manager asks if she can call us on our days off, exhausted by comments on my hair and clothes, and more

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

1. My manager always asks if we’ll be reachable on our time off

I’m looking for a good way to address a pattern I’ve seen with an otherwise very compassionate manager about PTO requests. My direct manager leads a small and hard-working team, where we all are fairly specialized in our roles without a lot of crossover. Whenever anyone requests time off, an immediate first question from this manager is, “Are you going to be totally unreachable, or will you have service if we need something?”

I don’t know about the rest of the team, but the last two years have left me on the edge of burnout at all times, and when I take time off I would love to sign off and not worry about even the potential that I might receive a panicked call from a coworker. While we do work in a very deadline-driven industry (and one that often relies on client input and approval, which can put unexpected pressure on timelines and workflows) nothing we do is life or death and couldn’t wait a day, a week, or honestly even more than that if needed. I have a good rapport with this manager and they are usually receptive to my feedback, but for some reason I don’t quite know how to start this conversation. I want it to come across as a piece of positive and constructive feedback, but at the same time, I need there to be a real change so that the next time I ask for time off I’m not immediately preemptively defending my PTO and mental health.

Since you have good rapport and they’re receptive to feedback, you could lead into it this way: “With so many people dealing with burnout from the last two years, I wondered if I could give you some feedback about how we handle vacation time.” And then: “I’ve noticed that when we request time off, you always ask if we’ll be totally unreachable or if we’ll have service in case you need something. I would love to sign off completely and not worry that I might get work calls — and I think it’s so much healthier to be able to do that, and makes our jobs more sustainable if we have times where we fully disconnect — but that question always makes me feel like I need to be reachable if at all possible. I’d love to see us shift to a default that when we’re away, we’re really away.”

2. I’m exhausted by coworkers’ comments on my hair and clothes

I started a new job at a dream organization about six months ago, and we’re back in the office a couple times per week. Since returning to the office, I’ve noticed that my choice of clothing and hair color are a constant, daily source of conversation.

For context, I’m a fat queer person who likes to wear bold patterns, bright colors, and whose hair color changes frequently. I’m arguably the the most visibly queer person to work for this organization. And I’m also the fattest person to work for this organization.

While my colleagues mean well and are complimentary, every outfit and hair color change being a talking point every time I’m in the office is exhausting and starts to feel like a series of microaggressions, even though I know that’s not the intent. It’s happening with at least 10-15 people. Any suggestions for how I can go about shutting down this behavior?

This is tough; if it were just a couple of people, you could pull them aside and explain what you explained here. But with that many people, it’s going to be harder to shut down. One option is something like, “You couldn’t have known, but it wears me out to talk about my appearance so often! Let’s talk about something else.” But I’m not totally happy with that. What ideas do others have?

3. Can I ask for compensation since the candidate I suggested was hired?

I was approached by a recruiter about a company that had two open positions, one I was very interested in and another where I referred them to a excellent candidate. Both are the same sales position in different states. It ends up that I was passed over for the position I applied for, but the person I referred was actually hired for hers. Since I found that candidate for them, would it be just out of the question to ask them for some type of compensation, or are they just obligated to tell me thanks, if even that?

Asking for compensation for suggesting a candidate to a recruiter would come across as strange and out-of-touch. That’s not a thing that normally happens (outside of internal referral programs within a company, of course, but that’s not what this was). What you did was part of networking — a recruiter contacted you and you said “not me, but maybe Jane Smith” and now that recruiter probably considers you a stronger part of their network than they did before (or maybe not, who knows) but this isn’t a compensation situation.

As a general rule, in most professional situations you can’t normally ask for compensation after the fact (as opposed to the other person agreeing to it before accepting your help). There are some exceptions to this — like if someone uses your work in ways you hadn’t agreed to and which clearly violate the spirit of whatever agreement you did have, or in some cases if you’ve gone above and beyond at your job in very specific ways — but they’re the exceptions, not the norm.

4. Should I put my part-time job on my resume?

I’m a scientist working at a large biotech company. I’ve been very frustrated by constant promises for promotion that never happen. Everyone from my line manager to the Vice President have told me that I “deserve more,” but nothing ever comes of those conversations. I started to search for a new job, but it is difficult because I do not want to relocate and I live in a relatively rural area.

Then, about six months ago, a contact of mine from graduate school asked if I’d be interested doing part-time work for a startup. The job required a lot of skills that I am not strong in, but they offered to train me. Honestly, I would have done it for free just to be trained, but they are paying me an hourly rate much higher than the hourly equivalent of my full-time salary. So I jumped on the chance. I work nights and weekends and, although it is stressful, it has lifted a lot of my financial burden.

I’m still interested in leaving my full-time job, so I’ve been trying to prepare my resume and cover letter. How do I include my experience at the startup? Will employers see my extra job as a distraction? Should I leave it off? What’s the rule here?

You should keep it on your resume if it strengthens you as a candidate — if it shows skills or accomplishments that will be helpful for the jobs you’re applying for.

However, if you include it you’ll likely be asked if you plan to continue that job if they hire you. If you say yes, you’ll likely get questions about how much of your time it takes up and potential conflicts of interest, and you might encounter interviewers who say you’d need to give up the side job if you work for them (sometimes because of conflicts of interests, sometimes because of across-the-board policies on moonlighting, and sometimes because they think the new role will require your full attention/energy/availability). So you should be prepared for all of that and figure out ahead of time where you stand on it and how you want to respond.

5. Rejecting an offer because of the company culture

I received a job offer today that offered a 30% salary increase and a good opportunity for professional growth. The downside, however, is minuscule PTO and the fact that even despite the Great Resignation and the ongoing pandemic, this (huge!) employer insists that everyone come to the office every day. I’m in digital marketing, not client facing, and have had quantifiable successes working remotely over the past two-plus years. This role offers no flexibility for WFH unless it’s whatever they deem a “true emergency,” and staff must be in the office from 9 to 5 and not a minute later or earlier. According to a zillion Glassdoor reviews, folks arriving after 9 or leaving before 5 are marched in to leadership and made to explain themselves.

All of this is to say, this ain’t the culture for me. While my salary is currently low, I have truly flexible/unlimited PTO that my bosses encourage us to take, and my manager upholds an attitude of “I don’t care where you do your work, as long as you get it done.” This suits my responsibilities as a first-time parent, and ultimately I’d rather stick it out on the open market until I find the right balance rather than sacrifice the flexibility that’s crucial to my family in exchange for a decent raise (that would be eaten into by commuting).

When I decline this offer, how do I frame it so that it’s clear that while I was interested in the role and the work, this company’s refusal to budge on flexibility for corporate employees and its apparent lack of trust in staff to get the job done without resorting to enforcing the clock is a turn-off for me?

I’d say it this way: “The job itself sounds great, but my current company and the other employers I’m talking with offer significantly more flexibility on hours and remote work. Those things are really important to me, so I unfortunately can’t accept.”

If they hear it enough, it might sink in.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 614 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    From the commenting rules:

    “When a letter-writer reports a situation is giving them bad vibes, particularly in regard to safety, harassment, or discrimination, believe that person. Don’t search for ways to explain away the behavior or pressure them to ignore their instincts because you personally haven’t had the same experiences.”

    There are a lot of people below telling LW #2 what he’s experiencing can’t possibly be tied to his queerness or weight (although I’m removing a lot of them). There are also a lot of people explaining how it could be. If you’re in the first group, I ask that you read the explanations from the second group, and please do not tell the LW #2 he can’t possibly be right about bias being in play.

    Also, there’s a comment with more details from the LW here.

  2. Chili+pepper+Attitude*

    For #2, can you use Alison’s script with just a couple of people and ask them to spread the word?

    Maybe there are one or two people who you think would be receptive and/or are more plugged in and can take the lead sharing your thoughts?

    1. Mockingjay*

      Agree to enlisting a few trusted colleagues to assist you. “While I appreciate your complements on my appearance, I’d rather be known for my work in special skill/project.”

      I have prematurely white hair that I used to dye until I began reacting to the PPD in the dye. So I let my hair go natural. And it became the only way people referred to me, until I left that job. “Wow, Mockingjay, your hair is so striking!” “Thank you, what about the draft report, have you reviewed it yet?”

      I totally feel you OP2. I just kept redirecting back to work until people realized I wasn’t receptive to the “compliment.” I succeeded with most people who I interacted with daily. The outliers I didn’t see or work with often, so I let it go with them.

      1. Sloanicota*

        This is so difficult for OP because I think in general there’s a cultural expectation that someone who chooses to dress in a “big way” (bright colors, fun and varying hair styles, big noticeable tattoos and piercings) is open to receiving attention on this, or even inviting it. I could see how this might not be true in OP’s case. Is there an option of dressing down a bit for a week or two and saying something like, “trying to keep the focus on my work!” when anyone asks, which would send the signal that they’re no longer interested in being a topic of conversation? Not that OP should have to, but it might work.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Shoot I see now this topic has been well discussed below, with a lot of really good nuance, so please disregard my comment here. I should have kept scrolling!!

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          Yeah, whether you want to receive attention or not, bold, bright colors grab everyone’s attention. As do drastic changes to appearance, like hair color or cut. If you don’t want that attention, unfortunately you have to dress to fit in. Otherwise, well, you stand out, and people are going to comment on it. Most of them will be well-meaning, assuming you like the attention and that they’re shoring you up.
          So you either have to tell them all that, despite like attention-grabbing looks, you really don’t like being a topic of conversation… or you have to tone things down.

      2. DJ Abbott*

        This is similar to the way I feel about being complimented on my looks. When people say I’m beautiful I find it a little annoying because I didn’t choose this and don’t have much control over it. I can’t change my face or hair, just like you can’t change your hair. Compliments on the way I look are meaningless and a waste of time.

    2. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I agree. I tend to compliment people who clearly work hard to look good. If I am told to not do so, I won’t. (Note: I tend to put together my work outfits on hanger for the week while doing laundry, so I can just grab and go. I am in awe of people who take the time to be really fashionable. But if it bugs them for me to say anything, just let me know).

  3. Viette*

    #2 – I’m really interested by this. What is going on under the surface about your coworkers, or about your own internal experience, that’s making this feel like microaggressions? I doubt you can make all your coworkers all stop making small talk about your very bold outfits and hairstyles. Those kinds of things are the backbone of small talk.

    I am a much bolder/fancier dresser than the majority of my institution and I get comments and compliments on my clothing and accessories at least daily. These are usually very positive interactions, where someone says, “I love your attire/hair!” and I say, “thank you!” and perhaps a few more comments are exchanged but that is the sum of it. This happens over and over but I don’t find it exhausting at all; it’s a fairly joyful form of small talk.

    I would say, really consider what subtle things are your coworkers doing that makes these interactions aggressive and exhausting instead of pleasant small talk. Alternately, what is going on with your processing the experience of being the center of attention and commented upon that makes it upsetting? I genuinely think investigating that may help you get to the bottom of this.

    1. Another Ashley*

      I can’t speak for the letter writer but I’ve had a similar experience. I’m Black and have natural (not straightened Afro textured) hair. I appreciate a basic compliment (“your hair is cute/that’s a nice hairstyle”). But excessive compliments make me very uncomfortable and sometimes feel phony (“oh my gosh, girl look at your hair!!! It’s sooo cute. I wish my hair could do that”).

      And I hate when someone who does not have my hair type asks intrusive questions about how I do my hair. If we have the same hair type and you are asking because you may want to use my advice that’s a completely different experience.

      But in general I don’t want to spend an excessive amount of time at work talking about my personal appearance.

      1. Viette*

        Right, yeah — I think that might be what the LW is feeling, too! Not truly benign pleasant compliments/small talk but more intrusive questioning or statements that make assumptions about her or are unpleasantly revealing about the coworkers. I think nailing down what it is that’s going on below the surface might help her manage these comments — what to push back on and how.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        When I was a much younger Black person I had very short natural hair, mainly because it was convenient and with a kid to organize every day I didn’t have the time for anything that took more than 5 minutes. I also dressed very fashionably because that was one of my indulgences. Instead of micro aggressions I felt the constant comments on my hair and clothes were condescending. Look at you! Wearing that nice outfit! Your hair is always so combed and neat! The tone was almost always like it was a surprise that I managed to look pulled together. It felt like I was singled out because this happened almost every day. My manager even mentioned in my yearly performance review that I was always well groomed and dressed.
        LW2, your colleagues are openly expressing their surprise that someone is shattering their stereotypes of what a fat queer person should look like. Keep dressing and looking the way that makes you feel comfortable!

        1. I laugh at inappropriate times*

          It’s not surprise that you mnaged to look pulled together every day, it’s awe/envy from those of us that just aren’t fashionable, and don’t look put together no matter how hard we try.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            Unfortunately, those two things can look pretty indistinguishable from the perspective of someone who isn’t a telepath.

          2. FridayFriyay*

            I think the OP and others commenting are probably better qualified than random people on the internet to decide which is likely to be the case for their specific situation.

          3. ThatGirl*

            I’m betting it can be perceived along the lines of telling a Black person they’re “so well-spoken” — even if it’s meant genuinely, it feels like there’s an element of “….for a Black person”.

            Also, please trust that people (esp Black women) know when there’s an element of condescension, microaggression or racism to comments they keep hearing.

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I ask that we believe people of color when they report something felt off and racially charged to them, even if you haven’t had a similar experience yourself. I’m going to remove most of the reply thread that follows this.

        2. astral debris*

          To be fair, the LW mentions that they change their hair color often. Making a deliberate change to your look, especially in a way that seems fun and non-problematic** like dying your hair a non-natural color or getting a set of nails that are decorated to the nines, tends to invite compliments. But usually that’s a 1-to-1 thing: 1 dramatic aesthetic change = 1 compliment (per person, anyway). If someone comments on the change and then not a day goes by where there’s not a “wow I just can’t get over how much I love your hair color” interaction with that same person, then that’s weird and out of sync with social norms.

          **By non-problematic I mean that there are some dramatic look changes that I would worry about mentioning in case it touched on something private. Shaving your head, for example. Lots of women and men do it because they want to and because they look and feel fantastic that way, but sometimes people do it to hide a receding hairline, or because they’ve developed alopecia, or because they or someone they love is going through chemo. So that’s more of a”Hey Coworker, you look great! Did you get the agenda for the meeting this afternoon?” kind of situation. Whereas if a coworker I like uses some expert-level hair dye skills to give herself an eye of Horus on the back of her head (true story), I was and will be a lot more effusive with my praise.

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          My manager even mentioned in my yearly performance review that I was always well groomed and dressed.

          Gah. I wonder if that showed up on anyone else’s review.

      3. Don’t b*n me*

        I’m Black as well and I think there’s a difference between commenting on what are normal hairstyles for us (but maybe unusual to white people) and a white person dying their hair a bold and noticeable color meant to attract attention. Other Black people act normal when our hair changes or is in different (but usual for us) styles.

        1. Pool Lounger*

          Bold haircolors aren’t meant to attract attention any more than natural ones. I don’t dye my hair blue or purple for attention, I do it because I like it, and I’m used to living in a city where it’s not at all attention-getting.

          1. Loulou*

            What city are you in where people don’t pay attention to vivid hair color? Since literally nobody is born with pink or blue hair, everywhere I’ve been dying your hair that color is seen as a style choice akin to wearing a brightly colored outfit or a visible/eye catching tattoo.

            1. Lydia*

              Portland, Oregon. I get comments that it looks great; literally nobody goes on about what color it is. Extent of questions:
              Them: Did you get your hair done?
              Me: Yes!
              Them: It looks great!
              This is the case when I’ve had it silver, had normal highlights, had a dark color. It is not a big deal in some places.

          2. jane's nemesis*

            Same – in my home city, every 10th person has vivid/non-natural hair. The only comments I get are the occasional “oh I love that hair color!” but I don’t “stand out” particularly for having it.

            I just traveled for work to good ol’ Washington DC, and I was the only person I saw all week (even though I work in a college environment) with vivid hair, and I got some weird looks. (Fortunately my direct colleagues like my hair and don’t hold it against me or whatever).

      4. Avril Ludgateau*

        I feel like wearing your hair naturally, as a Black woman whose hair has always been policed by society and the natural state of which is still considered unusual and dare I say transgressive in a white-coded society, is not the same as wearing hairstyles and attire that are deliberately transgressive and loud and attention-seeking, and then complaining that people are giving you attention. I can completely understand where you’re coming from – why it would be exhausting, and perceived as condescending, insincere, or even fetishizing or exoticizing.

        I don’t feel that understanding toward OP; never mind that “queer” isn’t defined by a hair color or a bright pattern, as in, rainbow hair (which I love) and loud prints (which I also love) are not some inherent quality of queerness, it seems like OP is the exhausting one. Sorry, but you can’t simultaneously be “excuse you, I wish not to be perceived, how dare you” while essentially being the office peacock.

        1. Pool Lounger*

          OP obviously isn’t dressing this way gor attention. They don’t want attention for it. They just want to dress how they feel comfortable and have hair they feel comfortable with. It’s not peacocking to dress in a way that makes you comfortable, even if it’s different from how other people dress.

          1. Oryx*

            “It’s not peacocking to dress in a way that makes you comfortable, even if it’s different from how other people dress”

            This, right here.

            I am very visibly fat. I have pink hair. I have large tattoos. I wear bright colors and patterns. I do not do any of these things because I am looking for attention or presenting an opportunity for people to constantly comment on what I look like.

            Don’t get me wrong, I am 100% fine with compliments from coworkers and strangers. But it’s a little alarming that some of the commentators are assuming those of us who dress or look this way are doing it because we are seeking external reactions.

            1. Koli*

              On this board people often discuss “intent” versus “impact,” and how a person engaging in an action, while their intent might be one thing, need to consider the real-world impact that it has on others and calibrate their behavior accordingly. So similarly here, how much does it matter that OP’s intent isn’t to garner attention, when the impact is that it does grab people’s attention and they respond accordingly?

              1. Cdn Acct*

                Whoa. I would not want to use terms based on talking about prejudices and how they’re harmful no matter what the intent is, and apply that to people who just want to comment on people’s appearances.
                This feels like trying to take social justice terminology and reverse apply it to things that don’t fit.

              2. Miette*

                Sure, and if the impact of the “compliment” hits OP with an open-handed “…for a fat girl” implication, then what?

                As a frequent recipient of “you’d be so pretty if you lost weight” non-compliments, your point lacks heft (see what I did there).

                Trust and believe we fat girls hear all the condescension, whether it’s overt or otherwise.

        2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          The comment about being deliberately transgressive isn’t sitting right with me and I’m struggling to articulate why.

          Yes, natural Black hair is finally thankfully starting to be treated as not transgressive (as indicated in part by the US Army’s recent policy changes around hairstyles), but the logic around policing it (either through official policy or social reactions) was that there *was* a ‘standard’ and that standard was white people hair.

          Saying that OP is transgressing is saying the standard is [not bright colorful clothes or hair], when in their office it is clearly within their dress code, since OP is doing it.

          It makes me wonder if people are overcompensating by being extra cool with the colorful queer fat person to show how cool they are with the colorful queer fat person, much like people often do to show how extra cool they are with the Black woman wearing her natural hair.

          It implies that being fat and queer and colorful is not okay, so you have to show how okay YOU are with them existing by being overly nice.

          I’m not sure if I’m saying everything as clearly as I would like but this is where my mind is at.

          1. pancakes*

            I think that’s definitely a possibility – a sort of “hey, look at me being cool with the cool queer person” mindset, even if it’s semi- or sub-conscious. I’m not sure that always reflects a feeling of superiority, though. Sometimes people are self-conscious about not having more friends or even more friendly work acquaintances who are different from themselves. They’re self-conscious because they’re unpracticed.

          2. Avril Ludgateau*

            It implies that being fat and queer and colorful is not okay, so you have to show how okay YOU are with them existing by being overly nice.

            ‘Cept nobody is commenting on the fat or queer part, and you (and OP) are projecting bad intentions.

    2. Casper Lives*

      Yes, I believe LW that there could be micro aggressions but nothing was described in the letter to fit that. It’s possible people are gushing in an over-the-top way, seem overly enthusiastic, or tie your hair/clothing choices to your fatness or queerness.

      Or is it exhausting to have your appearance discussed so often? I’d find that tiring but I’m not sure it’s a micro aggression

      1. Siege*

        I can see it, given the context of being fat and queer, actually. If the comments are “oh my gosh, you wear such bright colors!” even with a complimentary tone it’s hard not to interpret that as at least partly “you are making yourself very visible!” and women of a certain age or size are supposed to be visual wallpaper. It could be that it’s a lot of toxic positivity, which would feel like a microaggression to me.

        1. Aunty Fox*

          This ^^
          In addition to which I’m also very overweight and there are times when ‘you look great in that’ sounds like what it says, and other times when it’s ‘you look great in that’ and the ‘for a fat person’ is silent. I can see ‘oooh that’s such a great bold look’ is actually ‘wow that a brave choice for you’.
          I trust LW’s feelings on this. I’d try just being bland in my response for a while ‘mmm, I need to get on with this work’ is a lot less work than walking everyone through the fact you don’t want to talk about it and gives the same message, maybe making an exception for one or two people you feel are actually genuine.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Even if it’s well meant, it’s still exhausting to be the subject!

            I’m autistic, haven’t always had the best eye for my appearance and do ask for help and advice, but my mother drives me mad. Add in the generation gap, and things that she considers professional (essentially, 80s power-dressing; I’m the same age now as she was when Margaret Thatcher left office) are a lot more conservative than is customary now. Even being white and cis/het, it’s a really awkward situation to be in when someone else is more invested in your appearance than you are, and making outdated assumptions. After things came to a head last year for other reasons between us, she’s taken a step back from being overbearing but still helps out when I need her objective eye.

            Still, my mother does help from the best of intentions and I can be totally oblivious. For me, though, an emotional matter – sifting through the feedback to get to the kernel of good advice. OP may feel similarly — there’s compliments somewhere in the mix, but they’re being forced to discern what’s what for themselves and that’s the exhausting part.

            In the end, it’s other people imposing emotional labour on them and that’s the part that they need to put a stop to. Being more assertive and proactive about my appearance helped me, but I assume OP doesn’t need the same kind of assistance that I do, so they have no need to change their own habits. This is all on her colleagues who really need to stop the gossip.

        2. pancakes*

          Yes, that makes sense. The subtext in that context is more or less, “oh my gosh, here you are being visible in my world, how interesting!”

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        It’s the fat woman equivalent of friends/relatives talking about what a pretty face you have.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Oh my gosh I’m having flashbacks to my very condescending doctor telling me I’m “so pretty but….”

      3. Clorinda*

        I can see that there’s a line beyond which small talk becomes micro-aggression.
        A single compliment in passing (Purple today, looks great!) is okay. But if it turns into a longer conversation with a lot of questioning–that’s pushing the boundaries of good taste. There’s a reason that old-fashioned manners include “no personal remarks.”
        But more than anything else, if she doesn’t like it and feels singled out, it’s a micro-aggression TO HER even if someone else would find it benign. Unfortunately, there’s no way to make it stop without having a slightly exhausting conversation with a large number of people.

    3. Von*

      Yes as someone who has bright pink hair and has done for a number of years if you’re dyeing your hair different colours frequently I’m not sure what response you’re expecting from people (that see you regularly)
      If it’s natural colours and you just change them up a bit more you could maybe ask people to tone it down with the comments?
      Clothing I think is entirely reasonable to ask people to stop critiquing. Unless you’re wearing a bright purple suit or neon colours in which I would again suggest, what are you expecting from people in not inviting comments? If you do attention grabbing things, it will invite commentary upon such attire/hair.
      Unless you feel like the commentary is snide? Or negative in some other way? difficult to assess without examples.

      1. Siege*

        At some point, “being attention-grabbing” (which, by the way, sounds really unkind, like you think OP dresses that way for attention rather than because she feels best that way) isn’t noteworthy to people who see you every day. If you wear black for three months straight, then wear a pink leopard print skater dress over a rainbow tulle petticoat and top it off with rhinestone Doc Martens and a tiara, of course you invite comment: you changed your pattern. But if you wear flamboyant colors and clothes every day, people who see you every day should be used to it, and not commenting daily.

        1. Kit*

          But we wear tiaras on Tuesday!

          Yes, if this is your regular style, it would indeed get exhausting to get comments every. single. day, for every. single. change. A change from that pattern would probably garner some inquiry – people might assume that you’re attending a funeral if you’re suddenly in plain dark colors, for example – but the frequency screams of performative allyship, and that is just… ugh. So much ugh. (Or it’s the attempts to passive-aggressively persuade fat women to fade into the background. Not any better.)

          OP, this might have to come down to a set of quiet conversations with the worst offenders: “Hey, I’ve noticed that you seem to comment every time I’ve dyed my hair or wear a new top. I know my personal style is a little brighter than other people’s, but the frequency of the comments is making me uncomfortable. Can you please back off?” Sadly, you might also want to bring up to HR that you’re having these issues, and that they feel directly related to being the most visible fat/queer person in the office; it’s not what we usually think of as harassment based on a protected class, because they’re being Nice! except… no, you shouldn’t need to deal with it every time, and this is how Niceness is weaponized to enforce norms.

          1. Cj*

            Performative allyship of what? I don’t think wearing bold colors or changing your hair has anything to do with you if you are queer or fat. So I’m not understanding why this is a microaggression of anyting.

            1. Just delurking to say...*

              Dress sense and hair colours might not have anything to do with being fat and queer, but they sure are an opportunity for people to put on a show of “Look how complimentary I’m being to the fat queer person! See how okay I am with people who are queer and fat?”

          2. Mushroom-Patterned Boiler Suit and Floral Doc Martens*

            Oooh I like your idea to have a chat with the worst offenders (at least the ones who seem receptive to feedback and/or feel the most…micro-aggressive), in a very matter-of-fact way. I, too, am a fat, visibly queer woman who regularly wears bolder styles, and it is sometimes tiring to be perceived and although I haven’t experienced this at work, my extended family is very passive-aggressively “nice” about my style. What works with them if I don’t want to discuss my style (because they will never, every admit that they were being judgmental and will always say “but I meant that as a compliment!” when called out) is a bright, “thank you!” Followed immediately by BIG OLE SUBJECT CHANGE. This completes the social circuit around compliments but doesn’t allow them to drag you into a weird discussion of your very normal-to-you fashion choices and all the Things They Think They Mean.

            I’m sure your style really is awesome, OP, and I hope that over time your style will become less of a novelty and topic of conversation. It’s sometimes tough to stand out.

          3. LifeBeforeCorona*

            Tiara Tuesday is going to be filed away for future use at work. It sounds a lot more fun than Casual Friday.

              1. EmKay*

                “just some stupid tacos”?? I love me a good tiara, but I will NOT put up with you demeaning tacos, young man/lady!


          4. Alice*

            If I were one of the “offenders,” and you had a quiet conversation with me, of course I would stop complimenting OP’s outfits, but I would find it pretty hard to know what small talk topics I should use with OP going forward. Get ready for a lot of comments about the weather I guess…. Your small talk interactions might be stilted for a while.

            1. revengeofpompom*

              If that seems daunting, then here are some topics of small talk someone might try: (1) what did you get up to this weekend? (2) did you watch ? (3) how’s ____ (e.g., “how was your parents’ visit that you mentioned last week?”) (4) pets, (5) other things happening at the workplace (e.g., “are you participating in the chili cookoff this year? I always like to go but I suck at making chili”), (6) nearby construction, (7) traffic — is it bad? is it getting worse? are they doing __ to nearby highway that is a real nightmare?, (8) any plans for ____? (the summer / the long weekend / locally-celebrated holiday/ etc)

            2. Dana*

              Yeah, if someone deliberately dresses and grooms themselves in a way that attracts attention (brightly dyed hair), but then asks me to stop commenting on it when I compliment them, I’d be really put off. I’d infer that that person was really over-sensitive and inclined to take offense easily, to the point where I’d want to avoid talking to them socially.

              Admittedly, I’m a bit socially anxious, so I find it very stressful to feel like the person I’m talking to has a bunch of unpredictable conversational landmines I might step on at any time without realizing. But I don’t think I’m rare in that.

              1. Claire W*

                I think the point is though, it would be weird if you give someone a compliment on their clothing literally every time you see them. It’s unnecessary andit’s so often that it’s going to come across like you’re purposefully choosing to pick a clothing-related compliment every time and it won’t seem genuine at all.

                Giving the odd compliment if something stands out to you is fine, but if someone wears a brightly coloured jumper every time you see them (for example), it would be way overkill to say “Ooh I love your brightly coloured jumper!” every time, you know?

            3. Siege*

              This is exactly the logic used by men when MeToo started: “if I can’t compliment the women in the office, I clearly am not allowed to talk to them!” FYI.0

              1. Anon all day*

                “Then we’ll just stop hugging women – is that what you want????” “uh, yes, thank you.”

            4. EmKay*

              Not talking about someone’s appearance is “daunting”? Do you only have two small talk subjects, the weather and what people look like??

            5. Dahlia*

              Sorry, are you saying that without the ability to comment on someone’s appearance you can’t do small talk?

          5. Siege*

            I mean, I have five tiaras, I wear them whenever I want, :)

            And I really like your comment and your suggested script.

        2. Brick*

          I disagree that it’s unkind to say it’s attention-grabbing, if you decouple intent from effect – whatever LW’s motivations, the comments from coworkers are evidence that their intention is being grabbed.

          I agree with Viette upthread that it’ll be worth LW’s time to reflect on the subtleties and undercurrents that make these interactions feel wrong.

          1. Cate*

            Yeah, if someone is putting the effort in to stand out in terms of their personal style, I would feel rude not saying something if I liked it? It’s been a surprise to think that the person may find it insincere, as if I didn’t have something nice to say, I wouldn’t have said it!

            1. Sandi*

              I think there’s a repetitive part that would make it feel less sincere. If I had 10-15 people all saying “Nice hair! Great outfit!” every day then it would feel weird. If one or two different people dropped by for a longer chat about my hair and clothes every day then that would also seem odd. If there was one quick “Love that color choice!” from a different person each day then that would be more reasonable for me, but also not what I’m used to.

              I work in tech and when I changed my hair completely or wore a different style of clothing, no one comments at all and that’s what I prefer. If my coworkers were to regularly comment on my appearance then I would ask them to stop because it’s almost all men and I want them to care about my brain and not my hair, so I’m thankful they never do.

        3. Also loud bright and queer*

          I totally agree with you.

          I am a loud, fat, queer person who wears weird clothes and changes their hair constantly. And my coworkers don’t comment on my appearance any more than they do anyone else’s. If I haven’t seen someone for a while, I might get “hey wasn’t your hair blue last time I saw you?”

          But usually nobody says anything, outside the occasional “did you cut your hair, it looks great” type stuff.

          1. Just Another Techie*

            Same here. And I work in an extremely conservative industry, so frequently my (older, white, male) colleagues will be baffled by my appearance the first time they see me in person. But people who see me regularly will occasionally drop a “Oh, new color! I like the purple!” Or whatever and it’s no big deal. But there’s one or two folks who have to say something every single time they see me, and it gets tiresome. The most charitable explanation for their behavior is that they want to make sure I feel welcome (because I have significant technical skills that are extremely hard to hire, and it would be extremely annoying to everyone if I quit. ) But it still has the effect of reminding me daily that I am not like my colleagues, in age, gender, race, or orientation. Like “we’ll let you work here but you’ll never really be one of us” is the (presumably unintentional) subtext in those interactions.

            Also, re: comments upthread about being “attention grabbing”: it really doesn’t matter what clothes I wear or how I style my hair. Even if I did my very best to fade into the background and closeted myself around orientation, I would still ‘grab attention” by being a young fat WOC in an industry that is legit 90% white men. It’s actually pretty telling that some commenters would blame OP for being “attention grabbing” instead of placing the source of the dynamic on people who are uncomfortable with fat queer women in their workplace.

