              1. Kitryan*

                Yes, that was super thoughtful of the OP. The boss and higher up need to be shaken vigorously until they behave like humans and the oglers, whether or not they are the complainers should have been shut down. As should the complainers if they’re not part of those groups.
                My mom had a lumpectomy a few months ago and I couldn’t imagine having to deal with this baloney on top of recovery in general.

            5. EPLawyer*

              Wait WHAT???? Your manager is a woman and she STILL had the gall to point out that people were uncomfortable after staring at your chest? The manager should have politely told the higher ups that discussing women’s chest is not really something this company should be doing.

              Dollars to donuts, the higher ups were the ones who noticed and then claimed they had complaints and passed the buck to manager. Who in a stunning display of female solidarity — threw her employee under the bus.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  I’m going to defend the manager, based on OP’s update I read in the comments below. It sounds like a higher-up had basically twisted the manager’s arm and said she HAD TO “pass it on”. She also told OP that she expected the OP to ignore the complaint, she’d just been forced to pass it on.

                2. fposte*

                  @I–Yes, but what she says isn’t true. She didn’t have to pass it on; she chose to, because other actions would have required her to be more adversarial.

                3. casualruffian*

                  Exactly why I wrote “sad”. Any scenario that lead to a woman doing this to another woman is just depressing.

              1. NW Mossy*

                Frankly, this one of those situations where even if it’s your boss, you gotta step up and say “I disagree with passing this on – here’s why.” A huge piece of managing well is having the skill to respectfully dissent and stand up for your own moral compass, EVEN IF you ultimately end up doing the asked thing over your internal objection. Otherwise, it gets way too easy to turn into that person who goes along to get along, but doesn’t have the discussions needed to make better decisions.

                1. Chilly Delta Life*

                  Reminds me a bit of the letter about leaving a note for a coworker on their recently deceased relative’s grave (at the boss’ request). They felt like their job would be in jeopardy if they didn’t do it, but they ended up losing their job anyway for not refusing.

            6. Anon Anon Anon*

              So it sounds like this is how the company operates. Considering that it came from a group of people and passed through multiple levels of authority. I would not trust HR to be on your side, unfortunately. They work for the company’s leadership. Depending on how high up your boss’s boss is and how reflective of the culture this is, I might not involve them. They might help, but they could also try to cover it up or push you out in order to protect the company. Trust your judgment there. Document everything and get legal advice. This probably isn’t legal and it is probably indicative of other problems there. It’s shocking that so many people would be involved in something like this.

            7. my two cents*

              In my wildest dreams, I’d consider attaching the prosthetic to the outside of my shirt. Or perhaps doubling up on the ‘full’ one. MESSAGE RECEIVED, BOSS.
              lolohnoreallythisallsucksandimsorryyouredealingwiththis

            8. Database Developer Dude*

              OP, I’m glad I don’t work with you, because if I had even heard about this, I’d have assaulted your manager, the higher up, and anyone else who was even tangentially involved. Some people are just so freaking clueless they need a high five…..in the face…..with a chair. I’m sorry you had to be subjected to this dumbfuckery.

      4. gladfe*

        I think this is really likely, and it’s a worthwhile point because it may be reassuring to the OP to consider they might be working with just one ghoulish sexist ableist scumbag, not a whole team of them.
        And OP — I’m really sorry you have to deal with even one of them!

      5. Observer*

        I agree that this is a real possibility.

        In either case, the boss is waaaay out of line, so in a way it doesn’t really matter.

      6. Blue*

        I wondered this, as well. I think, at minimum, the boss is uncomfortable with it but knows it’s sketchy as hell to say, “I don’t like the way your breasts look.” The complainers may well exist, but I can’t imagine the boss acting on such a thing unless he felt the same way.

        I seriously don’t get how the social discomfort of some jerk coworkers trumps a cancer survivor’s physical discomfort. I’d really like to hear the boss try to offer a non-misogynistic explanation (there isn’t one, but I’d like to watch him flounder.)

      7. Jadelyn*

        I wondered that, too – maybe it’s just this jackass who’s “uncomfortable” and he’s taking the coward’s way out of blaming it on nebulous, unnamed “other people” who are uncomfortable, justifying his desire to try to boss OP around on this.

      8. Database Developer Dude*

        I will bet my paycheck against anyone’s that whoever originally complained, if any, was a man. I’m also not willing to immediately DISbelieve the theory coming out here in the comments that it was really the manager himself who was uncomfortable.

  7. Green*

    I applaud that you have come up with the nicest, most professional possible way to express my sheer outrage.

    (I’m a lawyer; I’d tell them to go to hell.)

    1. EPLawyer*

      My reaction was much the same. OP, your next words should be, in this Order “Pound Sand, I am talking to a lawyer.”

      Good grief. Please know that so many of us are horrified on your behalf. Please take care of yourself.

      1. Tiara Wearing Princess*

        She told boss she’d think about it.
        Next step: “I’ve thought about it and you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”

        1. Laurelma01*

          If I was OP, wouldn’t bring it up again. Just to HR and let them handle. If they suck go to an attorney. I would like to hear what some lawyers or HR personnel say regarding this.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I can’t speak for lawyers, but as an HR person, I would be unspeakably appalled to find out any of our managers said anything like this – both on a human level, and on a compliance level. If an employee came to me and told me a manager had said that to her, I’d place an immediate emergency phone call to our EVP over HR, she would talk to the CEO, they’d contact the manager in question, and by the end of the day that manager would’ve at the very least received an extremely stern “if you ever, ever do something like this again, you are unbelievably fired.” talk from both EVP and CEO, and probably been demoted or had his teams reassigned (depending on what his actual role was and how well the teams under him could function without someone in the manager role) – and quite possibly been put out on unpaid leave while we get the official “go ahead” from Legal to fire him. We wouldn’t want someone with that level of terrible judgment to be in any kind of position of power.

            The EVP and VP of HR would also likely be meeting with the employee directly to express apologies and offer support, and we’d be vigilant as hell with other coworkers in that office/that team/whatever to make sure nobody was gossiping about it. If we didn’t fire that manager, we’d probably ask if the employee would like to transfer to another team or office so she wouldn’t have to deal with that manager anymore, and if nothing was available, we’d make something available.

            1. Magenta*

              Reading the OP’s comment it sounds as though the manager (a woman) was pushed to tell the OP by her own boss. The manager passed it on in a “this is what is being said, I don’t expect you to do anything” kind of way.
              So, depending on the size of the company and the layers of management, it could be that high level management are involved.

    2. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, I was just thinking that my response would be “Well I’m sorry that my nearly dying of cancer is ruining your and the other men’s hobby of staring at my tits. Wait, no, that came out wrong, I meant go fuck yourself,”

  8. Nay*

    If she’s calling it a jumper she’s likely not in the US…but I’m sure the UK has an ADA equivalent…either way OP I can’t believe how outrageously tasteless your colleagues: you do you!

      1. Mme Defarge*

        Yes to the trade union. As a workplace rep, I would be happy to explain how wrong this is. As a local government equalities officer I know how wrong this is. I hope you work in a place with decent HR and a strong trade union, OP.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I think this OP is in the United Kingdom. She used the word “jumper,” which means sweater in American. ;)

    Unless she really is wearing pinafore dresses!

    Anyway, if the OP is in the United Kingdom, I’m sure there’s an ADA equivalent? The advice remains the same.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      OT, but: specifically, a jumper is what we’d call a pullover. Oh, and that thing with buttons up the front is a cardigan in the UK.

  10. Nancy*

    This is absolutely disgusting. “I’m a woman in my late twenties and most guys in the office are 40 or over.” How much do you want to bet that if my late 50’s size 18 year old self was in the same position none of those creeps would complain?

  11. blackcat*

    OMG! OP, I’m so sorry about cancer, failed reconstruction surgery, and the fact that you work with assholes.

    Alison, would you suggest following up on those discussions with an email so there’s a paper trail?

    1. BelleMorte*

      I definitely would follow up via email for a paper trail (and bcc to my private email address for verification) as well.

      Something simple and non-inflammatory just factual.. “to recap our conversation on day/time at place… an unnamed co-worker in “office” put forth a formal complaint that my missing breast is upsetting to them, and you will be requiring me to wear a prosthesis to work starting X date.”

      Then take this to a lawyer and sue the pants off them because WTF!!

  12. Miki*

    I don’t think the LW is in the USA though (jumper), but if they have something similar to ADA they should use it.

  13. Anja*

    I would use Alison’s script to the manager, go to HR and visit a lawyer.
    The nerve of those people!

  14. bees*

    Does the LW have cancer? She didn’t mention that she did, just that other women in the office had a history of breast cancer. While horrible either way, if she doesn’t have cancer, she’ll need a different script when speaking to her manager.

    1. Justme, the OG*

      Because people have double mastectomies with reconstruction for fun? Not to be snarky, but they’re generally done for cancer or another serious medical issue.

      1. Scarlet*

        Yeah, I’ve only heard about double mastectomies in case of breast cancer or at least, as a preventative measure when the risk of cancer is very high.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Especially considering she’s only in 20s, I assume she had breast cancer. Even for preventative care, it’s pretty rare to get that done so young (in my understanding).

          1. my two cents*

            It’s done in rare cases where there is a family history of fast/fatal breast cancer at a young age, and then genetic testing can be done to determine if removal is needed prior to exhibiting symptoms(due to extremely aggressive cancer type). But in most cases, it’s done after cancer is spotted.

          2. On Fire*

            My former coworker was in her mid-20s when she had it done as a preventive measure, due to a strong family history of breast cancer.

            1. Snowshovel*

              Yes, I came to say the same thing. I also have a close friend who had a double mastectomy in her twenties after her sister and mother both had breast cancer. Obviously it isn’t fun, but it can be the right choice for some people.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I don’t think bees was trying to imply that the OP had the procedure done for fun, but rather just trying to bring up the question that if this is not cancer related does it still fall under the ADA. As others have pointed out OP might be based in the UK so the ADA is moot, but the UK does have a similar law.

        I imagine that the double mastectomy procedure was done under the guidance of a medical professional for medical purposes, and even if it wasn’t cancer in the US it would still fall under the ADA.
        Further I would consider a preemptive mastectomy as an issue that would fall under the ADA as well, but I don’t know if the ADA would actually consider a high risk of devolving cancer to be a disability.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Also asking a colleague to alter the appearance of their chest, even just commenting on the appearance is sexual harassment territory even if there were no medical issue at all involved. Just try imagining a man or women talking about a female colleague saying “Susy has a very small/weird chest it makes me uncomfortable, she should be asked to wear a push up bra or implants to make her chest more appealing/pleasing/symmetrical to make me comfortable.”

          1. Natalie*

            Literally no one is suggesting that it’s somehow appropriate if the LW never had cancer, just that the suggested script would *need to be changed* since it highlights cancer rather prominently.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I apologize, I wasn’t trying to suggest people were saying that. I was just trying to note that this is wrong on many many levels even without cancer as an issue.

        2. Cmdrshepard4ever2*

          Also asking a colleague to alter the appearance of their chest, even just commenting on the appearance is sexual harassment territory even if there were no medical issue at all involved. Just try imagining a man or women talking about a female colleague saying “Susy has a very small/weird chest it makes me uncomfortable, she should be asked to wear a push up bra or implants to make her chest more appealing/pleasing/symmetrical to make me comfortable.”

        3. npoworker*

          second this! I actually think preventative double mastectomies may be more common (or, less rare) in the Uk because of their healthcare system, so it’s really not an outrageous question.

      3. MaryAnne Spier*

        Not for fun, but if you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation (like me) you are strongly encouraged to have a preventative double mastectomy and reconstruction.

        1. Observer*

          That’s just not true – it’s way more complicated than that, especially for younger women.

          1. BRCAGirl*

            Yes, my doctor has made no efforts to encourage me in that direction. (BRCA1+). I get regular screenings (mammograms and MRIs) and, according to my oncologist, the 6 month screenings have as good a survival outcome as prophylactic mastectomies.

            That said, I don’t really blame anyone who decides to have one and just be done with the constant screenings.

            1. Observer*

              I’m not sure what ate my comment, so I’m redoing it.

              I totally agree with you on the no judgement part. For some women preventative surgery makes sense and it’s really not up to anyone else to weigh in. No one does surgery like this on a whim, so if they are doing it it’s because of serious medical concerns.

          2. MaryAnne Spier*

            Not sure what you think isn’t true. As soon as I was told that I was BRCA2+ I was referred to a plastic surgeon and a breast specialist. Everyone looked at me like I had three heads when I said I didn’t want surgery. Every 6 months I had follow-up exams and I was pressured again and again to have the surgery, that I was playing with fire to not have it, etc. My gynecologist also told me “buy the time you’re 40, those babies are coming out,” referring to my ovaries.

            Maybe my experience isn’t typical but yes, there has been a great deal of pressure on me to have surgeries based on my BRCA2 status.

            1. Observer*

              I have no doubt that some women are inappropriately pressured, and I also am aware that for some women it really makes a lot of sense to do the surgery. However, it is not true that women with the mutation are universally pressured to have the surgery prophetically.

              Which doesn’t change your experience. I totally wasn’t addressing individual experiences.