            1. staceyizme*

              I concur. Either it’s find for people to choose how they self-style, barring safety or a very few other exceptions. Or it’s not. (And it IS fine.) This isn’t a matter for commentary, because it can easily become a matter for discussion, debate and critique, which is at best objectifying and patronizing. At worst, it’s overtly hostile.

          2. BethDH*

            I think a lot of this is how common the comments from each person are. If OP is hearing multiple comments a day, but each person is commenting once a week or so (or say, once per hair color change) that’s a different situation than a whole bunch of them commenting daily. Both will feel frequent to OP but it’s going to confuse someone if they as an individual aren’t saying things frequently.
            OP will likely know if the situations already discussed about dressing nicely “surprising” them apply. I want to suggest that a benign option that is still worth digging into is that OP feels like they aren’t getting to know them overall and that appearance is the only topic of interaction. This could feel like being kept at arms length if others around them are talking about hobbies and families. I don’t know quite what to recommend because the obvious answer is redirecting the conversation (“oh thanks, did I hear you talking about hiking the gorge? I love hiking!”)

          3. This Old House*

            I think there’s something of a difference between the clothes and the hair in OP’s situation. She says people comment on every outfit and every color change. Commenting on every outfit seems like SO much. Exhausting, and like they have nothing else to say to OP and fall back on this every time.
            Commenting on every hair change feels 100% normal. Just about everyone gets comments from numerous when they visibly change their hair, whether that’s a bold color change, bangs, highlights, or even just a noticeable trim. There’s even a cliche about people being insulted when others don’t notice their new haircut! I think everyone expects and gets comments when they change their hair, and just because OP does it more often than most doesn’t remove them from that part of casual small talk, and it would be out of the norm to ask people not to comment on new hair cut/color/style – even though it must feel like a LOT when combined with the comments on every outfit.

        4. QuickerBooks*

          The fact that this commentary seems to be nearly every day makes me think this has just become one of the office’s group activities. These are common in office environments, as in every day someone complains about how bad the coffee is and everyone laughs, then someone make a comment about the latest twist in the Miller Account, then someone comments on Angela’s new hairstyle, then someone makes a comment about the cute UPS driver…

          It feels like a ritual. And if OP doesn’t like it, they have the right to ask that it stopped. Not because anyone is being gross or secretly mean or anything, but just simply because OP has the right to have a boundary.

          1. Joielle*

            Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. It’s like when you don’t know someone well but you remember that they have a cat, so every time you’re making small talk with them you ask about their cat. It’s not some kind of veiled commentary on their life choices, it’s just a conversational pattern that you get stuck in when you’re trying to connect with someone.

          2. Springtime*

            Yes, I was thinking that the OP’s appearance has become the default small-talk topic for coworkers to use with them. I think that the OP’s best bet is to try to deflect others to a new default topic that feels less personal or exhausting. Become the person who always wants to talk about their dog, who tries every new coffee shop, keeps up with TV all the time, always has a latest hiking expedition to talk about, always has fun toys on their desk, or just anything else. After a while, people will default to the new tried-and-true topic.

        5. RagingADHD*

          It sounds like the LW’s team is fairly recently back to the office, and they’re only in a couple times a week.

          Folks may not be familiar with the pattern yet – it’s something new and different every time.

          I think this will die down soon on its own, particularly if LW uses some of the non-engagement strategies described by other bold dressers.

        6. EV*

          This exactly! I dreaded days where I needed to wear my glasses to work because I wear contacts 99.9% of the time and so I knew that my day would be “oh wow! Did you get glasses? They look great!” and then I would have to explain that no, I just have an irritated eye and can’t wear my contacts… I usually felt like sticking a post-it note to my head with an explanation after the first hour at work… but! the second day or even the second half of the day, the comments usually ceased and everyone adjusted to my “new look.” If I had to field that level of commentary every day even though I wasn’t making any stylistic changes, I’d want to punch people. Another reason to thank my lucky stars for remote work and not having to dress for an office!!

      2. LisTF*

        This was my thought as well. It seems like they enjoy expressing themselves through hair and clothing choices that make them stand out from everyone else…..but they aren’t comfortable with the attention that comes with standing out from everyone else. If it makes them uncomfortable to have so much attention drawn to their appearance in the workplace, they might consider toning down their ‘work look’ and being their vibrant selves elsewhere.

        1. Danish*

          Hm. I know this comment is well intentioned, but it’s very shades of “if you didn’t want to be harassed, you shouldn’t have worn that skirt”

          LW isn’t asking for anything that out there, wanting to be allowed to just be at work without constant repeated commentary about their appearance. As siege said above, at a certain point this should not be a talking point with people who see them frequently.

          We talk so much here about “let’s not comment on people’s bodies/appearance at work”, but apparently you’re supposed to just accept it and/or change how you look and dress, if you have an alternate style?

          1. Loulou*

            That’s such an inappropriate comparison! Complimenting someone on their clothes is not remotely the same as harassing them. I’m sympathetic to OP and agree with other commenters that they should think about if there’s something else about these interactions that gets at the root of what’s bothering them. But “I love your yellow pants” (even from 10 different people) is not harassment!!

            1. Cate*

              Entirely, as someone who has experienced harassment at work, this is a completely different line and not a remotely fair comparison.

            2. LifeBeforeCorona*

              I’ve been sexually harassed at work and part of it was constant comments on my appearance and clothes under the guise of compliments. When Joe from accounting comes to your desk every morning and asks you to stand up so that he can see what you are wearing it’s harassment even when it’s complimentary.

              1. NoviceManagerGuy*

                That seems much worse than what we know of what the LW is experiencing, which is more like “Nice jacket today!” when passing in the hall.

                (I simply never comment on anybody else’s appearance. But, I can’t remember faces and rely on context clues, especially hair, to remember who somebody is. So I might not recognize somebody when they change their appearance.)

              2. Koli*

                Right but the problem with Joe’s actions is that they are perceptibly of a sexual nature, and done because the victim of the harassment is sexually attractive to Joe. That’s what makes it *sexual* harassment. That is not the case for LW.

            3. Siege*

              But harassment is, in part, a pattern of repeated, unwanted behavior. That is LITERALLY the definition of the word, by the EEOC no less, and OP may fit a class the EEOC protects, and certainly fits two classes most of us think protection should be extended to. It doesn’t have to cross a sexual line to be harassing. It just has to be unwelcome, and meet certain metrics to be legally actionable.

              1. QuickerBooks*

                I hope I’m not being overly pedantic here, but the EEOC doesn’t extend its protection to some people and not others. Rather it determines that all people are protected from certain categories of discrimination. So, for example, gender is a protected category, meaning you cannot discriminate in employment based on someone’s gender, whatever that gender may be.

              2. Loulou*

                Okay, but if my coworker said “good morning” to me every morning and I hated greetings and didn’t want him to say good morning…that would not make it harassment. There are a lot more criteria besides just “unwanted” and it’s sort of wild to argue this behavior IS harassment when I don’t even think that’s what the original person I was replying to meant.

          2. Hannah Lee*

            What jumps out at me when I take a step back is that a “compliment” is a sign that someone is assessing what you look like and making a judgement about it. And then feeling the need and freedom to share that judgement OUT LOUD.

            LW is on the receiving end of this, repeatedly, from many people, at work. So even if we believe *all* the comments are made 100% in genuine good faith, with no “you look good … for a fat person” or “you’re too visible” or “you’re not like us” subtext, coworkers are STILL appraising LWs appearance and showing they think they are entitled to thumbs up or thumbs down it on the regular. Instead of just accepting LW and treating them like any other colleague. I can see that being tiring and annoying and othering to LW to face that.

            It’s not the same thing but I once worked at a professional office job with a woman who dressed very purposely, kept a detailed log of what she wore every day. Which was fine. She was also very tuned into what other people wore, would keep track of that and comment on it. “You wear that skirt suit every Wednesday” “oh, I see you’re trying a different blouse with those trousers” “ha, you’ve worn that blazer to every monthly TPS meeting for 2 years”. It was really unnerving to be reminded that a coworker was paying that close attention to what I wore. And that was just ONE person and she did it to everyone in the department. I can’t imagine if it were many people commenting on JUST MY wardrobe.

            People at work should focus on work, and not at analyzing or appraising their coworkers’ appearance, for good or bad.

            1. Esmeralda*

              I wonder if everyone else where OP works is also getting compliments/comments on hair or attire, but she is not hearing it because she’s not there when it’s happening.

              I’m not discounting OP’s experience — I’m wondering about the context. Is this one of those places where everyone hangs out yakking about about fashion? or is OP the one who’s primarily being addressed?

              Possible too that this will die down when OP has been there longer? People may not have her in their minds yet as part of the environment, so to speak. For instance, we have a new admin. Every time she speaks to someone at the front desk, I hear her very clearly. She’s not talking loudly, she’s not talking excessively — she’s just not part of the soundscape yet.

              Whatever the reason, it’s very tiring to have your appearance commented on all. the. time. (I’ve been fat, I’ve been pregnant, I’ve been visibly ill — it’s just exhausting to hear it.) Here’s hoping it goes down to reasonable levels for the OP.

        2. WoodswomanWrites*

          This should really be a last resort only if nothing else works. The OP is asking for guidance on communicating about uncomfortable comments while being their normal self at work. They should not have to alter who they are in their workplace when their clothing and dress are not affecting their work.

          Speaking up and sharing that they would like the comments to stop is a much more appropriate way to go than squashing their identity and suffering in silence. I don’t have the magic words to say in their situation, but if it were me, I’d probably say something along the lines of that it can be distracting when people comment on my appearance so frequently when I’m trying to focus on my work and I’d rather not discuss it anymore.

          1. Dana*

            Brightly dyed hair and bright clothes are not “who you are.” They’re superficial features of how a person chooses to adorn themselves. Treating such things as equivalent to one’s identity is understandable in adolescence, when experimenting with different self-presentations is part of how adolescents figure themselves out. But adults should be able to decouple who they are from what clothes they wear.

            I don’t wear the clothes that express my personality at work; I wear the clothes that will present the image I want to have, and that will yield the responses from others that I want to get. I used to dress in a radically different style than I do now, not because my tastes changed, but because I came to think this other style of clothes would yield better results. My personality remains unchanged and unsuppressed by any of this. They’re just clothes.

            It would be different if we were talking about, e.g., changing from men’s clothes to women’s clothes or vice versa, where those kinds of changes send strong signals about a deep feature of identity. But hair dye and bright colors are not one of those cases.

          2. Unaccountably*

            No one *should* have to alter how they want to present themselves in the workplace if their appearance isn’t affecting their work, and yet dress codes exist. I don’t particularly want to present myself as Person Who Wears Suits but that’s the dress code so I do. I think it’s overstating things a little to refer to having a work wardrobe as “suffering in silence” unless those clothes are made of burlap or involve actually injurious shoes. OP doesn’t strike me as having such a fragile sense of self that she can’t come home, take off her work clothes, and relax like the rest of us.

            That’s not to say that everywhere should have dress codes, or that dress codes are never stupid or draconian. But whether any of us like it or not, your attire affects how people in the workplace perceive you. OP’s co-workers seem to be perceiving that she wants attention, so if she doesn’t she’s going to have to correct that impression, possibly a few times before it takes.

        3. Irish Teacher*

          I don’t know. If the LW dislikes both subdued colours and being the centre of attention, it seems a bit unfair if they have to choose one or the other – either being the centre of attention or wearing clothes they dislike.

          1. AnonAcademic*

            Yes, exactly. I’m surprised at the number of people saying the OP is “dressing to stand out.” She’s simply dressing the way she likes to dress, and it HAPPENS to stand out at this organization. I’m not surprised she’s exhausted by constantly being verbally reminded she’s different.

        4. mreasy*

          I am a straight sized, white, straight woman. I change my hair often, dye it wild colors, and often wear very bright & funky clothes. I will get maybe a “love your dress” or “did you cut your hair, it’s great!” once every visit to the office, or every other visit. Now it could be that I’m not dressing as well as OP. But it could also be that people feel both more entitled to and more compelled to make these comments – and have discussions! – about OP’s style because she has a body size that we have culturally been taught is subject to scrutiny and public conversation.

          1. Anon all day*

            Yeah, I wonder if a lot of it is people’s subconscious trains of thought going, “I have been socially reared to find your body type distasteful. However, you have managed to actually be pleasant and pleasing to look at [even in a purely fashion/non-sexual]. I would expect that from thinner, non-LGBT people, but from you, because it’s such a change, I must say something about your outstanding work.”

          2. Sylvan*

            I agree with you! (And I’m neither straight-sized nor straight, for whatever that’s worth.)

            The OP’s probably receiving a mix of normal comments and inappropriate ones. I think it might help OP to change the subject whenever they receive comments that *do* seem like genuine, polite small talk. When they hear comments that don’t seem well-intentioned, they could try saying that they would prefer to talk about (insert work thing) or they’re surprised that someone is that interested in their style. Sometimes people need a reminder to mind their own business.

        5. Siege*

          Yeah, altering your happiness and presentation to get people to stop giving you unwanted attention is exactly what we should be advocating for. OP’s clothes are in compliance with their workplace’s standards. OP’s colleagues need to lay off.

      3. pancakes*

        I don’t quite see why having bright colored hair or wearing colorful clothes should “invite comments,” and I say that as someone who frequently had colorful, Manic Panic-dyed hair in high school and college, and went to raves and clubs with people wearing some pretty outlandish outfits. I didn’t dye my hair or choose my outfits because I wanted to hear from strangers about them, but simply because that was what I liked. I wouldn’t dream of commenting on a stranger or work acquaintance’s style or outfit to say I thought it was, say, frumpy or washed out, so I don’t see why it should work in the opposite direction such that looking colorful or wearing a bold pattern is something for anyone and everyone to address in conversation.

        1. Loulou*

          You wouldn’t dream of telling someone they looked bad, so you don’t know why it’s acceptable to tell someone they look good? Really?

        2. Joielle*

          I can understand that a person wearing bright colors or having bright hair is not necessarily doing it to get attention! But if someone dresses in a frumpy outfit, I assume it’s because fashion/appearance/presentation is not that important to them. On the other hand, if someone dresses in a particularly bright or stylish outfit, I assume they’ve done it intentionally because it IS important to them.

          If I’m making small talk with a colleague, I try to remember something they care about or one of their hobbies and ask about it. I think it’s a nice way to connect over something small. In my office, I’m the plant person – a lot of people know I’m very into gardening, so people will ask how my garden is doing or if I’ve gotten any new houseplants lately. In the LW’s office, they’re probably the fashion person, so I don’t think it’s that surprising that it’s a go-to topic for small talk. Maybe the LW could think of something else they’d rather make small talk about and steer conversations there instead – maybe a pet or other hobby or TV show. Give people a new topic to talk about.

    4. Fikly*

      Because when you are larger and wearing that kind of clothing, comments on the clothing and how nice it looks is a microagression. It’s code for “we’re not going to comment on your weight, so we’ll say something about your clothes, instead.” It’s the slightly nicer, more subtle version of “how brave of you to wear that, I could never pull that off.”

      If OP’s other coworkers are not getting the same volume of comments on clothing and hair choices, regardless of weight, gender, or other features, then yes, they are microagressions. That’s what makes it a microagression – it’s super easy for someone not experiencing it to dismiss, and that’s what makes them so harmful, because it’s terrible in and of itself, and then it’s served up with invalidation, gaslighting, and a side of “wait, am I the crazy one?”

      1. Despachito*

        “If OP’s other coworkers are not getting the same volume of comments on clothing and hair choices, regardless of weight, gender, or other features, then yes, they are microagressions.”

        I think this would be absolutely valid if the clothing and hair choices of everyone were roughly similar, then yes, commenting on the fat, queer person much more than on the rest of people would stand out as microagression.

        But here, I think you must factor in that OP’s style is much more distinctive than that of the rest of the coworkers. (Of course, even then the comments can be microagressions but I think it is not too far fetched to think that a distinctive style is likely to attract more comments than a plain dull one).

        1. Myrin*

          I’m going back and forth on that a little bit myself but I would think that even for someone with a distinctive, much-different-from-everyone-else’s style, people would’ve gotten used to it after six months because even the unusual becomes “the usual for this person” after a while. OP says the comments in question happen literally every day she’s in the office – which is a couple of days per week!

          The most generous read of this situation is that the 10-15 people she mentions don’t all comment on her appearance every time she’s there but rather that of all her coworkers, the same 10-15 are interested in her hair and clothes and their comments are “staggered” in the sense that two or three people comment on Monday, two or three on Wednesday, and so on, so for every single person, they only say something every other month or so, but for OP, it’s a huge volume of people because she has to deal with every single one of those. But even if that were the case, it’s really a bit weird that the novelty of her bright, patterned style hasn’t worn off by now.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            Yeah, it would be like someone saying “wow you’re tall!” Or “I like your nose ring” to someone they see every day. Like at a certain point, other people’s uniqueness or flair should become just part of the normal scenery and not merit running commentary. I mean, if the co-workers are human goldfish with short term memory issues … LW dressing with style shouldn’t be a surprise meriting comment at this point. Particularly when there’s likely work stuff to attend to.

            1. Things that make you go aaargh!*

              Those two things are not the same! “Wow, you’re tall!” sounds gross to me (I’m a taller than average woman). It’s a comment on something that a person has no control over and has probably heard variations of from hundreds of rude people for decades. Whereas “I like your nose ring” is probably a genuine compliment.

              1. Siege*

                It’s not a genuine compliment when it is made every time you see that person. I agree that compliments should be about what people can control but at some point my clothing needs to become scenery to my coworkers.

                1. Loulou*

                  But I wear different clothes day to day, unlike a nose ring or another relatively immutable aspect of my appearance! I don’t expect my coworkers to keep a ledger and realize they shouldn’t compliment me on my oversized bright pink pants because I also wore them two weeks ago and they complimented me on them then.

                2. Siege*

                  @Loulou But that’s not OP’s situation, is it? It’s a group of people who make comments on EVERYTHING she wears. Not someone who makes infrequent comments on one item.

      2. Despachito*

        “Because when you are larger and wearing that kind of clothing, comments on the clothing and how nice it looks is a microagression. It’s code for “we’re not going to comment on your weight, so we’ll say something about your clothes, instead.” It’s the slightly nicer, more subtle version of “how brave of you to wear that, I could never pull that off.”

        It can well be that, but it does not necessarily have to.

        This would mean that anyone saying that a larger person’s distinctive clothing looks nice would in fact be mocking them, and that there is no way to be serious and mean it, because a large person just cannot look good in that. Which I don’t think is the case.

        (I still think it is on the safe side to NEVER comment on people’s clothing, let alone bodies, positively or otherwise. Maybe very occassionally and on something which is rather an accessory, such as an interesting necklace, or rather not even that).

        1. Allonge*

          This. It can be a (micro)agression, and it can definitely feel like it but…

          I am fat and wear bright things and interesting jewelry, and thinking that everyone who ever commented on it is agressive towards me is just… a brutal view of the world. ‘Love your shoes’ is a small talk opener for a reason.

          This is not saying that OP is wrong to feel as they do! But ‘nobody ever paid a sincere compliment to a fat woman’ is just plain wrong.

          1. AJL*

            Thank you! I am saddened and dismayed by the position some commenters have taken that “A complement to a ‘fat’ woman can’t possibly be genuine and is thus always a microaggression.” That seems to embrace/internalize the fiction that ‘fat’ is a synonym for ‘unattractive.’ Such a tragic way to view the world and yourself. OP’s feelings are valid, whatever the cause, and she may absolutely be experiencing thinly-veiled slights, but my heart hurts for all of the commenters who apparently believe everyone they meet is acting with malice aforethought.

            1. Just Another Techie*

              Not a single person has said “A complement to a ‘fat’ woman can’t possibly be genuine and is thus always a microaggression.”. That’s a deliberate straw man you’ve set up there. Whatany of us have said is that “there is a real and noticeable difference between genuine compliments, and microaggressions disguised as ‘compliments'”.

              1. Gan Ainm*

                Actually Fikly did above, which is why all these comments are replies to them, setting the record straight.

          2. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

            Yeah, I have to say these comments are making me feel pretty awful about every time anyone’s told me they like my dress; it seemed genuine to me (and I have a lot of cute dresses!), and they’re typically kind people, but the fact that so many commenters are adamant about it being a coded insult about my weight has me doubting myself.

            1. Clorinda*

              You are the expert on your own life, though. If the people around you are giving you sincere compliments on your style and that makes you happy, you’re all good! OP does not have that some comfort with the people in her workplace, however.

          3. Lacey*

            Yeah, I’m not a fan of no one ever being able to compliment my outfit just because I’m over a certain dress size. I like it when people compliment my style.

            And probably part of that is because I’m rarely that put together that anyone would be excited about what I’m wearing, but all the same, I would be sorry if people got the idea that they’re somehow shaming me by noticing when I’ve got something nice on.

            1. Siege*

              Very few people are saying “no compliments are appropriate.” Most of us are saying “OP’s experience is making her feel like an unusual zoo animal in a zoo where the keepers should have figured out she is an unusual zoo animal and shut up about it a while ago.” Even OP isn’t saying compliments are unwelcome. She IS saying the volume, frequency, and repetition are feeling insincere and unwelcome and she would like to convey that to her colleagues.

        2. Phryne*

          It might be on the safe side, but if I come to work with a new outfit I’m really happy with and think I look good in I’m going to be really disappointed if absolutely no one notices or says anything. I am a heavier person and I have co-workers of all sorts of body types, sexualities and personalities and the idea that no one should ever compliment anyone on how they look today even if they clearly are wearing something extra nice or new or just look good today is really depressing.

          1. Claire W*

            I haven’t really experienced work colleagues ever commenting on each others’ clothing unless they’re significant in some way (e.g. “Oh I love that band too!” or “Oh is that from x designer? Their stuff is great”) – I’d find it weird to have colleagues comment on my outfits, and I’d find it ESPECIALLY weird to have the level of comments OP is getting.

            As another large queer woman with green in my hair currently wearing a brightly coloured striped jumper in the office and receiving zero comments, if people were making comments on these things ever. single. time I came to work it would be exhausting and absolutely feel insincere. It’s just out of the norm.

            1. Today is the Day*

              I was a sharp dresser when I worked in the office. Just my personal style. I’m a big woman too. I received compliments all the time, and I loved to compliment others too. We fashionistas will do that. No microaggression concerns, none of that. Then again, I don’t worry about it because I embrace my size.

              Note that I say nothing about the appearance of people I don’t know and actually try harder to ignore those with looks that stand out. For example, there was a man who wore what appeared to be a nun’s habit, dress, and birks in my government building. Very distinctive, but I acted like I didn’t see him. I did wonder how he arrived at dressing like this, but hey, you see all kinds of things working downtown in a big city.

              Unfortunately, this is a you can’t have your cake and eat it too situation. All OP can do, if they detect something said that is not really complimentary, is react honestly to it in the moment. But to prefer a distinctive look and then not want anyone to say anything about it may make you seem unfriendly and overly sensitive. Embrace your look, rock it, say “thank you”, and move on!

            2. Siege*

              Yep, my hair is purple and yesterday I wore striped tights, a tulle skirt with glitter stars on, a band tee and a blazer to the office. My boss was the only person (out of five in office) to comment and she asked if my hair was a different color than the last time she’d seen me. I am also fat, tall, and queer on multiple axes. This level of comment was appropriate. Cooing over how ~bold~ my fashion sense is would not hit.

        3. Chilipepper Attitude*

          I think people discounting the possibility of micro aggressions are making a very big leap in logic.
          OP is getting constant comments that make them uncomfortable and, to many, seem like micro aggressions. In no way does this mean that ALL comments to fat people are mocking them. That’s too big a leap in logic!
          We believe the OP when they say the comments are making them uncomfortable. And that could be because the comments are well intentioned but misguided comments that have at their root the belief that overweight bodies are rightly subject to extra scrutiny in our society.
          People are likely NOT thinking, let me see if I can mock OP. They may be subconsciously thinking, that looks good for a fat person. And so they comment in a way that the OP is feeling and picking up on.

          I think the comments from people who say they dress in a different or noticeable way and don’t get more comments than others around them are very helpful here. I have a very different haircut and barely get any comments tho it comes up enough that I know some ppl think it is very weird and others think it is kick-ass hair. It provokes feelings in ppl but they mostly never say anything.

          1. GythaOgden*

            I don’t think people are dismissing the possibility of microaggressions; rather, they’re saying that it’s not always that way in response to someone who was a little too blunt about it. They’re adding in nuance rather than taking it away.

            (I’m cis/het but overweight. I want to lose some weight, partly because I feel it physically when I’ve put too much on and there’s a definite difference in feeling when I lose it, and partly because I know there’s a family history of heart disease and I want to reduce my risk as much as I can in a way I can control. I get comments from my mum a lot, but have learned to filter out the negative connotations and take them as much at face value as I can. However, I recognise that this is exhausting at times and other people shouldn’t make OP do emotional labour.)

      3. LDN Layabout*

        Because when you are larger and wearing that kind of clothing, comments on the clothing and how nice it looks is a microagression.

        Only if you think the style choices of larger people are inherently non-attractive. Which feels like fatphobia in itself to be honest.

        1. Anon all day*

          I’m going to assume the best of you, as you think OP 2 should be doing, and assume that you’re not implying that Fikly is being fatphobic for pointing out fatphobia but that you are commenting on the fact that, yes, many style choices made by larger people are seen as non-attractive, as many people believe that one needs a certain body type to wear certain items of clothing. And, what is seen as fashion on a thin person is sloppy (if it’s a slouchy style) or inappropriate (if it’s a more form-fitting style) or just boring on a fat person.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        “Because when you are larger and wearing that kind of clothing, comments on the clothing and how nice it looks is a microagression. It’s code for “we’re not going to comment on your weight, so we’ll say something about your clothes, instead.” It’s the slightly nicer, more subtle version of “how brave of you to wear that, I could never pull that off.””

        This just leaves me feeling exhausted, and like we can’t say anything right nowadays. Call me a boomer, I don’t care. It reads like anything anyone ever says about someone’s appearance can’t possibly ever be viewed in a positive light. OP says she dresses in bold colours, so she stands out. People are probably trying to be nice to her, but it’s a micro agression. What’s wrong with trying to say nice things to people?

        I don’t know, I’ve only ever taken compliments as, well, compliments. Being called brave, I dunno, hadn’t seen it like that, but I’ll take the compliment. You could never pull that off? Great, that means my style is unique round here.

        I mean, I told my plain, overweight colleague that her green blouse did a beautiful job of highlighting the subtle auburn overtones in her otherwise dull brown hair (without specifying “otherwise dull brown” to her of course) and she was delighted and went out to buy other green clothes. I meant the compliment, and I also hoped that it could bolster her very fragile self-confidence, and it worked far better than I had hoped and I was really glad. But you’re telling me that it was a micro-agression? Whatever happened to sincerity and kindness?

        This is not to belittle OP’s problem, obviously if she’s fed up with the comments, she needs to shut them down a bit. But I don’t think it’s useful to start seeing nothing but evil intentions behind the compliments. I would even start with that when shutting down, saying something like “Thank you. I know you mean well when you compliment me, but I’m getting a bit fed up with people commenting on my look, so if you could refrain from saying anything, I’d be delighted.”

        1. Irish Teacher*

          I understand what you are saying, but the reality is people always felt hurt by the things people are complaining about in today’s world. It’s just that they feel more comfortable speaking up today. The reality is everybody is different and what one person intends as a compliment can upset somebody else. Doesn’t mean the first person is doing anything wrong, but it’s surely a good thing for both people that we now live in a world where the second person can say they dislike it.

          To be honest, I would feel safer speaking in a world where people will speak up and let me know if I upset them. It’s not that people are more sensitive nowadays. It’s that in the past people were hurt and didn’t feel they could say anything so we continued on saying the same thing, not realising we were hurting somebody. To me, that is much more reason to worry about what one is saying, if people don’t say anything.

          1. Stuckinacraxyjob*

            Nod. For me it’s easier to know what to say if people say ” hey knock it off” rather than eating crap in silence. I seriously can not guess! Tell my annoying self to knock it off!

        2. Batgirl*

          I don’t think anyone is trying to make a “don’t compliment fat people” rule here and I think you are good with what you said to your colleague. It sounds sincere, nice and what anyone would say to anyone. If we’re making a rule, I think it would be “don’t exoticize and fawn over your colleagues as though they’re a coup for the local zoo.” I mean, when my colleague came in wearing an uncharacteristic outfit of head to toe, hot pink, we all said something like “wow”. Of course. We didn’t keep it up for the second or third bold outfit though, because she’s not a show! OP’s colleagues should know her by now and they need to knock off the total amazement. It’s ridiculous.

        3. Revengeofpompom*

          I think part of being an adult is realizing that none of us are ever judged on our intentions alone and that other people have vastly different internal experiences than what we might think. And so you adapt, get more nuanced, apologize when necessary, and try to continue growing in empathy. Some people might find it unpleasant to have their clothing, hair, etc commented on. Any one of us might think we’re great at giving compliments, oblivious that the compliment-receiver was less than thrilled. And so note that OP’s question was not one of “how do I get all my colleagues fired for being microaggressor a-holes” but just “how do I communicate my discomfort in a way that will be understood and received?” That’s a good thing. That’s the grist of human experience! As adults that’s an experience we ALL are constantly on the receiving end of and the best we can do is take the feedback, consider it, and tweak our approach if that seems appropriate. Sure it takes effort, but that’s human relationships baby.

        4. Purple Cat*

          It’s actually a pretty standard rule ‘Don’t comment on people’s appearance at work.” It’s really not that difficult.

    5. Catherine*

      I think it’s very possible that the OP may feel that the comments (particularly in volume) may not be coming from a place of sincerity. Frequently, people who want to broadcast their Ally status are effusively laudatory about someone’s “bold” appearance as a way to demonstrate the commenter’s own acceptance or body positivity. Receiving these comments can then feel pretty crappy because it’s not about you, it’s about how the other person wants to show off how what a good ally they are.

      1. mreasy*

        With this many comments and compliments continuing over time, how could it feel sincere? You get used to someone’s style after awhile, and while calling out a haircut or top that is particularly striking is one thing, the OP is saying that her fashion & hair choices are a continual topic of conversation. I have NEVER been in a workplace where one person’s fashion is regularly discussed. It feels vanishingly unlikely that this is unrelated to her differences from the rest of the staff. OP, I wish I had a suggestion for you, this sounds exhausting.

        1. Today is the Day*

          I have been in such a workplace. People and workplaces are different, imagine that.

        2. Alice*

          I mean, it sounds like people think of being a fashionista as her hobby, just like coworkers ask me what I’m learning to play on the piano and I ask them how their favorite sportsball team is doing.

    6. 1LFTW*

      I think it might be the sheer number of people, and that the LW feels like this happens with *every* outfit and *every* color change. I have fun colors in my hair. I do it to please myself, not to evoke comment, but the handful of comments I get fall well within the realm of “goes with the territory”. But if it were 10 or 15 people? Every time? And if it were every outfit as well? I can see that feeling kind of weird, especially layering in the dynamics of queerness and size.

      As a fat person, I can affirm that there’s this thing where people seem to feel this need to compliment me on my appearance in a certain type of way that feels condescending. Like, a sort of “look at you, being all confident and trying to wear real clothes that draw the eye, instead of hiding yourself in a shapeless Burlap Sack of Shame!”. It would get real old, real fast if it happened to me as often as it happens to LW.

      1. Casper Lives*

        10-15 people does seem like a lot. I wonder if LW is noticing other ways that coworkers might condescend to them? Or something that makes LW think the comments are meant passively-aggressively? It can be hard to convey in text but I’ve witnessed stuff like that.

        My workplace doesn’t comment much on people’s appearances. Idk I wouldn’t be used that volume of comments, positive or negative.

      2. Danish*

        Yes, I wondered that too. Aren’t you so incredible, dressing like someone might actually want to look at you, in those bright colors! My, *I* would never be that brave!

      3. UpsideDown*

        Also tone is hugely important. Sometimes the words might be positive but the tone may have a hint of judgement. And then it’s like ‘are they complementing me or pointing out as something to talk about amongst themselves later?’. When you live your life in a fat body, speaking from experience, you have a pretty nuanced vibe for those kinds of subtleties of tone and whether such complements are genuine or not. It’s definitely a microaggression if the tone is judgemental, condescending, othering, etc. OP might be picking up on that but because it is subtle might not be naming it.

        Also I’m wondering whether other employees engage with the OP in any other ways? Do they have a genuine interest in fashion, do they share other interests etc? If there’s no effort to engage in other ways or it is all surface it seems potentially like a virtue signalling kind of ‘acceptance’ activity which would be pretty annoying.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          I remember decades ago when I was working as a temp, the director of marketing, a very stylish woman, walked up to me when I was wearing a new yellow and white print dress and said “oh you’re wearing yellow! Most people can’t wear yellow and look goodbye” I beamed and said thank you … but later I was like “hang on … she was being snarky”

          1. Siege*

            Yeah, my mom’s side of the family is aaaaalllllll about this. Relatedly, I haven’t seen any of them since I was twelve!

      4. Viette*

        Yeah, very much so — I can’t tell from the letter if the coworkers are saying “wow, I could *never* wear that dress”/”pink hair! good for you!” things, or simple, “I like your shoes!” comments. Are the coworkers being fatphobic and condescending, which as you say is so very possible, or the LW interpreting genuine, banal compliments as mocking? Could be either, and I’ll bet the LW can figure it out if they dissect the experiences.

        If people are being subtly horrible then pushing back is appropriate; if people are being pleasant then it would not be so helpful, I think.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          The sheer volume of comments may be a clue. I trust LWs assessment that this isn’t just run of the mill complement stuff.

        2. Loulou*

          It’s not even necessarily that OP is interpreting comments as mocking — just that the sheer volume of comments about their appearance is unwelcome or exhausting.

        3. Despachito*

          I think it is not really that necessary to decipher that.

          The key is, OP is not feeling good about those comments. If so, she should tell them and if they are decent people, they should stop it.

          I’d be prepared to have to say it several times, even to decent people. My daughter hates if anyone comments on her body or clothing, and it took her several repetitions to convey this to me. All my comments were positive, I definitely meant well, and I love my daughter, and I think I am a fairly decent person (so all conditions were favourable) nd yet it took me some time to understand that she meant it and that I should just shut up. What was hard to understand was “why is it not OK if I genuinely mean it and it is positive”?

      5. Siege*

        And also 10-15 people who know you more than Random Jane At Safeway, that’s a key part of it to me.

    7. LittleMarshmallow*

      I’m back and forth on this. I dye my hair unnatural colors (blues are my favorite but I do pinks or sometimes purple too). I’m also heavy-set but as far as anyone knows at work, I’m straight. As a female, I totally get how comments about appearance can come across weird at work. Micro aggression or whatever. But for me… I do choose to dress this way because it’s how I feel comfortable, but I also understand that it sort of invites commentary (whether it should or shouldn’t is a whole separate conversation). Now where I work my appearance is definitely not the norm, so if I change my hair color I definitely expect about a week of comments (with people in office only sometimes it takes a while to get thru it – and I’m anti-video call – no one needs to see all my chins at that angle… and don’t even get me started on companies requiring profile pics). I have so many feels about appearance I can’t even organize a proper comment, I get why LW would feel awkward and want it to stop but I don’t have a good way to make it stop, but know you’re not alone in feeling that way!

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        Oh… I also have a lot a of rage about corporate professionalism as it pertains to appearance soooo… yeah… so many feels.

    8. JSPA*

      Not to say that this is, or should be, a default, but when I’m eager to pass without comment, I default to a muted T-shirt and khaki shorts (my gender neutral uniform, so to speak) or a plain button down and vest and slacks (the job-clothes version of same). If I were rocking bright colors and patterns, it would be a way of signaling readiness for greater engagement (to be clear: about clothes, style, mood, not “about my body.”) It’s always risky to extrapolate, but…I don’t get the sense that I’m alone in treating fashion and style as social-engagement signaling?

      We’ve gotten used to curating a look in isolation, or dressing for internal validation, but…if we work in person, we can’t entirely opt out of other people engaging with our style! Clothing has deep social roots. Otherwise we would each be wrapped in a plain blanket or tarped in a simple poncho.

      I don’t know if there is an entirely polite way to say, “I dress only for me, none of you are supposed to notice or react.”

      “I have a love-hate relationship with clothing, and prefer to enjoy my clothes without discussing them” might (?) work.

      1. Allonge*

        This is about where I land: based on experience, if I wear bright green metallic (awesome!) boots, or loud jewelry, or sometimes even just bright colours, I am going to get comments on them (although definitely not from everyone – I worked at a department once where nobody ever said anything. That was low-key weird, too.). So on days when I am not ready for that, I tone it down.

        For OP, I think if it’s 10-15 people, you can still tackle it one by one using Alison’s script. It will not be an immediate cut-off change, but combining it with the grey-rock response (thanks!) will work for the well-intentioned. And hey, totally understand that it gets annoying after a while.

        1. Joielle*

          Your comment about it being weird when nobody says anything reminds me of one of my former jobs! At one point I started dying my own hair, and I never *intended* to end up with anything super bright, but there were a few mishaps, haha. Once I was going for a muted rose gold color and ended up with a SHOCKING shade of neon pink, and I didn’t have time to fix it before work the next day, so I just went with it. I got a lot of stares but nobody said anything. It was bizarre.

      2. UnicornGirl*

        I also enjoy bold bright colors (and glitter, and quirky t shirts, and fun shoes) in an industry where it’s okay, but outside the norm, but I maybe am a good control subject for a hypothetical experiment because I’m fairly average sized and straight. I do not have bright hair at the moment but I am the only person I know in my profession with a facial piercing (I’m sure there are others out there, but it’s rare.) And… I get a lot of comments too, of the type you describe. Lots. Lots lots lots. They don’t bother me though- they feel like fun small talk and they give me a brief opportunity during the workday to be like “got the blue glitter Doc Martens at a thrift store!” Which is a nice but brief break from talking mortgage escrow. So fwiw, very similar to your situation but not bothered. I’d also look at whether there’s something in their tone that’s not right here, because when you dress bright, attention to it is par for the course, I think.

        1. NYWeasel*

          I was coming to post a variant of this comment. My hairdresser and I actually use code when I’m doing color so we can be on the same page if I *don’t* want a look that’s going to be the center of attention. We call that a “second glance” color, ie you need to look a second time to notice the unusual colors. I’m a straight cis woman in an office where my style ranges from in your face to about as dull and mundane as you can imagine. I definitely hear exponentially more comments when my hair is “in your face” than I do when the color is almost gone and when I pair the bold hair with my more extravagant outfits, I hear from just about everyone at work.

          As others have asked, OP, I’m curious if there’s something you can put your finger on about the comments. At OldJob, I never did anything more than have short hair with a few shades of brown or red in it, but people would make clearly pointed comments disguised as compliments, such as “I always look at your hair in meetings because it’s so UNUSUAL…”. They never indicated liking anything about it, just that they registered that I wasn’t presenting myself in the way I was expected to. At this job, people gush about it like “OMG, is the pink special for spring?? I love it!” Bringing it back to OPs situation, the reactions described could be anything from a pointed “you don’t fit in with our narrow definition of how you’re supposed to present yourself” to a genuine desire to celebrate your colorful appearance *with* you, but it’s hard to gauge from the description here. I hope that knowing comments like this can be par for the course with favoring bright colorful looks at least helps you assess if there’s additional tone that’s indicating a harsher intent or not.

      3. Santiago*

        Yeah, this is how I feel too. I used to work in education so I sort of found OP’s comment confusing. With my friends, I dress vibrantly. But at work, I dressed in an intentionally muted way so as not to distract my students. However, when I did dress more vibrantly, I simply understood that commentary was the name of the game.

    9. Eff Walsingham*

      I agree with those who said that sheer repetitiveness might become exhausting.

      The other night, I accidentally told a very tall man that he’s very tall. I apologized before he could finish getting the look on his face. Then I told him that in my defense I was very tired, and my conversation gets less tedious, I promise! He took it well. But (1) I shouldn’t have made a personal remark about his appearance, and (2) I know how tiresome it is to have to deal with the same comments over and over. Source: I had red hair when I was younger.

      1. Today is the Day*

        Tall, short, fat, thin…totally inappropriate comments. Believe me, they already know that. This includes saying such things to children. Good that you realize you were wrong.

      2. Clisby*

        I remember how annoyed I’d get as a child when some relative I hadn’t seen in awhile would exclaim, “You’ve grown!” Like, yes, my parents keep feeding me.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        My sister and her husband are both extremely tall and I know they get comments on it all the time… but even I still can’t stop myself from commenting on it sometimes. It just slips out!

        1. Siege*

          I don’t speak for all of us, but I only mind if you keep going or get into playground taunts. :)

    10. Artemesia*

      If someone’s hair is purple this week and rainbow stripes the next and they wear bold flashy colors and unusual styles, my assumption is that they are begging for attention and it might even be seen as rejecting to NOT comment.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes! I have had times in my life where I wear bright colours, and other times I’ve been in black and grey, depending on how I feel. The bright colours: I’m feeling great, I’m ready to talk to whoever will talk to me. Grey: please don’t even say hello, I’d really rather be in a dark cave. So OP wearing bright colours is kind of inviting comment.

      2. Jaxgma*

        This. If you wear outfits that scream, “Notice me!” then I don’t think you should be surprised or feel attacked when people notice you. If your clothing is so very different than what everyone else is wearing, they may feel rude NOT commenting. It might be easiest (and more professional) if you tone it down at work, then let your bold, bright colored pattern flag fly elsewhere, when you’re not at work. Of course, you may get comments the first few days you dress more professionally because it’s such a change for you, but those should die down. Another question: What exactly are people saying that feels like a micro-aggression to you? “What a cheery color! Makes me feel happy just looking at you!” Or “You look like a clown in a freak show” are 2 very different comments. The first is intended as a compliment, the second is offensive. But again, this is all in your control. If you don’t want to stand out, then dress subtly. Even if you’re the largest, queerest person in the room, you can wear the “uniform” of the culture and show that you want to be a part of the team. Then if you STILL get comments on your appearance, it’s time to express that you’d prefer not to hear comments on your appearance and go to HR if needed.

        1. londonedit*

          I don’t really think that’s fair, though. It shouldn’t be ‘well if you don’t want people commenting, don’t dress like that’. Aren’t we all allowed to wear the things we enjoy without endless comments from people? I mean, I enjoy wearing brightly coloured and patterned shorts for running/gym – I wear them because they’re fun and I like the patterns and they brighten my day a bit. People do comment on them, of course – but there’s a difference between one or two ‘Oh I love your shorts!’ ‘You always have such fun shorts, where do you buy them?’ comments, and endless ‘You with the shorts again! You’re always wearing those shorts! You never just wear black shorts! Always really colourful! How come they’re always so bright? Wouldn’t miss YOU in the dark!’ comments. Those absolutely can start to feel intrusive – yes, I like bright shorts and I enjoy wearing them. But there’s more to me than what colour shorts I choose to wear, and there are other topics of conversation.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            That’s incredibly rude and I believe you should re-examine that belief.

        2. Claire W*

          I wear bright colours and dye my hair because they make me happy and make me feel better about myself, NOT because I want irritatingly common and condescending comments of “Oh well done you, being fat and not wearing a bunch of frills and thinning grey stripes and hiding in the corner!” Some comments are probably genuine but it’s unreasonable to assume the LW doesn’t recognise a micro-agression when it’s directed at them, and it’s also inappropriate to say “well if you dare to not dress plainly then I have the utmost right to constantly comment on your appearance regardless of it you want it or not”.

      3. Bexy Bexerson*

        I think this assumption is really unfair. Plenty of people who dye their hair wild colors and wear bold clothing are doing it simply because they enjoy having wildly colored hair and wearing bold clothing. I am one of those people. Do I like it when I get the occasional positive comment about, for example, my bright blue hair or crazy pattered vintage dress? Sure! But the potential for compliments isn’t what motivates my style. I’m not begging for anything…I just like fun hair colors and loud clothes.

      4. RabbitRabbit*

        10-15 people commenting on it? No. That is EXHAUSTING and I don’t know how she can get her work done with a constant parade of “ooooooo, your bright hair/clothes omg!” commentators. People need to dial it back a ton. Her coworkers need to stop being so easily distracted by bright things.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            That’s why she’s desperately asking for some kind of script to beg them to tone it down, because she apparently works with toddlers.

      5. Purple Cat*

        “Begging for attention”?
        How unkind.
        People seem to be forgetting the basic premise that people dress for themselves – NOT other people.

      6. Pool Lounger*

        Not everyone who dresses in interesting ways wants this. I dye my hair for me and dress for me. One short compliment, fine. But I don’t want people commenting on my looks at work every day. Reminds me of when my old boss would comment every time I wore non-identical earrings (just small fake pearl studs). Like she couldn’t grasp the concept that a trend for not-matching earrings could be a thing.

      7. Siege*

        People don’t dress at you with the frequency this comment assumes. I dress the way I dress because I like it. It’s nice to get a compliment on a well-put-together outfit, but it’s also incredibly obvious that when the coworker who doesn’t like me screams in joy about my clothes it’s insincere. It’s also obvious when people think you’re doing it for the attention. I promise, I spend no time considering how 95% strangers feel about my clothing, and unless someone is a new client, they’re not in that 5%, no matter how much attention they think I want.

    11. londonedit*

      I wonder whether the OP means ‘microaggression’ in a sort of ‘death by a thousand cuts’ way – possibly not the absolute correct usage of the word, but they mean it in an ‘I know the odd comment here and there doesn’t sound like much, but when it’s tons of comments every day I’m in the office, it all adds up and makes it feel like a much bigger thing’ way.

      I can see how it would be exhausting to keep having the same comments being made – of course, when people first meet OP and are getting used to their bright colours and changing hair, it’s fair that there would be a few ‘Wow! Another bright dress!’ or ‘Green hair now! How often do you change it??’ comments, but after six months you’d think people would be used to it and would accept it as part of who OP is. They should be able to come to work wearing the clothes they like without feeling like it’s just going to invite endless comment. I wonder whether a few breezy ‘Yep, you know I change my hair a lot!’ comments would help? You’d hope people would get bored and find something else to comment on.

      1. Batgirl*

        I took that word to mean OP felt they were being othered and patronised, so something cringey like “Oooh girl you are fab- YOU-lous” while finger snapping themselves for being so right on, and okay with the queer fat people.

    12. bee*

      Yeah, I think an exploration into what feels Off would benefit OP #2, that’s really good advice! I am fat and queer and have had rainbow hair in the past (I miss it!!) and I definitely fall into the camp of enjoying the compliments/comments and just kind of assuming they come with the territory—but since OP is getting an odd vibe it’s worth really probing to see if that’s coming from externally or internally. I genuinely think either is equally likely! And from just what’s in the letter, it’ll be hard for any of us in the comments to tell for sure.

      Also I want to posit post-pandemic awkwardness as a possible cause for the volume of comments. People have forgotten how to small talk! And something attention-catching is an easy place to start if you’re rusty. And while six months can feel like a while, if you’re only in two days a week, they’ve seen you >50 times probably—with even one or two hair color changes that can seem like a Lot of change, even though it might not register as much if you were seeing each other every day.

      1. Bertha*

        I read the OP’s letter as not being in the office for the entire six months – “I started a new job at a dream organization about six months ago, and we’re back in the office a couple times per week. ” I feel like if the OP had been in the office all 6 months, there wouldn’t have been a clarification that they are “back in the office”.. which makes me think that this hasn’t been happening for six full months. And the reason this matters at all is that depending on how long this has been going on, I think people WILL start finding it less novel.

        I follow a ton of plus size and queer fashion bloggers on Instagram, and I’m a cis-straight/border of plus-size person.. I dress rather blandly because I just don’t have the eye to put together outfits, although I occasionally attempt to spice it up. So I appreciate when someone can put together an outfit, and I can see myself being the person who would compliment you, and I’m sure it would come across awkward because I’ve forgotten how to people in the last two years — that’s another thing, so many people forgot how to NOT BE WEIRD working from home the past two years. So, coming from the world of following fashion bloggers, I would just never think twice about complimenting you.

        I don’t even know if a whole script is necessary – if you just said “Thank you” and changed the subject — rather than what usually happens when I compliment a clothing item, which is a discussion of the origin of the item or if it was on sale, ha –most people would be able to tell that you don’t care to talk about it. Combine this with slowly it all becoming less novel, and I think it will die down.

  4. Another Ashley*

    LW2 my suggestion is to consistently give a very lackluster response and quickly change the topic.
    Coworker:”oh you changed your hair again. I like it.”
    You: “Yep. Are there still doughnuts in the kitchen.”

    1. John Smith*

      I’d go with this. Or maybe not even a comment but just a quick smile followed by topic changer. I have a colleague who insists on complimenting people on their jackets (nothing special about all them, he just has a thing for jackets). Some people don’t mind and in fact make a game by turning up in outlandish jackets. For me, it’s very tiresome and somewhat awkward.

      For the LW, I’d try toning down the clothes and hair colour for a bit and see if comments continue. If they do, I’d say the reason behind the comments are not the clothes.

      1. pancakes*

        “Try changing your wardrobe and hair color as an experiment” is calling for quite a bit of effort.

    2. Scamel from the rocks*

      This is my advice as well! I think even though you’ve been there 6 months you’re still “new” by office standards and this will fade with time. I think the more you can respond with a quick “ha yes, bright as usual!” and move on the quicker it will go away. If it becomes clear you’re not interested in discussing clothes and possibly even a bit uncomfortable, people will back off.

      I completely get why this feels uncomfortable to you. I think it can come to seem a bit exoticizing, like you’re soooo different and worthy of constant comment. Kind of like a coworker from an “exotic” foreign country might get a slightly unpleasant explosion of “oh Jennifer, do you do it this way in MALAYSIA???” etc in every conversation at first. It’s likely to recur when someone joins ” this is LW2, she always has the MOST AMAZING HAIR!!!!!” “This is Jennifer, she’s from MALAYSIA!!!!!” but then fade again.

    3. Batgirl*

      All of this, plus a dour or puzzled expression:
      (eyebrow crinkle) “Oh. Yeah.”
      (bafflement) “I like my clothes too…Where is the TPS report?”
      (blinks) “Um this is my usual look, but thanks! How is your puppy?

      1. willowcabin*

        I absolutely think the LW should keep her style. I wonder if the solution might be using the next month to react individually to each person as the comments come up – phrasing it as a personal preference rather than a broader social interdiction that the complimenter should have been aware of: eg ‘you’re so kind to be so generous about my style, but I’ve found I’ve reached saturation of talking about it – tell me about your [hobby/work project]’
        But – if a person dyed their hair a new colour every few weeks, and with each change I said ‘new hair! The pink looks great!’ and they looked ‘dour and puzzled’, or ‘baffled’, as suggested above, I think I would reckon they were having an unusual and impolite reaction to a completely normal social interaction.

        1. Batgirl*

          I think the key is that your examples*are* normal social interactions and people wouldn’t have to perform comfort or hide their discomfort with a phrase so straightforward. The OP is not encountering that, they are experiencing a very hot and never-ending spotlight. They are not low key or move-on-able. It’s okay to crease your eyebrow a little if it’s a truthful reflection of your feelings (and I mean in benign bafflement, or bashfulness or whatever feels true or comfortable, not to throw them a look of absolute disgust) at the umpteenth comment and say “yeah, so, anyway….” and to let people feel put out by the lack of gratitude if they really need to. I think it’s kinda fascinating people are putting themselves in the place of the wowed spectators, instead of the person who feels like a spectacle to be honest. I do agree the “phrasing as a personal preference” is definitely a valid strategy though.

    4. Auntie Mame*

      As a zoftig chronic overdresser, I’ve found success by doing the opposite. I get a lot of “I could never wear that, but on you it looks amazing!” which I loathe and can never tell what to do with. So I lean all the way in and tell the person exactly how they could and isn’t their shirt lovely and oh, that bag! Either they leave feeling good (which is fine) or are so exhausted by the subject they never comment again.

      1. Unaccountably*

        I would love you for that first one. So many people wear looks I absolutely love but when I try them on in stores I just feel awful and weird. In an ideal world I would have someone to just follow me around Instagram going “Unaccountably, here is how you can adapt this look for yourself and not feel stupid and ugly!”

        So on behalf of hapless people like me, thank you for doing that. Whether you mean well by it or not, I’d take it.

  5. Former GM*

    LW5 – I’ve had a job that was quite that flexible with working from home (pre pandemic) and coming and going in the office – basically as long as clients were complaining to the CEO, we, as managers, has freedom. And then switched to a job that was VERY rigid and VERY set hour – but was more pay. And from my experience – that freedom is worth SO MUCH. You’re more than likely doing the right thing by declining the offer.

    1. Casper Lives*

      Yes. I had a job where the boss/owner was obsessed with butts in seats. He had the front desk admin track when we arrived. He would call different offices at 5 pm to make sure we were there. If you were in the office doing something else, you got questioned.

      That was the tip of the iceberg of toxicity.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, this is really the thing.
        There’s no way a company whose regular practice is to demand explanations for showing up a couple minutes late isn’t *also* unreasonable in a bunch of other ways.

    2. Cold and Tired*

      Agreed! I moved laterally within my company to a role that allowed me to be remote and cut out most work travel (and was actually a 40-45 hour a week job instead of a 50-60 hr/week one). I have so much more freedom with my time and lifestyle now. Yes, I get paid less than I would have at this point in my old role, but I also am not eternally on the edge of burnout and am so much happier, so it’s 100% worth it. Flexibility really is a huge perk that shouldn’t be undervalued.

    3. amoeba*

      I agree that such an inflexible job probably wouldn’t be for me (as it would make it hard to organise my life around and also I’d probably just be super annoyed with the policy) but if it’s really 9-5 and not a minute longer, I can certainly see the appeal of that as well – no overtime, ever again doesn’t sound so bad if you can deal with the rest!

      (The limited PTO is a different story, that’s just… not for me.)

      1. GythaOgden*

        This is where working reception has its advantages. Yes, the hours are set in stone and you have to be there on the dot of 9 even when, like today, very little is actually happening, but when you leave at 5 (or 4 as we do now), you don’t have to take the job with you.

        I have a postgraduate degree and while I enjoyed my subjects and loved studying, I found myself ‘on the clock’ too much. The work didn’t end when your classes ended, and there was never a time when my autistic brain could fully switch off. I did develop coping mechanisms, such as evening deadlines (no work beyond 10pm at night – I never pulled an all-nighter but treated it like a deadline to ensure I got the best work done and had at least some time to wind down before bedtime) but I was so relieved to get a job when I graduated both from my BSc and then from my Masters where I could come home at 5 o’clock and paint my Warhammer figures or knit or whatever. My mother and sister were/are teachers and they love their jobs but used to envy their 9-5 peers who had evenings free of anything work-related.

        So it depends! But yes, I suspect many people on this blog with the kind of jobs Alison talks about more than mine are much more flexible and value that flexibility more than rigidity. In an ideal world both kinds of people would have their own organisations and not impinge on the other’s preference. Sadly, the world is not ideal :(.

      2. EPLawyer*

        I thought that too. Hey, 9-5 only awesome. But if you read it in conjunction with the next sentence, the not one minute later applies to the 9 and the not one minute earlier applies to the 5. It doesn’t really say no overtime.

        A place that MARCHES you to senior management if you are late, probably expects you to work late with no complaint if THEY deem it necessary. But no flexibility if there was an accident on the way to work, or traffic was unexpectedly heavier than usual. they probably also expect you to make it in no matter the weather — and ON TIME.

        1. A Simple Narwhal*

          This is an excellent thing to point out. I had so much stress at past jobs that had zero flexibility in start time despite no business reason for it, I remember freaking out/panicking every time there was extra traffic or some other delay beyond my control. At my current job (back before switching to wfh) it’s just not a thing. We have/had times we should roughly be in, but there was never any issue with when we actually appeared. It probably helps that it’s a downtown location and lot of people take public transportation, so it’s just an accepted fact that sometimes trains do whatever they want and there’s nothing you can do about it. But it made life so much easier to never have to worry or stress about it, it’s definitely a valuable thing to have in a job.

    4. Lacey*

      Oh yes. I am not paid super well at my job, but I’d have to have one heck of an offer to take a job that required me to be in the office now that I’ve had a taste of WFH bliss.

      1. Anonym*

        Yes, this x infinity. Unless you’re going to magically add time to my day/week/year/lifespan to make up for all the wasted commuting time AND give me an office so I can actually get work done efficiently (open office = very bad for productivity), it’s not happening. Money won’t give me that time back, and life is short and unpredictable. I’m fortunate to have gotten to a salary level that allows me to save and breathe reasonably easy. I cannot take my checkbook to the Fates and buy more life.

      2. A Feast of Fools*

        Yup. I’ve gotten a LOT of emails / messages from recruiters for jobs that are a slight bump in seniority and pretty good bump in pay but. . . they all require 3-5 days in the office a week. That’s a hard Nope for me now.

        I had no idea how burned out and physically ill I was pre-pandemic when I did 5 days in the office every single week. WFH let me taste what being healthy and rested is actually like. Unless I have to do it for survival, I’ll never work 5 days a week in an office again.

    5. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes, freedom and flexibility is worth so much! Especially if you’re not desperate for a new job right now, you’re much better off turning this offer down and finding a job that does offer flexibility and the extra money. You’re not asking for anything exorbitant or out of the ordinary, I don’t think there’s any need to jump on this particular offer.

    6. TheRain'sSmallHands*

      My long term job had that flexibility – in the 2000s. We could work from home, set our own hours. I DID take 10pm calls with Asia, but I also left every day by 4 to get kids from daycare. And especially with kids it was really nice. Later, when my kids were in high school I worked a job where 8 to 5 was expected and not more than an hour for lunch – and was miserable (it was also toxic in other ways).

      And honestly, I don’t really like working from home (although now I run a small business from home, so there is that). I like an office where I can see people who aren’t my husband. I like the separation of work life and home life and always had bad discipline about both on work from home days. But the flexibility to do it once a week so when my kids were little one day a week they got to ride the bus! and come home to a mom ready with a snack! instead of going to after school care gave them a taste of both sorts of life.

    7. Hired Hacker*

      Oh yes. Freedom has no price. Plus, LW#5, that employer is strictly requesting in-office and 9-to-5 without a valid reason. This sound dysfunctional/micromanaging to me and it’s a big red flag. I bet that if you take the job, you’ll discover another ton of red flags.

      Don’t go there.

    8. Flexible Worker*

      Totally agreed – you’re not alone, LW5! I had something very similar happen a couple months ago. I had been looking very intensely to leave my job, got an offer that I was really excited for and offered so much of what I was looking for in my career, and then it turned out that they had much less PTO than I have now and very limited ability for remote work, and were unwilling to negotiate on either. I told them that I value the flexibility my current position provides me, but understood it wasn’t what they needed from the role.

      And now, it’s given me a whole new outlook on my current job! Planning trips to see family where I can work remote, scheduling a long weekend, or even just when I can choose not to commute on a given day – it’s all made me much more appreciate of what flexibility gives me. And it makes the parts of my job I don’t like so much more manageable in a way I never expected until going through this.

  6. Mickey*

    Regarding Number 3 – in my industry (IT and software development), external recruiters do sometimes pay for successfully placed referrals to people who don’t work for the client company! It’s not incredibly common but I’ve been paid a small 3-figure sum once (much smaller than what an employee might have been given for a referral) and had it offered a few other times. This is often called a “talent referral program” and there might be a way to inquire about the existence of such a program that wouldn’t be quite as crass as asking for payment directly.

    1. MK*

      I don’t think there is a graceful way to ask about this after the fact. If the OP had turned down the position, and then asked if the recruiter wanted her to mine her network for a possible lead, then yes.

      Also, in my view (which could be not common) a referral isn’t simply “A name popped into my head and I mentioned it”, it requires at least some thought put into considering a likely candidate. And in the case of companies who offer bonuses to their employees, it means they are in general on the lookout for good prospects. That’s what makes it worthy of compensation.

      1. tamarack & fireweed*

        I agree with this comment and the preceding one upthread.

        When a recruiter, who’s getting paid, is activating their network and getting candidate suggestions from other people who aren’t recruiters, I think it’s ok to keep on the table that something is, or should be, in it for the suggesters. For me, the “thing I get out of it” would be to help someone I care about – especially, one of the students who worked with me or our team – to get into a desirable job. I could care less about the recruiter or the company. I wouldn’t go at it with the mindset of helping the *recruiter* to do their job better… or else asking “is this something you do on a fee share basis by any chance?” should be 100% ok. Beforehand.

    2. Nikki*

      I was surprised to see Alison say this isn’t a thing that happens. I also work in IT and I’ve been offered as much as $2500 for referring successful candidates to external recruiters. It’s something that’s discussed up front, though, so I doubt the LW could negotiate something like this after the fact.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It’s the timing that’s important. You’re offered the money upfront, before you even mention any names. OP is only thinking of it now that the person she mentioned has already been hired.

      2. Corey*

        > I was surprised to see Alison say this isn’t a thing that happens.
        > It’s something that’s discussed up front, though

        The response was about after-the-fact compensation. So what are you talking about.

        1. Nikki*

          “Asking for compensation for suggesting a candidate to a recruiter would come across as strange and out-of-touch. That’s not a thing that normally happens (outside of internal referral programs within a company, of course, but that’s not what this was).”

          This statement makes it sound like any compensation for a recommendation is unusual outside of referral programs inside a company. She addresses after the fact compensation in the next paragraph but this one is saying it’s unusual for external recruiters to offer referral bonuses, which is not my experience.

  7. crafty75*

    LW2 – I’ve always worked at super casual, arty offices, so I’m surprised to have this take: I’m not sure it’s realistic to wear loud, bold clothing and constantly changing brightly-colored hair and expect no one to comment on your appearance. The decision to present like a tropical bird at an office full of robins implies that head-turning clothes are your preferred vehicle for self-expression, and its possible your colleagues interpret your style as attention-seeking. Isn’t this why so many companies have dress codes, and why the dreaded ‘business casual’ is a thing? I think styling yourself more neutrally when you’re at the office would be the fastest way to shut down the comments.

      1. crafty75*

        When I had pink hair, people wanted to talk to me about pink hair, which was fine with me. When my natural hair grew out, no one talked to me about my hair. When I wear fancy bright green shoes, people notice and compliment them. Brown shoes? Nothing. YMMV.

    1. Stitch*

      Yes, in my office for a while a lot of people had multicolored hair (a lot of people actually went to the same stylist) and it was a regular topic of conversation.

    2. LittleMarshmallow*

      Rage about appearance aside… I do find, that if I answer very matter of factly when someone comments (as though ever changing hair color is just normal), usually the conversation ends quickly.

      Examples: what color will your hair be when you come back from vacation? Same as it is now, I don’t have a hair appointment over vacation (I have responded to This question with, same color but I’ll probably have a new tattoo). You dyed your hair! Yes… yes i did. Oooh I love your hair! Thanks, I was due for a touch up. This probably doesn’t help if LW is getting 10-15 comments a day which is excessive… I don’t think I even interact with 10-15 people a day… but maybe.