        2. suburbanite*

          Came here to point this out as well, as a fellow BRCA2+ relatively young woman who is facing down a double mastectomy within the next five years.

          Absolutely horrifying. OP, I wish you luck in shutting this down, and peace moving forward with your recovery.

      4. cheeky*

        People get radical mastectomies because of cancer risk (which is not the same as actively having cancer.)

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          I have a buddy from my taekwondo class who is saving up for exactly that, Typhoid Mary

    2. Four lights*

      I noticed this too. It could be preventative-maybe she had the BRCA gene. Still cancer related though.

      1. eee*

        yeah, like the manager and the guys are all huge assholes, but wondering whether the same language can be used for preventative surgery.

    3. Anja*

      Yes. She said she had a mastectomy and the reconstruction surgery failed on one side which is why she has was asked to wear the uncomforrable prostheses.

        1. Observer*

          That’s not really true, though. No one does this surgery unless there is a serious medical (generally cancer related) issue at play here. So even in the very unlikely scenario that she hasn’t YET had cancer, she’s still dealing with cancer and recovery from major surgery. The only thing she would need to change is “post cancer” to “post surgery”.

          Which is a distinction without a difference in this case.

      1. Les G*

        I don’t get the reaction here.

        If the OP doesn’t have cancer, the advice about the ADA may not come into play. Obviously nobody gets double mastectomies for fun, but some people do get them for reasons other than “having cancer right this second.”

        1. fposte*

          The ADA doesn’t come into play because she’s not in the US. However, were she in the U.S., Title VII would apply if she had cancer or not.

        2. fposte*

          BTW, it surprises me that you don’t get the reaction. The incendiary part is the boob-policing, not the cancer; whether it’s cancer or not is so much less important that it’s practically tangential.

          1. Les G*

            I guess it surprises you because you did not read the *many* comments saying that this was so bad (and possibly illegal) precisely *because* of the cancer.

            I happen to agree with you, but there was (as is so often the case) a range of options represented in the comments.

              1. Database Developer Dude*

                Indeed. Even without the cancer, this is a dumpster fire. Plus, if the OP has the genetic markers that indicate a predisposition to the virulent kind of breast cancer, this adds yet another layer of outragenousness to it.

                Someone trying to save their own life by getting a preventative double-mastectomy does not need to hear that the appearance of her or his chest (men get breast cancer too, but it’s rare)…is making co-workers uncomfortable. That’s so far beyond the pale, nice is nowhere near required.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I often envy fposte for their insight and classy responses like this.

            1. gmg22*

              OP’s comment below elaborates that she had a mastectomy because of a genetic mutation and very high familial risk of cancer. IANAL, but I’d be very surprised if disability law, in either the US or UK, treated her rights in that situation differently than it would if she had already received a diagnosis of cancer.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Just to clarify—if OP were in the U.S., the ADA could apply even if OP did not currently have cancer.

          But as others have noted, the situation is horrific with or without the cancer dimension. And thankfully, both the UK and U.S. have antidiscrimination regimes that make the behavior of the GrandBoss and other horrid people unlawful.

      2. Astor*

        I had a similar reaction to Alison’s reply and assumption that the OP has cancer. If it helps hear another perspective the reason why I think it’s worth mentioning is two-fold:

        1) The way that these colleagues are out of line and is well covered.

        2) It’s often not just a matter of replacing “cancer” with “cancer prevention” or “health issues” when navigating these minefields. The people I know who have had double-mastectomies (of which there are several) as a preventative measure have had multiple difficulties obtaining support specifically because they do not have cancer. That is, it’s not uncommon for people to feel deceived because they assumed it was in response to a cancer diagnosis as opposed to in response to a risk for a cancer diagnosis and be less accommodating because of it. It’s unfair, but it’s also a reality, and it’s a reality that a lot of people aren’t aware of. And the assumption that extends to the medical profession (at least where I live) often enough that it can be a real burden, especially for people who have had other complications.

        It’s obviously harder to have a mastectomy with cancer, because: cancer and everything that cancer implies. But there are other differences in a lot of ways that can be surprising, and so I think it is actually useful to hear that not all people who have had a mastectomy and reconstruction have had cancer and more specifically, that their experience is often *different* than that of people who have had the same surgeries for cancer.

        1. Observer*

          This may be true, but it’s not really relevant here. Because this is still a serious medical issue and telling someone that their attempt to preserve their life has made others unacceptably “uncomfortable” adds an extra layer of outrageousness, even if the attempt was prophylactic rather than reactive.

          In other words, from a moral and probably legal sense, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that people can be incredibly stupid about it doesn’t make it any better.

    4. PB*

      They don’t state it explicitly, but one doesn’t generally have a double mastectomy unless they have cancer, or significant risk of developing cancer.

    5. blackcat*

      It’s possible it’s a prophylactic mastectomy. A couple of my friends who seriously lost the cancer-DNA roulette got have had mastectomies in their late 20s/early 30s to prevent cancer. So maybe ADA (or similar) laws won’t apply, but this is still wildly inappropriate!! And in that case, I’d actually say that the scripts don’t need much editing.

    6. Obvious Tangent*

      “Double mastectomy and reconstruction”implies the cancer even if not mentioned outright.

      1. fposte*

        Or prophylaxis, as people are noting. But honestly, the change to the script would be minimal, and I’m sure the OP is up to it. I like the idea of keeping in “cancer” for its weightiness, so I’d go with “to deal with cancer” instead of “post-cancer.”

      2. MLB*

        Not necessarily. Women who discover they have the BRCA gene sometimes decide to have a mastectomy as a preventative measure. Regardless, I don’t know that it changes the script that much.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          That also implies cancer (as in, the possibility of getting it if the surgery is not done), so it should not change the script.

          1. Les G*

            It actually might change ths script.

            What is so wrong with pointing out that a snap assumption (made, seemingly, by both Alison and ths majority of the commenters) may be incorrect? Truthfully, it seemed obvious to me that ths OP was not at all suggesting she had cancer. Note the comment about previous coworkers with cancer.

            1. Observer*

              Because it’s focusing on an irrelevant piece of the issue. She’d need to change literally ONE WORD in the script that Allison provided, so the claim about that is pure concern trolling.

              1. Database Developer Dude*

                Agreed. Preventative or reactive, it makes no difference. None. Coworkers’ comfort over the OP’s health? Oh HELL no!

        2. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

          I feel like we are going down a rabbit hole here. Does it even matter why her chest is asymmetrical? It doesn’t. Nor does it indicate she’s modeling clothing or underwear for a living.

    7. Liz T*

      I don’t see how this distinction adds anything here. LW knows their own situation and can presumably alter the script as necessary.

    8. Beanie*

      This would almost make more sense. If it was done preventatively, that could explain why these guys feel more comfortable about complaining. Look at all the backlash Angelina Jolie got when she decided to remove hers as a preventative measure.

      And if it was preventative, then that could explain the boss deciding it was okay to address it like a problem. Not saying she didn’t have cancer. If OP didn’t though, the script needs to be tweaked.

      1. Observer*

        You mean because the guys think they get a say in how she deals with her health issues? And that she’s supposed to take significant health risks to assuage their discomfort?

        The bottom line is that someone thinks that their “comfort” trumps someone’s medical decisions relating to a life threatening illness. That is sick and totally NOT “understandable”.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          I’m not reading Observer’s comments as saying that the boss or the complainers are in the right, just that it seems less surprising that they’d have the gall to complain/pass on the complaints. It’s still a horrible action, but unfortunately a more common kind of horrible.

    9. Totally Minnie*

      In any case, recovering from major surgery can in and of itself be covered by the ADA and FMLA, or other countries’ versions of these laws.

  15. Four lights*

    My first reaction upon reading the title: Screw them!

    They are 100% in the wrong; don’t change a thing.

  16. none*

    Could be nothing, but the OP never said they had cancer, they only mentioned the procedure and related it to co-workers who had had cancer (and presumably the procedure). If it wasn’t due to cancer, then how would someone go about handling this?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Substitute “for health reasons.” Typically a mastectomy is for cancer, or preventative because your risk of cancer is so high (like what Angelina Jolie did). So “health issues” is going to apply regardless.

      1. BethRA*

        Out of curiousity – would the ADA (and the UK equivalent) still apply if the mastectomy was done for prophylactic reasons?

        (and I’m 23rd-ing the nomination of OP’s “higher up” for “worst boss of 2019”)

          1. BethRA*

            Saw that above – question is would a prophylactic mastectomy be covered under that law (or the ADA in the US)

            1. cheeky*

              It might or might not, it depends. The ADA has been applied in cases of past disability or perceived disability, and may come in to play, for example, if the LW were disciplined or terminated because of her current physical condition, which could be argued to fall under the ADA.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yes, likely under the laws of both countries. ADA may not be the right fit in the U.S. (depends on knowing more about OP’s health condition), but OP could easily sue under Title VII, regardless of the health factors.

        1. Elysian*

          Maybe? I don’t think preventative care is covered under the ADA, but it is possible that it could be under the “regarded as” protections of the law (where you do not actually have a disability, but “are regarded as” having a disability). It would depend I think on what other people are saying, and what the OP told them about why she had the surgery.

          Many other laws this could fall under though, so it is possible pointing to the ADA might be too specific. But, I don’t know that the boss is going to do that much research, so perhaps it doesn’t matter to the script.

        2. Nephron*

          Not 100% certain but prophylactic mastectomies are usually done from BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, that would make it genetic discrimination (GINA in the United States), the EU has genetic features as a protected group.

        3. Bagpuss*

          Well, the Equality Act brings together laws about a range of different kinds of discrimination so it covers discrimination on the basis of gender / sexual discrimination, so that would apply.
          Cancer is *automatically* classed as a disability under the act, so covered immediately. I don’t think that a prophylactic procedure would automatically be covered as a disability.For things which don’t qualify automatically, disability is defined as ” a physical or mental condition which has a long-term and substantial effect on your daily life”.
          I suspect that the sex discrimination case would be stronger, but it isn’t my area of experrtise.

    2. CaliCali*

      Given that she went through reconstruction, I’m pretty sure the cancer is implied, or that it was a pre-cancer preventative measure (like what Angelina Jolie did). Either way, it’s health-related and would be handled under the same rules, I’d imagine.

            1. Kitryan*

              A friend of mine wrote a book about her experience and did a series of videos for glamour. Searching ‘glamour screw you cancer’ brings up the video series if anyone is interested. And, of course, it being preventative only changes the exact wording of the script, the behavior is still as terrible.

    3. LA*

      If “this” is “an employee complaining that the shape of someone else’s body makes him uncomfortable” you handle it by counseling that employee on appropriate workplace boundaries and expectations for professionalism. Not by bringing it up with the person whose only involvement is inhabiting an unusual body shape. Cancer or no.

    4. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

      Easy-peasy. Why don’t we comment on people’s breasts at work? Because it’s setting up a massive sexual harassment or gender discrimination case. She’s got added legal coverage under ADA or the nation’s equivalent, but this can be shut down hard under harassment law.

      1. On a pale mouse*

        This. I mean even if someone were just born with extremely different sized breasts this would all be inappropriate.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Huh? A mastectomy for any reason (preemptive) would be handled the same way. NO ONE has the right to weigh in on your appearance after a medical procedure of any sort, just because they’re uncomfortable.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        Exactly. A mastectomy is such major surgery that even if it’s a prophylactic mastectomy, it would only be performed if the risks of cancer were extremely, extremely high, especially at such a young age. I think there’s very little difference whether it was preventative or whether OP already had cancer.

    6. A person*

      Citing whatever medical reason that made this surgery necessary.

      Or just getting a lawyer and going straight to HR to file a sexual harassment complaint because it’s completely inappropriate for the men in the office including the manager to be so fixated on her breasts.

      1. Precious Wentletrap*

        If you are transmasculine, at which point the employee suggestion goes into entirely new realms of awful

          1. General Ginger*

            Top surgery actually is reconstructive surgery. Along with the removal of breast tissue, the chest has to be, yep, reconstructed and contoured to create a masculine shape. However, I wouldn’t, nor have I heard anyone refer to it as “mastectomy w. reconstruction”, because colloquially that means something v specific, not top surgery.

        1. Dragoning*

          If a transmasculine person had a double mastectomy, I do not think they would opt for reconstruction.

  17. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, I’m so angry for you. ‘Outrageous’ is the perfect word for your team’s and your higher-up’s behavior. I can’t add anything to Alison’s advice, and I hope you are able to shut this awful behavior down.

    Please take good care of yourself and keep us posted.

  18. Murphy*

    I can’t imagine what kind of person it takes to a) be bothered by this and b) to complain to a higher-up about it. And that the higher-up agreed and thought this information was worth passing on. I’m stunned. Unreal.

    1. The Ginger Ginger*

      Right? At best there are a whole slew of STUNNINGLY thoughtless people in this office (and somehow I don’t think this is a best case scenario situation). Literally, no one stopped to think – “hey, might this be none of my business and definitely inappropriate for me to comment on?” SHOCKINGLY bad.

    2. Ennigaldi*

      I’ve had managers who would attribute issues they had with me to anonymous coworkers. But even if it’s just this one higher-up, that doesn’t make it any less…well, creepy!

  19. The Ginger Ginger*

    Seconding this, OP, because this is shockingly inappropriate. And the fact that this whole “complaint” has come from MEN? I’m shuddering about this. It’s both ADA and potential sexual harassment issues all rolled together, which is….just ew. I hope AAM’s response and the comments to come open your eyes to how creepy, gross, and inappropriate this whole convo was on your coworkers’ and higher-up’s part. Your higher up should have shut this down HARD, and the fact it was instead entertained and passed along to you is GROSS. Hang tough, you don’t have to put up with this.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Not picking on you LA because others have said this too. Let’s not do this. Someone did this last week from something kinda low key and look what we got this week. It’s like a jinx. Maybe hex is the word I am looking for.

      Now everyone who suggested it, turn around three times and spit.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        No kidding! It’s like the world looked around and said, “Challenge accepted!” Or, more like, “Hold my beer.”

        1. Auntie Social*

          I have a friend who works in an ER in a college/coastal resort area. She says most of her work is injuries that started with “Here, hold my beer.”

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I disagree, I think there are plenty of contenders for “worst bosses of 2019” out there in the world that we just don’t hear about. I want the world to accept the challenge and send us even more stories worthy of nominations. They are already happening we might as well hear about them.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually want to ask that we not do this nominee thing because every year it tends to happen in a bunch of posts in the first couple of months of the year and doesn’t really add to the discussion in a substantive way. Thank you!

  20. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

    Oh, LW, I am so sorry some of your coworkers and your manager are completely unprofessional. A horrified response of “Why is anyone discussing the shape of my breasts at work?” may also do the trick. Because even if the manager is a bit lost on ADA I suspect he’d understand that people should not be discussing the breasts of coworkers at work due to sexual harassment laws…..

  21. Ferris*

    Isn’t this equivalent to telling a burn victim (or somebody with a birth defect): “Some people at work complained that looking at your face makes them uncomfortable. Can you please start wearing a mask?”

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This reminds me of the Dear Prudence letter where the mother didn’t want her daughter’s best friend to be a bridesmaid because she had a limp.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I went further. Remember the one where the groom’s fam didn’t want the bride’s father to walk her down the aisle/be present at the ceremony because he had disfiguring scars from a fire? The groom didn’t have a problem, the bride didn’t have a problem, the dad was willing to make the sacrifice and the daughter wondered if she should let him? Yeah, it’s closer to that.

            1. Kat*

              Yah it was Dear Prudence. I believe the response was something along the lines of “if you’re acting like a villain in a Reese Witherspoon movie you’re never going to be in the right”.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          That…. is horribly messed up. Wow. Just wow. I can’t believe that bride even considered it. Or mentioned it to her father. WOW.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Wow, I haven’t been following Dear Prudence in a very long time, and missed that one. What a lovely family to marry into. *fumes, smoke comes out of ears*

      2. Cristina in England*

        And the Dear Prudence letter where a bride’s future mother in law didn’t want the bride’s father to appear in official wedding pics because his face had been badly disfigured in a fire.

    2. Suzy*

      I had this same thought. This is no different that saying that someone who is missing an arm or a leg needs to wear a prosthetic because it makes co-workers uncomfortable. We all recognize that request as ridiculous. But at the heart of this is the sexist idea that women’s bodies belong to everyone else. Gross. I would go with the icy tone.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yes, I thought of the prosthetic too – exact same situation.

        But at the heart of this is the sexist idea that women’s bodies belong to everyone else.

        1000% this.

      2. Rae*

        I was thinking this letter was sort of the inverse of the letter writer from a while back whose employee kept commenting on another employee’s prosthetic leg.

      3. Lily Rowan*

        My initial mis-read of Alison’s two tone suggestions was icy and combative. I would go with combative!! But I know, not really.

        1. R.D.*

          I would really go with combative. Not because it would be a well thought out choice, but because I would not be able to help myself.

    3. fposte*

      It’s even weirder, because it’s not like she’s going topless at work. The offending part is covered by fabric.

      I am reminded now of a woman who chose not to get reconstruction after her double mastectomy and didn’t wear prostheses. And she was a hospital counselor for women with breast cancer, and her job really, really pushed her to wear the prostheses to look “normal.”

      1. EddieSherbert*

        WHAT. That’s bad no matter what job she has, but she was working with other women with *breast cancer*?! Talk about tone deaf. I hope she didn’t do it!

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Stop the planet, I’m getting off. Honestly, my faith in humanity is down by so much this morning, after reading OP’s letter and the stories in the comments.

        1. Tiara Wearing Princess*

          I hear ya. I read this and felt like I was going to have a stroke

          This letter has me angry with the red hot intensity of a thousand burning suns.

      3. General Ginger*

        Fposte, I recently read an article about how much women are pushed to get reconstruction after breast cancer. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where it was, maybe the NYT? but it was about women whose surgeons left extra skin for “future reconstruction” in place, for women who explicitly said no reconstruction — because of course, they’re going to change their minds. As someone who’s lost loved ones to breast cancer, and as someone who’s had a double mastectomy, and just as a human being, it was a horrible read, I felt sick for these women and wanted to rage.

        1. Susana*

          And not to go OT, but same happens to women under 35 who want their tubes tied… because of course, they’ll “change their mind” and decide they want to be “real women” after all…

    4. Anon for this*

      And some people naturally have an asymmetrical chest (raises hand). Mine is very obvious (several cup sizes difference), and I don’t even know what I would do if it was brought up at work. I’m shuddering just thinking about it. My sympathies OP.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        My friend got an implant for an asymmetrical chest, and the surgery was so painful she wished she hadn’t done it.

      2. AlsoAnon*

        My hand up too. And really, the only reply I can think of is “Why are you/they looking at my chest?!” I don’t type with my boobs…nor do they contribute to my brain’s ability to function. So, yeah – irrelevant, go away, grow up. Shudder.

        1. Jadelyn*

          …okay, now I’m trying to imagine typing by leaning over and like…bouncing my boobs on the keyboard or something? It is a hilarious mental image, so thanks for that.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Mine is too. It is pretty common, I guess. Thankfully was never brought up at work, I’d have been throwing things if it happened.

      4. Jaz*

        I was only able to breastfeed on one side (my other breast just never produced any milk) and it has done fascinating things to my silhouette. Nobody has ever given me any grief at work, but my mother-in-law did pull me aside once to say that it makes my father-in-law uncomfortable, and suggest I find ways to “even everything out.”

        1. Hope*

          I’d be like “alright, my grandchild will only see grandparents from my side of the family from now on. That should even things out perfectly.”

        2. Observer*

          Somehow to me that’s even worse than hearing something like this at work.

          Did your husband know about this? How did he react? I’m horrified reading this….

          1. Jaz*

            His relationship with his dad was already strained. Now, we’ve basically stopped spending time with both his parents, which I’m very happy about.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Ah, yeah, I remember it now. My youngest had a favorite breast. 20+ years later, you can still tell which one by how much larger it is. I used to stress about it, but thankfully no one ever said a word (least of all my ex-FIL, who was a kindly, tolerant, accepting old alcoholic, rest his soul) and I forgot all about it. That was pretty awful of your in-laws. Come to think of it, ex-FIL never ogled any part of my body that I know of! Yours needs to learn to do the same!

    5. Juli G.*

      Seriously. I do get that sometimes, it’s uncomfortable to see someone different than you but that’s your thing to get over, not yours. I forgive you for having an unkind thought but I don’t forgive expressing that and making some self conscious or uncomfortable.

      1. Dame Judi Brunch*

        Word. However, special mention of the boss because he talked to her about this instead of shutting it down.

        1. Autumnheart*

          10x worse if it is, in fact, the case that this manager is the origin of the complaint, and couching it as having been raised by other coworkers.

        2. Jaz*

          Based on AAM posts we’ve seen in the past, leadership sets the tone for the office. If there really are multiple employees who feel comfortable voicing complaints about this, then it would sort of make sense that management is the sort that’s be comfortable passing those complaints on.

  22. AdAgencyChick*

    God bless Alison for being able to answer a letter like this calmly and with great advice. I don’t know that I could ever stop spluttering in anger long enough to do that.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      I know! Alison is amazing.

      But imagine if she had just said “I’m opening this one up to the readers to answer” *guffaw*

  23. Anon for this*

    I’m appalled.

    I was born with extremely asymmetrical breasts. I chose not to have surgery to rectify it, and often used a “boob cushion” at work (this made me laugh, and now I’ll forever refer to it this way.) Because it does get uncomfortable, I’ve decided as I got older that I often don’t feel like wearing it. I would be absolutely mortified/disgusted/angry if anyone at work even commented on it, much less asked me to wear it for THEIR COMFORT. It’s even more revolting since they know you’re recovering from cancer.

    I don’t have any useful advice to offer, but I wish you luck dealing with those fools!

  24. From the High Tower on the Hill*

    I am absolutely outraged. Hate to break it to your coworkers, but you aren’t working in this company to be their eye candy. Wishing you all the best in your recovery and future surgeries, OP. You deserve a lot better than this.

  25. fposte*

    WTF is he, the boob police?

    OP, in addition to what Alison says, I would consider leaning heavily on the term “prosthetic” here, as it’s nicely, alarmingly medical: “I hope you’re not suggesting this office dictates the kind of prosthetics that people in medical need use.”

    1. The Green Lawintern*

      I just imagined an old timey police officer waving women through a checkpoint, school security guard style, giving them a brisk lookover and saying things like “I’m afraid you don’t pass inspection ma’am, you’ll have to work from home.”

    2. Phoenix Programmer*

      I think a lot of bosses think they need to “fix” distraction and discomfort in the office. These bosses are bad about passing along feedback from others without stopping to think about if it merits passing on or even better – being flipped back on the complainer.

  26. CleverName*

    I’m going to join the chorus of “WTF.” What immediately popped to my mind was how they would handle the situation if it was a different body part. Like, say OP had been in a car accident and lost a limb. Would they tell her that other people are uncomfortable with the way her amputated arm or leg looked? Imagine “Your wheelchair is making people uncomfortable. Get a prosthetic to make other people feel better.”

    This is INSANE. It is not your responsibility to make them feel comfortable with your body. They need to keep their opinions to themselves!

    1. CaliCali*

      Honestly, with how tone-deaf they’re being, “wear your fake arm; the lack of arm is making people uncomfortable” isn’t much of a stretch.

    2. Mockingjay*

      It is not your responsibility to make them feel comfortable with your body./i>

      You put into words what I was struggling to say.

    3. Scarlet*

      It wouldn’t surprise me at all, but somehow I don’t think they’d dare bring it up to a man.

      1. Suzy*

        Exactly. This is about sexism and women’s bodies. No one would ever support telling a male veteran who lost a leg he needed to wear a prosthetic for the “symmetry” or that the lack of leg makes people “uncomfortable.” yuck

        1. Bend & Snap*

          And you know, I’ve worked with men whose pants made it clear which side they dress on, but I would never say anything even though it DID make me uncomfortable. Because you really shouldn’t me noticing anything below the neck at work, even if it’s hard to miss.

        2. Catleesi*

          YES. The level of sexism and entitlement here is just astounding. This is absolutely about controlling a woman’s body to make it more pleasing/less offensive to men. One one hand it’s mindblowing, and on the other…it’s just another symptom of some really messed up views on women’s bodily autonomy.

    4. BelleMorte*

      This actually happens in the disability world a lot. As a deaf individual who uses a sign language interpreter (which is essentially my prosthesis ears), I’ve been asked if I really need to sign, because it’s distracting, and have been told multiple times to sit at the very back with my interpreter because people are “weirded out” by it. I know many people with physical disabilities that have heard some variation of “Can’t you make people more comfortable by making your disability less obvious/calling in to meetings/not attending events?”

      It’s wrong and gross, but happens frequently.

      1. Zin*

        I am so so sorry this has happened to you. (And I’m sorry OP had the experience discussed as well.)

        I’ve worked with a variety of individuals who utilize American sign language and my only thought was “I should learn sign language, it’s clear that I need to.”.

        It never once occurred to me that I should ask them NOT TO SPEAK. That’s… Gut wrenchingly not okay.

      2. Observer*

        Are people really that stupid?!?!

        It’s a rhetorical question, because I know that people can be exceedingly stupid. But really how do they expect you to talk? We haven’t developed telepathy devices just yet, so what do they suggest you do instead.

        The other stuff is disgusting but at least it’s physically possible.

        1. blackcat*

          They *don’t*, at least that’s my guess. They’d rather pretend BelleMorte doesn’t exist :(

    5. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      OK – I had a reply that expressed the thought that it was because it was *that* body part that was the source of the complaints, and that missing an arm or leg, could be considered universal and non-sexual, but then I remembered the CBBC/Cbeebies presenter who was born missing the lower part of her right arm (I think she had a “thumb”, but that was it) – and there were hundreds of complaints from mums that she was distressing their children, despite the evidence that said children barely noticed her missing arm.
      This just boils down to a bunch of adults who are behaving more childishly than a bunch of children. I don’t think I could maintain my cool the way OP has in this situation – I’ve rewritten this three times because I was getting more incoherent with anger. Part of me would have ragequit – but that would have denied the satisfaction of making them OWN their discomfort by calling it out, reporting it, and then going on to live well.