    3. Despachito*

      This is what I am thinking too – I’d interpret is as somehow mixed signals. The changes OP is describing sound pretty distinctive and it seems that people interpret them as a statement and act accordingly. So more neutral styling or perhaps less frequent radical changes (like choosing a bright color for your hair but not change it so frequently) might do the trick.

      (If the styling was more neutral and still evoking comments, I would think about saying ” please stop commenting on my body”, and you can of course say that even now )

      1. DataSci*

        I really don’t think OP should have to change their style to avoid unwanted comments on their appearance.

        I’m absolutely floored by the people who think that appearance is their only possible avenue for small talk for someone they interact with daily. There are so many other options! Pets, kids, hobbies, sports, TV, books, etc. Try branching out a bit!

        1. JMR*

          I agree, but someone’s hair going from orange to pink is so much more noticable! I don’t if someone’s kid got into Dartmouth or adopted a dog until we talk a bit, but I can see their outfit and aspects of their appearance right off the bat. If I sit down to lunch with someone, we’re going to get into hobbies and travel and books, but if it’s a quick interaction, like I walk into an elevator with someone and need to make small talk for 60-90 seconds, it’s going to be about the most obvious topics possible – an upcoming holiday, the weather, or about their cool new bright green shoes. I get how it could be tiring if 60 people a day are commenting on your hair color, but I think it’s a natural thing for people to make superficial small talk about, and the OP just sort of needs to figure out how to be not as drained by it.

      2. tamarack & fireweed*

        I understand that many people think that but I would wish they were more thoughtful about it. “More neutral” is not the easier or safer option for some. I don’t want to guess the attitude of LW1, but for me, and for a bunch of other people (and yeah, I connect it to my queerness), “neutral” is only something I’ll be failing at.

        Commenting on flamboyant outfits with regularity (more than occasionally, and continuing to when not getting signals back that the compliment is welcome) should not be happening more than commenting on someone’s gray cashmere turtleneck and charcoal slacks.

        And I write this as someone who enjoys giving compliments, and also loves to receive them… from the right people in the right tone. It’s a proof-in-the-pudding situation, which makes it so hard to get it wrong (= a situation where restraint is preferred absent clear signals to the contrary).

        1. TyphoidMary*

          “for a bunch of other people (and yeah, I connect it to my queerness), “neutral” is only something I’ll be failing at.”

          Thank you so much for articulating this so well. One of the reason I realized I was trans is that the people around me made it VERY clear that I was not performing my AGAB* correctly, no matter how hard I tried.

          It’s like…. do I want a ton of uncomfortable comments on top of the dysphoria, or just the uncomfortable comments but at least less dysphoria?

          *assigned gender at birth

    4. Also loud bright and queer*

      Nah, I think there’s something a bit weird going on in OP’s workplace.

      I am also a loud, fat, queer person with very bright hair that changes constantly. And I’d say at this point the only people who really comment on my appearance are people who I haven’t seen in a while (“hey wasn’t your hair blue the last time I saw you??”)

      The people I work with every day don’t comment on my appearance, except in the normal way that people sometimes do. (“Did you get a haircut? It looks great!”)

      This is just the way I look, and I do think it’s a bit odd to be getting effusive comments constantly from 10+ people for six months.

      People wearing clothes that they like doesn’t mean that they aren’t allowed to be annoyed when people are weird about it.

      1. MsSolo UK*

        Yes, this is where I land, as another larger unnatural hair colour person. It’s normal to get comments from people who don’t see you regularly, but people you see every week? Commenting every single time? LW’s style is consistent, even if the colours change. If you wouldn’t gush over someone who wore a grey sweater yesterday and a black sweater today, it’s weird to gush over someone changing from a purple striped dress to a yellow polka dot dress.

        (I do know people who would gush, and they are consistent – that black sweater is just as charming to them as the purple dress)

        Even if it’s all in completely good faith, there’s a strong vibe of “we have learned one thing about LW, so this is the one small talk we can make”, but I strongly suspect LW’s correctly identifying the bad faith vibe of “we want to comment on your appearance as a large queer woman, and this is the socially acceptable sidestep we’ve identified”. Either way, it’s about learning as little as they can about her while performing friendliness, and focusing on her appearance instead of her work.

      2. High Score!*

        I’m cis, average weight, and if I wear anything bright or change my hair, it attracts comments. I purposely wear clothing that allows me to blend in.
        I won’t even wear a t shirt that has any sort of printing anywhere bc people see it as an invitation to comment and, as an introvert, I don’t want to continually engage.

      3. Unaccountably*

        Same. I work in a pretty conservative place and have purple hair that no one really comments on anymore. Sometimes I’ll get a couple of comments when I change from purple to blue or something.

        The thing is, when I first dyed my hair purple (accidentally, believe it or not), I was the only person in the office with nonstandard hair color and multiple ear piercings. Now there several of us and no one cares. As more people who are used to vibrant hair colors enter the workforce, hair color and piercings and visible tattoos are only going to get more commonplace. Openly queer people, too, are not rare birds anymore, nor are people who wear bright colors.

        All this is to say that I wonder if OP2’s hiring manager didn’t assume a little too much about how smoothly OP would fit into the office culture. If it’s full of “You must dress like a 1950s sitcom or you’re The Future Liberals Want” type of people, OP2 might be better served by just finding a better fit somewhere else.

      4. quill*

        Also, at this point: there have to be repeats. If you comment on someone’s lime green sneakers every time they wear them, and also their dusty pink sneakers, and also their navy blue sneakers… you’re being extremely weird about the shoes and need to quit it.

    5. Charlotte*

      I think a lot of people are magpies – attracted to bright colours and patterns, and when we see them, something primitive goes off – probably the same thing that made our ape ancestors excited when they found ripe fruit, or lady parrots accept the attentions of colourful male parrots – ‘ooh bright colour! Me like! Me express like!’

      If it’s the same people issuing daily comments, you could quietly say to them “It’s really sweet that you like my outfits, but when I’m getting hit with 15 fashion commentaries a day it gets a bit tiring, maybe restrict it to a couple of times a month?” And keep in mind that your coworkers are in awe of your fabulousness.

    6. Riley and Jonesy*

      Has anyone watched Severence? Where each day at the office is same old, same old, just staring at a screen, dying a little inside because of the uniformity of each day? Where even a melon party can seem like the most bonkers fun thing ever?
      That’s how my office can feel like sometimes. And folk become over excited about even the smallest change. A new winter coat will be exclaimed over! You decided to get those bangs! Is that a new company logo stress ball?!
      People enjoy novelty. I love my desk neighbours hai because it changes colour like the horse in the Wizard of Oz. Perhaps No2 OP is just getting compliments because life is dull and super weird right now and they are a tiny spark of colour and joy.
      But if it’s not making them happy then Alisons script is good. I’d be horrified to know I was upsetting someone by chatting about their hair colour.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I think also a lot of people aren’t used to being back in an office environment yet, and a lot of people have spent the last two years working in leggings and sweatshirts, so a combination of not quite remembering how social interactions work and not being used to dressing up/seeing other people dressed up might be contributing to all the interest (in an ‘OMG you’re wearing heels, I haven’t worn heels for two years, I swear I’d fall over if I tried now, I think I’m going to spend the rest of my life in trainers’ sort of way).

        1. pancakes*

          I do think that’s some of it. It sounds as if this group has been back in the office for a while now, though only a couple times per week. Many people are probably still leading less social than pre-pandemic normal lives outside of that.

          1. Scout*

            And it sounded to me like they’ve only been back a short time, lol, because OP’s only been there six months total and “we’re back in the office” just a couple of times a week.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Oh yeah, tiny sources of excitement, like the day they introduced a new colour for the poop bags at the dog park. We were in mid-lockdown, everything was closed and we were all bored, then wow! white poop bags, but without the handles so you couldn’t tie it shut as easily.

        1. Riley and Jonesy*

          That is the tiniest hill of joy to party on Rebel! And yet, I totally get it. I got overexcited when the canteen at work started selling banana bread again.

    7. Sunny*

      I’d assume their comments go beyond what we’re thinking of when we hear about receiving compliments on dressing / hair. Like I don’t think LW is complaining about people saying “hey, cool jacket!” when they wear a neon yellow jacket, it’s likely a lot more over the top and misaligned with the usual kind of comments they receive out of the office.

      I also love bold patterns and I have certain pieces that I know people will comment positively on when I wear them. When I dye my hair pink, I know I’ll get a few comments! But I’m a thin, white, straight presenting (though not straight) woman and I get maybe… three or four compliments from people? At most in a day? Usually along the lines of “oh, I love your pants!” and then that’s it. It sounds like what LW #2 is talking about falls well outside the spectrum of regular comments — 10 to 15 people is pretty excessive even for a bold dresser. And every time they’re in the office? Even people I know with really over the top styles don’t get that frequency of comments unless they are doing something really over the top or we’re talking about makeup/fashion/etc and it’s brought up how they always have a cool style.

      There’s also the potential for over positivity so people can Look Like An Ally — I know I’ve been guilty of this before where I overly compliment someone’s hair/outfit because I want them to feel like it was noticed that they look cool! But after reflecting on this, I realized that is not a great way to make someone feel welcome because I am othering them with the subtext of “you look nice but I noticed because you are different from me”. The intention is to make them feel welcome and appreciated but then it ends up having the opposite effect which is not good! Thinking about this helped me tone it down and give people compliments if I genuinely mean it and in a way I would also want to be complimented. “I love the blue in your hair!” is more what I go with — not “Oh wow your hair looks SO good! I really like it, it looks really nice. The blue is really cool. It looks great on you!”.

    8. Delphine*

      I agree with this. But I can also see how something like this could become one of the office’s “go-to” topics. Currently the go-to topic in our office is some mysterious construction that’s been going on for two months next door. It becomes like talking about the weather–a reliable, low-stakes conversation starter. It’s just unfortunate that here the topic is the LW. Feeling that scrutinized is tough.

      I don’t think the LW is going to have much luck preventing people from complimenting frequent major changes, such as hair styles or hair colors. But for day-to-day things like outfits, they might be able to steer the conversation away one person at a time.

    9. Beth*

      So there’s some truth in this (people absolutely interpret flashy style as inviting commentary), but I want to push back on it being something that OP can work around by simply dressing down.

      My experience as a fat person is, if I am wearing clothes that look plain but polished, well fitted, and professional, people will comment on how well dressed I am–not because I’m better dressed than everyone else, but because it’s considered remarkable for a fat body to look polished and appealing. Similarly, I watch my trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming friends dress in a way that fits their identity, and I see how often cishet people treat their appearance as an oddity that invites commentary–regardless of whether their style is tropical-bird-bright or polished-but-laid-back, because the thing that’s seen to be odd is their body in that style, not necessarily the style itself.

      Dressing neutrally enough to avoid comment is only actually possible when your body fits what society expects to be ‘normal’. For the rest of us, having a neutral appearance isn’t possible. Our options are to invite commentary by being perceived as polished/stylish/flashy/etc, or to invite commentary by being perceived as sloppy/unprofessional/weird/etc. I’m betting this isn’t something OP can avoid by trying to fade into the background.

  8. Tinkerbell*

    LW4, given the current employment environment and the fact that your part-time job pays better than your “real” one, you could use it to increase your bargaining power: “I was offered an opportunity which allowed me to develop some new skills and which was compensated at a more attractive rate than what CurrentCompany is able to offer. It’s a lot to do, to be sure! It’s a temporary situation, though, and one I could see leaving on good terms if my new job’s salary were more in line with what I’m looking for.” (If you’re obligated to stick around until a specific project is done, you can say that too! I suspect the ideal answer falls somewhere between “I’ll drop them immediately if you need me” and “I am a responsible employee so of course I won’t leave them in the lurch.”)

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      As well as making up the salary gap it sounds like the startup work is providing OP with additional experience and skills on top of her main job which (depending on what they are and how well they fit with her career path) may make her a much more attractive candidate down the line in the future. There’s opportunity cost here in giving up the startup job which isn’t just about the salary.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I was also wondering whether they might not want to turn their side hustle into a full-time job.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I wondered that as well. If it’s so great, why isn’t OP trying to get more hours there? Maybe they only want OP for part-time but if it’s a start-up it seems like there’s a strong possibility that they are looking for more help.

        1. LW#4*

          Hi, I’m the person who asked about #4. I really appreciate everyone’s input here! Almost immediately after I submitted this question I started working with a career coach, I have my second session today. My goal is to eventually leave both of these jobs for one job that is a better fit for me, personally and financially. In response to the first comment, if I’m being honest, I am too scared to try to leverage my side-hustle for a raise. I am afraid they will use it as an excuse to get rid of me in the next org restructure. I can’t risk that until I have something solid lined up that I know I’m good at/can succeed at.

          Liz, to answer your question, I don’t feel comfortable moving to the startup full-time because it is not secure/stable enough for me. They have had a number of financial issues during my short tenure. Shortly after I started I went a month without being paid due to a banking issue. If I didn’t know and trust someone close to the owner I wouldn’t have stayed at all. Additionally, I don’t feel confident enough in my coding skills to commit to doing it full-time. This is changing slowly as I gain more experience though.

  9. HHD*

    LW2 – thank you for pointing out something I’ve been doing without thinking and need to change. In my case it’s one comment as small talk, usually about stockists, as I’m also on team fat, bright and queer but that doesn’t make it OK, and I hated it early in my career. If it’s a topic of conversation, as in people are talking about your hair/clothes without you being involved I can also see how this could feel like the “mean girls” type bullying and insincerity a lot of us experienced at school, which can genuinely hurt, and be blooming exhausting.

    Responses that shut it down in the moment are your friend – minimal interaction and “I’m comfortable and getting on with work, did you have a question about work” type scripts. If it doesn’t settle, a quick check in with your manager on your corporate culture and how this is making you feel as a minority can also be helpful.

    The other thing is to make sure you’re making time to check in with yourself and move on at the end of a day/week.

  10. short'n'stout (she/her)*

    LW2, I’m disappointed at the comments here telling you to tone down your look and accusing you of attention-seeking, when it’s perfectly reasonable for you to dress in a way that feels authentic to you and go about your day without your appearance being a constant topic of conversation.

    I don’t have any concrete advice, but I will say that your colleagues are rude, but hopefully only due to ignorance, and a few reminders of the courtesy that they should have learned in kindergarten ought to fix the problem.

    1. Rainbow*

      Also, I did used to wear bright clothes as kind of an attention-grabbing thing. Not deliberately in an attention-seeking way I think/hope, but I liked brights and benefitted from being memorable. I am neurodivergent and am okay with some level of attention, but intense social attention like my own birthday party (please, no) are very troubling to me.

      There’s a level of “great shirt!” that’s nice and unobtrusive, then there’s a whole different level of barely-concealed “what is she doing now?!”. And if the conversation is only 3 minutes for them but every one of thirty colleagues gives their own 3 minutes, it ends up piling up to be a lot for OP.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yeah, this is the thing. Some people wear things that garner attention and they like that attention. And if your coworkers think you’re that person, they think noticing your colorful clothes and hair are sending you warm fuzzies instead of cold pricklies.

      2. Avril Ludgateau*

        Not deliberately in an attention-seeking way I think/hope, but I liked brights and benefitted from being memorable.

        There’s no shame in attention-seeking. Unless it is significantly disruptive or somehow anti-social (like being destructive, cruel, violent, etc.) there really, truly isn’t anything wrong with it; we are social creatures and we seek each other’s approval by nature. Some of us do it by being eccentric, others by being accommodating, others by being effusive… But we all do it.

        That said, wanting to be memorable – acting in ways that make you stand out in order to be memorable – is literally attention-seeking.

        1. Unaccountably*

          Yeah, I think it needs to be said that some people only dress to please themselves, and that’s okay; but some people actually do dress to please others, or to attract attention from others, and that should be okay too.

          The way I dress at work, like the way most people dress at work, is a compromise. I’m wearing something comfortable for me that will still communicate what I want it to communicate. It’s the difference between seeking attention and shaping a message. They’re different functions and I think people sometimes get that confused in their attempt to move the Overton window toward “human” and away from “office drone.”

        2. RagingADHD*

          This is true!

          Sometimes people use the term “attention-seeking” to describe being an emotional vampire – the kind of person who gets very upset if they aren’t the center of attention all the time, or who does self-destructive, manipulative or cruel things to control people’s attention. Emotional blackmail, pathological lying, that kind of thing.

          Wearing cool stuff because you get positive responses from people is just a way of being gregarious. That’s pro-social, not anti-social.

    2. Christopher*

      Clothes serve two purposes. Cover our bodies, and look interesting. If someone wears interesting clothes, it only stands to reason people are going to be interested.

      The only concrete advice to be given is the advice you’ve already discounted. Unless the co workers are being inappropriate, commenting on appearances is normal and human.

      Case in point: Make it a firable offense to mention a new haircut, and the entirety of the human race is out of work by 2024.

      1. Valancy Snaith*

        Clothes are, in many, many ways, a way to communicate. They say something about the version of you that you wish to present to the world. To discount that fact is pretty short-sighted, considering that many, many, many people, the vast majority of people, choose their clothes with an eye to how the world will see them.

        A lot of the responses in these comments are going to negatively impact the LW’s relationship with her co-workers, because most people, when giving a genuine compliment, are going to be offended if it gets thrown back at them with a response like “Mmm.” Something to bear in mind.

        1. SMG*

          But I think the clothes can communicate without having to talk about it. Sometimes body language and non-verbal cues are meant to replace verbal discussion. People know who OP is. They know their style. They’ve come to know their personality. Do their coworkers have to double and triple down on that form of communication.

          It’s like saying “I’ve noticed that you have packed up your things. That must mean you’re ready for the meeting to end. I’ll do the same.”

          It can get exhausting to have every version of expression turned into a damn conversation.

          1. Dinwar*

            If you’re quietly packing up your things no one should comment on it. If you’re breaking into a Broadway song to announce your departure every time, expect comment. Or consider email–if you’re capitalizing, italicizing, and adding multiple exclamation marks all over the place, people will notice.

            Loud, flashy cloths are the clothing equivalent of shouting, at least in a professional setting. It’s reasonable to expect people to react to something like that.

            Of course, it’s also reasonable to be sick of having the same conversation over and over. After a person makes a dramatic change for the tenth time, it’s reasonable to expect people to become used to the change.

            To add to this, we have the issue of…not really sexuality, but the culture associated with it. Certain groups have adopted certain ways of dressing, as is normal in any culture. Trouble is, the LW is dressing according to the norms of one culture while being in an area dominated by another culture. It would be the same as me wearing hose, a T-tunic, and a cloak to work–in one culture (the SCA) this is the norm, and wearing anything else would excite comment; in the other (work) it’s wildly outside the norms, to the point where it would excite comment. I use the SCA as an example to demonstrate that it’s not about sexuality, it’s about cultural norms, and would be an issue for any culture. We as a society are not clear in our culture how to handle this. The business world has historically been hostile to deviations from the cultural norm; we’re changing, but it’s slow, and the LW is on the leading edge.

            I’m not sure what the solution is, because in this case both sides are behaving like normal humans–the LW is tired of the same conversation over and over, and their coworkers are commenting on something that would normally warrant comment. It’s a question of how to find a balance. I think this is a situation where the solution will be entirely dependent upon the individuals in question, and that the only real option for resolution is for the LW to discuss the matter with their coworkers.

            I do think that calling these conversations microaggressions, or the LW an attention-seeker, and the like is counterproductive, unkind, and detrimental to civil discourse. We shouldn’t pathologize normal behaviors.

            1. Beth*

              The thing here is, “SCA workplace” vs “non-SCA “workplace is two distinct cultures–if you made a venn diagram of them, there would be zero overlap, it’s a binary yes/no state.

              But “professional” vs “queer” is not a binary. Most LGBTQ+ folks are workers! And I would wager the majority of workplaces have queer people in them, whether they know it or not. It’s true that historically, what has been considered ‘professional’ has excluded queerness, the same way it excluded non-whiteness, non-Christian religious practices, non-masculine behaviors and identities, etc. But I don’t think that’s something any of us want to continue, right?

              It’s true that commenting on unusual things is a normal behavior. But if someone having bright hair, and having had bright hair for their entire tenure at a workplace, is still considered ‘unusual’ months or years after they started? At some point that’s a sign that the workplace’s idea of ‘normal’ is too narrow, not the person with colorful hair (which is common in queer circles, and often used as an expression of identity) inviting comments.

            2. Bernice*

              Dude, with kindness, the SCA is not the all-purpose analogy you think it is—you reference it a lot. Dressing in bright clothes is not the same as wearing a medieval costume to an office job.

      2. revengeofpompom*

        Counterpoint: it is totally normal and ok to convey “hey would you mind not doing ___ because it bothers me.” You might think a joke is hilarious, but the listener thought it was insensitive. You might think your compliment to your spouse was right on the money, but it touched on a sore subject unintentionally. You might think your report was brilliant, but your manager thought it was just shy of their expectations. You might think your way of asking your neighbor not to block your driveway was direct, firm, and nice; they found it abrasive. Does that mean you were “wrong” each time? No. It means that human interactions are a complicated alchemy of people with totally different internal experiences trying to have a meeting of the minds. Mismatches are inevitable! That’s just life. So if a colleague conveys discomfort about a topic of conversation, that’s fine. Just take it as data, apply it to your interactions with them, consider whether it might behoove you to apply it to interactions with others (e.g., “maybe I shouldn’t talk so much about other people’s hair because maybe other people also are made uncomfortable by it”), and keep on truckin. Every interaction isn’t a referendum on who’s Right and who’s Wrong, abstractly; in this case, it’s just one human being just trying to communicate that something bothers them, and part of being a responsible adult in society is paying attention to those messages when we receive them.

    3. WoodswomanWrites*

      I absolutely agree here. I don’t have the exact words to use, but speaking up and asking co-workers to stop the frequent comments is the answer here, not toning down LW2’s authentic self.

      I used to work with a colleague who had a flamboyant wardrobe and put a lot of effort into a vintage look that included her hair and makeup along with her outfit. I would compliment her on it often, until one day she told me that people often mentioned her clothing but didn’t compliment her on her actual work and it was exasperating. I had no idea and I apologized. We were peers, and once she said something, I honored her request to stop talking about her appearance. And instead when I noticed something she did well professionally, I would comment on that instead. My comments were genuine because she was great at her job and she helped make mine easier. She really appreciated the change.

    4. me*

      Agreed. I want to exist in a certain space and present a certain appearance. I don’t need people to talk about it every day, especially if it goes beyond “hey cool shirt.” It’s not so different than people commenting on whether someone is, or isn’t, wearing makeup.

      One thing I once read that really resonated with me was that clothes/jewelry/shoes/bags/hair can be a talisman or armor or good luck to help you get through the day (or even out of the house). I really feel this on days when *I* need to be bright, but just because I’m wearing my yellow good-luck sweater with the bright blue scarf that was a present from a friend and a shiny pair of earrings from my last vacation doesn’t mean that I need all of my coworkers to mention my wardrobe choices.

    5. ecnaseener*

      I don’t see how the colleagues are rude, when they’re offering genuine compliments and haven’t been asked to stop yet.

      1. Emilu*

        I agree! How are people supposed to know LW2 is offended or taking their compliments negatively if she doesn’t say anything to that effect?

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Why are they focusing so much on LWs appearance at work? for starters.

          Why do they feel entitled to make judgements on that appearance… and share with LW, frequently?

          1. Emilu*

            Well, LW2 doesn’t say if these are the same people commenting each time, or how big the organisation is. So these could be different people who have no idea that others are commenting and it’s bugging her.

            Also, how often she works may play a part. I recently changed my hair colour and had people comment on it… took some time off and a couple of the same people commented again. I don’t expect others to remember every change I do to my hair as well as me, so I didn’t say “hey, you’ve actually already said that, but thanks”.

            I still don’t see the problem with saying “thanks, but I’d prefer if you complimented me on Y” or “you constantly complimenting my clothing/hair makes me feel awkward, could you stop?” but okay.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Because her appearance is so distinctive. If she were wearing the same pair of black pants every day, it would be weird to say “hey, I see you’re wearing those nice black pants again.” But she’s wearing things that people notice. And they won’t know the impact their notice is having on her unless she tells them.

          3. Avril Ludgateau*

            1. OP is making her appearance a point of conversation. Small talk tends to be shallow.

            2. Who said they’re making judgements?

            1. Velawciraptor*

              No, her COLLEAGUES are making her appearance a point of conversation. They’re the ones raising it, not her. OP’s act of having an appearance that can be perceived by others is not inherently making said appearance a point of conversation.

          4. neurodivergent*

            I’m neurodivergent and socially awkward. I often compliment people’s clothing as a way to make small talk. I had no idea it was rude. I’ve read a lot of socializing tips, and complimenting someone on their clothing is a tip I’ve read a lot.

    6. Oryx*

      This. The amount of people telling LW2 and thus other fat queer people like myself to either just accept the compliments or change our appearance to make them stop is exhausting.

      1. Clare*

        I mean…I used to wear shoes with really brightly colored laces. I regularly had people complimenting me on them, even complete strangers at the grocery store. If I didn’t like it, my options were to prioritize my style or prioritize my not having to listen to compliments. Complimenting people on their bright hair or distinctive style is quite common.

        1. Oryx*

          Sure, as someone with pink hair I get that. But if my coworkers continuously were always calling out my bright hair or bright clothes or bright shoes, at some point I would wonder why. This is just how I look and how I dress, why are we acting like it’s a novelty when you see it every day?

        2. Claire W*

          But the thing is, LW2 isn’t complaining about strangers who she hasn’t met before – if you had the same colleagues comment on your shoelaces every time you saw them wouldn’t you be a bit like “Hey let’s move on please, is there literally nothing else you can say to me that isn’t about my shoelaces?”

          1. Clare*

            Re-reading the OP/Alison’s answer, I took constant conversation as lots of coworkers complimenting her but no one/few coworkers making it a regular topic of conversation. I think if it’s Person A complimenting her outfits multiple times a day (or even everyday), asking them to stop would be a lot more effective than if it’s person A B & C each giving one compliment in different interactions on Monday and then D E & F doing the same thing on Tuesday. Both might feel constant but the latter is much more normal and I think less in OP’s realistic ability to control.

  11. 1LFTW*

    LW#2: My situation is slightly different, since I’m The Teacher (teaching kids and adults, but the kids don’t care about my hair). If I refresh my multicolored hair, and the class starts hyperfocusing on it, I can just say “as much as I”m enjoying all these compliments, I know you’re all here to learn about Llama Grooming instead of talking about my hair!” and then pivot to that day’s lesson. Maybe there’s a way it can be adapted to colleagues?

    1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

      Good thought, a stock reply to use each time before pivoting to work.
      “Yep, that’s me, change is my constant. Except for these TPS reports I’m working on again.”
      “Variety is the spice of life. How is your tapioca research going?”
      “Thanks, what can I do for you?”

      1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        One more popped into my head– “So I’ve been told.”
        Basically something that becomes boring with repetition and doesn’t give them an endorphin rush of thinking they’ve given you a much loved complement.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          That one is perfect!
          It’s like so often, people think they’re being really original with the jokes they make. I’m thinking about jokes people make about my first name, I’ve heard them all, yet people still make them and are very pleased with themselves for thinking of them. If they are a client, I will force a little smile, anyone else gets “yeah I’ve heard that one before”.
          Similarly, when people realise I’m a foreigner, they immediately want to know where I’m from. When I confirm that I’m a Brit, they want to know which town I’m from. They are hoping I’ll name a place they know so they can tell me all about it.
          Thing is, I’m from the most boring place in the world. I tell them it’s flat like Holland, but without the tulips and coffee shops, they still press me, they have to know. Then I tell them that the only thing my hometown was known for was that people would come from all over to throw themselves off the railway bridge because it was where trains could go very fast (being in flat country, and not being important enough for trains to actually stop there). Then I’d say, that’s why I prefer not to talk about it, and then they feel bad.
          I could just tell them the name of the town of course but I’m really sick of being asked. I’ve lived in France for twice as long as I ever lived in the UK, there are plenty of other interesting things about me, but no they want to know the name of the town I left at the earliest possible opportunity.

          1. Scout*

            Wouldn’t just telling them the name of the town end that line of conversation much earlier?

            Okay, you’re sick of being asked, but your response does not cut down on the number of times you are asked, it simply prolongs a conversational line you do not like, every single time. It’s a classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

        2. quill*

          For the multicolored hair, if you want to leave people baffled, take what I always tell people about my curly hair “I know, I grew it myself.”

          The compliment / thanks script gets tripped up when people have to actually think your reply through.

      2. Area Scientist*

        This is perfect. “Thanks. Anything I can help you with?” I think that is a great signifier of the topic of conversation needs to change right now without being even the tiniest bit rude.

  12. Rainbow*

    #4 – I am also a scientist at a large company, and I do stuff similar to you. Definitely put the start-up on your CV. It’s fantastic, relevant experience, and indicates great time management and “commitment” to science (partial ugh @ the phrase, in an employment context). I tend to go through all the interviews and then only talk about CoI potential when we get to the offer stage and they already like you and want to be flexible to get you in. But we’re likely in different countries, so YMMV.

    1. El l*

      Yeah, definitely put it on the resume, it’s impressive. Highlight all the experience you gained while there.

      Leave unsaid (let your hiring committees figure out for themselves) that (a) You showed initiative in a difficult situation, and (b) if you’re strong enough to handle 2 research jobs at once, you can handle lots of things at the new place.

      True, side hustle might not last past the new employer – but was it ever really a proper career option?

      1. LW#4*

        Thanks El l. Definitely not a proper career option for me — but the experience has been extremely important for both my resume and my confidence.

    2. Nesprin*

      Ditto- thriving in a startup is basically yelling that you can handle fast paced, self-directed work. Even in academia these days, having startup experience is a huge plus.

  13. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    “If they hear it enough it might sink in” – I’d like to think so, but somehow I doubt it.

    1. JTP*

      It started to sink in at my company. When I interviewed they highlighted “flexibility!” and “work from home!” Flexibility meant you could arrive any time between 8 and 9. Work from home, but only one day a week (if your director was ok with it) and only after you’d been there 6 months. After I’d been there a year, they were starting up a UX team and were having trouble because of their rigid policies. After a highly desirable candidate turned down their offer because of the culture, they relaxed the rules.

  14. GythaOgden*

    I’m in the interesting position where I don’t mind being called on my day off. We have a rather truculent franking machine (unsurprisingly referred to as Frankingstein, or Fronkingsteen for Mel Brooks fans :D) and it needs a lot of care and attention. To mix my pop culture metaphors, I’m its Kaylee…its machine whisperer.

    I don’t mind if my co-receptionist rings me up on my day off with Frankingstein’s latest updates. I seldom leave the country on annual leave; most often I’m just at home having a day in front my other machines. They know when I’m overseas. So I don’t mind people calling me, and we now have work phones as well.

    But it’s only ever ‘Frankingstein needs fed, where do I press to get credit’ or ‘Frankingstein spat out a batch of letters — do you know why or should we call maintenance?’ and it’s like once a year at most. It’s not intrusive and they respect boundaries. I recently wrote War and Peace: The Frankingstein Edition so they have a guide to go to first.

    Still, I’m thinking of moving on and getting a job closer to home, and the only thing holding me back is worry about how Frankingstein will take it. I have thought about applying to Royal Mail, though. Now there’s a whole depot of Frankingstein’s big sisters for me to play with…

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I think it depends very much on the work environment.

      My boss knows he can call me when I’m off if he’s having an emergency. We have sort of prearranged emergencies (e.g. “I’m logging off now but if $Client actually sends instructions buzz me and I’ll log back on”) and some of our procedures genuinely can’t wait. In the nearly nine years we’ve had this arrangement, I think he’s called me “out of hours” maybe twice? In general the company has excellent work/life boundaries, great PTO and flexibility, etc.

      If the workplace already disregards employees’ right to a personal life and/or LW has the kind of boss who would start to ring her every time she was off, or regardless of the reason for absence – I’m thinking of “graveside signature” boss and “you’re just sitting there getting chemo” boss and “you can take work away with you on honeymoon” boss – then I would highly recommend inviolable boundaries. No, you can’t have my personal cell phone or landline. No, you can’t have my personal email address. I’m turning off my work devices at 5pm tonight and nothing will be turned back on until I arrive in the office next Monday morning.

      In some territories being called upon when you’re clocked off has to be paid, so even a two-minute “where do we keep the toner?” conversation means half a day’s PTO goes back into your bucket, or an hour’s OT, or whatever. I suspect that many boundary-stomping bosses would think twice about contacting absent employees if they had to go via Payroll or HR to achieve it! In real emergencies it’s worth it. In “manglement” emergencies, maybe not so much.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Very much so. My manager has actively said to me that she won’t disturb me on my time off. It came up once or twice while I was trying to be with my husband while he was dying and it was really important that I got clarification at one point while I was off about the flexitime I’d put in for, as it would affect the time I came back from actual annual leave (i.e. if I work 25 hours, I was going to take Friday off, so I would come in early Mon-Thurs to make up for it). We ended up agreeing to a time before I went on leave, but it was awkward on both parts — she told me not to phone for clarification while I was on leave, and, being autistic, I often actually /like/ to have confirmation that we’re on the same page even when the negotiation is taking place while I’m off (hence why I don’t mind the occasional call about Frankingstein — I don’t want things to be in chaos when I get back). It’s part of my neurological make-up, though, and I definitely get WHY other people don’t like it.

        There was one incident earlier in the year. I took a long weekend (Thursday, Friday and Monday off). My supervisor and my co-receptionist caught covid. I didn’t, probably because I wasn’t in on that weekend and it happened fairly recently, meaning that restrictions weren’t as tight. Both were out the following week – Mon-Fri. My colleague rang me on Sunday night to say she wasn’t going to be in and to ask for our line manager’s PA’s number, as LM was out too on AL. I had a massive grocery order scheduled for the Monday, because I was assuming I was going to be off. So it was good to have had the heads-up that things weren’t going well. I /was/ lucky that they didn’t need me in on the Monday and the building coped for a day without anyone on reception or post duties in until I got back on Tuesday. But knowing my colleagues were both out made the expectations clearer for what I’d find at work, and knowing that I would be working the week full time rather than part time, like I do when my colleague is normally out on AL (like the past week), was much easier on my ‘spoon’ management. Aside from the grocery order, I was able to plan Monday around resting up and making sure I didn’t have Covid rather than wearing myself out and then being flung into the deep end on Tuesday.

        I was telling the story because it does vary but also because the frequency of calls matters a lot in my case, whereas asking someone with more responsibilities to do it more often is a big problem with how people perceive employees’ AL/sick leave, and with WFH I think the balance between off and on is highly likely to become more blurred, rather than less.

        The BEST thing, though, is when people have commitments to work-life balance in their email signatures. It sets firm expectations for everyone and normalises the concept so that people who do have more complicated situations than mine can establish boundaries. I don’t need to mention it myself – I cannot take my job home; Frankingstein would not be happy about that! – but I appreciate when it becomes a nuisance.

      2. Shiba Dad*

        I think it depends very much on the work environment.

        I agree. I’ve been on both sides of this.

        I work at a hospital full time through a service contract with another company. This position exists because of my extensive experience with certain systems in the hospital. When I took this job I knew that I could be contacted after hours or on days off about problems that occur. It does happen occasionally.

        Usually the staff is good about the issue being an actual problem. Most of them try to diagnose/rectify the problem before calling. Management does not want staff to contact me or them for no good reason.

        It doesn’t sound like OP was hired with this type of expectation. OP does need to set this boundary.

        At an old job I caught called on days off all the time about (mostly) unimportant stuff. There was one week of vacation that I literally got called at least once every day about a non-emergency the person could have figured out if they would have tried.

        I turned in my timesheet with time charged for all of these calls. My boss (company co-owner) had a conversation with me about my charged time. The end result was I was told I had a “bad attitude” and I wasn’t a “team player” if I wasn’t willing to take calls when I was off without charging time for said calls.

        Which brings up another point – I’m wondering if OP is getting compensated when they are called in their off hours? At my current job I’m exempt, but I unofficially (arrangement with management I report to at the hospital) bank any off hours work and use it as needed. If I spend an hour on a Saturday dealing with a problem, I might leave an hour early the following Friday or use it to cover time for an upcoming appointment. If OP isn’t, they should be.

    2. ecnaseener*

      That’s fine for you, but the manager in this letter still shouldn’t be asking about this every time for people who haven’t indicated they feel like you do. The default should be no contacting people on their time off short of dire emergency, and people like you who don’t mind the occasional quick question can volunteer that info before leaving.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I quite agree. I framed it as a funny story because I knew it was going to be in opposition to many people’s opinions on the subject and I just wanted to offer an alternative perspective.

      2. SugarMagnolia*

        LW4. Very, very low chance this was allowable in the biotech industry with their employment contract. Yes they will have you terminate the work if you are at a competing company. They also may look at this and question whether the person broke corporate policy. Intellectual property issues etc are a big thing in biotech. I would question this person’s judgment.

    3. anonymous73*

      That works for you, but it shouldn’t be the norm. When I take off, I’m OFF and I shouldn’t have to be available. Being available defeats the purpose of time off, and can put you on edge so you can’t truly enjoy your days off because you’ll be concerned about getting a call and having to work.

      1. JustAnotherKate*

        Honestly, I have a very deadline-sensitive job and don’t get to take much time off (I have it, just can’t take it), and I still would prefer that someone call me with a full-on emergency. Otherwise, it’s one of two things — “Funder called and needed Document X by close of business today for our grant, so I sent them the attached” (and the attached is NOT Document X), or “funder called and needed Document X by close of business today for our grant, but you weren’t here and I couldn’t find it, so I’m sure it’s fine if they get it today.” NOOOOOOOOO! I would rather spend 5 minutes talking to you than an hour begging the funder to let us submit something late or explaining why someone sent something completely unrelated to the request. (This shouldn’t be the norm — I’ve accepted a weird job where my schedule is controlled by third parties, some of whome I don’t know. And, of course, the power dynamic that allows funders to demand stuff this way and the nonprofits have to bow and shuffle — also a total shit show. But because it’s unlikely to change, I’d rather get a call.)

  15. London Calling*

    LW5 – being in the office five days a week wouldn’t bother me, because I hate WFH. The rigidity over timekeeping and ADULTS having to explain why they’re a minute late or they leave a minute early? no thanks. That speaks to me of an inflexible, micromaging type of management.

    1. GythaOgden*

      I’m looking into moving jobs closer to home, and I’m actually seriously considering another reception job simply to get out of the house every morning.

      1. London Calling*

        My agency keeps sending me jobs and chirping ‘hybrid working! you don’t have to go into the office!’ yeah, no thanks. Before I was furloughed and then allowed back into the office I had a couple of months of paperwork all over the place and working with a laptop and no desk – it shredded my MH and pretty much ruined my relationship with my manager so my plans to go back to that are non-existent.

        Same as you with the local job. My last commute was getting on for 90 minutes on a good day – one of the pandemic upsides was getting that down to 70 minutes and occasionally, when all the planets aligned (each train arriving and doors opening just as I made the platform), an hour.

        1. GythaOgden*

          If I got a job in the place I live, I could cut my commute (public transport) costs from £300/month to £50/month, which with the cost of living as it is would be an immediate win.

    2. Oakwood*

      An associate traveled to a small, midwest insurance company to install some software and train the staff.

      She said none of the employees were allowed to leave till a loud bell rung at quitting time. People would get ready to leave (pack their bag, put on their coats) and stand in their cubicles waiting for the bell.

      1. London Calling*

        I had a temp office job where we had to clock in with an actual time card. Fortunately not a very long job when it transpired that it was an audit job rather than a finance one (still have no idea why or how I got placed into that one).

          1. London Calling*

            It did have one feature that entertained me – it was for an airline and was right in the middle of London Airport where planes dock after landing. You’d look up and see the nose of a jet pointing at you throught the window and would never have heard a thing because of the triple glazing.

      2. Jora Malli*

        I just got a strong mental image of my 8th grade homeroom class at 2:27, standing next to our desks with our backpacks on, unable to leave until the 2:30 bell.

        Yeah, I’m not in a hurry to work somewhere that treats it’s staff the same way an elementary school treats a room full of 13 year olds.

      3. Just stoppin' by to chat*

        Oakwood – Not sure how long ago your colleague witnessed the bell at the insurance company, but there used to be an insurance company in the Seattle-area (has since been acquired) that did something similar. There was a bell signifying breaks, lunches, etc. Maybe it was something about that industry!

    3. Cranky lady*

      I applied for a job a few years ago in a support division for a call center (think IT manager or accountant). In the phone interview, they said that there were some later evenings and odd hours required but that being even 1 minute late during the 90 day probation meant termination and that it was similarly strict after that. I get that call centers need reliable coverage but you also need to apply the needs to the job and treat adults like adults. I declined the next interview.

    4. quill*

      Yeah, a minute is the difference between one extra traffic light being red or green. If your job is coverage based there should be a (paid) window before coverage is 100% needed, in case of traffic. If your job isn’t, why do you care about a minute or five?

  16. Panda (she/her)*

    LW2, feeling you on the comments about appearance. How you look should just not be a major (or any) topic of discussion at work, even if it’s complimentary! And yea, compliments can definitely be harmful when they reinforce only a particular thing (only getting comments when you look smaller? Reinforcing that smaller = better? Fatphobia!) or just make it so that you feel your appearance is the only thing people notice/value about you.

    I have a couple of approaches to suggest, depending on the person and your comfort level:
    “Can we talk about something else? That topic is getting old”
    “Mmm. Did you see the new printer arrived?”
    “Do you mind not commenting on my appearance so much?”
    “Wow, you’re the 12th person to tell me that today!”

    My sympathies OP, I am a bit of an attention seeking person myself and wouldn’t mind some comments, but it sounds like your body is A Thing at work and that is not okay. For those saying “it’s just a compliment, that’s not harmful”…many catcalling guys would agree. Compliments that make someone uncomfortable are not compliments.

    1. Panda (she/her)*

      Oh, and responding with the only other parallel I can think of – when I was pregnant, it was all anyone wanted to talk about with me. Every single conversation was a comment on my body, how big I was getting, how great I looked…it all made me VERY uncomfortable, even when it was all complimentary. I simply do not want my body or appearance to be a major topic of discussion at work. That is okay.

    2. Accidental Manager*

      Full disclosure: I have been known to be a bit snarky in my workplace. That being said, my immediate response to what LW2 is experiencing would be “Thank you! I know, just like yesterday. ” Then smile really big at them as you go back to work.

      A less passive aggressive approach would be to shorten it to “Thanks.” But still smile and shift your focus to your desk.

  17. LDN Layabout*

    I’m going to be honest, as a visibly fat and occasionally visibly queer person, the entire comments section today is really difficult to take since the main takeaway seems to be that if anyone compliments you it’s obviously because they’re secretly sneering at you.

    The LW should talk to her coworkers if she has an issue, but it’s sad to see how much the commentariat have an issue with the idea that people could admire or like the style of a fat or queer person.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Yes. I think/hope it’s just that people are trying to read between the lines of the letter and figure LW must be picking up on some sneering or condescending vibes, not that they actually think the compliments couldn’t possibly be genuine.

    2. What?*

      Thank you for this. I feel like same way about some of the comments today. It is really impossible that the LW’s coworkers are offering genuine compliments?

      1. Clorinda*

        Can we not trust LW to know when she’s being authentically complimented and when she isn’t? It’s her experience, and if she says it feels weird or off or condescending, why would we second-guess her?

        1. LDN Layabout*

          Because the OP hasn’t said it’s weird or off or condescending. They’ve said they know their coworkers mean well, but they don’t enjoy the compliments. Which is fair enough.

          The fact is, they now have a post full of ‘yes your coworkers definitely think you’re weird and ugly’, which they may not have believed, but I’m sure they’re thinking it now.

          1. pancakes*

            I don’t think they’d have written in at all if it didn’t feel weird and, above all, unwanted.

    3. Emilu*

      Thank you for this. I was reading this comments section going “okay, so… I guess I’ll just never compliment anybody ever again?”

      On a personal level, I would be one of LW2’s micro-aggressors, apparently. I love out-there hair and clothing — because it’s something I don’t yet have the confidence to do myself — and would (well, maybe not after seeing this letter/thread) compliment her on them (“you look great! I love your hair/clothes!” sort of thing). I’m kind of saddened to think that we live in a society where saying this sort of stuff could be seen as being a jerk.

      1. pancakes*

        There’s a big difference between saying that and meaning it (which is straightforward and generally wonderful) and saying that to someone you see daily (which is a pattern that may suggest an ulterior motive, particularly if some sort of tone or other becomes apparent).

    4. Viette*

      Yes. I honestly can’t tell from the letter if the LW’s coworkers are intrusive and obnoxious (v. possible) or actually just paying repetitive compliments (also possible), but the idea that NO ONE who compliments a fat or queer person EVER means it as anything but mockery is a bummer of a insight into people’s perspective. Lots of folks are definitely out there spewing fatphobia disguised as compliments but some of them really do just like your dress.

      Fatphobia is insidious within our culture but I don’t think it’s SO insidious that ALL compliments to fat or queer people are from a place of disdain or cruelty.

    5. Sporty Yoda*

      So, I’m one of those awkward people who always has to assume any maleficence isn’t intentional because, well, I’m genuine when I give complements even if I don’t always phrase them quite right (apologies to my coworker who usually wears all black everyday; it was different to see you not in something black and I legitimately meant you look nice, not that you should stop wearing black). That being said… it’s difficult to make a call without actually hearing what the coworkers are saying. It could be a passive attempt to say “you don’t fit in to the company culture, change your outfit,” just as much as it’s a 100% legitimate “wow! you look really nice in those hot pink and neon green stripes! that’s such a fun pattern!” No, LW shouldn’t have to tone their style down (assuming of course their outfits do fit their environment, but even that can have a broad range; I’m in academia, where the professor in a hoodie and slides is dressed just as appropriately as the one in a full suit with a pocket square). I legitimately hope it’s just a misunderstanding, the coworkers are being genuinely complementary, but even genuine complements can get grating if they’re the only thing people talk with you about (I’m more than my green hair! Why doesn’t anyone ever talk to me about my Hanukkah Ball collection? Why is it only ever the hair?)

      1. After 33 years ...*

        At my place, a professor (of any gender) wearing a suit would spark numerous comments, mostly bewilderment…

    6. metadata minion*

      Yeah, in the summer I tend to wear a lot of whimsical dresses, and I get a lot of comments and compliments on them. I’m really pretty sure this is because my coworkers actually like my style, but this thread is setting off my “maybe everyone is secretly laughing at you” anxiety pretty hard.

      1. Clare*

        If it helps, I worry about this too and then I realized that I’m never noticing people’s clothing to laugh at them, only when I think it’s cute. And when a friend or family member mentions they noticed an outfit, it’s always complimentary. So that helped me remember that most of the time people are being kind and just notice stuff they think looks nice!

    7. Princex Of Hyrule*

      This — it’s making me rethink every compliment I’ve ever gotten at work, even from other fat and queer and colorful people! And I’m an effusive and bubbly person, so I’ve complimented people on their clothes and hair without meaning offense since I was a young kid. Pink hair is pretty! Bold patterns are striking! I love those shoes where did you get them! It’s been a great way to bond in previous jobs but I would hate for someone to think I’m being passive-aggressive when I’m actually very sincere.

    8. bee*

      This bummed me out too! I do think that most of it is a loooooooot of internalized fatphobia and insecurity—more “I’m sure people would be mean to me if I dressed like that” than “I would be mean to someone who dressed like that.”

      I’m fat and cute! I have gotten many compliments in my life and I have absolutely zero reason to believe they’ve all been fake, and I’m not about to start acting like they were.

    9. Persephone Mulberry*

      That’s interesting; as a visibly fat and presumably straight-passing person (it’s never come up in conversation at work), I’m over here being bummed at the comments section today because of how many people are rejecting other people’s lived experiences and the “why are you getting so bent out of shape, people are just trying to be nice!“/”why do you dress like that if you don’t want people to comment on it?” attitudes.

      1. Paris Geller*

        Yeah, same. I’m feeling some sort of way about these comments because one thing we try to do here is trust people lived experiences. And let me tell you, (not directly, Peresephone Mulberry as another fat person, but the general you), those of us who have gotten those insulting compliments can TELL when a compliment is genuine and when there’s an unspoken “for a fat person” attached.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          So the fact that the OP explicitly states she knows her coworkers mean well and that they’re complimenting her should be trusted then?

          1. Paris Geller*

            But they can mean well and still be insulting–they just weren’t *intended* to be insulting. I was once told (in a very genuine voice) “good for you!” when I was eating a salad. Because I’m fat. It wasn’t meant to be insulting. Still was.

      2. elizelizeliz*

        Yes, same, as a fat queer person who has had variable style choices over the years (and never because i was hoping for a lot of commentary from coworkers!). I really enjoy bright colors and also i do think that there is a way for me that dressing in bright colors, having queer-coded hair, etc has been a part of a fat queer aesthetic for me.

        And i have DEFINITELY had a lot of commentary like “Wow, what a fun dress! I could never wear that!” from straight non-fat people and it teaches you the ~feeling~ of what aesthetic comments with an undertone can be. And being a fat queer person whose body is getting looked at and talked about at work–even if it’s also about the clothes–is a really challenging experience, especially in a context like so many workplaces i have been in that are actively fatphobic (lots of diet/food talk etc). Clothes compliments always are happening in context.

    10. Anonosaurus*

      It seems to me that the issue is that LW suspects her colleagues, while genuine in their admiration of her appearance, don’t see beyond that and their only way to engage with her is through comments on her look – which gives her a sense of not being seen as a full person rather than a brightly coloured cartoon.

      Not being seen as a person is exhausting and depressing. The compliments themselves aren’t the issue, I think – it’s the fact that they’re all the social engagement at work that LW gets.

      1. ecnaseener*

        If LW suspects that, she didn’t write it. Nor did she write that she doesn’t get any other forms of social engagement.

        I see a disconnect here between people like LDN who are taking LW at her word when she says she knows they mean well but it just makes her uncomfortable, vs people who read between the lines to conclude that there must be something in the coworkers’ comments or tone causing that discomfort. Sometimes discomfort comes from within, from past experiences (and it’s still totally valid to ask people to stop!)

      2. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

        I think this is right on the money. It sounds to me like LW’s role in the Office Chat Ecosystem is “the quirky one with the hair color/fun clothes,” and like any role, it can get tiring very quickly. It’s entirely too easy to treat your coworkers, and really anyone you interact with in daily life without knowing very well, as NPCs in your game.

    11. Cat Lover*

      Yeah… I feel like this of the ways that people try so hard to be non-offensive that it wraps around to being offensive.

      Also I think people have become really jaded and so no one can ever possibly be genuine in their minds.

    12. GigglyPuff*

      And yet I’m sad about all the comments that don’t seem to believe the OP, that seem to be minimizing how they’re feeling. They’re the ones in the situation and I thought we were supposed to take OPs at their word. Also as a fat person you generally know when a compliment is genuine or not. Tired of all these people brushing aside OPs concern.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        And if you read the OP, they clearly state the know their colleagues mean well and are being complimentary. So why can’t people trust the OP instead of saying ‘well clearly they’re insulting you’.

        OP’s entitled to ask them to stop, but there’s no need for the undertones of ‘you’re so disgusting that any compliment must be fake or have an insult hidden behind it’.

        1. GigglyPuff*

          Because compliments can still be rooted in stereotypes, just because it means well doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful, even if both people think it was well intentioned. Literally in the middle of HR training and vast majority the microaggression examples are technically “compliments”. This obviously isn’t a clear cut issue like all the comments are making it out to be, but there’s clearly something about it making the OP uncomfortable. They aren’t talking about a couple people making a few passing comments, the sheer quantity makes it seem like this is completely based in something not fully positive, even if the people making the comments don’t realize that.

    13. Purple Cat*

      Hmm, it actually reads as the complete opposite to me.
      LW is trying to give her coworkers the benefit of the doubt by saying they “mean well”. But the fact is that it’s “exhausting and feels like a micro-aggression”. The bulk of the initial responses have been “suck it up, you’re begging for attention and they’re giving you compliments so just deal with it or wear a paper sack instead” (obviously dramatic summary).

      Constant comments on one’s appearance is “othering” and inappropriate at work. Full stop. Even if it’s meant as a “compliment”.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        And a lot of comments are also saying ‘any compliment to a fat or queer person is people being nasty or condescending’ (if we’re going for the dramatic summaries).

        None of which are helpful to the OP or indeed other fat or queer people who then get to analyse any compliments they’ve ever received because obviously none of them were genuine.

    14. Dahlia*

      I’m also uncomfortable with this and tbh I think the context of OP being a fat queer masc person is also making me really uncomfortable with the suggestions that expression equals wanting constant attention :/

      1. Dahlia*

        This being today’s comment section, I mean.

        I full believe OP, and others, know how to tell the difference between a “you look nice” compliment and a “oh you’re SO BRAVE to dress like that” so-called compliment.

    15. smalltalkscaresme*

      I can understand why LW is uncomfortable with it, and I agree that they should put a stop to it. I can trust the LW that the compliments are over the top.

      But the comments have taken it WAY far, like the comment that said you should never talk about someone’s appearance at work, ever. And the comment that said that complimenting a fat person is always bad because you’re not being sincere.

      I’m kind of awkward and “oh I really like your shoes!” is a great conversation starter. I never thought that I shouldn’t say that because the person was fat.

  18. kina lillet*

    LW2–I’m wondering if this isn’t an intersection of a few things.

    First, and most generously to your coworkers, sometimes you realize you have a Brand and it’s a n n o y i n g. The one thing that coworkers know about you and always ask about. Sometimes it’s “you have a cat” or “you hike a lot.” You could try to shift the small talk over to something new—when someone mentions your appearance, “Oh thanks, nothing special today. Haha did I tell you about this funny new thing my dog did yesterday??”

    Second, I wonder if your workplace is simply not friendly to queer & fat people, so the compliments rather grate. Is there other stuff happening, like social exclusion, or just discomfort in the air that you can kinda smell? In that case I don’t think the problem is the compliments, necessarily. But getting focused on the root cause might help figure out what you do want to do.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      +1 to paragraph 1
      I’m an older cis-male, white, of “average” weight and height. I like wearing bright- but single-coloured shirts (pink, magenta, yellow, turquoise, aquamarine, emerald …). I’ve received numerous comments about my shirt choices over the years. In my case, they don’t seem to be related to how people view me otherwise.
      LW 2, you know your own workplace and colleagues, so you’ve a sense of what’s going on there. However, as other commentators have said, people do tend to latch onto things for small talk.

    2. Onyx*

      I also wonder about your 2nd paragraph, and whether it’s not just the compliments but something else that makes the LW feel they’re unwelcome.

      I was talking recently to a colleague who complimented my shoes and wanted to know where I got them. I’m confident it was a genuine compliment–she seems to be seriously considering getting a pair herself. I love these shoes, so I was happy to tell her. Then, when discussing sizing, I mentioned their sizing is unisex so check the size chart–it’s closer to standard “men’s” sizing than “women’s”–and her *immediate* comment was something about “not many men would want to wear those” (implying it didn’t make sense for them to not use women’s sizing). As a (not out) non-binary person who has worn significantly more gender-non-conforming stuff than she’s seen me in (in fact, a male colleague and I previously noticed we noticed we were wearing the *exact same* shoe in different colors), it felt like smacking face-first into a brick wall of “ohhh, I’m not sure this person is safe for me to discuss clothing with.”

      The compliment was genuine–I’m confident of that. She probably has no clue that her remark would bother me. But that comment (and the fact that she seemed to assume I’d agree) is probably going to influence how I interpret future compliments from her.

  19. Sean*

    LW1: There is also the mental drain to consider even if you’re not called during your time off. The fact that you’re expected to be available while on holiday, and maintain an open channel of contact, means that you can never relax properly and recharge, since you’re always waiting for the phone to ring.

    Your boss might have no idea about that, and ends up with a completely different perception of your holiday to what you experience. Let’s say you go away for a week, but your boss tells you to be available, if needed. As it turns out, at the end of the week your boss didn’t need to call you, so you were left undisturbed.

    Now, as far as your boss is concerned, you’ve had a fulfilling break, away from the pressures of work. That must be true, right? After all, since she didn’t need to call you in the end, as far as she’s concerned you’re fully recharged and ready to dive in on your return.

    But your experience of the same week is completely different, since on each of those seven days off, you have no idea if the phone will ring and bring your break to an abrupt halt. Add to that the thought of what tasks might be piling up for you in your absence. So, at the end of the week, even though you were not needed, you are still not fully recharged since you’ve had that slow drain on your mental energy from knowing that the phone could ring at any moment. You’ve had to keep your head in the zone all week, ‘just in case’.

    Rinse and repeat enough times and it’s a bad recipe. Especially so, given the importance of your clients and therefore the need for all of you to be at your best when on the clock.

    1. Sean*

      A surreal analogy, but it paints a perfect picture:

      You can recharge a laptop while still using it. You can’t do the same thing with a person.

      Your boss seems to be confusing the two.

    2. Kes*

      Yeah there’s a reason people are paid to be on call. Even if you aren’t, the knowledge that you might be takes up space in your brain and it’s harder to fully relax and disengage from work – which you need to in order to get the full benefit of your time off (and your boss should really want you to get a proper break in order to be recharged when you come back). I do think it’s worth having a conversation about it to try and break this pattern and set expectations that when you’re off, you’re truly off and not working or expecting to hear from work.

    3. tw1968*

      Second this! And I also think, if it’s important enough for someone to be able to do your job while you’re on vaca, either (a) cross train (as another commenter stated) or (b) hire more people. If it’s NOT important enough to hire more people at market rates (and this brings up a whole other topic of Are their staff being paid at market rates), then it’s NOT important enough to call them on vacation.

      LW1, will you look back on your life years from now and think “I sure am glad I answered that email/took that call on my vacation! It made such a difference to my family to put our plans for that day on hold while I dealt with a work *emergency*” …or will you be more likely to think “I’m glad I disconnected completely and didn’t worry about s* while I was out, it really helped me recharge, and my family and I made so many great memories together!”

      If the boss is as good as LW1 says, boss would understand the need to disconnect.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I agree wholeheartedly about cross training and/or hiring more people. It’s very important to have redundancies in the office so that people *can* take uninterrupted time off to recharge. What happens at the company if someone has an emergency? Does this boss also call people while they’re in the ER or recovering from surgery? OP, if you have that strong of a relationship with your boss, can you ask her about hiring a couple more people so that there’s more than one person who knows how to do every task? And emphasize that hiring these people should *not* mean the company takes on more work? tw1968*’s point about how if it’s not important enough to be certain these tasks are always covered then it’s not important enough to interrupt someone’s vacation about them is absolutely correct.

        Also: in a lot of places the boss is the one who covers when people are out because boss is the one who knows what everyone should be doing and at least somewhat how to do said task. Maybe boss could be that person who covers when people are out? Or at least one of the people, anyhow.

  20. ijustworkhere*

    Please do tell the company why you are declining the offer–Alison’s language is good. Sometimes the HR people are trying to change company culture and management isn’t listening. Having feedback from candidates about why they don’t accept a job is important.

    1. BlueWolf*

      I recently spoke to an internal recruiter for another company (mainly as a courtesy to a former manager). I wasn’t really considering it that seriously, and then the recruiter said they would be in the office 3 days a week. I just told them that is pretty much a dealbreaker because my current company made my whole department full time remote (if we want). The recruiter just said “yeah, we’re hearing that a lot”. Also, I quoted them a ridiculous salary because it wouldn’t really be worth my while to change companies unless it was for a significant raise that probably wouldn’t be realistic for my position.

  21. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    #1 —

    I like Alison’s script, but also think about your manager’s personality. Are you likely to be reprimanded (or marched out the door) if you suggest that “time off is time OFF”?

    1. ecnaseener*

      The LW describes the manager as compassionate and receptive to feedback and says they usually have a good rapport. Sounds like they have considered this.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I wondered how often the employer actually calls OP on their off hours – that is far more important to me than this question (although I could understand how OP might feel like if they agreed to be reachable, they might be on the hook). A, I would probably always answer something like, “I’m not sure I’ll always have access to phone/internet but if you need me in an emergency I should be able to get a text most of the time.” and B. If the manager always asks this question but never actually contacts you – which I’m assuming is the case or else this question would be “my manager always contacts me with non-emergencies when I’m on leave” (a question we’ve had before) – I might assume this is just their security-blanket planning mode. Maybe if you were truly going to be unreachable for a long time and X critical machine broke they’d want to hire a temp or crosstrain a coworker or something, while if they could probably reach you in an emergency they’d let it ride.

      If it is the latter, I might also suggest more crosstraining to my boss in the same conversation Alison suggested. Perhaps if they knew at least one other person knows every critical role it would help them relax. Or, better procedures for letting clients know when you’ll be back, etc etc.

      Remember in parts of Europe they’re gone literally months every year and yet businesses still survive.

    3. oranges*

      LW1 should just say, “#1, I’ll be totally unreachable.”

      If the boss is genuinely asking if you’ll be unreachable, tell her you’re unreachable. Her response will inform a lot. Does she say, “cool, I’ll spread the word, enjoy your trip!”, or does she say, “really? Well, okay….”

      So much of today’s workforce was raised to be reachable, by anyone, at any time. For some people, that’s a comfort. For others, it’s a curse. Take her at her word that she’s wants to know, and inform her you’re the latter.

      1. Vice President of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

        My superiors always find reasons to contact me during my days off. When they make me work, I count it as work and remove the PTO tag from my online timesheet. Then they get to wonder why they owe me so much unused PTO.

    4. Just stoppin' by to chat*

      VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles* – Love the username!

  22. DrSalty*

    #1 – what if you just told your manager you were truly unreachable every time you took PTO?

    1. Asenath*

      That’s exactly what I’d do. It would be far easier than what a friend of did, which was always vacation far enough away that it was true he was out of reach. His work place did not collapse in his absence, either.

    2. Clorinda*

      YES. manager asked the question, so answer it.
      “Will you be available during your time off?”
      “Not at all. See you next week!”

    3. irene adler*

      Yeah- why not?
      Makes one long for the days of the land line. “Sorry, I missed your call yesterday, boss. No one was home to take it.”

    4. fhqwhgads*

      Or if that feels too harsh, I might go with something like “I may be occasionally reachable for some brief periods, but mostly not. If something is urgent, it’s best to assume I won’t be reachable.” That might go over better than a straight “no, completely unreachable”.

  23. HRE*

    I think it’s human nature to notice things like a frequent hair color change, but there’s a big difference between “I love that magenta!” and “you are so inspiring with your hair and fashion choices!” I do think the writer is going to attract attention with how they dress, but if the comments are more in line with the first a simple “thanks- are we ready for the group presentation?” should redirect conversation, and on the second they could use my favorites- “What an odd thing to say” or “Why do you say that?” Hopefully the coworkers will become uncomfortable or realize they overstepped and that will be somewhat shut down.