      1. CM*

        Yeah. Sadly, I’m NOT super surprised by what the coworkers are doing, here, even though it’s horrible. People still face a lot of stigma about amputation or any other highly visible difference in their appearance, and there’s a lot of pressure to “correct” it and look more “normal.”

        The thing is, it actually doesn’t take very long to get past stigma if you accept that the icky feeling you have is your problem to deal with and not the other person’s. But a lot of people have not discovered that, because they’ve lived in a world where they can simply demand that other people go away or try to hide whatever’s different about them.

        I agree with all the advice here, except that I would leave how uncomfortable the prosthetic is out of it. Even if it were extremely comfortable, it wouldn’t be okay to demand that the OP wear it to make other people feel better about what’s happening with her body.

    6. Janet D Miles*

      Pre-ADA, I worked for a company that felt that way. One of my coworkers had surgery on both feet and had to use a wheelchair for some weeks.

      She was told that using a wheelchair was terribly unprofessional and would upset clients, and that she was lucky they didn’t just fire her, but out of the kindness of their hearts, they would let her keep working. However, she was to stay in her office with the door closed. When clients were in-house, she was required to call the receptionist for permission to use the restroom.

  27. VivaL*

    Not only would I be following Alison’s advice and complaining about this, but I would be complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace to my HR, or lawyer, if necessary (to be clear, I realize this doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of a legal case, but just to let them know how serious i take their looking at my chest…. and speaking about it…) I would want to remind them that speaking about my breasts is ridiculous in any context whatsoever.

    1. Kat*

      Why doesn’t it rise to the level of a legal case? An office full of 40 yr
      old MEN tell a WOMAN in her 20s that sight of her asymmetrical breasts are making the MEN uncomfortable and she needs to do something to fix it. There is no way a reasonable woman in that situation doesn’t automatically start feeling like the guys in the office are staring at my chest at work and doing it enough that they’re bothered that my chest isn’t physically appealing to them AND they voiced that concern to the boss who voiced it to me. So now instead of being able to go to work and do my job I’m having to deal with the fact that the men in the office discussing my body. That right there seems like textbook poisoned work environment and the fact that it’s so gendered seems like textbook sexism and harassment.

      Would love a lawyer to weigh in here but it seems to me like the OP could have a very good case if the behaviour of the coworkers and manager isn’t immediately addressed.

  28. Professor Ma'am*

    It almost sounds like the OP had preventative surgery (given age and the fact she didn’t actually say she had cancer). I would think that even if she hasn’t been diagnosed with cancer that since this surgery was done for medical reasons that it’d still be covered by the ADA (or as others have pointed out… the likely UK equivalent).

    But REGARDLESS. Cancer or not, there is literally nothing remotely right with someone else having a say in what your boobs look like! This gives me such willies.

  29. schnauzerfan*

    As a breast cancer survivor, I’m wondering when boss’ funeral is. I’d like to send a bouquet of stinkweed. I assure you that were I in the OPs place my glare alone might have killed him, but if not the Hulk smashing rage would have.

  30. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    This may be the single most disgusting thing I have ever heard.

    I’d use Allison’s script via email, to create a paper trail, to show to my lawyer and to scare the crap out of the boss.

    OP, I am sorry for your illness, your failed reconstruction, that you need additional surgery and the fact that you work with assholes. How sad that in spite of you having cancer (or whatever difficulty may have prompted this surgery), the pieces of crap complainer and your boss may be the worst part of this situation

    I. Can’t. Even.

  31. Old Cynic*

    It seems to me that it’s getting more prevalent to bring out the “makes me uncomfortable” charge, as if that trumps any and all other claims.

    I’d hate to see it delegitimized for when it’s actually valid.

  32. Coder von Frankenstein*

    Our special today is an exquisite combination of inappropriateness, insensitivity, and pettiness, heavily seasoned with sexism and garnished with WTF.

  33. That'snotmyname*

    Long term reader, never commented but I wanted to say how brilliant your advice is here Alison, and OP, I hope you bring these people to their senses!

  34. ISuckAtUserNames*

    OK, who had Jan 7 in the pool for “first entry in the “bad boss of 2019 contest”? Step up and claim your prize!

    (I’m sure there will be plenty worse candidates in the year to come, sadly, but dear god does this LW’s boss (and coworkers) suck.)

  35. Kat*

    I. Cannot. Even.
    Seriously?! This makes me sooooo angry! That this kind of sexual harassment occurs in this day and age is abhorrent! I agree with the other commenters that we can just name this guy worst boss of 2019 and call it a year. Unbelievable!!
    Letter writer please use one of the scripts that Alison provided and do not hesitate to get yourself a lawyer if this continues.
    And PLEASE give us an update. There are a lot of us pulling for you and hoping that nothing so horrible is ever said to you again. You deserve to go to work, do your job, and not have to worry about how a bunch of disgusting men are uncomfortable looking at any part of your body.

  36. Scarlet*

    Because I’m a 45 year old curmudgeon, my first reaction would be to stand in the middle of the office and loudly ask “So who has a problem with my breasts???”.

    (I’m not advising LW to do that, of course.)

    I don’t know if I’m more angry at the pervy coworkers or at the jerk boss. Seriously, do people have no sense of decency whatsoever?

    1. A person*

      Funny how those kinds of jerks (including that manager) never seem to say things like that to us middle aged ladies, isn’t it.

      Not funny, really. These (expletives) who act like this young woman only works there to provide them daily boobs to look at all need to have the hammer of justice come down on them. I hope everything turns out okay for her.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I finally reached the age where the office jerks (even the ones older than I) do not say any of those things, because they are afraid of me. Or, they try something once, and are apparently so scared by my reaction that they never do it again. After a lifetime of hearing that kind of crap from coworkers, it feels wonderful! The magic age seems to be the late 40s – 50. Silver lining!

          1. fposte*

            That’s great for you, but I think we run the risk of making it sound like there’s a recipe to prevent harassment, and there really isn’t.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I think the attitude does have something to do with it, but I’m 53 and I still get shit like that.

            This wasn’t at work, but I was at the video store returning a movie and I couldn’t decide what to rent next. An older man was waiting in line with a young boy (grandson?), and an older woman was nearby. I had spoken to the woman about some movies I liked. The man (husband? I don’t know if they were together) gestured up and down his body and said, “I can recommend a biography of myself, but it has lots of nudity!” When I glared at him, he said, “Well, excuse me; I thought I was talking to someone with a sense of humor!”

            >:\

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Oh no, I do not think it is the attitude. I think what it is is, at this point in my career I either have enough clout, or at least look and sound like I have enough clout, to get these guys in serious trouble if they persist. That is the only language these harassers understand. I look younger than my age, for the longest time they saw me as weak, and I guess now they… only see me that way sporadically instead of always? Also hopefully, HOPEFULLY the workplace norms have changed to the point where they finally realize there will be serious consequences for the things they say and do to ANY coworker that they used to get away with earlier in their careers (back in the 1990s – early 2000s, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth). They would still probably do it if they met me out of work (like your video store guy did to you), they are just afraid to do it at work.

    2. Sara without an H*

      I’m a 65 year old cumudgeon. I’d be tempted to come in wearing a tank top. (Of course, I wouldn’t advise LW to try that, either.)

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Well, why not? If there is a minimal dress code, and a tank top is within it, then OP can wear one. Of course, it’s January, but I have worn form-fitting winter-appropriate business clothes to work. If it was comfortable for her, I don’t see why she would need loose fitting clothing to try to conceal the situation as much as possible. I don’t see it as being entirely different from the double standard for women of different weights. Just because someone doesn’t like how a tight dress looks on someone doesn’t mean they can tell them not to wear it (except in cases where the dress code prohibits it).

    3. MLB*

      I’d say the boss is more of as ass, because he felt that the complaints were legit enough to have a conversation with LW. He should have shut that down the second someone complained.

    4. EddieSherbert*

      Haha, I love this! Maybe not the best course of action, OP, but my goodness, it’s fun to imagine…

      1. LavaLamp*

        Y’know I’m only 26, but if I were in this situation I might just stand up and ask who was being an idiot. I can’t advise another person to do that, but were it me, I would.

    5. Indie*

      I would fantasise about doing that; as well as perhaps wearing a giant, waterballoon stuffed up my jumper that I accidentally pop at a key moment before wailing ‘But you said I wasn’t busty enough to work here’. Like, I wouldn’t need the witnesses to a meltdown for such a cut and dried outrage against the law, I would just enjoy their expressions. *dont do this OP*

    6. Emelle*

      My 41 year old self wants to work with LW and stuff my own bra to varying asymmetrical levels randomly throughout the day. (I don’t even know what else I could do because there were flames every where when I read this.)

  37. SunshineOH*

    As a manager, I’m horrified that this manager brought this to the employee. I can’t even form more sentences right now.

  38. Labradoodle Daddy*

    OH MY GOD.

    OP, you have my unending support and sympathy. What an outrageously awful group of jerks you work with.

  39. Lilo*

    I am stunned and offended by this. I think this could both run afoul of the ADA and sexual harassment policies. The a t that they complained is one thing but that the boss didn’t smack it down is stunning. How dare they!

  40. Vinegarforever*

    I’d just skip everything and call a lawyer.
    If your boss is such an idiot that he brought this to you, instead of shutting it down or speaking to HR first…frankly they deserve to get a nice lawsuit. Unbelievable.

  41. Precious Wentletrap*

    Two options as I see it:

    1. Give your boss a bag of sand and a mallet and tell them to pound it

    2. Malicious compliance. Start pinning creepy baby doll heads or produce (real or fake) or any vaguely round item to the outside of your shirt

    1. janon*

      I like #2. Add in an orange. Some obvious toilet paper stuffing. Maybe some office supplies you can reach for in a meeting.

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        I have a round orange-shaped paper-clip holder. I would gladly ship it to the UK so she can put it in her bra and pull random office supplies out. “What? My boobs are symmetrical now and….I can carry a nice stash of office supplies!! *OP pulls some post it notes out* Anyone need a post-it? They’re slightly damp but my boobs are symmetrical!!!!! Isn’t that most important?”

      2. On Fire*

        Combine all of the above: store paper clips, etc. INSIDE the creepy doll head, and reach for them in a meeting.
        Okay, don’t do that (might result in a psychiatric evaluation), but fantasy is fun.

  42. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    “My office has no dress code, and if it makes any difference.”
    Nope. NOPE. NOPE it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference if you have a dress code or not. Your bosses can’t tell you that your body makes your coworkers uncomfortable so you have to use a painful prosthetic for them.

      1. Birch*

        This sums up everything true about the debates over bodies and dress codes so elegantly. Thank you for this!

      2. Observer*

        SO well put!!

        I believe in dress codes in most office settings. But the operative word is DRESS code, not BODY code.

  43. MuseumChick*

    The is only one change I would make to the script:

    “…you will agree that it is incredibly inappropriate for any colleagues to weigh in on how they’d like my breasts to look post-cancer, or in ANY context for that matter. I hope we can agree never to discuss this again.”

    This is so gross I cannot even put it into words. If you have an HR department I would loop them in on this.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      +100. I think it’s a fair addition. Especially if you choose to pull out an “icy” tone.

  44. MLB*

    Your colleagues and the higher up that spoke to you are all assholes. As Alison said, don’t alter your appearance to please anyone else, especially your co-workers. The ONLY acceptable topic of conversation to bring up about any woman’s breasts is if she’s wearing clothing that is too revealing and inappropriate for the office. I would go to HR now and have this conversation documented ASAP. This is NOT ok.

  45. many bells down*

    I feel this so hard. I just got a lecture – from a female nurse – on how I, “as a woman”, need to make sure that my open-heart surgery scar heals smoothly. Because of course my first concern is for the appearance of my chest. The thing is, it’s not my first OHS. I had a “lumpy” scar for 4 decades already. And they didn’t do anything cosmetic this time around so I’m getting new scar tissue with old.

    I’m feeling that flames-on-the-side-of-my-face-Clue gif at this letter and I haven’t even had my tea yet.

    1. Catleesi*

      Your nurse told you that?? I am so sorry. That is just unbelievable – especially from someone who is supposed to be providing you care during a vulnerable time.

      1. many bells down*

        Fortunately she was the surgeon’s staff nurse, so she wasn’t actually involved in my daily care. But I just … I’m 45, I’m married, I’ve had a scar there since I was 2 years old. Even as a teenager who hated nearly every aspect of her appearance I’ve never felt insecure about it or wanted to cover it up. I really do not care if people find my scar “unappealing.” Bye, Felipe.

        1. Observer*

          I hope you spoke to the surgeon about this, though. It is SO utterly inappropriate.

          I could also see this opening them up to lots of problems if he lets it go, so if you like the practice, it would be a good thing for them to realize what the staff nurse is doing.

            1. Grandma3*

              Please do. That nurse was so far out of line, my mind is completely boggled. What a craptastic thing to say to someone recovering from such an important surgery. Sheesh.

    2. Murphy*

      WTF? I have a huge ugly surgery scar down my entire abdomen, and I would have been super pissed if a nurse had said anything like that to me.

    3. Syfygeek*

      Many bells down- of course you should be more concerned with the outside of your chest than the inside! I hope your recovery goes well. And the nurse gets a clue.

    4. wittyrepartee*

      I have a scar on my face, which I got when I was 16, and my mom told me things like this. It made me incredibly angry. I was healing from a car crash, and instead of letting me go out in the sun and limp around to feel as normal as possible, I was supposed to be concentrating on my future attractiveness.

      Also, my scar is awesome. I look like a female Harry Potter.

    5. Properlike*

      I would be tempted to tell that nurse to save that information for the scar she’s going to have if she ever says anything so gendered, judgmental, and medically unnecessary to me every again.

    6. Joanne’s Daughter*

      I wear my scar proudly! I survived my surgery and THAT is the most important thing.

    7. Janet D Miles*

      When my brother was child, he fell off his bicycle and split his lip. My dad took him to the family doctor, who put in a few stitches.

      All well and good, right? Well, when they went back to have the stitches out, the doctor mentioned off-handedly that if it’d been a girl, he’d have recommended a plastic surgeon, but scars don’t matter for boys.

  46. Akcipitrokulo*

    Wow.

    No no no no no you do NOT have to pay attention to this offensive nonsense.

    I really hope things go well with your job realising how ridiculous they are being, and for the rest of your recovery.

  47. Worky McWorkerson*

    Oh OP, I’m so sorry. I’m also a young, working breast cancer survivor. This must be incredibly upsetting. There’s an organization you may want to consult called “Cancer and Careers.” I went to one of their conferences and found it useful. I think Allison’s advice is great. I would only give them ONE chance before moving on to an attorney. Hugs to you as you go through reconstruction.

  48. Kristine*

    INAPPROPRIATE. Follow Alison’s script and then ignore any other mentioning of it. Let them do their worst; give them enough rope if this workplace is foolish enough to pursue it. Also, this “manager” is incompetent.

  49. KoolMan*

    So workers come to work to look at other people’s breasts ?? And I used to think people come to office to work. Silly me !!

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Right now, there are dozens of scumbag employers out there saying “Hold my beer…”

    1. DeweyDecimator*

      Me too. We are only a few days into January, this doesn’t bode well for the rest of the year.

  50. AnonEMoose*

    Joining the chorus of WTF??!!

    I have to wonder if the manager would have said the same thing to a male employee who had experienced, say, an amputation, if female employees were complaining about being uncomfortable. Others may not agree, but I do see a gendered component here. Essentially, the manager may have acted on a background thought pattern that “male employees complaining about female employee, female employee should adjust” without really thinking through exactly what was being said or asked of the OP. Because, you know, women are “supposed to” make men comfortable or at least not make them uncomfortable.

    Hopefully when the OP pushes back, the manager will rethink and be appalled, too. I really do hope so.

    1. agathafan*

      maybe the manager would go up to a man and say “the lack of bulge in your pants is making all the women in the office uncomfortable, please put a sock in it”?

      this whole situation is so gross and icky that i can’t even. i can’t even odd.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Well, she’s not wrong (not that she ever is), it is beautiful.

            This is the kind of comment that makes me wish for the site to have up/down votes (which, I admit, have a lot of downsides, so this is not a serious wish).

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              and I got so enamored with agathafan’s comment that I forgot to close my italics tag.

              1. agathafan*

                why thank you too.

                it just tickles my whiskers when i realise that there are people like this manager (and the other coworkers). i mean seriously, her boobs are bugging people?! that is insane. and to then say something about it to her? that is just not right, or nice, or kind, or anything remotely related to good.

                if i were to deliver alison’s script to him, hr, or whoever, i’d bring them all socks. with a couple of cartoon dicks on them. you are what you put on your feet.

        1. Laurelma*

          oooh! love it. Or pants are so tight it’s obvious. I am hoping this goes up the food chain, maybe even the lawyer’s office.

          OP — please let us know how you’ve decided to handle this.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        And now I’m stifling giggles at my desk. As Alison said, that is beautiful.

        Besides that, in my opinion, the manager and the coworkers appalling enough to complain should ALL “put a sock in it” if you ask me!

      2. MuseumChick*

        OP, maybe use this as an example of your boss doesn’t seem to get it when you try to talk to him about why this is inappropriate.

      3. Jennifer*

        You aren’t allowed to wear a Speedo at the next company pool party. People will be UNCOMFORTABLE. And we all know someone’s being uncomfortable is a fate worse than death itself.

      4. Kat*

        I thought exactly the same thing so thanks for expressing it :)
        I highly doubt this a-hat manager would treat a man like he’s treating the LW. I was going to say the manager is the worst kind of sexist pig but that would be denigrating pigs so I’ll just say he is one of the most horrible human beings I’ve ever heard of and I hope many bad things happen to him.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          That would be definitely denigrating pigs. I was raised on a farm and have met many pigs…and if they’re accustomed to humans, they can be quite congenial. Also useful and delicious. Which puts them several rungs above a human who would behave like this, if you ask me!

          More seriously, I’m glad that I’m not the only one seeing a gendered aspect to this. Because I seriously cannot imagine a manager saying this to a guy. I mean, I suppose there’s probably someone out there who would…but I’m guessing there aren’t very many.

    2. Isobel*

      I hope the manager will rethink and then become so consumed with self-hatred that they never experience another moment of joy.

      This is outrageous. I am flabbergasted. Others have mentioned this letter does not seem to be from the U.S. and that is disappointing because for once I am all for litigation. I am also for finding out exactly who complained that their rights to stare at flawless anatomy on younger female colleagues had been violated and then writing to every one of their wives, mothers, sisters, girlfriends, daughters, and aunts.

      And OP’s first reaction startled me in its generosity. Her first thought was to reach out to colleagues who might be experiencing complicated grief? OP you deserve so much better.

      I need to go run around the block and calm down.

    3. The elephant in the room*

      I thought the same thing. The fact that she mentions she’s in her 20s and it’s all men in their 40s who complained made me roll my eyes. “Your cancer is making it difficult for me to sexualize you. Please adjust accordingly.”

  51. SquishyCat*

    Is this not also sexual harassment? I can’t imagine that a man coming back from a mastectomy with an “uneven” chest would be told to do any of this (yes men get breast cancer too!).

  52. fposte*

    I think this is the AAM version of ratio’ed. A post that leads to ton of individual comments rather than threads is either really good or really bad.

      1. fposte*

        Reply to retweet ratio on Twitter. If you have a lot more people responding to you than requoting you, it’s usually the sign that they’re arguing with you.

    1. Bostonian*

      Yeah, it’s just a bunch of different “WTF” posts because there’s no real discussion to be had here- the boss (and the complainers, if they exist) are complete asses.

  53. President Porpoise*

    I’ve read this blog for a really long time, and this isn’t the grossest thing I’ve seen on it, but it’s pretty bad. I’d have exactly one conversation with HR to make it clear that this never, ever should come up again, and then I’d go see a lawyer. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had cancer or not, or if you’re in the UK or the US. This is wrong and illegal. I hope that your recovery goes well and your employment situation improves, OP.

  54. CatCat*

    This is outrageous!

    Honestly, I’d be tempted to start complaining about the complainers vocally to my coworkers. “Someone complained about my post-cancer appearance. Can you BELIEVE that? What kind of person attacks a cancer survivor? A completely awful and out-of-touch person, I say.”

    1. Joielle*

      I agree that it’s outrageous, but frankly it would be outrageous even if it wasn’t cancer-related! Perhaps: “Fergus told me some guys were talking about my breasts at work! And complaining about them! How gross is that?! Be careful, apparently we work with some serious pervs.”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I was told that once; but about an OldJob, and a few years after both I, and all the people who’d talked about my breasts at work, had left the company. Yeah that made me feel pretty angry to be honest, even years after the fact! One of the guys that had talked about them was apparently my boss at the time the conversation happened. Knew I’d always disliked the man for a reason.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            No, no, I meant the “Fergus told me some guys were talking about my breasts at work” piece. That happened.

            They were trying to guess my size. smh

      2. Silamy*

        Extra bonus points for saying it to the grand boss that sent the complaint down the line and the suspected complainers with full outrage and indignation. Pile it on. “Can you believe the temerity of those shameless, disgusting pigs? Who feels so entitled to stare that they feel their right to be aroused by my body matters more than my safety? I can’t believe there are people here who think this is a place to stare at breasts instead of do their jobs; I can only imagine how bad their work is. The poor women who work with them on a daily basis! Imagine what they’re subjected to -the quality of their work must be suffering dramatically from the pervasive harassment!”

  55. Delta Delta*

    “Yes, co-worker, your looking at me and feeling uncomfortable is so much more uncomfortable than the CANCER I just had.”

  56. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Equally horrified and wondering the reaction if they tried to tell a war veteran to wear a lifelike prosthesis instead of a more-functional robotic one.

    As an aside to OP, have you run across the website knitted knockers dot org? People who dislike the feel of (or can’t afford) the medically standard bra inserts have an alternative. The knit&crocheted ones are said to be lighter & less sweaty, and on this side of the pond at least volunteers are making them to spec.
    Don’t look into it for the creeps in your office, but I figured it’s worth mentioning in case YOU are interested.

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      Seconding! Our local yarn shop makes these for free to give away at doctor’s offices. Extremely soft yarn is the key. They also have a facebook page if that’s easiest.

    2. Birch*

      This sounds like such a creative solution!

      I’d be tempted to make this into a sardonic weapon. Knit several and start handing them out to people in the office. “I heard some people are bothered by the odd number of breasts in this office, and as that was due to a medical decision I made, I’ve brought extras! Now everyone can have their very own set and no one has to worry about anyone else’s anymore!”

    3. DrakeMallard*

      Came here to add this! Knitted knockers is such a great organization! I don’t know if this is allowed, but I crochet knockers and would be happy to make one for OP if she’s interested.

      But seriously, don’t do it for you’re horrible boss/coworkers. It’s a super personal decision that is entirely yours!

    4. Kitrona*

      Interesting… I wonder if there’s a way to sew them? (I can’t do yarn crafts but I can sew. At least, I can when I’m not horrifically injured… *eyes shoulder with irritation*)

    5. Short Time Lurker Komo*

      I was hoping someone would mention Knitted Knockers! Your boss and coworkers are huge jerks, don’t do this for them – BUT if you yourself are interested in alternatives, this can be one. The website has the pattern and yarn/filling suggestions if you want to craft your own (or have a friend who might be interested in making them).

      But again, that’s if YOU want to explore if this is a prosthetic option you like better, not so you can please the jerks at work. You are an intelligent and beautiful woman, and anyone who says differently needs to pound sand.

  57. Gail Davidson-Durst*

    HOLY FUCKING SHITBALLS, did we really hit this level only one week into 2019? I hope other crappy managers don’t take this a challenge for the Worst Boss award. Jesus.

    As I survivor I’m caught halfway between crying and flying across the Atlantic to beat some assholes about the head and shoulders with a silicone prosthesis.

    LW, all my best to you and please don’t take this as remotely normal or acceptable. Alison’s advice is right on.

  58. Sara without an H*

    I’m just winding up radiation treatment for breast cancer. Words are not sufficient to describe my outrage at this letter.

    OP, if you’re located in the US, you’re protected under ADA. The legal situation may be a bit different in the UK, but if that’s where you are, you probably have similar (or better) levels of protection. If the “higher up” who had the audacity to have this conversation with you doesn’t understand this, take it up with your Human Resources office. If your HR department is run by amateurs or incompetents (which does happen sometimes) and can’t bring themselves to explain this to him, get an attorney who can.

    I will now try to calm down and send good thoughts out for your continued recovery.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      May the combined rage of all the AAM commenters help zap all your cancer away forever. Good luck with your treatment <3

  59. Llellayena*

    Your coworkers being “uncomfortable” looking at you is their problem, not yours. If you’ve got HR go there immediately. You don’t necessarily need to push for action if you don’t want to at this time, but they should have a record of the incident. If it is brought up again you can also say something like “My appearance is being addressed in a way that accommodates my medical needs. I cannot safely change that any more than someone with a prosthetic limb can. I would prefer if this subject is not discussed again.” If you are in the US, definitely add the ADA language. If you are in another country with similar protections, modify the language to fit that. If anyone has a better comparison than my prosthetic limb selection, please chime in. I was trying for something that it would be recognizably wrong and/or impossible to ask someone to change.

  60. hbc*

    We need to co-opt the term “snowflake” for people like this coworker who are so fragile and entitled that they think they have a right to dictate the appearance of others.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      When I was working at a swim lesson program, I once had a parent file a very indignant complaint that there were “Naked ladies in the locker room!” because “My daughter should not have to see those body parts, she is much too young.” The girl was 9, the naked ladies in question were senior citizens who have mobility/flexibility limitations and can’t do the under-the-towel change any more.

      I imagine if you grew up with this mom, you would in fact think it was other people’s job to modify their bodies to your sensibilities.

      1. fposte*

        Uh–I’m not a senior citizen, and I don’t change under a towel in changing rooms because I’ve never seen anyplace make such a BS thing a requirement.