  24. What?*

    #2, when I’ve had coworkers who where a lot of interest clothing, jewelry, change their hair, get peircing/tattoos, etc, it feels completely rude to not offer them a compliments. I remember ages ago a queer, vegan, cis-female cowork I had who would shave her head and show up with a new facial pericing or clearly visable tattoo on a semi-regular basis. Every time the same convesation would happen with a lot of the female staff saying things like, “This is amazing!” or “I wish I was brave enough to shave my head. I’m a bit jealous of you.” Perhaps some of your coworkers are engaging in microagression but I would put money on most of them just being interest and geniunly giving you compliments. As for what to do, as others have suggested above I would suggest a very bland respone with immeditly changing the subject. Something like, “Thanks. Did you see the email from Sansa? What do you think?”

    1. TheRain'sSmallHands*

      And trying to signal approval. Maybe awkwardly. But when mundanes are looking at someone who is queer, large, and colorful, some of them want you to know “I see you and I’m fine with whomever you are” Because they know that someone who is queer, large, and out of the ordinary often gets met with disapproval. Its intent is the opposite of a microaggression – its supposed to be microacceptance. But I get completely that it gets old, or if feels like you are being singled out for your otherness and that it becomes a microagression.

      My youngest is non-binary and very out about their queerness. And yes, there have been shaved heads and tattoos and piercings and hair colors not found in nature. And both comments that imply acceptance of their existence “I love your hair” “I love that jacket” – both which are signaling – and comments (and looks) that are far more hostile. And I think that sometimes “I love your hair” is meant to combat the person at the grocery store that just looked at them and said “what a freak!”

      The trans-daughter of a friend of mine gets it even more often – “I like your makeup” or “wonderful earrings” – because people want her to know that they see her and are accepting of her existence. And “I like your makeup” stands in for “I recognize you as a trans person and I accept and support you.” Its awkward. But its well intentioned.

      I’m not sure if there is a good way to say “hey, I get that your comments on my hair and clothes are meant to be supportive of me as a person who exists outside of the mainstream, but now I get that you are supportive of me as a person and we can move on…..”

      1. quill*

        Precisely. It gets tiring when people are tripping over themselves to prove that they’re supportive. Partially because every interaction is a reminder that not everyone is, partially from repetition, partially because you can get tired of handing out metaphorical “thanks for being an OK person” cookies in the form of acknowledging a few dozen comments on your appearance.


      When I shaved my head a few years ago, it was astonishing how quickly I became the repository for everyone’s anxiety about the shape of their head. “I could never do that! I’d be worried my head was lumpy or something!” Gee thanks, I hope you’re saying mine isn’t.

      Not the main reason I grew it back–as it turns out, hair is really good at keeping your head warm in a cool climate–but wow, it got exhausting being everyone’s My Head Probably Looks Funny confidante.

  25. I should really pick a name*


    How long have you been back in the office? If you’re a new employee AND you’re only coming in a a couple of times a week, people probably haven’t gotten used to your style the way they would if they were seeing you every day. If these 10-15 people aren’t people who you see every day that you’re in the office, then each new look will probably seem like a major change to them for quite a while.

    1. CG*

      This is what I was thinking – it sounds like for LW2’s office, seeing each other in person might still feel fairly new, and I wonder if the comments will slow down in a few weeks once people are more used to each other.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      See I was thinking the other way around. At a certain point, these people will have seen enough hair color changes it should sink in that OP’s hair changes a lot and they should theoretically stop finding it notable. Unless there’s a ton of turnover. But if it’s already beyond the point a reasonable person should’ve realized this is just how OP rolls then…trying Alison’s suggestions may work or it may just be a These People Are Annoying thing.

    3. DataSci*

      People who haven’t been back in the office for a while are often also really bad at socializing. We’re out of practice! So the inept small talk may in part be due to “What do people even talk about? Uhhh, pink hair, I’ll talk about that!”

      Regardless of the origin or intent of the comments though, LW2 doesn’t like them, and deserves to be able to shut them down without changing style.

  26. Harper the Other One*

    To LW2, you’re the one in the office so I think it’s quite possible you’re reading a tone that’s hard to convey here! But, I wanted to give an alternate perspective. I ADORE bold colours in hair, bright patterned clothing, etc… but I feel tremendously uncomfortable when I try to wear them. I feel like I’m playing dress-up! Yet secretly I would love to feel like I could pull it all off.

    You strike me as a person who loves their look and who gets a lot of personal joy from it. Is it possible that some of the reason people are regularly commenting is quiet envy of the “I wish I had the confidence to break out of my neutral-blazer-with-curated-pop-of-colour-blouse” kind? So it’s not so much about the fact that your look has changed per se, but that every time you change your look, it reminds your coworkers that they kind of wish they were too? Especially if you have coworkers in fields that trend towards conservative dress like accounting and legal, this may be where it’s coming from, and that may help you feel like it’s less about your personal body/identity and more about those of the commenters.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I read it as that’s not what’s bothering this LW. They said they know the coworkers ‘mean well’ and to me that means they aren’t ascribing any malicious intent, so I don’t think reframing is necessary (because they’ve already done that).

      But the impact is still exhausting and they want that to stop.

  27. Kahuna*

    For LW2: what’s your company (un)official dresscode like? How is their office culture? In an ideal world it shouldn’t matter what you look like or dress like. But we don’t live in an ideal world. People and offices like conformity. An office wants to present a certain image to the outside world. A group of people (like office coworkers) want people in their group to generally look the same, act the same.

    It may be more on you than on your office in this case if your style is (too far) out of norm for your office. Especially since your letter states that you’re a very visible person at work. If you choose to stand out from the flock, you will get attention. If you don’t want the attention, stand out a little less. Conform a little more. It’s a give and take.

    Maybe not wear bright coloured or heavily patterned ‘everything’ but work from a more neutral base and use accessoires to add that spot of colour or that pattern you like.

  28. anonymous73*

    #1 “Every time I take off, you ask if I will be unreachable and I feel that it defeats the point of taking time off. How can we make changes so that our team isn’t expected to be contacted when they’re out of the office?”

    Taking time off is being OFF, not just physically out of the building, and not being able to turn work off when you’re out will affect your mental health. Everyone needs a break and shouldn’t be expected to constantly be available. You said that there’s not a lot of crossover, but also that nothing is ever so urgent that it can’t wait until someone comes back. I think one resolution is to set realistic expectations with everyone on turn around time so that not everything is a fire unless it really truly is an emergency.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      And also, it’s time to do some cross-training so that it’s not the end of the world to be unreachable!

      1. QuickerBooks*

        I don’t disagree with this. I also do, however, work in a place that sounds extremely similar to OP’s and I see the dilemma. I gather that they have a confluence of extreme specialty and small staff. It’s a tough combination. Where I work, everyone does something extremely specialized that takes years of practice to do well and requires tons of extremely specific domain knowledge. People usually learn these skills on the job over the course of years. Cross-training is a years-long proposition.

        In my business we have usually solved this problem through scheduling–that is, making sure that clients know that from Date X to Date Y, service Z is just not available.

        1. DataSci*

          What happens if someone is hit by the proverbial bus, and is unavailable for months (or for good) on no notice? If the answer is you don’t have Service Z available for years, that seems like a very bad setup.

          1. QuickerBooks*

            People being hit by buses or otherwise suddenly disappearing with absolutely no notice is, in the real world, an exceedingly rare occurrence. Note that I did not say that it has never happens. I said that such a thing is exceedingly rare. So it’s actually not great business practice to design your whole staffing strategy around something that almost never happens.

            Much more frequent is someone become long-term (or permanently) unavailable with some non-zero amount of notice. People say that they wish to find another job and give notice. Or they are pregnant and it’s well known that they will eventually be gone for a long time. Or they are feeling the effects of burnout and they say, “I think I can only take a few more weeks of this and then I need to drop back.” That is the far, far more frequent occurrence in a small business. In such a case, you deal with it the way any other business would–you do your best to muddle through with freelancers and temporary help where possible. You bring in a replacement and immediately set them up to begin the very long-term work of learning how to do that job. But no, in general you don’t decide that you need to cross-train your accountant in graphic design just in case there’s a wild bus somewhere in the city.

      2. Anne of Green Gables*

        Yeah, it sounds to me like maybe the manager is anxious about the *possibility* of something coming up that only one person can do, and some targeting cross-training might help alleviate that. Which is a better solution than staff being on edge that they might get called while on vacation.

  29. Anonymouse*

    OP #2.. thanks and move on.. in the hall.. “thanks” keep walking .. asking a question. “Thanks” what’s going on with etc . Wash rinse repeat then when it’s the same offenders a simple dry yep it is and keep moving. Make it as boring as possible

  30. Sorry older mom*

    Do you generally like talking to strangers? If you are someone that doesn’t enjoy small talk and really doesn’t share details of their personal life, your outfits and style may be the only opening they have. I am not suggesting you owe anyone details from your personal life, but if they knew you loved Marvel movies or basketball they might only talk to you about those things. Work is a weird place where lots of personalities that usually would never cross paths are expected to be friendly. Good luck.

  31. MicroManagered*

    OP1 You said your manager asks if you’ll be reachable, but how often does she actually CONTACT people who are off?

    I’ve both been asked or asked people if they’d be reachable, but it’s rare and only when trying to accommodate multiple overlapping time off requests or there’s like, a specific task or situation that’s known ahead of time. I wonder if your manager has taken to making this a standard question without realizing how bad it sounds.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      I think OP1’s workplace would also benefit from some cross-training, so that one person being unavailable would be less of a burden on the rest of the office.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Oh for sure. I’m not saying “it’s fine” by any means. I mean, what are they gonna do when someone leaves the job?

      2. QuickerBooks*

        I think you are right. AND I also understand what it’s like to work on a small team in which everyone has a very specific specialty, as described by OP. Often that means that people have skills or knowledge that are honed over the course of years.

        It’s like, imagine a 4-person ad agency where you have one writer, one graphic designer, one salesperson, and one accountant. Coverage in a situation like is a very tough proposition. In my experience, these things have to be solved through scheduling and communication, understanding that on certain dates some things just aren’t going to happen.

        1. sofar*

          Yep. I work on a similar “small team in a large company.” I think your “understanding that on certain dates things aren’t going to happen” is key.

          All the cross-training in the world won’t replace years of expertise. Also, my company, like LW’s, could probably wait a week for someone to get back … instead we act like it’s a five-alarm emergency, hound the person on vacation and, if they don’t answer, have someone make a decision (usually the wrong one) that leads to the person on vacation returning to a giant fire we all have to put out. When we could have waited 5 days for them to get back, had them make the right decision and gone smoothly on our way.

          When we’re contacted on vacation, we always have to ask, “OK would I rather ruin a half day of my precious vacation to make sure the right decision is made? Or return to mess and multiple all-nighters to undo damage done?”

          When someone quits, the company is more likely to delay something until there’s a backfill. But when someone’s gone for a week or two, suddenly we must handle everything, hastily, in their absence.

  32. The one who wears too much black*

    Been there OP, sort of. Alison even answered my letter about it, and I was the other extreme. There’s no good answer, I am sorry to say, but I will sit in this disappointment with you. I am also fat and queer, btw, and I got called out for wearing all black all the time. Smh, as a highly-visible-fellow-fat.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I wear black gothic clothing all the time and yeah, the comments about it are annoying!

      Also obese, LGBTQ, disabled, not white…frankly I’d just like people to compliment what I do.

  33. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#2: I agree with other commenters that because your appearance seems to be such a departure from your organization’s norms, it’s likely to invite more comments. If you have 10-15 people commenting on your appearance regularly, then that tells me that these people are either really sheltered or you are definitely outside the norms for your org. However, you also said you were new. It’s possible that because you’re new, your coworkers don’t know much about you so they trying to start conversation / make small talk about what little they do know about you, your obvious cool hair colors and outfits. I would thank them for the compliment and move on to another topic….ask them something about themselves….what are they watching on Netflix, did they take in the weekend concert in the park, whatever….people like to talk about themselves and it will give you an opportunity to get to know them better and build a rapport for future conversations that don’t revolve around appearance.

    As for the microagressions….some other commenters have made some good points in explaining why you may feel that way….and maybe that’s true for some commenters, but I’m inclined to think it’s not that serious to your coworkers. You’re just perceived as “out there” in such a way that invites comments / compliments. For example, if you went to an attorney’s office and your attorney came in with a neck full of tattoos and multiple facial piercings, you might be a bit taken aback even if you think that is awesome. It’s just not the norm for the legal field. If you are pretty far outside the norm for your field, or just outside what these people have been exposed to in their lives, I would venture to guess that people are just adapting to you and it will eventually become familiar to them and they’ll move on.

  34. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    For the clothing/hair thing — to me, pulling people aside to tell them to knock it off might reinforce in my own head that this is a moment of conflict. And fun hair and colorful clothes are such an expression of joy that I’d hate to link those things together.

    I’m wondering about picking a combination of acknowledgement and utter boredom. Picking a phrase like “Yup, brings me joy” that you can deliver in exactly the same off-handed flippant way Every Stinking Time someone says one of the the things. It would be a reminder to yourself of why you make those choices, and would extinguish the trolls and the can’t-think-of-anything-better-to-sayers.

  35. staceyizme*

    LW2: maybe it would work better to frame it as a workplace norm that can be intentionally set up as a standard? That would take the individual side of the question out of play. “Some people have anxieties or sensitivities about various aspects of their appearance. They just don’t like having attention- even positive attention- about how they choose to dress or present themselves. How would it feel to take that off of the table as a topic of conversation in the workplace? That way, we won’t negatively impact how someone experiences a comment about their appearance…”.

  36. Can't think of a funny name*

    How many interviews did LW #5 go thru before asking about onsite/hybrid/remote? That’s a question I asked before even interviewing.

    1. BoratVoiceMyWife*

      LW #5 here. I had one phone screen and two calls with the hiring manager, the second of which also included higher leadership. I had interviewed for a different role in another department with this organization earlier in the year and was told that it’s entirely dependent on your manager/leadership ladder.

      I discussed flexibility with him on the first call, and he sheepishly admitted that yes the company does track in and out times but that *he* was flexible enough to allow it. Since he works in a satellite office in a different state, he said he would use plausible deniability if anyone ever asked where I was. This didn’t fill me with the type of confidence and agency I would prefer — if I’m working from home, I don’t want to feel as though I’m cheating or breaking the rules, or that I face reprimand for something that is otherwise so normal in 2022.

      1. Just stoppin' by to chat*

        Wow LW#5 – that comment from the manager about plausible deniability would tell me everything I’d need to know about that company. Sounds like it’s leadership leads through fear, and who wants that! You were smart to turn down the offer.

  37. Dust Bunny*

    LW1: I’m reachable when I’m off but it works because I know my job will only contact me in the event of a very extreme emergency. Like, if the building burns down. They have never actually contacted me when I’m away, though. This won’t work, though, if your boss is the type that will contact you for “emergencies” that are actually minor crises of convenience for her and not actual emergencies.

    1. KofSharp*

      Yeah… I’ve got my work phone on me at all times because I’m the one who wrote the convoluted client process down, so most of my emergencies are new team members wondering wtf I wrote. (Then when I get back I try re-writing it in a less confusing way.)

  38. ijustworkhere*

    the letter from #2 made me rethink some of my own behavior in the workplace. When I comment on someone’s clothing or appearance, my intent is to convey that they look nice or that I like what they are wearing. I can see that some do not take it that way.

    1. DataSci*

      Or, like LW, they do understand your intent, and still don’t like it.

      I really could care less if my co-workers think I look nice. Being told multiple times Every. Single. Day. by multiple people that they like my shirt would be EXHAUSTING. Find another topic of conversation already!

  39. MCMonkeyBean*

    I am wasn’t sure from when she says it’s a “topic of conversation” if it’s just exchanges like that or if people are going into it for much longer.

    I’m also wondering how long they’ve been back at the office. If it hasn’t been long it’s possible a lot of it might fade away on its own after they are used to seeing you more often.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      (Nesting fail, but I guess this comment kind of works on its own anyway. For LW2 obviously)

  40. STG*

    #1 – I haven’t found this to be unusual for tech but I work on teams where just about everyone is on-call in some shape or fashion. I’ve had managers from my last 3 employers do this.

    I just told my manager that I was unreachable when I wanted to be unreachable.

  41. KofSharp*

    LW1: I used to have the “I/whatever job I’m working on at the time IS NOT IMPORTANT ENOUGH to call me.”
    And then I started getting more complicated jobs that the person who covers for me didn’t quite know what I was doing. So I started leaving detailed notes summarizing each project if I was going to be off for more than a day.
    And then I wrote the process documents for our group. And now the new people call with questions.
    I don’t go on overseas trips (couldn’t afford it until i got a new job during covid,) and I’m usually in the same time zone. But when I do, I’m rarely in cell service, so having teams statuses, email replies, and voicemail directing them to my buddy is invaluable. He texts now if it’s something he can’t answer.
    We do trade off who’s covering for who, so it’s not one-sided.

  42. CheesePlease*

    #2 – I can see how compliments like “*I* (a cisgendered / thin / straight) person could never wear something like that – It’s so bold!” feel like, not a compliment. Sometimes people just feel the need to say SOMETHING and it’s not received as they intend – even if they’re trying to be kind and supportive of queer expression. I would just be straightforward “Hi Steve I know I change my hair color a lot and you always make sure to comment on it – but it’s really not something we need to keep discussing, the attention is starting to wear me down. Can we talk about the sports ball game this weekend instead? I’m so excited to see the new coach!”

  43. Jen*

    I’m sorry if this has already been mentioned, but the I skipped quickly through the middle of the comments after seeing the “Compliments aren’t insulting!” “They can be insulting!” debate, because I’ve seen a dynamic in my own life that might be helpful.

    My own transmasculine/ nonbinary high school-aged child has, since middle school, dressed very thoughtfully in clothes/ hair that are meaningful to them. These clothes do not match the general trend of dress in our rural area. Generally, compliments are welcome and he likes a quick “nice shirt!” from anyone. These happen often, because I think the human eye is drawn to the unusual, and then if the viewer likes what they see, how nice to say something. We have a running, lighthearted joke in our family about how frequently strangers approach my kid to compliment his clothes.

    For a brief period, they had a shaved head, though, and they didn’t enjoy the compliments they were receiving. That hairstyle sometimes drew long, gushing compliments that included phrases like “I could never!” and “Only you could carry that off!” Those compliments felt really different, almost as if viewers were aggressively pointing out how different my child is. They felt like a performative dance of allyship, rather than just the normal compliments that a person would get in daily life. He was glad, when his taste in hairstyle changed, to lose those compliments.

    I don’t have a solution for the OP — obviously my child’s hairstyle taste drifted, and he just eliminated the compliments that way. This isn’t a solution if you like your hair. Perhaps you could nudge the conversation into the “normal compliment” territory with a very quick “Thanks!” and subject change? It might help perceptive colleagues feel the weirdness if they persist in talking about your clothes after you keep returning to the subject of this week’s strategy meeting?

    And for folks who are defensively claiming no compliments should be unwelcome — I’d say it’s good not to assume that unusual clothes and hair are specifically done “for attention”. Instead, you could just treat all folks’ clothes and hair the same — and give compliments that match the context/ environment/ relationship. Just like sexy dress doesn’t mean you have a sexy relationship with someone, dramatic dress doesn’t mean that you should bring the drama.

    1. Jen*

      And then I went back and read the middle of the comments, and I see that this is really pertinent. I am so sorry about the mean folks, OP, in the middle of this thread. Again, I just want to reiterate that folks who don’t dress “normally” are not necessarily seeking YOUR attention, and they’re definitely not seeking ANY attention, of ANY amount or type, by ANYONE.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      If I could flag a comment as most helpful this would be the one!

      I’m obese, over 6 feet tall, visibly disabled, tattooed and wear black gothic style dresses all the time. I do not like attention or comments on my appearance- all this is just ‘me’ (and the dresses are comfortable and tailored to my curves)

      So to the one thousandth person who said ‘oh wow you have a lot of black’ or ‘those long sleeves look interesting’ I just shrug and say ‘that’s the way things are’.

      It tends to a) stop the conversation and b) discourage similar comments in future.

      I don’t dress like this for attention. I don’t get tattoos for attention. I don’t wear v necks and a large chest for attention. I do all this because it’s for me.

    3. Dan Flashes*

      ” I’d say it’s good not to assume that unusual clothes and hair are specifically done “for attention”. Instead, you could just treat all folks’ clothes and hair the same — and give compliments that match the context/ environment/ relationship. Just like sexy dress doesn’t mean you have a sexy relationship with someone, dramatic dress doesn’t mean that you should bring the drama.”

      This is an important point and so well said. Thank you for saying it.

  44. Gray Lady*

    Re: LW2: Rather than speculate about the intent behind comments on her appearance, or the validity of her discomfort, here are some suggestions for ways to address the issue:

    1) As a few other commenters have advised, respond with a quick “thanks!” and continue about your business/change the subject, and eventually people will get the message (but keep in mind that some people are oblivious to social cues like this and it may take awhile).
    2) If you have a close relationship with your manager, a different mentor, or a coworker, you could privately express your discomfort to them and see if they have any suggestions. If someone else knows you’re uncomfortable, they may also be willing to quietly suggest to other coworkers that they tone it down, or jump in when someone comments and say something like “yup, Jane always looks awesome, can we talk about X though?” And if you nod enthusiastically or thank them in the moment, that might help get the message across.
    3) You could use a script like the one Alison suggested to respond directly to compliments–that will likely make some people feel scolded or uncomfortable, but most will get over it eventually. As long as creating a little awkwardness doesn’t bother you, it’s probably the fastest route to shutting down unwanted attention.

    It’s not the same thing, but my hair went gray in my 20s and I stopped coloring it a couple of years ago — so I’m a woman in my 30s with fully gray hair, which is unexpected to a lot of people. I tend to enjoy compliments on it, because I feel like it affirms my subverting of dated, sexist expectations about women’s appearance and aging. But once in awhile someone remarks in a way that rubs me the wrong way/feels more backhanded than genuine. I can imagine how it would feel to experience that 10-15x a day, and it’s not good. I hope it gets better soon, OP.

  45. Pool Lounger*

    LW2: Many people here don’t seem to fully understand microagressions. I’m also a fat person who often dresses differently from others at work and who dyes her hair unnatural colors. I totally get where you’re coming from. I hope you find a way to tell people you dislike comments on your appearance and still continue to dress in a way that’s comfortable to you. All the comments about bright clothes and hair being “attention seeking” are off-base: obviously you don’t want attention at work for this; that’s why you wrote in! These little microagressions add up—I’ve seen them compared to mosquito bites. They’re annoying once, painful when you get too many. And they don’t look like aggression—hence the term microagressions. It’s very frustrating.

  46. Dust Bunny*

    LW2: I’m a non-fat, non-queer person who sews as a hobby and often wears things made from antique patterns (1940s is my favorite decade, but I also do 19th century reenacting and sometimes end up running errands in an 1850s work dress). I don’t even do the full 1940s hair and makeup but my clothes still draw a lot of comments. (I also have hip-length hair, which draws comments. And petting. People, please don’t pet hair.) Common ones: Are you Amish? Are you Quaker (yes, but that’s not why I’m wearing this)? Where did you get that? You should sew these to sell! The worst: Oh, you look so nice–I wish people still took the time to dress up like that (You first, lady). So far the only actually negative responses I’ve gotten has been some eye-rolling and whispering from teenagers, and I remember what I wore as a teenager well enough to know that their taste is suspect.

    The thing is: If your appearance is a departure from the conventional, it’s going to draw attention. I don’t wear my brightest and puffiest dresses to work because they’re too far out of the norm and will draw more attention than I feel like facing. Not in a bad way, but I don’t work in fashion or costuming so it’s irrelevant to my job and a little derailing. And, frankly, some of the patterns are not professional enough for my work environment, which is not especially conservative but has some basic expectations. This, for example, is too girly and informal and is better left for Saturdays:

    So maybe you don’t need to be All Of You, at least in this respect, at work. Most of us work in areas that have at least somewhat constrained appearance expectations and have “work/office clothes” versus “weekend/my own time” clothes. Your letter seems to equate being the most visible [because of your clothing/style] with being the most visible queer person in the org, and I think that’s a false equivalency that might be tripping you up. You don’t have to be literally the most visible person to be the most visible queer person–I know an awful lot of people who are loudly out and proud while wearing very mundane clothing. Can you settle for an “office wardrobe” with some big patterns but slightly subtler colors? Or bright colors but more conventional patterns?

    1. Delphine*

      I agree with the bit about non-conventional appearances drawing attention. That’s just the nature of the thing. I used to cover my hair and I’m a person of color living in a mostly-white city. My god the way people would stare! Did I wish they’d put their eyes back in their head? Yes, absolutely. I hated it. But I knew they were staring because they weren’t used to seeing a person like me, wearing what I was wearing. Was it a micro aggression? Yes, I think it was.

      I didn’t cover my hair for “attention” but that’s not really relevant. It still garnered attention. When I stopped covering my hair it was literally like night/day. Most people didn’t give me a second glance anymore. Unfortunately, this is the price visible non-conformists pay. Some of that you can change (like what you wear) and some of that you can’t (like your body or your skin color). Whether you want to or not is a decision for each individual.

  47. Purple Cat*

    Poor LW2. I’m exhausted (and dismayed) reading all of these comments about her situation, let alone living through it.
    I don’t know why these basic concepts are so difficult for people to understand and put into practice:
    1 – People dress for THEMSELVES not for other people.
    2 – Comments about appearance/clothes is unprofessional.

    I *love* the people stating for a fact that the comments OP is receiving definitely aren’t micro-aggressions when they’re not the ones living through it. Constantly being singled out and having your appearance commented upon absolutely is a micro-aggression. OP you’re going to have to be firm and repeat for a while “Please don’t comment on my appearance at work” until it finally sinks in. Good luck.

    And for those saying “she’s asking for it”. Please just stop.

    1. Sunshine*

      I don’t think a compliment on someone’s hair or clothing would be considered unprofessional on its own in basically any office (except maybe the one where jokes are also not allowed?). This is a super normal human interaction – it’s like talking about the weather. OP is valid in being annoyed as these comments add up, but each person giving a compliment doesn’t see the 10 other people who have already complimented OP today, and they probably don’t remember that they also complimented OP’s outfit yesterday, and the day before, etc. Just like I can’t remember how many days this week I’ve commented on how cold it is.

      That said, I do understand how the OP feels – I’ve experienced this in my own life! Sometimes people compliment those who look visibly different as a way to feel better about themselves. Saying “wow, you look so pretty!” to me when I know I do not meet the usual definition of “pretty” by any standard feels… ingenuine, like the person is trying hard to signal that THEY think I’m pretty, even if society doesn’t, or something.

      I think a more polite comment like Alison suggested is going to be a kinder approach. It’s going to seem really disagreeable to meet a potentially genuine compliment with a blunt “please don’t comment about my appearance at work.” I would be really shocked if someone said that to me when I really thought they looked great and wanted to tell them.

      1. quill*

        The idea is to not do compliments in ways that convey judgement about someone’s body, and if you’re fat… there’s a lot of mean girl subtext that can come up when people comment about clothes. Even if it isn’t intended, it’s wearing. So if you’re going to mention someone’s appearance, make it infrequent, brief, and do NOT include statements that center bodily differences between you and the person you’re talking to, i.e. I could never pull that off, I’m too short for that, my head is too lumpy, etc.

  48. Critical Rolls*

    I have not read all the comments. I trust that LW is picking up on something that is making these compliments feel exhausting rather than thoughtful. However, I really want to push back on the blanket statements that complimenting her on her outfits *must* be microaggression because of her size or queerness. Her fashion is clearly something that she invests time and effort in, and she looks great! This falls into the category of things that appear to be easy small talk, especially for people who are genuinely impressed. It’s like if you had a coworker who had an assortment of thriving plants at their desk, especially if you can barely keep a cactus alive. Is that a new succulent? How’s your, um, Porthos doing?

    Again, I believe the LW that something’s off. But I don’t think automatically assigning ill intentions to anyone who ever compliments a fat woman’s outfit is accurate or helpful, and is actually weirdly fatphobic.

  49. Katie*

    For OP2 I can see how you see it as a micro aggression whether there was I’ll intentions or not. I can see how it can come off as condescending.
    It reminds me of yesterday’s post about people who have service industry jobs. It just came off as extremely condescending to me about those people in those ‘lowly’ jobs. They didn’t say those words but it’s how it came across.
    Like others have suggested, I would just minimize the conversation about it. Just say, thanks and move on

  50. AlabamaAnonymous*

    LW2 — I am so sorry to hear that you are experiencing this. As someone who would probably be an unintentional offender, I would like to offer some possible insight. (I haven’t seen this from any of the other commenters yet, but maybe I’ve missed it.) I was raised that noticing a new hair style/color and complimenting the person on it was the polite thing to do. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I was taught it woul be rude NOT to compliment someone on a new “hairdo.” Of course, I’m from the American South, which has it’s own set of norms that are sometimes slightly different, but it would never occur to me that someone would be upset by a compliment on their hair. Now that I know this is an issue for some people, I will do better. But I would second the suggestion of others commenters to try to find a couple of people that you could talk to about this and ask them to spread the word.

  51. WantonSeedStitch*

    OK, here’s the thing: there’s a lot of folks arguing about whether LW #2 is right or wrong to feel the way they do about the comments on their appearance. And there’s a lot of speculation about the nature of those comments and the feelings behind them, that can’t really be proven to be correct one way or the other because LW didn’t give examples of the specific comments, and no one but the commenters know what they were feeling when they made them. But it doesn’t actually matter. The subject of their appearance is one that LW wants to avoid if possible, for whatever reason, and it shouldn’t be a problem if they want to communicate that to their coworkers in a way that is polite and professional. I might alter Alison’s script a bit to say something like “I know I dress and do my hair really vibrantly, but it’s actually not something I like to talk about in the office, to be honest!” And then change the subject to something else.

  52. El l*

    If asking nicely doesn’t work, find a cabin in the mountains with no cell service and sketchy internet. (Yes, they still exist) Or, if a longer break, somewhere outside the US.

    Then tell your manager you’re going there for vacation.

  53. RagingADHD*

    LW2, generally the most effective way to politely shut down excessive compliments or redirect a conversational topic is to not keep the conversation going in that direction.

    To slightly repurpose an old saying: you can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you don’t have to let them build a nest in your hair.

    Them: Awesome outfit!
    You: Thanks!
    Still you: (change the subject to something entirely unrelated, either social or work).

    It’s warm and collegial, it’s extremely low effort, and most people will pick up on the fact that you said your piece with the outfit itself, and don’t want/need to express the same thing in words.

    The advanced level of this is to redirect to a topic *about the other person.* Is there some accessory that catches your eye to compliment? What did they do over the weekend? Is there an ongoing situation you could ask after, ie, “is your mom feeling better?”

    Or maybe give them a compliment on something they did well at work – a report, presentation, contribution to the project.

    TL:dr If you want to politely shorten/stop people from talking about something, keep them busy talking about something else.

  54. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    I wonder, OP1, if you could just always tell your manager that you will be unreachable. Even if it’s just because you’ve decided to mute work numbers from calling you during your time off. Your employer isn’t entitled to that time. If you feel comfortable having the conversation with your manager that Alison suggested, I’d encourage it. However, if you don’t for some reason, could you just start responding to her every time that “no, I won’t be reachable. Is there anything you need from me before I leave?” Maybe your manager will notice a pattern; maybe she won’t. Either way, you get to actually decompress instead of worry about being called by work.

  55. Annie Oakley*

    Chiming in as another visibly fat, visibly queer woman who has non-standard, bold clothing/hair and is new to my org/area – LW #2, I’m hoping that a lot of what you are getting is influenced by your being new and people trying to welcome you to your organization. With time, people will (hopefully) become more accustomed to your style and the frequent comments will chill out a bit.

    For me, what works best is an acknowledgment and then a quick redirect, as others have mentioned. “Thanks! Yup, my hair color changes all the time, I love to mix it up. So what’s new with your latest project/partnership/report?” Whether people are being genuine or shady, it helps shut things down and reinforce that you aren’t super interested in talking about your appearance.