        1. Kitrona*

          Pretty much this. I don’t change under a towel because we’re not here to look, we’re here to change into appropriate clothing for our subsequent activities. Looking may happen, but bodies are a fact of life, and as long as it doesn’t go beyond “random noticing a thing, mental note to not say anything”, it’s fine. (and I’m bisexual leaning toward women, I wouldn’t be looking because it’s not appropriate for the context)

        2. On a pale mouse*

          Ditto. Plus I go to a Y where they have family/special needs locker rooms, and the regular locker room is marked 18+, so it wouldn’t have been an issue for the 9 year old, but as far as I can tell nobody cares much. At the location I used to go to there was one woman who would strip off at her locker and walk stark naked to and from the shower, and nobody said anything.

          But closer to the original topic, we all have bodies and they’re all different and that shouldn’t be a big deal in the locker room OR the office.

  61. Joielle*

    OMG. OP, you seem like a naturally very polite and accommodating person, but this is outrageous. Even if the manager never mentions it again, I think you should go back to him and say something like this:

    “Hey, I’ve been thinking about your request that I wear a prosthesis to even out my breasts. For medical reasons, I won’t be doing that – and of course, I’m well within the usual dress code – but I wanted to circle back anyways because I’m concerned that my coworkers are talking about the shape of my breasts and whether they’re appealing enough… and frankly, I’m concerned that management also seems to think the shape of my breasts is a problem. Could you tell me your thinking on this?”

    Hopefully, the manager will at least stammer out some apology and feel chastened by this fairly gentle correction. Depending on his reaction and whether you think this is likely to escalate, get thee to an employment lawyer. It bears repeating that this is truly, truly egregious.

    1. LKW*

      I would change “Management also seems to think… ” to
      “I’m concerned that Management also seems to think my body, and specifically my breasts are an acceptable topic of discussion. Could you tell me your thinking on this?”

  62. LKW*

    I don’t know why anyone is looking at your breasts. Is it some sort of symmetry thing? Does everyone have to wear their hair parted in the middle?

    Allison’s script is perfect. This has no bearing on your work. This is not a topic for discussion. That they even let it get as far as it has means they are out of their depth.

  63. Can’t eat sandwiches*

    Personally, I wouldn’t use this part of Alison’s script:
    “I will do the company the favor of pretending this didn’t happen”

    In case I needed to escalate later.

  64. jiminy_cricket*

    Well, this made me want to fight some people on your behalf, OP. I’m just here to offer support (and my fists, if you need them).

  65. OP :)*

    Hi, op here, i am indeed in the uk (i didn’t even know that jumper wasn’t a word outside the uk, i’ve learned something today).
    I don’t have cancer, just a genetic mutation and a strong family history of cancers, so it was purely preventative, which i’m very lucky about.
    My boss didn’t handle the comment herself, it came from above her and she was “kindly asked” to feed it back to me. She told me that she expected me to ignore it but if she didn’t tell me then above her would speak to me directly about it so she had to.
    One of the men in my office has the habit of looking women up and down and then… well, he never looks you in the eyes when he speaks to you, but he’s really high up so all complaints against him have been brushed aside. Our hr (although a real department) isn’t always good.
    I’m glad that i’m not losing the plot about it and that it’s weird! Thanks a lot for the script, i’ll adapt it but it’s amazing. Thank you!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        It came from above the female boss. She was “kindly asked” (i.e, ordered) to pass it on by someone above her (apparently, by that guy who is really high up and really into his colleagues’ boobs for some sick reason). What a mess.

          1. Alfonzo Mango*

            Yeah, she should have kindly ‘forgot’ to relay the message. Some things are worth standing up for.

            1. fposte*

              Seriously. I’m made uncomfortable by her lack of spine in the office, and I think she should wear a prosthesis.

              1. Myrin*

                As usual, your wittiness wins the internet!

                In all seriousness, though: I’m not super familiar with processes like these, but couldn’t the boss just have said “Sure did!” if asked by The Uncomfortable Higher-Up whether she’d relayed the feedback to OP? The only way I can see this could come out would be if the higher up person later talked to OP despite manager’s assurance but is that likely?
                (And obviously I agree that she should’ve shown some backbone and refused in the first place, but let’s talk eventualities here.)

                1. fposte*

                  I think it depends on degrees of spine and legal coverage. Substantial spine + significant legal coverage = “No, I will not do that, and if I find out that this office ever considers this horrific discriminatory idea again I will report it to the [relevant authority] myself.” Less spine and/or legal coverage is “Sure will!” and then instantly vowing to do no such thing.

                2. Laurelma01*

                  We have all had bosses that we have learned it’s best to just play dead or go along just to protect ourselves from the fall out. Mine is a bit like that, but I would have said, I’m not saying it, it’s up to you. I’m willing to make her mad in some situations. Because now the supervisor has said it, if it goes to legal or a grievance is file, than the originator of the complaint, along with the upper management that were “so stupid” to think it’s acceptable to say things along that line, can throw the female manager under the boss.

            2. gmg22*

              My hope here is that the boss at least meant well, because I’m not sure “forgetting” would have worked, at least not for long. Boss fibbing and telling her higher-up it had been dealt with might have worked, temporarily. But OP also specifies that her boss told her that if she hadn’t shared this info, the higher-up (the Mr. Male Gaze described in OP’s comment, I assume) would do so directly — and I assume he would be specifically looking for OP to somehow “fix” this “problem” (irony in the scare quotes very much intended!) and visually noting that she hadn’t.

              All that said — if anytime is the time to take on Mr. Male Gaze and his “valuable jerk” status, this would seem like it!

              1. gmg22*

                Off-topic ETA to the OP: I always enjoy learning some new slang from the other side of the pond, too! :-) “Jumper” over here means a type of dress, with straps instead of sleeves and that you would usually wear a shirt underneath — what you guys would call a pinafore, I think.

                1. Cathy Gale*

                  There are many jumpers still made for adult women, as well as jumpsuits and rompers (non-pinafored pantsuits, and rompers are like jumpers with shorts rather than a dress bottom attached).

              2. fposte*

                Though if the grandboss won’t stop until the “problem” has been “fixed,” he’s going to keep going in any case, including the current situation. So I’m still side-eyeing the OP’s manager.

                1. gmg22*

                  Yeah, I know it’s tough when you feel like you’re in a place to be thrown under the bus … but purely from a moral standpoint, this is a worthy hill to die on if ever there were one.

              3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                The boss is coming off particularly craven and spineless. At a minimum, she should have called out the higher up (imo). This whole situation is disgusting and vile.

              4. Alli525*

                I mean, she could have “forgotten,” and then if/when the higher-up followed up, she could have just said “you know that what you’re asking me to say is illegal, right?” If you’re a manager, you’re expected to be aware of the local laws governing workplace behavior, and this is Sexual Harassment 101.

          2. Scarlet*

            Exactly. If she really couldn’t mention to high-up that such a topic was highly inappropriate at work (which would point to an extremely dysfunctional workplace in itself), she could just nod and keep it to herself. Or is higher-up so bonkers that he would personally check that LW was duly informed of the comments regarding her breasts?

            In any case, that office is full of evil bees.

            1. Coder von Frankenstein*

              We really need a term for where someone writes in about one specific issue, and then in comments/updates it turns out that their workplace is swarming with evil bees and the original issue was just the sting that happened to make them say “Ouch.”

        1. Lucille2*

          This might be the worst part of it. I’ve done some things as an inexperienced manager that higher-ups told me to do that make me cringe now. Things I was too naive to realize weren’t ok even when my gut told me otherwise. But THIS? I’m certain that even inexperienced-manager-me would have told my scumbag boss to eff off. It’s just so wrong to pass this on to OP. Manager needs to be a buffer for her staff from the pig GrandBoss; she should not pass the grossness down.

          1. Iris Eyes*

            Not knowing just how terrible of a person valuable jerk is he may have been grooming this manager to put up with all manner of things. I can imagine a situation where someone got promoted feels indebted to the one who did it, isn’t given good/any training on how to actually manage people and the legal issues therein (see also not so great HR), and gets to the point where this seems like not a big deal. Maybe there have been “we we don’t have a dress code but…could you address this with this person since it would be easier for them coming from you.” *insert cliche boiling frog analogy*

          2. The elephant in the room*

            That’s what I was thinking. Especially in this case, I think I would have said, “Just so you are aware, this is stepping into unlawful territory. Would you like me to proceed?” I have used this line in meetings before and the answer is usually along the lines of, “Let me rethink and get back to you.” They never get back to me.

          3. JD*

            Yeah, let’s keep in mind that as questionable as the boss’s behavior was, the grandboss’s behavior is much, MUCH worse. Boss’s behavior isn’t suddenly worse just because she’s female — more surprising isn’t the same as worse.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Whatever person “above” your boss reported it is now in our targets as completely inappropriate. She herself is off the hook from what you say — but dang. Add me to the list of offended humans who hope you can give us an update where someone “above” turns beet red and realizes he’s been a total jerk.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        I’m not sure the boss is off the hook. I mean, I suppose it’s better to be a reluctant conduit for garbage than to be the originator of it… but you’re still passing along the garbage instead of saying “No, this garbage needs to stop here.”

      2. AKchic*

        She is not off the hook. She is an enabler. She should know better and still actively chooses to enable the poor behavior/choices of the upper management rather than protect the staff (and ultimately, the company, from legal problems).

      3. BoredFed*

        So, she was “just following orders”? I don’t think following such a clearly illegal –and immoral– order gets the immediate manager “off the hook,” any more than if she followed an order to refuse to hire any [pick a protected class].

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      Definitely not losing the plot!

      I mentioned above, but if you’re in a union – call them :) they will deliver the script with a delicious side order of back the f*** off.

      Also Equality Act 2010 is 100% on your side – they’re breaking it even by mentioning it to you.

      Good luck!

    3. Les G*

      It changes things a bit, I think, if your boss said this in a “just giving you a heads up about the kind of toadstools we work with” kinda way.

      Did she express disgust and/or indicate that there would be some consequences for them? Or did she seen to think this was a neutral comment? Either way, sorry you’re dealing with this nonsense.

      1. Sandwich Addict*

        “just giving you a heads up about the kind of toadstools we work with”
        You mean the boss exposing what a terrible manager they are?

        Your contrarianism/devil’s advocate play all over this post is disgusting and pointless.

        1. bonkerballs*

          OP clearly states this came from above her manager. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to discipline my higher ups. We all only have so much capital to burn with those above us. And as OP also states, her manager told her she expected her to ignore it and that she was telling her because if she didn’t those above her would have had the (probably even more unpleasant) conversation with OP themselves. Nothing contrary about Les G’s comment when it’s all coming straight from the OP.

          1. Mary*

            No, but as a manager, if your seniors ask you do something for your staff which is quite clearly illegal, you should not do it. The manager should be the one going to HR and the union, not passing it on to her report to deal with.

    4. ENFP in Texas*

      Please let us know how it goes. You should not have to put up with that, regardless of how high up in the company someone else is.

    5. Yllis*

      Ugh. In the late 80s/early 90s I had a high school vice principal who would do the same thing. Along with skating the border comments about how much we have grown over the summer.

    6. Antennapedia*

      This is BANANAS behavior at a place of business and completely unprofessional. You haven’t lost the plot, they have. And even with your supervisor’s “if I hadn’t told you, they would have” disclaimer you should definitely file an HR complaint.

    7. Sara without an H*

      Well, I feel some sympathy for your boss, understanding that Upper Management is being stupid, but having to pass the stupidity along, anyway.

      For now, go with Allison’s script and emphasize that you can’t wear a prosthesis for medical reasons. Do not feel any obligation to be more specific than that.

      Other commenters have suggested that you check in with your union representative (if you have one) or an employment attorney. It would be good to have a sense of what your options are, if Higher Stupidity chooses to escalate, especially if your HR department is incompetent.

      1. Sleepytime Tea*

        I feel *some* sympathy for the boss. Personally, if my boss told me to tell someone I worked with, below me or not, something like this, I would refuse. Because it is OBVIOUSLY inappropriate, illegal, and generally horrible. Part of being a good boss is stopping the shit from flowing downhill.

        1. Lucille2*

          Agreed. The boss passing it along because she has to is almost worse. She had the opportunity to stand up to GrandBoss for doing something inappropriate and illegal, and it seems she failed to the do the right thing. She is instead trying to remove herself from responsibility. I think if the boss had written in asking Alison’s advice, that Alison would have advised against passing the message down to OP.

        2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          Yeah, but sometimes you also need to warn the employee that someone is gunning against them. I had an employee who my boss deemed “too old” and wanted terminated and replaced with someone younger. I refused, but the way this normally shook out is that my boss would increase surveillance on the targeted employee until they gathered enough trumped-up charges for a writeup, and they would continue progressing like this until they had enough writeups to merit a termination.

          By warning that person, I could put them on alert that they needed to go by the book, dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s and making sure they were were compliant with the dress code down to their socks and wristwatch, until my boss got another harassment bee in his bonnet and started buzzing around someone else who he decided to needed to be purged. I also would warn that person so they could start a job search if they were concerned: I hated to lose people, but I hated to see people unable to pay their bills just because my boss was a horrible human being even worse.

          1. many bells down*

            Yeah my boss was once asked to pass along an inappropriate “anonymous*” letter from some other staff to me, about my perceived religious affiliation. She refused and told them it was not appropriate, and then warned me what was coming. They got the letter to me anyway, but at least I knew my boss had my back on it.

            “*anonymous” because they didn’t sign it, but I knew exactly who it was from.

        3. Gail Davidson-Durst*

          Agreed. I could see saying “OK” in the moment that Douchecanoe asks you to pass on the message, because in the moment it can be hard to collect yourself (or even believe you heard the instruction, in this case), but I hope I’d follow that up with an email (paper trail) basically saying what Alison said: “You weren’t really asking me to do this illegal, immoral, horrible thing, right?”

          1. fposte*

            Yes, I’m a little bit reminded of the employee who was told to leave a note for another employee at a gravesite. But she was brand new to the working world and her job was explicitly threatened (plus she didn’t have legal protections); I don’t think these things are true here.

        4. General Ginger*

          I would feel more sympathy for the boss if she’d said, “hey, d*uchecanoe grandboss told me to pass this on; heads-up so you’re aware what kind of people we work for, if you’d like to go to HR, I’m on your side” or some variation thereof. Not just “hey, employee, grandboss said this”.

    8. The Doctor*

      As a guy, let me say this…

      The fact that your boss (and thus the company) entertained that complaint clearly constitutes harassment. PLEASE DON’T TOLERATE HARASSMENT FROM ANYONE.

      Keep careful records of any further mentions of this, and start searching for a new job.

      All the best!

    9. Traveling Teacher*

      I’m so sorry you work with man-children, OP. People can be so awful. I’m surprised they even passed the comment on to you, tbh. I hope that your first surgery keeps cancer away and that your second surgery goes well for you–glad to hear it was preventative!

      A bit of commiseration, if you would like, because people get really weird about breasts and you’re not alone: My breasts just…grew like that. One is twice the size of the other, by a lot. When I stopped stuffing one side of my bra with a fake breast (which is uncomfortable as all hell, you are 1000% right!) because I was breastfeeding and had no time to properly clean it and was sick of wearing it anyway, the amount of people concern-trolling me was astonishing. Women and men would ask me if I was “switching sides” or “letting the baby favor one”…and then caution me to get that sorted so that they would “even out.”

      Finally I’d had enough. Imagine the looks on the Nosy Nellies’ faces when I told them that I’d been waiting for about 20 years for the damn things to “even out” and that breastfeeding had actually gradually improved the size disparity between the two!

    10. Natalie*

      One of the men in my office has the habit of looking women up and down and then… well, he never looks you in the eyes when he speaks to you

      Poke one of his eyes out and then complain that his face is asymmetrical. /s

    11. animaniactoo*

      OP, based on what you just said…. I’m going to ask you for a favor.

      Please escalate the shit out of this and make it EXTREMELY uncomfortable for them that they ever asked. Seriously… get mad, make it clear that you’re mad, and make it clear that you’re mad because you’re being asked to conform to some sort of “normative” appearance for the comfort of others over your own health and comfort. You are upset and disturbed that your own health and comfort is not the priority and creeped out that people are commenting on your BREASTS TYVM.

      Please. Do it for me. Make them uncomfortable as crap. I beg you.

      1. LKW*

        I concur. I think you need to note that your boss did as asked but that it astounds you that she would ever be asked to provide feedback on such a thing.

        That your boss passed on the feedback but didn’t expect you to follow it – this is not a good boss, I know you’re trying to let her off the hook. She should have pushed back and if necessary brought the issue to HR to “find the right messaging” because any good HR person would have shut that down immediately with “There is no correct messaging to discuss anyone’s body or your body preferences at work.”

      2. Kitrona*

        If possible, have the boss pretend she didn’t pass it on, and OP carry a tape recorder for when Dude does address it with her. Let’s see how valuable he is when he’s costing them thousands in legal fees.

      3. Properlike*

        Yes. If this guy is already a problem, and the company has a history of brushing his bad behavior aside, this is the perfect legal opportunity to nip that shit in the bud post-haste. “Oh, you don’t feel comfortable telling him to stop? How comfortable are you with this lawsuit?”

    12. Urdnot Bakara*

      I still feel like your boss is being a bad boss here! Even if it’s coming from above her (even worse IMO!!! someone who has a lot of power over you expects you to look good for them!!!), I feel like she had an obligation to relay a modified version of Alison’s script to the higher-up(s) to protect you. Instead she passed the burden of this to you even though she knew the request was ridiculous. If she expected you to ignore it, why even tell you someone was looking at you/talking about you in this way?

      Also, I don’t buy her whole “if I don’t tell you the original complainer will” thing. Whoever it was originally knows they will look bad for saying this, which is why they tried to funnel it through her in the first place. I personally don’t think that will change.

      Anyway, sorry for getting so incensed. Wishing you good health and the best of luck dealing with these losers!

    13. K8 M*

      I’m not saying that you need a prosthetic breast- if you’d prefer to not that’s an entirely valid decision. As an avid knitter, I do a fair bit of work for various charities and one that I’ve run across is called “Knitted Knockers” that provide a lightweight knitted prosthetic specifically because the standard issue ones are heavy, hot and uncomfortable. I just wanted to mention it in case you were interested.

    14. Iris Eyes*

      Oh that adds a whole extra layer of awful to it. Your boss passing this along is definitely not ok but it sounds like she might FEEL trapped between a rock and a hard place. Is there a way you can turn her into an ally for going after the real problem person? I mean part of being a manager is protecting those you manage especially from illegal and unethical requests but I could see how she THOUGHT she was doing you a favor or taking the best of two bad options.

      It 100% sounds like your boss will be thrown under the bus if this blows up legally (pure conjecture but other commenters can weigh in). I’m betting that if something comes of it the person who is actually the problem won’t feel any of the pain.

    15. [insert witty username here]*

      Thanks for the additional details, OP. Best wishes for good health.

      This still isn’t OK. I so wish your boss had stood up for you and told the higher ups to SUCK IT. If she feels like she can’t stand up for her employees, you both would likely be better off looking for a better employer.

      I hope you have a good HR department you can escalate this to or a union or labor bureau if you get any mention of this situation further. This is so beyond ridiculous and I can’t believe you had to deal with this.

    16. MuseumChick*

      OP, my only other advice is to document the discuss in some way. I may be paranoid but given when you said about the higher up….better the have proof of what was said.

      1. Agent Diane*

        I’d agree. Douchey superboss is breaking the Equalities Act in so many exciting ways (guess who did her own refresher course last month). Document it: report it. And this isn’t about his perviness: this is about his breaking of the law. If the company continues to support him in any way, you have such a case. And if you raise this as a formal HR concern it might be the evidence the company can finally use to oust him.

    17. wittyrepartee*

      Jumper is a word here, it’s just that it’s unlikely that you’re walking around wearing a 1st -3rd grade Catholic school girl uniform (like, not the fetishy skirt, the pinafore dress with overall straps). The image is pretty funny to think about though.

      1. Urdnot Bakara*

        right, jumper for me (in US) meant the dress thing i wore a t-shirt under when my elementary school implemented “standardized dress.” but it’s definitely a more common word in the UK!

    18. Jennifer*

      I’m sorry you are going through this. I’m glad your boss isn’t a jerk at least. Sounds like her hands are tied.

    19. HR Business Partner (UK)*

      Alison’s script works for the UK, with adaptations to the medical circumstances of your procedure. This is wholly unacceptable under the Equality Act 2010 and you are hella protected under both disability (which, as someone has noted above, includes “disfigurement” – not a particularly ideal term but would almost certainly apply here) and sex discrimination. Your boss should 100% have pushed back to her superiors (preferably pointing out the risk it exposes the company to).

      Frankly if I were your HR representative I would be advising you to submit a grievance on the basis of disability and sex discrimination. And you get the slightest pushback on that you will have a case for Victimisation.

      1. Blunt Bunny*

        Yes also as it is the UK and not US their job is less likely to be on the line as it is not at will

    20. BelleMorte*

      This is ridiculous and your boss isn’t off the hook at all.

      Document back via email (bcc yourself on a private email address, and include HR) along with all the details in a factual format i.e. “To confirm, you have relayed a complaint to me on (date/time/place) that *sexist ahole* has filed a complaint that he was uncomfortable of the appearance of my breasts after being removed as a result of a medical procedure complication. *jerkhigherups-that-should-be-fired* have relayed to you that they will be requiring me to wear a prosthesis as of *date*.

      Then lawyer up. You are protected both under sexual harassment (essentially the complaint is your breasts are not pleasing enough), and under disability discrimination (you had this done for medical reasons).

      1. blackcat*

        Yes, that’s what I would do.
        Follow up with an email to your boss, mentioning that she said it was coming “from higher up” that there has been a request that you alter your appearance as to make your “disfigurement” less obvious. IANAL (or solicitor in this case), but using the specific work the law does is generally advisable. You want to “confirm” that you understand the request in writing. If you get “no, no” that’s not what I said, great! If you get “Yes” or silence, that’s great to give to a solicitor/file with a government agency.

    21. Jaybeetee*

      Thank you for writing into the comments, OP.
      I don’t have any additional advice (Alison has covered my outrage pretty well), but for “additional reading”, I recommend looking up Captain Awkward’s “Notes from a Boner”. In your situation, I would be tempted to respond along those lines: “Oh, I’m so sorry my struggles with my health and mortality are making their boners sad. I’ll try to be more considerate in the future.” (But that’s probably not a good idea…)

    22. GingerHR*

      Hi OP, so sorry you are dealing with this rubbish. Your boss is, frankly, inept – unless she is pretty junior there is no excuse for this. She should have told those ‘above’ to mind their own business, and if they wouldn’t she should have looped in HR. I’m in HR in the UK, and if I heard about this, trust me, the conversation wouldn’t be with you. As a side note, the men who complained are cockwombles and tribunals waiting to happen, and the creep is a sexist prick and tribunal that’s already got a timeslot. (Those are the fit-for-public use HR technical terms. Inside my HR team, we’d have rather different words.) It’s a shame your HR department isn’t good enough to deal with this – if it doesn’t go away, and you want some more specific UK-based advice on your options, I’d be happy to help – hopefully Alison can see my email address and pass it on to you in case it’s of use. You wouldn’t actually be covered under the EA for direct disability discrimination, as that kicks in when you have cancer, although there’s a possible indirect discrimination claim due to the medical history. However, it’s clear sex discrimination under the EA, and even though you might not want to take a tribunal claim, your HR department should at least see the risk. And if you did, nothing’s certain, but I’d say it’s a pretty high chance you’d win.

      1. GingerHR*

        Oops – sorry, missed the disfigurement point. So you probably have two clear heads of direct discrimination claim… and possibly an indirect as well.

    23. Snow Drift*

      I am glad you are in good health. I am not glad that you are working with human dumpster fires.

      Please purchase a class “S” fire extinguisher (that’s S for shitheads).

    24. pegster*

      If I were the OP’s manager, I’d be tempted to have a private conversation with the OP, telling her to prepare for an awkward/inappropriate conversation with the higher up who initiated the complaint, letting her know of her legal rights. Then I’d tell the higher up that under no circumstances would I pass such a comment on due to it opening the company up to legal issues (I’m guessing he wouldn’t be open to the “and it’s just plain wrong” angle).

      On the one hand it opens the OP to tough interaction with someone quite senior, but it also forces him to own his own idiocy. I can see, however, how the OP’s manager thought that perhaps she was protecting the OP from him, but it just seems to me that he’s getting a woman to pass on his sexist views (and in doing so giving them some sort of legitimacy).

      I hope when she passed on the complaint, as well as saying she expected it ignored that it was completely wrong, but I’m guessing if she did this letter wouldn’t have been sent in.

    25. Indie*

      Why do these guys always get a woman manager to do their dirty work for them? If it’s too inappropriate for a discussion man to woman, then it is still inappropriate woman to woman. Your boss should have still shielded you better though, imo.

    26. Pnuf*

      I am also in the UK, and if anybody above me in the food chain asked me to say such a thing to one of my team I would be talking to HR before you could say “colossal breach of the 2010 Equality Act”… The boss had options, and ignoring them is extremely poor.

    27. The elephant in the room*

      Even though your HR department is not very good, I would still mention this so there is a paper trail, should you need it later.

    28. blackcat*

      Even a “not good” HR department usually steps in with clear violations of the law (which it sounds like this is in the UK).

    29. Bagpuss*

      I’m so angry on your behalf.
      I would be very tempted to ask your manager to tell you who the complaint came from so that you can formally raise a grievance of sexual discrimination and harassment., and also make a formal notification that you consider your condition to be a disability protected under the equalities act.
      Have a chat with your union rep (if you have one) or with ACAS’s advice line, and check whether your home insurance includes legal cover – in some cases this may cover an initial consultation with an employment lawyer.

      Although I really like the idea of treating the whole thing as though it was raised to let you know that there was someone acting inappropriately. Go back to the manager and say “I’ve thought over the comments you told me were made about my breasts, and I’ve decided that yes, I would like to make a formal complaint about the person making them. What’s my next step to do that? If they try to explain that no, the point was that you were supposed to be thinking about changing your body then come back with “Sorry, you’re saying that I am being asked to make changes to my body, to make it more convenient for a co-worker to objectify me and stare at by breasts? Seriously?”.