    I’m extremely quiet/introverted and I don’t *like* people commenting on my style choices, but it doesn’t stop me from expressing myself how I want. Don’t change yourself just to minimize the attention you receive. Trust your gut if you feel people aren’t being genuine, but I hope these are all just people with good intentions. Crossing my fingers this all quiets down for you soon!

  56. Just my 4 cents*

    LW1 – I’d try this…
    Boss, when you ask if we’ll be available for emergencies or 100% unavailable, it feels like there is pressure to be available. Maybe you could try saying, “When you are on PTO we assume you are 100% unavailable unless you let us know that you can be reached for emergencies or specific projects you are working on.” That way we can feel free to be totally off and won’t feel like it will reflect negatively on us.

    Not at the top of my game this morning, but you get the gist of what I’m trying to say :)

  57. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW1, next time, can you just answer that you’ll be unreachable? You don’t have to say it’s because you turned your phone off, not because there’s no service where you are. Doing this could help to reset the norms in your workplace, but the major benefit is just being able to disconnect.
    All depends on whether you’d prefer to have the bigger conversation about PTO to start or to achieve your objective of having real time off.

  58. Fat & queer*

    Hi, all! OP2?/LW2 here! Appreciate all your ideas and suggestions, and I’d also like to clarify a couple points.

    First, I use he/him pronouns.

    Second, a lot of folks are questioning why compliments on my clothing or appearance feel like microaggressions. I can see why the original letter might be a source of confusion in that regard. The problem isn’t the compliments themselves, but rather than I am the only person in our office that constantly has their appearance as a a source of discussion. At first it was nice to receive all the friendly compliments, but once I noticed that my cis & straight coworkers weren’t commenting on anyone else’s appearance, it has begun to feel more and more isolating, especially as a fat & queer person. It’s gotten to the point where outfits I wore on previous days will come up in discussion between coworkers as I’m passing by “Did you see [readacted]’s sweater yesterday? Wasn’t it fabulous?”

    1. LDN Layabout*

      Hi OP, I think you’re fully entitled to speak to your colleagues about it and say it makes you feel uncomfortable. Even if it’s meant in a positive way, no one likes to be singled out.

      1. hamsterpants*

        “Don’t single anyone out” is the absolute best guideline at work for fair and professional behavior. Of course there can be exceptions when you are confident in a friendship, but when in doubt, don’t single anyone out!

    2. calonkat*

      I’m fat and cis, and when someone compliments my outfit, it’s either a dress from eshakti or random coincidence that I made a “look” :)

      But I’m wondering if trying to encourage/point out other people’s outfits would help as well. Like “thanks, did you notice Janet’s outfit? She always looks so put together” That would lead naturally into “I’ve noticed that people comment on my appearance a lot, and it seems odd that I’d be the only one to get comments”. Not to try to encourage everyone to comment on each other’s appearance , but maybe to help them realize how singular the comments are. Even if they’re coming from a good place (wanting to make you feel included), that place seems to put you on the outside (you’re not included by default).

      1. Ollyolly*

        I think your last sentence is exactly what this made me think of! It’s like folks are trying SO hard to be supportive of OP’s fashion that it’s clear they assume the default is to not be supportive of this fashion. They want to be allies so hard they are othering OP in the process.

        1. quill*

          YES, absolutely this. When every conversation becomes about how different you are / appear, it’s alienating. And in an environment where that difference could have professional consequences, or where that difference is politicized, it’s exhausting.

          I agree with the redirecting too. With appearance, people are less likely to notice body language because they consider “not being vain” a virtue and dismiss clear discomfort, and possibly the easiest way to steer the conversation in a direction that isn’t default singling you out is to find a similarity to focus on.

          (I don’t have a lot of personal experience on the outfit issue, being not that visibly queer, but I do occasionally get it about my curly and fairly large hair – less than I used to when natural hair was less embraced, but it’s not completely gone. I don’t think “Thanks, I grew it myself” works for a hot pink vest.)

        2. Crimson*

          That’s a great expiration for why this feels weird. It’s almost like having a meeting and saying to the whole department “we’re all welcome here! Including OP!” Like… what??

        3. Beth*

          This is such a good way to put it. Sure, everyone likes a good compliment…but at some point, it’s very much “Is it really so remarkable that I look good? Because the fact that you feel the need to remark on it every single day, way more than you do for anyone else, really makes it seem like you find it remarkable.” That can be honestly insulting, even when that’s not the compliment-giver’s intent.

    3. Ollyolly*

      I just wanted to validate your feelings. I work with a straight cis man who wears a lot of fun outfits, and I’m a straight cis woman who wears bright prints all the time. There are definitely comments on our clothing in a positive way, but nothing to the extent you describe and I would feel really frustrated if folks were spending that much time talking about my appearance at work. This makes me really think it has to do with your queerness and/or fatness.

      Do you think this could be something where people are overly complimentary because they want to be supportive? Calling your sweater fabulous sounds like something they would definitely not say to a non-queer person with he/him pronouns, so I could see this as a really misguided attempt to be allies or show support but they end up overcompensating and it’s weird.

      Sending you good thoughts and fun outfits without weird comments.

    4. The Cosmic Avenger*

      It’s what is sometimes called “othering”, pointing out differences to show that you are not like everyone else. Even with compliments, the meta message is to highlight that they are noticing your difference from them, rather than becoming accustomed to it.

      With that in mind, I might start blowing off their compliments with polite but dismissive comments like “oh, yeah, this is my usual time to change hair color” or “yep, the next color in the rotation”, and then change the subject. Remember, they may think they are being kind, because they do like it, but they still see it as unusual, when for you, in your office, it IS usual. That’s what they don’t get. And pointing out differences too often in marginalized groups is not helpful, despite the intent.

      1. Salymander*

        This is a good point. No matter their intention, these complimenting coworkers are, in practice, othering the OP. They may not mean to do it, but they are. And their compliments may be heartfelt, but they are also a way to signal that they are good people and not biased jerks, and so the compliments are rather self serving rather than being purely a matter of in the moment appreciation and enthusiasm for the OP’s sartorial awesomeness. There is also sometimes a feeling of obligation, as if there is something owed to people who are showing their allyship, which taints what should be a purely kind and friendly gesture. They probably aren’t meaning to do that, and would vehemently deny it, but then I bet most of them haven’t had to deal with a neverending waterfall of compliments-that-aren’t-just-compliments falling on their heads and so they don’t understand that they are often a burden. I don’t think the coworkers are monsters. They are probably mostly good people with good intentions. That doesn’t mean that the OP is wrong in reading the situation this way.

        I think maybe a lot of people on this site have given similar enthusiastic compliments that aren’t just compliments, and we were of course trying to be kind and to be a good ally, but we maybe made someone feel uncomfortable when we were aiming to make them feel safe and valued. It is easy to feel a little huffy when your good intentions don’t work out as well as you like, but it is important to remember that the whole point was to make another person feel comfortable and appreciated. Getting huffy when good intentions go a bit wrong doesn’t really make anyone feel good. Maybe we could recognize that the OP probably understands all this better than many others do because of their lived experience.

    5. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I’m wondering if there are any people in your workplace who you can trust to discreetly spread the word about how it’s getting weird to comment on you all the time. Not from a a ‘letter writer is uncomfortable’ perspective but from a ‘we are doing something weird and over the top’ point of view.

    6. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Oh, gods. The office has decided that you’re their Sharp-Dressed Queer—and everything you wear is therefore worthy of comment. Ugh.

      I do think there’s hope that your coworkers don’t realize that this is a problem or why. So hopefully a word to a colleague or two that you trust will be effective.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Ouch, yeah. I wonder if most of them are women, too? Because some women get the “oo, going to have my sassy gay BFF help me pick out clothes” idea in their head, unfortunately (another ‘othering’ tactic; people are not accessories to your life).

      2. Crimson*

        I think there’s an excellent chance they don’t realize why this would feel weird. This was somewhat me at my old office, and it was also in a field where people are not really known for their fashion sense. I was one of few people not wearing wrinkly tshirts and cargo pants so I honestly think it was just very noticeable.

        I think there’s an assumption too that unlike aspects of your appearance you don’t choose (ie your weight or eye color) your outfits or hair color changes are intentional and thus make sense to complement. It’s complimenting your creativity, color sense, etc not just your genetics. I think a lot of people see that as acceptable to comment on when your actual appearance wouldn’t be.

        But… none of that means it wouldn’t feel weird or othering to many people!

    7. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Hopefully everyone, or at least enough people, would be cool with “You know, we only ever talk about my clothes, and I’d rather my appearance wasn’t such a big deal.”

      Thanks for wading in to add details!

    8. TPS reporter*

      a lot of thin and non-queer folks truly do not understand these points and I hope also would have a real lightbulb moment to hear why the comments makes you uncomfortable. I hate that you have to educate them however. I like the suggestions of trying to find a few trusted allies to spread the word in the office so you don’t have to fend off everyone/be everyone’s magical queer truthteller.

    9. These Are My Formal Jorts*

      Hello, a fat, queer person here who also loves bright clothes with lots of patterns: I hear you, I experience this too, and it sucks. I do not want my appearance to be part of what people notice about me at work — it is arguably the least interesting thing about me, and in an environment where I do so much work and bring so much to the table, please, PLEASE compliment me on something else.

      It does feel like when you are VISIBLE in your corporeal form, people assume you want to be noticed, and thus want to be complimented. But in reality, like, this is just How I Am.

      I have no suggestions, but I will tell you that I took a job in an office where I was convinced this was going to be A Thing, and too my absolute delight, it isn’t. Nobody says squat about anything 99% of the time, no matter what Very Cool or Very Bright or Very Unique thing I am wearing. It is so rare that when someone does make a comment, it feels like a real compliment and often brings me real joy.

    10. Salymander*

      I can understand why these comments feel like micro aggressions. Having multiple people focus on your appearance as if they are showing off how not bigoted they are is essentially just them asking you to do a lot of emotional labor for them, every day, so that they can maintain their self image as good people who are cool with fat and queer people. They are basically well meaning, but ultimately quite self serving when they do this. It is less about you and more about them, as they are using you as a way of performing how awesome and open-minded they think they are instead of just treating you like another human being. It sounds exhausting and would make me feel bad, too.

      I have had some luck with heading off a lot of these types of repeated comments by giving a weak sort of smile-ish look (not a true smile, more like a slight grimace) and saying, “Oh yeahhhh…” followed by an immediate subject change. I don’t say thank you, I don’t really engage with the comment much at all. Then, I get enthusiastic about the subject change and I’m friendly after that. I would also mention that I am feeling a bit tired of talking about my appearance in a very confiding sort of way, to a rather chatty person who I think will spread the word. This did work for me fairly well in the past. People stopped the comments and even stopped each other from making the comments, so I didn’t have to keep having to engage in this weird verbal game.

      Or, you can come right out and say that you would rather talk about other things. I have done that too, and most people understand and don’t get upset. The ones that do mind your very reasonable request for boundaries would probably find something to get upset about eventually no matter what you say.

      I’m sorry you have to deal with this, OP. It sounds very tiresome.

    11. Ace in the Hole*

      Ugh… I don’t have any advice for you but that sounds so irritating and gross in a way that’s really hard to address.

      It reminds me of being the only woman on a crew of men, and noticing that customers always commented on my appearance. It’s not like the individual comments were inappropriate – just things like “oh, you look chipper today” or “I love your hair” or even “wow, you’re tall!” It’s not even that there were a creepy amount of attention per se, since it was usually one casual comment per customer. I got this kind of thing all the time at other service jobs and it was never a big deal. What grated on me was noticing that people ONLY commented on MY appearance. The only time my (cis, straight, male) coworkers got remarks on their appearance was if a regular noticed a really dramatic change, like a bearded guy suddenly going clean shaved. The contrast made it clear that people perceived me differently and treated me differently than my coworkers just based on my gender.

      It’s so difficult to address. How do you formulate a complaint? I never felt able to go to management, since I knew they would ask if the comments were inappropriate (they weren’t) or if there were an inappropriate number (not really), and then tell me there’s no real problem to solve.

      1. Salymander*

        It reminded me of when I was training at a boxing gym. I was one of only a few women there, and the only one doing actual boxing rather than other martial arts. The comments from the men were constant, always really positive, and always had to do with either my appearance or gender as well as my boxing. So, a lot of, “You are a really good boxer. I didn’t know that pretty girls liked boxing,” or, “It is a good thing you are learning to box so that you can keep all the creeps away. You know how men think about girls like you,” or even, “Why would a pretty girl want to risk damaging her face in the boxing ring? You are really good, but you don’t want to risk everything!” Every day I had to run the gauntlet of dudes just to get in the door, and there were comments the whole freaking time. They were always “compliments” served up in a way that made it clear that I was supposed to feel grateful. I didn’t feel grateful, though. It was freakin exhausting.

    12. Critical Rolls*

      I think if I were addressing this, I would approach it this way: “I’m glad you like my style! But I’m starting to feel like everyone thinks of me as That Stylish Coworker instead of That Badass Accountant. Could we put the focus back on my work?” I might even redirect compliments in a joking way if a reminder is needed. “Wow, great sweater!” “Thanks, it’s my Account Reconciliation sweater! I caught the Bledfield discrepancy in it last quarter.”

      1. Not that other person you didn't like*

        Yes redirecting to your work skills and other’s work skills is less confrontational than pushing back directly and less exhausting than having to educate people. Examples: “More importantly, I totally smoothed things over with the Llama account rep.” “Just wait until you hear what I learned in the advanced Excel class!” “Becky was amazing in her presentation, I think the CEO was super impressed.” “Thanks, but without your help I never would have hit that deadline!”

    13. Sunny*

      That is definitely weird. Why are people commenting on a sweater you wore yesterday?? How do they even remember that?? I don’t even remember what I wore yesterday let alone what someone else wore unless it was like… a t-rex outfit.

      I think people’s suggestions to instantly redirect the conversation (if it’s directly to you!) as a start is good, and then if you are comfortable maybe directly speaking up when it happens. Or if you have a friend in the office, maybe you could let them know how this irritates you and see if they could help you with stopping the worst offenders? This is such a difficult problem to deal with because people probably do think they are being nice but clearly they gotta stop.

    14. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’m absolutely with you on this. It feels like being put on some kind of pedestal and held up as a ‘token’ which, while people may think they’re helping, is incredibly othering.

      I didn’t sign up to be the nice friendly face of disability/fatness/different brain chemistry so if I was the only one getting comments about how I dress (put it this way, I don’t wear coats – I wear cloaks. I get a lot of vampire comments) I’d be annoyed as all heck.

      The phrase I fall back on is a bland ‘that’s just how I dress’ with no inflection or facial expression. It generally stops it – make your answer as boring as possible.

      Then I talk about the weather :)

    15. Formerly Ella Vader*

      If that were me, it would feel gross and patronizing. Like they might even feel proud of themselves for saying nice things about your look when they wouldn’t want to look like you themselves. And yeah, people in straight culture now think that fashion is a thing for all queer men. And less embarrassing-for-them to ask about than how was your weekend or do you have a partner/family.

      They may intend well and that obviously doesn’t make it any easier. And in fact it might make it harder to address. If you or your ally wonder out loud “Have you ever noticed that people around here talk about my clothes and hair a lot more than they talk about the other men’s? That feels a little weird. I wonder why that is?” , then someone who believes they have worked hard at finding something nice to say about your looks in the first place is going to be extra indignant that their efforts aren’t appreciated.

      I’m a straight-passing middle-aged cis woman and a fat slob. It’s very weird to see how acquaintances react when I do get spiffed up, or when they see part of my tattoo – and I don’t have nearly the amount of othered baggage that you have.

    16. Jessica Fletcher*

      This sounds exhausting! I think others’ recommendation for the script and asking a couple people to help are a good start.

      You mentioned you’re new to the company. Have you been going into the office for the full 6 months, and this is still happening? Or is in-person new? If it’s new, maybe the comments will die down once everyone has “seen all your outfits” (in the sense of Anna Dresden’s joke tweet, “four weeks into a job, you’ve seen everybody’s shirts”.

      If you’ve been in person a long time, maybe add to the script something like “I don’t have that many clothes!/I’ve worn this several times!”

      Good luck!

    17. Jennifer Strange*

      I appreciate the clarification, OP! As someone who (sincerely!) compliments clothing, hair, jewelry, etc. I was concerned at first that I may be inadvertently making folks uncomfortable by doing so (and, to be fair, that’s something I probably should consider more often). However, given the further context I understand better why this is bothering you and how it would start to feel othering.

    18. Ray Gillette*

      Reading your letter and some of the responses made me flash back to middle school. I lost count of how many times I tried – and failed – to explain to my parents an interaction that sounded innocuous when described to someone who wasn’t there, but came loaded with subtext that I didn’t fully understand and didn’t know how to describe.

      The perk, of course, was that while every teenager says their parents don’t understand them and their problems, when I said that I was right! We have a good relationship now, but when I was growing up they were completely oblivious to any form of homophobia that didn’t rise to the level of slurs and threats of violence.

    19. HelloKittyKitty*

      I work for a fairly traditional business that’s a bit old school, and I’m one of the youngest here, am bi, also have pink hair and wear loud clothes, along with visible tattoos. Sharp dressed queer indeed. Luckily it’s not pointed out as much as it is with you, but I’m wondering if you have a close coworker that would “get it” and could assist in spreading the word? Maybe, gently redirect them onto another subject or simply say “We talk about [redacted’s] appearance a lot, we should probably lay off that.” Between you and another coworker, perhaps people would get the picture?

    20. Delphine*

      I think you’ll have to shut it down in the moment. “Can we please not mention my outfits so much? It’s starting to get a little uncomfortable being the topic of conversation so often!”

    21. thisgirlhere*

      Oof, I’m coming from a different place, but my appearance gets commented on a lot. I saw that you wrote you wish appearance talk would stop (agreed). Do you think you could say that? I’ve done it a few times and felt it was really refreshing. You can certainly soften the message as in “Thanks, but actually, I’m trying this new thing of not focusing so much on appearance, mine or anyone else’s. Any chance we could tone down some of these comments?”

    22. tamarack & fireweed*

      I’m late to the party, but want to give you kudos. I’m queer too, and carry a fair amount of body fat, and even though my normal appearance is “schlub” (which, given I’m a scientist in an informal place, I get away with) I tend to feel more comfortable dressed flamboyantly rather than in a traditionally formal way. (For me, probably because I feel I could never do the latter to an acceptable standard. That’s not necessarily the case for you. Also, I’m a she/her person who’s also fine with they/them, so sexism acts upon us differently.)

      I totally understand why recurring remarks, even complimentary, can feel like a minor bombardment. In my workplace, what I’d probably do is the same as I used to do about coming out (back when just casually talking about it sometimes felt as if I was putting myself out there too far): Talk about it with the 2-3 people who best “get me”, and entrust them with spreading the word. That can be a crude tool, but at least it could tamp down a bit.

    23. SofiaDeo*

      Well, you’ve got a lot of rude/thoughtless people you are working with. Like a 6’6″ person whose height is constantly commented on. There’s a reason personal remarks are ill-mannered; one can never be sure of intent as well as reception. Not sure how to shut down overall rudeness. I wonder if going to Manager, and asking something like “why is everyone commenting to me everyday, about my clothes/hair? I don’t see it being done to others” might be a way to get management on board with effecting change? Or speak to people as they see it occurring? Coming at it from a “let’s all be polite” might be an easier sell all around? Because at least some people think fashionista-types want and welcome comments. Otherwise, ignore them/redirect as others have suggested. Hopefully the “novelty” of having a colorful, creative person at work will wear off soon, and you won’t have to deal with it anymore. They’ll find something else to talk about other than you/your clothing & hair choices.

      1. HungryLawyer*

        Seconding this approach. I’m a fat gay, and I would bring this to my manager. Even if your manager is part of the problem, pointing out how uncomfortable it all is without naming an individual could help your manager see that 1) this is inappropriate and 2) they need to Shut It Down Now. Some suggested language: “Hi Manager. I’ve been having some interactions with team members that left me feeling uncomfortable. I don’t want to single anyone out, but a number of colleagues have made it a point to comment on my appearance/body every day. While I’m sure they mean these comments as compliments, it’s still making me really uncomfortable and it’s very distracting from my work. I need these comments to stop. Can you please send a general reminder to the team, without mentioning me, to limit/cease comments on bodies/personal appearance?”

    24. noname*

      Where I live, it’s kinda part of the culture that if someone complements you on something, you give the complementer the item. So you could try doing that? Go home, wash the items that your co-worker complemented you on, and then go into work the next day and say, “I noticed you complemented me on my sweater, so I thought you should have it!” You’ll learn immediately if the complements are sincere or not. Ask me how I know: a coworker complemented me on my cologne/perfume and I noted that a friend moved away and gave me his almost-empty bottle. So I brought the bottle in the next day and left it on her desk. Well, she brought it back to me and told me that she actually didn’t like the scent. LOL. I did the same with a scarf and the reaction was totally different–the co-worker was thrilled and honored that I gave her the scarf. I’m also trying to downsize so giving items away is my goal anyway.

      1. Kate*

        This is a very bizarre way to interact with people.

        Someone can complement a sweater that they feel looks great on the wearer, while also knowing it’s not something that would look great on them.

        Or I can admire someone’s glasses, while knowing they’d look ridiculous on me! Insisting that if I don’t wear them myself, the complement isn’t sincere is bizarre and nonsensical.

        It’s perfectly normal to think that a cologne smells nice on one person, but you don’t like it on yourself. Your coworker isn’t insincere by saying she didn’t care for it for herself while liking it on you, but you seem to think you’ve won somehow by “proving her wrong?”

    25. Mlawvn*

      I would just like to point out that often people will comment on others’ appearance even if it’s not particularly bright or eye-catching. I had a colleague who would often comment on my dresses and skirts—not in a particularly complimentary way, but more in a “another dress, huh?” way. Once I was putting on lipstick before class (we both teach college) and she said to me, “you don’t need to bother, how you look doesn’t matter to the students” (which, btw, is totally false, but that’s another topic). My point is, just don’t comment on other people’s appearance. I will say that people sometimes seem to have an almost involuntary response to bright color—I have a crimson coat that is not particularly prepossessing otherwise, and people always comment on it. But in general, just don’t make personal remarks. How did this stop being a tenet of basic manners?

    26. Snuck*

      There’s some fantastic comments here.

      I’m wondering about another thing. Could it be lazy habit? People routinely find topics to talk with others about, and for whatever reason … for you it’s wound up being clothes and hair? I would get asked about my kids all the time (drives me batty, I am more than a mother), and someone else who regularly injures himself on weekend DIY jobs was always asked about his projects and ‘whether the tools won this week’? It goes on and on and on to the point that your entire ‘office identity’ is tied up in this neat package of trope/stereotype.

      Could some of it/some of the perpetrators just be falling into “lazy polite banter”?

      1. Snuck*

        Whoops.. posted before I added:

        “Can you then just start talking outright to them about some new topic on a different subject and create a new focus for yourself?”

    27. Tanith73*

      hi OP, Ughh, it does sound like you are getting comments that others do not.

      As the fat (they don’t know I’m on the queer spectrum so that is out of the equation) I get comments on hair, food, clothing etc that no-one else seems to get. I think it is down to the weird mentality that if you are perceived as different a compliment must be made. Because of course, no compliment must therefore be an insult.

      I’ve ended up batting back comments – if I get a comment on looks, I punt back an – ooo, cute top, that colour suits you, or, mmmm, nice hair cut. Works for all genders too. I even got a comments back on why it was odd I was commenting on their looks, just after the person involved had given me the usual passive aggressive comment. That just got the raise eyebrow ;)

    28. Elle*

      This is annoying as hell and I don’t think folks are getting how it weighs on a person to only be talked to about appearance-based stuff in the workplace, especially when you’re already part of a group that could get you taken less seriously as a professional. Similarly, I’m a very visible queer person who enjoys looking a certain way (eg brightly colored hair, fun clothes). I wouldn’t be surprised if part of this is straight people just assuming queer folks (especially queer men/people they are perceiving as men) just looove talking about fashion. The use of the word “fabulous” especially is eyeroll-inducing (please calm down before jumping down my throat, folks-no one is permanently judging individual straight people for using the word fabulous; it just gets annoying after a while).

      I don’t know that what works for me will be helpful for you, but when people harp on the appearance stuff too much in my workplace, I give an aggressively cheerful acknowledgement/redirect- “Yep, I like to have fun with clothes! Anyway, regarding the timeline for the XYZ project.” If there’s not something else we’re supposed to be discussing it’s a little harder- usually I go for a blank/polite/unenthused smile and commentary like “wow, you guys might be more interested in my clothes/hair/tattoos than I am!” It can also be effective to turn it around like they’re the ones doing something unusual “uhoh, the fashion commentators are at it again!” or “I think you missed your calling as a red carpet correspondent!” delivered cheerfully enough that hopefully no one is going to get grumpy because the mean office gay is bullying them.

  59. Lumos*

    As queer person who is arguably fat, I’m going to go ahead and throw in that at my last employer I got a lot of flak for having an unnatural hair color from my boss even though it was allowed by policy and I’d okayed it with our Director. When my Director shut her down she did so specifically on the basis (I overheard this) that unnatural hair colors can be indicative of queerness and that her causing issues over it could be discrimination. I was not out as queer at this time but my point is there is very clearly a segment of the population that thinks colored hair=queer and we shouldn’t pretend there isn’t.

    1. Clemgo3165*

      I’m glad your Director shut down you boss, but oh my. Hair color is indicative of queerness?

      1. Lumos*

        This was actually meant to be a reply to someone, but oh well. Yep! That workplace was full of bees and unfortunately it got worse before I got out. I had to make several harassments complaints before I was able to leave. (I found out after I left that one of the people I complained about was fired shortly thereafter as a result of my complaints.) The new diversity director was trying but it was decidedly an uphill battle against most everyone else there.

        1. Jackie*

          There is indeed a correlation between queerness and hair dying. Why is that a problem? There is a correlation between hair length and being female. So if the director had said “you shouldn’t discriminate against people with long hair because that could disproportionately affect women” they would be right, wouldn’t they? Or if the director shut down bans of super-curly hair because it disproportionately affected Black people, they would be right too. I don’t understand why this means the workplace is full of bees. The director seems pretty sensible.

          1. quill*

            I think it’s more about being clocked as queer, specifically, than about the validity of the comment. It’s a lot more nerve wracking to think “oh shit, they have suddenly discovered that I’m queer and I can’t trust that they won’t change their opinions of me” than to have someone mention a difference that everyone around you can see.

            Because unfortunately, every living person who is queer has spent a lot of time dancing between “being obvious enough to meet other queer people” and “being stealthy enough that my boss doesn’t make it a problem.”

          2. Lumos*

            Nowhere in my comment did I say the workplace was full of bees because of that one comment I said it was full of bees, statement tangential to the first. As for why it’s problematic to say “You can’t make a problem about their hair because they might be queer” Queer people are not the only people who like to dye their hair, statistically we likely aren’t the majority either. It should’ve been “You shouldn’t make a problem about their hair because they got it approved” not “every person with colored hair might be queer so we can’t say anything to them about their hair” that’s not really the right takeaway there. You shouldn’t say anything about hair color because hair color doesn’t affect someone’s work.

            The workplace was full of bees because my boss was a micromanager who regularly stalked me to the bathroom, told me there were different workplace standards for women, talked down to me about anyone who isn’t Christian, and my coworkers regularly said dehumanizing things about queer people and also anyone liberal.

      2. Vanellope*

        Right? That’s so strange. In my house unnatural hair color is indicative of middle-schoolness and boredom. Or “let’s see if the grays will pick up as purple highlights in my otherwise dark hair.” Or that it’s summer. I honestly know more straight people than queer with fun hair colors!

      3. Beth*

        It’s not a 100% sure sign or anything, but once someone is past undergrad age or so, having bright/unnatural colored hair definitely correlates with queerness. In combination with flamboyant outfits, it would be enough to make me assume at a glance that a person is probably gay and that we probably share that community.

    2. Sunny*

      Or hairstyles as well. I’ve been debating cutting my hair pixie cut short at one point and I already know that the way I’ll be perceived as “woman with long hair” versus “woman with incredibly short haircut” will be drastic!

  60. Anon all day*

    There is definitely a lot of hypocrisy showing. “Don’t comment on peoples’ appearances at work” has always been such a staple here. But, when it actually comes into play, there are definitely a handful of people who apparently think there are exceptions (and how interesting, that that exception is a fat, queer woman).

    1. HungryLawyer*

      Just a friendly FYI that OP uses he/him pronouns :) He commented upthread to provide more info about what’s been happening. Totally agree with your point that there is a disappointing number of people here willing to take exception to the general “no commenting on bodies/appearances.” Seems to show a lack of…empathy?

  61. Fat & queer*

    As the OP, I can confirm this isn’t true. I would be delighted if I never had to have another conversation about my appearance at work.

    1. CatWoman*

      If we could just avoid all opinions of other people’s appearance, life would be easier. Like, don’t like it, whatever…just keep your opinions to yourself, esp at work.

  62. TeenieBopper*

    Everyone is commenting on letter 2,but I just want to thank you for answering letter 4. I’m in a similar situation (similar enough that I thought maybe I slept-wrote a letter). I’m a BI analyst and have been fully remote since Covid started with a short three month experiment with hybrid (at my request) and have had zero issues with doing work and communicating with stakeholders (often at the VP and C suite level).

    I was approached by a recruiter and I’ll almost always have the conversation or do the interview because I want to know what the market is doing and to keep my interview skills from degrading (I’m always honest about being happy where I am and it would take a lot to get me to move). This recruiter asked me what my end goal was and the glib answer is “my job but with more money.” The thing is, I make enough money now to not have to worry about much so it’s really the lowest thing on my priorities list. Any pay increase has to maintain my current PTO rate/WFH status/flexibility/autonomy.

    I’m expecting an offer today or tomorrow that is also about a 30% pay increase but about half the PTO and only one day a week remote. I also get the sense that the PTO flexibility will be gone and they’ll have (in my opinion) relatively outdated values of working late and sacrificing for the company. I’ve been trying to find a way to talk myself into declining the job but not like burning a bridge with this recruiter because the job itself sounds exciting. I’m just giving up too much of what I want for not enough of something I don’t really care about.

    All this to say, that you for giving me a way decline the offer in a way that doesn’t make me feel weird about it

    1. calonkat*

      Money can’t make up for time not spent with family or friends. Enough money for a specific time might make it worth it, but there will still be experiences lost or changed. PTO and flexibility is more important than some employers realize. I’ve lived under the poverty level, and it wasn’t fun, but on the plus side, I’m pretty happy when I have enough for basic expenses, where I see people who earn a lot more being fairly unhappy in their McMansions they are never home to enjoy.

    2. Katie*

      There are many reasons why getting more pay is important and many reasons why the benefits is important.

      However, in this market, if you can get this offer, there may be that same rate out there where you get the right benefits too. Don’t sell yourself short!

      Many years ago, I turned down an okay job offer. It was a raise, but it didn’t really fit what I really wanted to do (and an hour drive). I waited a few months and got a job offer with waaaay more pay, benefits, drive was 5 minutes, and fit exactly in what I wanted to do. I wouldn’t have had the same opportunity if I settled.

  63. bunniferous*

    Re letter #2….I wonder how much of this is just that after two years of limited social/work interaction(and since LW says they are only in the office two days a week)….maybe people have forgotten their social skills and/or the novelty factor is playing in? I would be willing to bet that over time as people get more used to seeing the OP, and more used to being back in the office period, some of this might die down.