    30. File Herder*

      As already noted, since you’re in the UK it would fall under the Equality Act 2010. It is possible to claim for more than one type of discrimination for a single discriminatory act – e.g. both disability and sex discrimination. There are strict time limits on bringing a claim in an Employment Tribunal (although it’s possible in some circumstances for a linked series of discriminatory acts to be treated as a single act for the purpose of time limits so as to include earlier Things), so anyone who wants to bring a claim should look at their options, including whether to get legal advice, ASAP. You may be able to get free help in preparing your claim from Citizens Advice or a Law Centre, a union, or the free legal cover included with many household insurance policies. You don’t have to have a solicitor to make a Tribunal claim, but if the help’s available take advantage of it. You can also bring claims in other courts, but that can get more expensive and complicated.

      I’ll just go and sit in the corner now and make sure my knife’s properly blunted and I have an adequate supply of salt, since we don’t have suitable ant hills in this country that would make it worth laying in a supply of honey.

    31. breathless with rage*

      OP, I am so angry on your behalf. I’m a BC survivor who was lopsided for 2 years since I couldn’t have reconstructive surgery right away, and the prosthetic was too uncomfortable for me to wear. There were a lot of both physical and emotional consequences for me, but no one actively tried to shame me! I can’t even imagine what I would have done. There is a lot of good advice on this thread already, so I will just add that if I had to have this conversation with a manager or even planned to go straight to HR and give them the whole sickening story, I would be worried about keeping it together, and would ask a trusted person to role-play through the conversation with me a few times to make sure all of the main points were rock-solid in my head. Good luck and best wishes!

    32. Blunt Bunny*

      Hi OP maybe going to HR as a group with all the people who feel uncomfortable around the creep might be the kick HR need to act your boss might be able to support as well? I’d like to think that the well-being of others was protected more than seniority but sadly that isn’t always the case.

      I know bras can be a gift and a curse so I just wanted to let you know that some John Lewis stores do special bra fittings for cancer patients. Or they did a few years ago anyway. I know little about breast cancer so don’t know if this would be appropriate for you and to clarify I don’t think you should be changing your appearance and causing yourself pain to appease a manager so if this would be the case here please ignore my suggestion. I’m only putting it here as it might be useful to you or someone else reading this.

    33. HannahS*

      Good for you, OP! I do hope that you’ll come back and update us sometime. Not because we’ll get mad if you don’t know exactly what was suggested, but just because we’re all cheering you on.

      Fun anecdote about “jumper.” In Canada, we have the UK edition of Harry Potter, and some of the words were either new to me (treacle, hoover) or mean something different here (pudding, jumper). So, because my own jumper was a red velvet pinafore dress, I initially thought that Mrs. Weasley was knitting all her sons (and Harry) pinafore dresses. I sort of shrugged and moved past it–wizards wear robes after all, which are basically dresses–and it was years before I realized that a jumper is a sweater in the UK!

    34. LGC*

      I’m glad that i’m not losing the plot about it and that it’s weird!

      I’ve heard the British keep a stiff upper lip, but holy hell OP this is possibly the understatement of the decade. You are quite possibly the only person in this situation who hasn’t lost the plot, including your manager.

      (Pedantry: Yes, I know the UK also includes Northern Ireland.)

    35. Anne Bonny*

      Thanks for the additional context, OP. Since there is a clear lack of leadership, courtesy, and legal understanding in your office, please be sure to reply by email to start a lasting record of this. Because I can almost guarantee that once your grandboss sees that you are not wearing a prosthetic, that he will take it upon himself to “counsel” you as well. I hope I’m wrong, but this guy sounds like a self important jackass. I’m any case, I’d be prepared for the possibility.

    36. Observer*

      I just went back and read your original letter. If I’m understanding your situation, your supervisor is being a huge jerk. She expects you to ignore it while making it clear that the big boss actually expects you to NOT ignore it?

      She didn’t “have” to talk to you, as others have mentioned. And her mixed messages tells me that she’s not going to have your back, and she’s not going to help you one bit with this utterly appalling and (fortunately) illegal behavior.

      Please start documenting all of this, and take the advice of the people here who actually know how the British system works, and push back. Hard!

    37. Amanda*

      Someone up thread mentioned talking to ACAS, but another route to find out how out of line your management is would be to talk to your local Citizens Advice. If they can’t give you a complete answer they can tell you who can.

    38. Jess*

      OP, if you’re still reading this, radio 4’s Women’s Hour on Monday had a piece on the problems with wearing prostheses post-mastectomy and how sexist it is for society expect women to be wear the things. It’s available on podcast and the website if you want to listen!

  66. Employment Lawyer*

    Holy shit, that’s horrible. And also completely illegal in almost all situations–the only exemption I could think of is if you work for a tiny company which is so small it isn’t covered by any anti-discrimination laws.

    Shut this down rapidly. I would make sure to document it via email so you can’t be fired later,

  67. Yllis*

    What’s so odd is not just the staring at the breasts long enough to be bothered by it but that they felt comfortable enough to go to a manager with it!

    If I noticed this, Id look away quickly as a “none of my business” and be embarassed that I caught myself noticing. No way would I discuss it with someone else and risk that they were abnormally pervy too AND go to my manager on the chance that they were abnormally whacked enough to do something about it.

    The fact that these two weirdo felt okay going to a manager with this says that this manager and maybe workplace is just so outside the norm

    1. gmg22*

      Right??? The basic-decency level of collegial response in the situation the OP describes would be to assume that there is a medical reason for what they’ve seen and that the correct “response” on their part is therefore … NO RESPONSE, because it is not any of their business.

    2. General Ginger*

      Exactly. It’s normal to notice “oh, hey, something different about OP”, because that’s how vision works, but feeling comfortable enough to actually stare, and keep staring, and to complain that the staring is now not as gratifying as it used to be? No words for how horrible this whole situation is.

    1. Nox*

      No it does not. Doxing or harassment of any kind is not permitted to be advocated for on here no matter what the circumstances are.

    2. Andy*

      It FEELS like it would, but we don’t do that here because ultimately it falls back on the OP, who is trying to navigate an already terrible situation. And, in addition, that would make it very hard for people who have a VERY BAD situation to feel safe writing in for advice. What if we doxxed their boss and they lost their job and insurance and their kid’s tuition or something?
      It’s best to not
      even thought it FEELS like it would very much best to YES

    3. Labradoodle Daddy*

      I understand the rage, but doxxing people is an AWFUL look. What if this jerk manager has non-jerk kids? They shouldn’t have to be terrified because their parent is a jerk.

    4. Kitrona*

      OP has enough of a legal case to address it that way. And I’m pretty sure doxxing is against the commenting policies anyway.

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      Gather the information and go talk to the manager yourself, privately. Don’t make the info public because that’s pulling other people into it unfairly to them.

    6. nonegiven*

      Now that we know the manager was pressured by someone higher in the company to do it herself to keep someone higher up from accosting OP about it, it’s time to call a lawyer.

  68. bikes*

    OP, I am truly horrified on your behalf and so sorry you were treated this way. I hope HR helps your boss realize his mistake and that he feels deep shame/tries to repair things with you. It might be too late though. I confess I would want to leave if this happened to me. In the US, though, health care coverage is so tied to employment that you can’t always do so quickly if you are in the middle of post-operative treatment.

  69. Linda Evangelista*

    Ooh, I’d skip all this and hop/skip/jump right to a lawyer, but I’m feeling vindictive.

    1. Bagpuss*

      for what it is worth, in the UK in most situations you are expected to use internal processes first – so your chances of succeeding in legal proceedings would be lower if you had not first raised a grievance .
      Obviously there are some situations where that isn’t possible but I don’t think this would be one of them.

      1. AJHall*

        I agree, though the time for bringing a tribunal claim for discrimination (in this case on the grounds both of sex and disability) starts to run from the date of the incident and is only three months long, so watch out for organisations which artificially prolong the grievance process to run down the time.

  70. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    I am so upset by this that my head feels like it’s going to explode.

    OP, I see that your female boss told you because she was told to, and so that you didn’t have to have this conversation with someone above her but I think I’d still document it in an email, with a copy cc’d to your personal email.

    What kind of person thinks this is an appropriate thing to say to a woman who has made the decision to have this major surgery in order to avoid dying from cancer???

    I am so very sorry you were subjected to this.

  71. Nanani*

    This is absolutely horrifying. LW, I hope you lawyer/HR up ASAP because none of this is OK.

    At the same time, it’s worth pointing out that this is just an extreme case of the kind of policing that gets done to women’s bodies on a daily basis.

    “Your boobs must be symmetrical” is the extreme edge of “if you’re a lady, you MUST wear makeup/heels/etc to look as professional as a man”

    If anyone reading this is (rightly) horrified by LWs situation but thinks sexist dress codes are ok, maybe do some soul searching and reevaluate your position.

  72. Eirene*

    I had to restrain myself from shrieking out loud in anger when I read this letter. My aunt is currently recovering from her THIRD reconstructive surgery after her second bout with breast cancer in a decade. She’s retired now, but if anyone had said this to her, she probably would have knocked their teeth out. I admire your restraint, LW, and I wish you the best of luck in all matters professional and personal.

  73. Sleepytime Tea*

    Ok, not that there is a lack of outraged comments here, but let me just say I have to add OH MY F**KING GOD to the list. Because this is not ok on so many levels. Whether or not the office has a dress code is so far from the point! No dress code says your breasts have to be symmetrical! And who cares if it makes someone uncomfortable? Jesus Christ Almighty. How dare a human being come in a different shape and size than what you consider to be normal.

    Here’s a side story on how this SHOULD be handled. A woman I worked with had a son with cancer. I believe it was in his eye. (I didn’t ask specific questions and she didn’t offer, so that’s all I’ve got.) Anyways, the son had surgery on his eye. Mostly healed, not gruesome to look at as in recently post-surgical or anything, but you know, it was obvious he’d had surgery. He came with her to a family work event. A co-worker then complained that she brought him and said the eye made her uncomfortable. Everyone there essentially told her to get the f*ck over it and that in no uncertain terms would they make the employee or her child feel unwelcome (she wanted her to be told she couldn’t bring her son in the future unless he had an eye patch or something). THAT is how coworkers and management should react to this type of thing. Lots of issues at that job, but good lord at least this wasn’t one of them.

  74. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Oh Hell no. My best friend developed at puberty and she has two obvious different sized breasts. If anyone, male or female suggested that she get surgery to make them more pleasing to their eye, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for my reaction. Tell your co-workers to close their eyes if they don’t like the view.

  75. Anna Badger*

    I feel like everyone saying ‘people would never say that to a person who had a leg amputated’ are deceiving themselves, people who opt not to wear other prosthetics absolutely have to deal with this stuff too.

    1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

      I was reminded of the interns who petitioned for a more casual dress code. They cited a co-worker who was allowed to wear tennis shoes as one of their reasons for a more relaxed dress code. When it was explained to them why she wears different shoes (war vet, prosthetic leg), they were all “Oh derp, had we known that….” like it was any of their business. This seems even worse to me….

      1. Amber T*

        That was more… innocent? Like, they thought they were being held to a certain standard that maybe everyone else wasn’t without the realization that there could be a very good reason why. Ignorance (as long as they’re going to learn from it) is better than malice, where the boss here is basically saying “hey I know you’re a cancer survivor but your boobs aren’t good anymore so make yourself uncomfortable and change them.”

    2. Indie*

      I remember reading an article about what people commonly say to wheelchair users and my eyebrows have still not come down. It’s kind of like how some men believe that *no one* would scream at a woman who refused a date; but how would they know? They only mean that they personally wouldnt.

    3. Eva*

      That absolutely crossed my mind reading some of the comments, that I’ve definitely heard of people being told to wear uncomfortable prosthetics because it makes them easier to look at/makes the people around them more comfortable.

      People are also encouraged sometimes to have more “realistic” prosthetics instead of something more practical for the same reason, even if they want get something that’s more useful to them.

      Discrimination against people with disabilities is way more rampant than most people come across in their lives.

  76. Legal Beagle*

    OP, your situation is appalling. As Alison has detailed, you need not knuckle under to these knuckleheads. It is they who are in the wrong.

    I wish you a more comfortable and supportive journey as you undergo treatment.

    How depressing that it’s only January 7 and we already have an entrant for the top 10 worst bosses of 2019.

  77. [insert witty username here]*

    OP, just piling on the support here. This is utterly ridiculous and you 100% should not have to deal with this. Not in the first place and not on top of cancer!!!

    The one tweak I would make to Alison’s script is instead “… how they’d like my breasts to look post-cancer” is to leave off post-cancer!! Or to emphasize it’s not appropriate for colleagues to weigh in on someone’s natural physical appearance AT ANY POINT but especially after cancer. What if someone just naturally had different sized breasts? It happens all the time – usually it’s subtle, but if one’s an A cup and one’s a D cup, STILL no one has the right to say anything about it, cancer or not!! I just can’t believe the nerve of these people.

    I hope you feel the support from all of us random internet strangers. We are behind you and are outraged on your behalf. Your boss and your ignorant co-workers are wrong here, NOT YOU.