    I don’t KNOW but I suspect some of what is annoying OP is that the complements seem performative-as in “oh look, I am “cool” with OP and how they present”….and I can absolutely see how that would be absolutely irritating and annoying and offputting. I mean, saying “nice hair” upon a new hair color is not that bad but I suspect it’s the over gushing that is getting on their last nerve. Again, I’m betting eventually this will die down once people adjust better to being back in the office but I like the suggestion I saw upthread of picking one or two people and mentioning to them all the appearance talk is a bit MUCH.

  64. Jill*

    For #5, I work somewhere where several candidates turned the job down for similar reasons. It caused the company to take a long, hard look at their pay scale and benefits and resulted in a salary increase across the board and several added benefits for current staff. Even if it’s awkward I encourage you to be transparent! Someone else literally changed my life by being honest.

  65. River*

    #2. I would suggest trying to engage as less as possible if you’re not wanting these types of comments. Similar to your situation, I would also receive too many positive comments about my looks and appearances. I tend to dress a little fancier than most staff, only because I am in a management role and I feel like I need to present myself in better fashion. When people would make these glowing comments, I wasn’t sure if they were indirectly saying “oh look at how fancy your outfit is. you must be doing well financially”, (which personally I am doing just ok financially and the place I get my work clothing from looks expensive but is actually relatively affordable to the average working joe). Or they could truly be having good intentions and are just being nice. Regardless, I felt like they were being patronizing and so over time I would engage less and less with their comments. Before people would ask where I got my clothes/shoes from and I would make up an answer like “oh it was a gift” or “I just bought it from a website online”, just kept it vague. Any more questions and that person would appear too nosy so I never got any more questions beyond that. I would often change the subject afterwards. To this day, the comments have almost completely stopped though once in a blue moon, someone will comment on the new shoes I am wearing or my new hairdo. I just say “Thank you”, maybe change the subject, and move on. Though I am not queer, I can’t relate to staff trying to be supportive of my lifestyle and fashion sense, with all good intentions, however hopefully my situation helped? Best of luck!

  66. prufrock*

    LW2: Wow this comment section has been thoroughly exhausting. I really wish the people who are telling the LW to suck it up or change would pause for a bit. It’s pretty disheartening to see such dismissiveness about the lived experience of LW and people like the LW.

    I am a queer gender-non-conforming POC with a non-traditional style, including technicolour hair. I do it for myself, for my own gaze in the mirror, not anyone else’s. I dress up my Animal Crossing avatar even if no one will be visiting my island.

    If I am styling myself that way for other people and to stand out from the norm, it’s only so that people think of me as “the one with the weird hair” instead of “the [not-white] girl”. I will *always* stand out from the norm, and it might as well be for something I have a bit of control over. You might have similar feelings about being “the fat one”, but I won’t presume.

    I guess I don’t have a lot of helpful advice to deal with repetitive “compliments” from coworkers. My non-ideal solution was that I’m already the cranky antisocial one of the office, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to say thanks in a ultra deadpan and move on. I am definitely not advocating for this approach at all! I just wanted to share my experience.

    And to everyone who is saying to learn to take a compliment, when I’m being screamed at and followed in the street, I tense up and go into fight-or-flight mode whether the words are a slur or “NICE HAIR”. To draw upon a less extreme personal experience, it’s hard not to feel scrutinized or suspect ulterior motives when you hear the same comments on your appearance day after day.

    1. prufrock*

      To add a more concrete workplace experience:

      I have a coworker, who during the first few months that he started here, commented on every. single. “cool” thing I wore. “Cool sunglasses.” “Cool shirt.” “Cool tattoo.” Repeat with every clothing item of mine that he hadn’t seen before. Obviously I could see that this very outgoing guy was just trying to make a connection and be friends with his new coworkers. But to have him consciously or not keep tabs on my wardrobe like that was skin-crawling creepy. A few years later at this point, he is friends/friendly with everyone else, so good for him.

  67. Calibrate*

    LW #2 – I am one of those people that would comment on your hair color or clothes, in a positive way! I’m 61 years old and continue to learn. I used to comment on a person’s weight loss, maybe because it made me feel good when someone might notice if I dropped a few pounds. Nope, no longer do that and I understand why. If you were to tell me what Allison suggested, I would be total on board with that! We never know what is going on inside somebody’s head unless they share.

  68. Eleanor Shellstrop*

    #1, I empathize with your situation. I just left a very toxic work environment for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones was that they called me several times a day every time I took a day off. The time I remember the most clearly, I had four phone calls, a couple of texts from various people, and a Facebook message (!) all before 9 am. I remember crying when I looked at my phone. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and I just couldn’t get a break for even one day. Nothing they contacted me about was ever so important that it was necessary to interrupt my leave time. Once, I was out sick for several days and they called me multiple times every day to inquire about scheduling various client meeting in the coming weeks, instead of just telling the clients, “Hey, she’s out sick. We’ll get back to you as soon as she’s back in the office.” (This would have been the appropriate response, given the kind of work we did.) When I got back to the office and addressed the daily calls, the response I got was, “Oh, we didn’t realize you were *actually* sick.” WHAT?! I called in *sick*. I shouldn’t have to justify how sick I am in order to be left alone on a sick day. I did not even make it a year at the job because of behaviors like this.

    All of that is really just to say that I would strongly encourage you & your coworkers to use Alison’s script and address this with your leadership. Everyone needs a real, true break from their jobs. I wish you luck!

  69. These Are My Formal Jorts*

    I experience the same thing as LW #2, and when I have talked about it with others, I frame it as “my appearance is the least interesting thing about me”. And, as a queer person who does a tremendous amount of work that does not get recognized, it feels extra annoying to receive praise on my outfit and not all of the very awesome work I do *at work*.

  70. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    LW2 – As a fat woman with a flamboyant style/personality who works in fairly conservative industries, I just want to validate you about some kinds of compliments feeling bad. There’s a real difference between, “Hey, you look great today!” or “I love those shoes!” and “OH my GOSH, LOOK at YOU! So FUN!” or “I just HAD to come by and see what NEW LOOK you came up with today . . . !” or “Ugh, I could NEVER wear that. I wish I was as BRAVE as you!” The subtext to these kinds of “compliments” is: you’re different from me/us, you shouldn’t be wearing that because of your body, you’re a spectacle, and I feel bad that I feel this way so I’m going to fawn all over you with the only things I can dredge up: “fun,” “creative,” “unique,” “brave” . . . . Yuck.

    No suggestions, just a validation from afar that this phenomenon really sucks.

    People, if you can’t bring yourself to genuinely compliment the fat people in your life like you would anybody else, don’t fake it – we always know when it’s bullshit. It’s better to say nothing than tell us we’re “brave” for having the temerity to be fat and well dressed.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      When I (woman) shave my head, it always amazes me the number of women who will come up out of the blue and say “Oh wow, I’d LOVE to shave my hair like that but I could NEVER pull it off! I would look like a lumpy egg! It’s so STUNNING on YOU.”

      Why tell me this? Why not just compliment my haircut a normal way, like saying “cool haircut!” or something? Why insert an explanation about how they are categorically different from me and could never do the thing I do (but don’t worry, they love it for me)? When my hair is long no one ever walks up to me and starts a conversation with “Oh wow, I’d LOVE to put my hair in a ponytail like that but I could NEVER pull it off! I would look like a depressed squirrel! It’s so STUNNING on YOU.”

      1. Jack Bruce*

        Yes!! I’ve shaved my head and had hair of so many colors and get those all the time. Why does it always come back to being brave? If you want to do it, do it. Or not. But I’m not really brave, this is just me. I don’t need someone puffing me up, it’s just a hairstyle.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Yes, exactly! I don’t shave my head because I’m “brave,” I’m just too lazy and impatient to fuss with long hair or schedule a proper haircut. Nor was I “brave” to dye my hair blue – I just saw a box of blue hair dye at the drug store and bought it on impulse.

          Brave implies doing something in the face of adversity/danger… which I never even considered. It’s a haircut, not a rabid wolverine.

        2. Very Social*

          I think it’s brave because you’re risking nasty comments! Or comments like theirs that aren’t really nasty…

    2. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      Right. And there is also a big difference between a friend who talks to me about my kids, my hobbies, etc ALSO noticing a hair color or an outfit they particularly like and coworkers who this is the only thing about you and feel compelled to comment because they have no other way to relate.

      Now I will admit to being jealous of a particular shade of purply blue hair because I have never been quite able to achieve it when I was wearing colorful hair so I am compelled to compliment it whenever I see it.

    3. These Are My Formal Jorts*

      Yes yes yes. And then someone is like, “YOU KNOW WHO YOU REMIND ME OF” and in my head I say “please do not say that lady from Criminal Mi-” “THE LADY FROM CRIMINAL MINDS. YOU KNOW, THE QUIRKY ONE???”

      1. Annie Oakley*

        CBS procedurals with their one token quirky woman! I think I’ve been compared to whoever that is at the time, regardless of our actual resemblance.

      2. A Feast of Fools*

        For me, that inward cringe and “Please don’t do the thing that I already know you’re about to do because you’d be the 50,000th person to do that to me…” is my real-life name.

        In the late 70’s, there was a really, really, REALLY popular song whose main chorus is a woman’s name and some words that rhyme with it. I have the same name as the song. I have heard the start of the chorus sung at me so many times and each time is more exhausting than the last.

        I never understood how people always thought they were the first person to sing the chorus to me *and* that they were very, very clever for thinking of it.

        Thankfully, it seems to have died off as the people most familiar with the song have begun to literally die off.

        1. Jinni*

          Ha! The last time this happened, I just stayed silent. To which the person clocked and said, “Oh my gosh, you must have heard that a million times. I’m so sorry.”

          1. A Feast of Fools*

            One time when I was feeling peckish (and when the person was an exceptionally smarmy dude) I cocked my head and said, “Is that a song or something you just made up?”

            When he started to explain the history and popularity of it, I interrupted and said in my best dead-pan voice and with no expression on my face, “I have literally never heard that song before in my entire life of being named [Popular Song].”

            I don’t think he ever figured out if I was being serious or not.

        2. mmu42536*

          I have the same problem, though also less as the song becomes less well-known.
          In addition, my name is a word in another language, and people always seem compelled to show off that they know it and say “Wow, that’s such a pretty name, did you know it means [this]?” As if in my entire life I’d never thought to look that up (besides the fact that I also speak the language, so yeah I know what it means).

        3. OxfordBlue*

          I can really sympathise with you as I have a first name that occurs in two nursery rhymes and countless popular songs and classical pieces, as well as being a very common woman’s name in many countries, so have suffered through this type of experience from kindergarten onwards myself. I also wear glasses and once got the double in a nightclub from a man whose name and face I’ve gladly forgotten.
          I like your point about being a sort of cultural reference dipstick and will try to think of myself in those terms the next time someone isn’t original or clever at me.

      3. RetailEscapee*

        Haaaahaha you’re better than me because I would ABSOLUTELY say “the woman from criminal minds” super deadpan before they could finish the thought.
        I have lost 100 lbs but at my heaviest I looked very much like one of the 3 women allowed to be both fat and famous and heard about it A LOT. To the point that when she was on a reality show about weight loss I was able to say “yes, the fat one from (music group). I’ve been told”

    4. HelloKittyKitty*

      haha the BRAVERY comment always gets to me. It always makes me feel a little sad because colored hair is the least brave thing about me, and I worry about you if you think that it takes an act of bravery! It always seems bundled up with saddening heteronormativity biases.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Hah, I feel this so much. Nevermind that I literally ran into a burning building to put out a fire, have risked assault to get total strangers out of dangerous situations on multiple occasions, and have built an entire career off of telling people with power over me things they don’t want to hear. What REALLY shows I’m brave is dying my hair blue!

  71. Jo*

    For #1, if you have an otherwise good relationship with her as a manager – I wonder if this is an unrealistic ‘’expectation” or simply information. If the latter, respond accordingly. My team is also small and our individual work highly specialized. When I take off, it might be:
    * I’d gladly take work calls. Maybe I’m driving solo for hours or waiting for a repairman.
    * I’m taking OFF, but call/text me if truly urgent
    * eh, I’m “out”, but keeping an eye on email.
    * I am NOT AVAILABLE. whatever it is has to wait for my return.

    I know staying fully connected to work can be unhealthy, and I don’t think our team does that. But we do tend to communicate with each other how disconnected we’ll be. And there’s no pressure. It’s merely information (for us).

    1. Office Lobster DJ*

      I was thinking of this myself. Just like when OOO messages are discussed, there are shades of meaning to “away,” as you’ve summarized handily. There have been times, for instance, where I’ve started to put out a fire for someone who was “away,” only to have them suddenly step in and create confusion and double the work for me. In that sense, I wouldn’t blame OP1’s manager for wanting to be crystal clear.

      That said, it creates pressure just to ask the question, even if the intentions are good. I think it’s worth bringing up with the manager, using Alison’s scripts, with the goal of moving toward a culture where “away” means totally unreachable unless the person explicitly states otherwise.

  72. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    LW#2 – I think a combo approach is probably necessary. If there are 1-2 people who you have a friendlier relationship, it might be good to be a little more open with them about how much the constant conversation/ observation is exhausting. Some might understand that allyship could look like taking on some of the deflect/educate on this topic.

    For the rest of the people I would resort to limiting the discussion by topic switching as much as possible. Some good examples in the rest of the thread. Although personally I would get shorter and shorter with the acknowledgement “Yep, How is that report coming along”. One thing you could try, which would be more exhausting for awhile and shouldn’t be on you, is to try short circuiting the worst offenders by speaking to them first. As you see Jane approaching before she can start, just dive in with work related stuff, even if it means interrupting.

    To those suggesting that LW should change their dress, nope. If you typically dress neutral and suddenly come in one day with pink hair and rainbow clothes, you should expect comments. If colorful hair and dress is your STANDARD it should not be garnering this level of attention. This comes off as “I am uncomfortable with this person and do not know how to relate to them as a person so I will pay them a compliment so they don’t think I am uncomfortable.” This is making Jane feel better at the LW’s expense.

    1. cleo*

      “This comes off as “I am uncomfortable with this person and do not know how to relate to them as a person so I will pay them a compliment so they don’t think I am uncomfortable.” This is making Jane feel better at the LW’s expense.”


    2. Koalafied*

      Agreed. I’m a cis white woman who in my younger years had my hair professionally dyed in multiple color balayage (think “5 shades of purple and blue meant to mimick what naturally-occurring purple hair with blue highlights might look like”) about every 3 months.

      I did eventually stop because I realized it was inviting strangers to strike up conversations with me and I would rather not. But that was strangers who weren’t accustomed to my appearance. My coworkers, who saw me every day, would comment the first day I came in after going from “shades of purple and blue” to “shades of red and orange,” and that was it. They didn’t keep commenting on my hair every single day or even every week or every month. If they had, it would have felt creepy and made me uncomfortable and I would have (with great sadness) stopped dying my air a lot sooner.

      This is 100% NOT something the LW is “asking for” by the way they dress or style themselves.

  73. Happy*

    For #1, I don’t see why you need to have a larger conversation. When your manager asks, just happily say that you will be unreachable and enjoy your vacation!

    1. Lysine*

      This would be my response as well. Especially since it sounds like she’s a good boss and would take the information well.

    2. Rocket*

      Same. Sounds like the boss is good in every other aspect, so why don’t you assume good in this aspect? Answer her question honestly. “Yes, I cannot be contacted on this vacation. Thanks so much.” The end.

    3. Hlao-roo*

      The LW might feel comfortable happily saying “totally unreachable” every time they take a vacation, but having a conversation with their boss could benefit other members of the team. Younger/newer/less professionally-experienced coworkers might feel they have to answer the boss honestly, and they would have more relaxing vacations if they didn’t feel like they had to be on call the whole time.

  74. HannahS*

    OP1, you can also wait until the next time it comes up, if you’d rather, instead of speaking with your manager proactively. It’s totally reasonable to say something like, “I won’t be available while I’m on vacation. I’ve found it really important for me to disconnect completely from work when I’m away.”

    I’m exhausted by the expectation that workers be constantly available. There are very few jobs where you’re never really allowed to take a fully disconnected vacation and you’d likely know if you’re in one of them, because it’s a condition of employment or an expectation of the profession. But a manager saying “I’d just rather because it slows things down when someone is away” is not a good enough reason.

  75. Workerbee*

    #5 Take this with all due caveats into your individual situation: I have successfully used both “I am looking for a more modern, flexible approach” and “I expect to be treated as an adult” when negotiating with a 1950s-modeled butts in seats organization. Their employee handbook included outdated statements such as “When requesting PTO, you need to include a reason why.” (In reality, you don’t.)

    I’ve been working full-time remote for them for three years now, so anything is possible even with hidebound orgs!

  76. Data Bear*

    LW#5: I see no reason to soft-pedal the message. You’ve already decided that this is a deal-breaker and that you don’t want to work there; go ahead and be blunt. The less your message can be misconstrued as a polite excuse, the more likely it is that it will actually get through. And it sounds like the hiring manager already understands that this is a problem, so give him something he can use as ammo to argue for change.

    “I’m really interested in the role and the work, the compensation is great, and I would love to work with Hiring Manager, but regretfully, I have to decline this offer. I’m sorry to say it, but HugeEmployer’s policies on WFH and strict office hours indicate a company that is rigid and inflexible, doesn’t trust its employees, and is out of touch with the modern workplace. That’s not the kind of place where I want to work, and honestly, it makes me a little concerned about its long-term outlook. I’d be delighted to hear from you again if things change, but until then, I wish you the best of luck in finding a candidate willing to accept that.”

  77. Betty Beep Boop*

    For #2 could you try to shut down the comments with a blanket “thanks”. For example, something like: “hey everybody, i appreciate/thank you for all your compliments on my appearance (outfit/hair/etc) but having it be a source of conversation every time/day is getting to be a bit much/exhausting (fill in the blank with what feels best) so just know I’ll be assuming you like my look for the day without there having to be a conversation about it.

    This may not deter people from discussing it amongst themselves so maybe a statement about that would have to be something more about how you’re not their source of entertainment or something sort of educational about how it’s not great to view you as the office stereotypical “fabulous” queer person. (I admittedly don’t have the knowledge/sources to provide on how to craft this but I’m sure there is info from LGBTQIA+ groups for language/info to provide/use).

    The other/maybe first option would be to go through your manager (depending on how you well you trust them) and they can intervene somehow. I would hope that regardless of how this situation is resolved that the company would consider some microaggression/inclusivity training.

    And then there’s also the option of including – either in your group statement (or maybe as a sort of passive aggressive highlighting of the issue) that you start bringing up other peoples outfits as comparison to why it’s exhausting and weird that your appearance is highlighted. for example you can include something about how you notice that we never talk about what Jan wears everyday. and/or if nobody listens to your group annoucement and keeps talking about it start pointing out what other people are wearing to start that conversation – “hey Sue, did you see Jan’s jacket today? isn’t it great? so fabulous” and then the next day “hey Jan, wow another amazing jacket, can wait to see what you come up with next week”.
    Obviously not to the point of being obnoxious or picking one person too much but hopefully at some point they might get the jist of why it’s so exhausting. (hopefully, unless their head just gets too big from all the compliments and thennnnn you’re really out of luck).

  78. lemon*

    Because sometimes the things people are commenting on reveal some unconscious biases.

    It’s like… people will sometimes remark, with surprise, about how well-spoken I am. Well, I’m a native English speaker who is well-educated– why wouldn’t I be well-spoken? Why is that surprising and something that needs to be remarked on?

    Because I am a visible racial minority. People are surprised because they have an unconscious bias operating that’s making them assume, on some level, that someone who looks like me either doesn’t speak English or isn’t educated. (And yes, at the same time, strangers will often come up to me on the street and ask “Do you speak English????”)

    It’s the revelation of the unconscious bias that is insulting, not what someone consciously intended to be a compliment. When you are a person of color and people praise you for basic things, like being able to speak English or wearing nice clothes, it can feel weird for that reason.

  79. just another reader!*

    This has been such an interesting conversation to skim through! The general consensus with the guy asking about whether he should be doing martial arts moves at work a few weeks back seemed to be “Let your freak flag fly, but coworkers are probably going to think you’re being performative and weird, so their judgment is something you should be ready for.” And I wonder why the response has been so different in tone for LW2, who is likewise knowingly doing something unconventional in a workplace environment, which may be read as performative or attention-seeking even if it isn’t.

    1. Annie Oakley*

      LW #2 wasn’t asking if he should change his appearance, but rather how to redirect the compliments/comments he was receiving. That’s why the advice and responses are different.

      1. just another reader!*

        Oh for sure, I know the question itself was different and so the actionable advice is different, but the … sentiment, I guess, also feels very different, when in my thinking minus a few specific details, they make for relatively comparable situations. (Dyeing your hair and choosing clothes in the morning is not “just existing,” but of course that’s only a point if the problematic attention/commentary is actually about fashion choices and not something fundamental to the OP, which may not be the case.)

    2. Sunny*

      I think it’s for a few reasons:

      – personal style of dressing / presenting yourself is more intrinsic to your identity than doing karate. Could you dress differently if you need to? Yes, for example if the office had a strict dress code. But it doesn’t and expecting the only visibly queer / fat person to change to feel comfortable with everyone else isn’t great.
      – the LW specifically mentioned he felt there was an underlying negative impact to the compliments in regards to fatphobia / queerphobia. Versus if someone comments on it being weird someone else is doing karate… there is no underlying othering towards a marginalized group
      – it doesn’t sound like he is wearing anything other than a bold pattern or bright colour but the comments in response are extreme and excessive. Doing karate is a pretty weird thing in an office and you can expect people will comment on finding that strange but wearing bright colours in an office that accepts it is not so weird to the point it should be expected to get this level of attention

    3. A Feast of Fools*

      Maybe because one is someone performing physical actions in the workplace that aren’t part of their job, and the other is people just. . . existing?

      There’s a huge difference between, say, Jill the Accountant standing in your company’s lobby juggling tennis balls (performative and weird), and Jill styling her hair differently.

    4. Siege*

      Doing something some people may recognize as part of a fighting art =/= standing around wearing bright clothes.

  80. Boris Hoffman*

    OP#1 My manager always asks if we’ll be reachable on our time off

    Are you salary? Could it be, your manager is trying to determine if he needs to dock you for the time off? If you are available, he doesn’t need to, but if unavailable then he would need to have you take a vacation day?

  81. Mandy*

    2) This is a hard one… it brings me back memories of being pregnant and having people comment on how big I was getting non-stop. NOT that this is the same thing, but having your appearance commented on over and over again… it is tiring. So I guess having direct conversations with frequent offenders and just a few phrases to say in the moment to everyone else is going to be your best bet here. Also, if you have any friends and allies in the office who can spread the word that might also help. And honestly maybe talk to HR and get their take on things because I know that training people on how to be more inclusive and to recognize bias is a hot topic in the HR world and it can be helpful to hear what actual humans in their work place are experiencing. And yes, compliments do usually come from a good place with most people, I completely do get that, and most probably don’t realize that they are the 20th person that day who said something to you, I get that too, but that does not mean that these compliments land as intended and honestly most of us do not want to receive comments on our appearance from our coworkers so it is important that people know that they should be more mindful of how they are going to be perceived. I am honestly a fan of pretty much never commenting on someone’s appearance in the workplace. We had a situation here where I work where someone was losing weight from a painful medical condition and people were complimenting on her weight loss and telling her how great she looked all day long. She did not want people to know about her private medical condition but she did not appreciate the weight comments either. I also had a friend who was losing her hair and started wearing wigs and people were always commenting on her new hairstyles and she was super sensitive and just trying to find a comfy wig that resembled her own hair. She was simply trying to fly under the radar and here are people calling attention to her. So I think we should all spread the word that we need to stop commenting on appearances at work.

  82. scurvycapn*

    I’ve made it clear at work that for me PTO also stands for “Phone Turned Off”. It doesn’t matter what I am doing with my time off. As far as anyone else should be concerned, I immediately hopped into my car at 5pm the day before my PTO and have traveled somewhere where I can’t receive calls. I’m also getting back home late the day before I come back. If I take a week off, I turn off my work cell at 5pm on Friday and turn it back on Sunday evening just to make sure I don’t have any early Monday morning meetings to catch me off guard. Emails, etc. can wait until I power my laptop up the next morning.

  83. Lobsterman*

    LW2, I don’t see this company’s culture changing. Your coworkers are just tedious and petty. Your bosses are, as well, because they haven’t asked anyone to tone it down. Now’s a good time for the job hunt. Good luck!

  84. A Feast of Fools*

    I wish we could shift the culture at large to it being the default to *not* comment on anyone’s physical appearance, especially at work.

    My value to my company is my brain. Same with my coworkers. If one person thinks better and moves through the world easier in khakis and a polo, have at it. And if someone else prefers bright colors and ever-changing hair colors and styles, have at it. Both should be able to go about their days and their jobs without listening to a bunch of commentary on their appearance.

    I propose that we keep small talk to things like, “The weather was gorgeous this weekend; do anything fun?”

  85. Xanna*

    I wear almost exclusively simple, black, classic silhouettes to work, because as a femme-presenting person doing admin work – I really resent the perception that the exterior of my body is more interesting/important/noteworthy than my work/brain/humanity, and thought having a “uniform” look would help. I also have a lot of history with body dysmorphia, and it’s really hard and painful to be a human inhabiting a body that doesn’t feel like home sometimes, and other people vocally calling attention to the fact I inhabit a body that they’re assessing and judging is triggering. Alas, cue daily office goth/Wednesday Adams/queries on if I am aware of other colours comments. Like this situation, I don’t think it’s ill-intended, but it does make me self-conscious and a bit exposed if that makes sense.

    The only thing I’ve found that really helps is just not being a very satisfying person to interact on that front with – I like clothes, and spend a lot of time thrift shopping, so used to be a lot more forthcoming – “Thanks!! I found it on the clearance rack at Joaquin’s Cool Old Stuff Emporium – what a find!” which I think cements for other people I like talking about clothes and appreciated the notice, which then encourages them to do that conversational loop again, and then it becomes a weirdly entrenched topic. Now I’m more inclined to a quick, pretty bland “thanks,” and then pivot, or in the case of comments (ie. “You sure wear a lot of black dresses!!!!”) just a totally neutral “yup” makes it kind of hard for the other person to engage in a full conversation about whatever you happen to be wearing.

    Just wanted to comment, as I know some folks have said “just wear more boring clothes”, but in my experience, I think that’s unlikely to materially change these interactions.

    1. Jack Bruce*

      This is a great point, I did the pivot without even realizing it since I have bright or a shaved head for years. I just ran out of energy to even pretend that I was interested in that line of talk. Just “thanks, so this project is coming due…” So it eventually stopped. That said, there were about 3-4 people at work I would open up to in the old way (almost always those with dyed hair or alternative fashion), cause we could actually have a real conversation about it and not just a one way amazement fest for the speaker.

  86. Workfromhome*

    #2 I agree people shouldn’t comment on what the OP “intent” might be from doing regular radical changes to their appearance. They cant possibly know what their intent is. BUT and this is important people are going to make interpretations on what they see. Its human nature and we do it every sigle day. If you say something and someone smiles at it you interpret this as though they are signaling they like what you said. If you come to the office ever day wearing different jerseys and hats with the team X logo on it people will probably think you are a fan of team x. These are things people need to do to function and socially interact.

    If somone makes radical changes to their hair color etc that is very visible to others they are going to notice. Its a logical interpretation that because you do something that people are bound to notice that you want them to notice. The only way people would know that’s not the intent is if you TELL them. They cant read minds. When something is illogical or flies in the face of conventional interpretation its not fair to be critical of people for doing so.
    You can certainly politely ask people not to comment on your hair or clothes but you cant expect them not to notice and if you ask them to try to “fake” that they dont notice or to treat you very differently than the norm then you risk them avoiding other than necessary interactions with you. Sort of like Jane has bright green hair today and clothes with flashing lights on them I cant help but notice but she dislikes when I notice so its easier for me to just not go into her office than to try to pretend not to notice.

    1. A Feast of Fools*

      Or people could notice and just NOT comment, right?

      I’m not understanding why “I Noticed Something” equals “I Am Forced To Say Something About Everything I Notice And Will Have To Physically Remove Myself From The Person’s Vicinity Because I Have No Choice But To Say Something To Them About This Aspect Of Them That I Noticed.”

      1. Koalafied*

        Yes, similar about the dinosaur men who grumble about how they’re not “allowed” to “compliment” women anymore. Aside from the fact that they’re generally missing the point by a mile, it’s also acting like it’s such a huge injustice to be asked not to vocalize their opinion of someone else’s appearance. Your opinion is not so valuable that everyone must hear it purely because you have one!

      2. Beany*

        I think Workfromhome covered this with:

        “You can certainly politely ask people not to comment on your hair or clothes but you cant expect them not to notice […]”

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          But no one would have to “politely ask people not to comment” if the comments didn’t happen in the first place. Hence my advice to notice BUT NOT COMMENT.

    2. Trixie Belle*

      I’ve learned over my 50+ years of life that some people really do honestly think that if you do something out of the norm – out of their perception of the norm – you are doing it in order to violate the norm and get their attention. That’s why someone would equate a person changing their bright hair color occasionally with coming to work wearing flashing lights.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        I, too, have 50+ years on this planet and, yes, far too many people think that other folks who are just living their own lives are doing it *at* them.

        Also? If a coworker showed up every single day wearing flashing lights, would these people *really* comment on the flashing lights EVERY SINGLE DAY?

        Because that’s what OP2 is experiencing. They show up to work EVERY SINGLE DAY looking “different”.

        It’s wild that OP2’s coworkers — and so many of the people commenting here — can’t just file it away in their own brains as “Yup, that’s OP2’s look,” and instead insist that OP2 should change their style if they don’t like having people make comments on it EVERY SINGLE DAY.

    3. eisa*

      I agree, came here to say pretty much the same thing.

      We choose how we present ourselves re: clothing, hairstyle, accessories.
      Geeky, athletic/outdoorsy, British aristo style, inconspicious, emphasizing a binary gender, non-binary/androgynous, policital statement, “I was at that supercool festival/concert”, …
      We can say we “dress for ourselves alone”, however nobody can argue ignorance of the fact that other people will see what we wear – one’s outfit, if freely chosen, is in fact a form of communication with others.

      Bright colors are very noticable to humans, so .. humans will notice. The more diffident ones will notice silently, others will notice out loud.
      However this noticing out loud seems to have reached an unreasonable level which is annoying to OP, so, maybe ..
      Co-Worker : “GeE, gReAT ShIrT ! FaNTasTIc !!”
      OP : (cocked hear, puzzled half-smile) “yeah ? you said that to me three times already ?”
      (only if same colleague comments on same item more than once)
      Co-Worker : “New haircolor again ! Nice!”
      OP (pushing clicker-counter) “Seventeen!”
      .. yeah well, might come across as too adversarial though

  87. LB*

    I think it’s simply human nature that people (out of kindness, curiousness, politeness, or as just being a functional part of a collaborative society) will acknowledge a bold new hair color or a brightly colored or boldly patterned new outfit rather than ignore it. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, I do think the responsibility is on you to accept that this is part of being in a society and dwell in the place in your mind that knows these aren’t actually micro-agressions. This simply isn’t the same thing as white people constantly commenting on a black person’s “bold” (to the white person only) hair style, the solution of which should involve educating the coworkers/white people. Both queer and non-queer people dye their hair funky colors and dress boldly or eclectically, and it sounds your coworkers are well-intended.

    1. A Feast of Fools*

      Right. Literally no one should grow past the stage of a 5-year old who yells out, “MOMMY! LOOK! THAT WOMAN IS FAT!” We should all just accept that adults can’t possibly be expected to keep their unasked-for opinions to themselves and that the only way to interact with each other in society is to comment on any part of another person’s appearance that we find to be odd or different.

      Got it.

      1. LB*

        That is a bizarre example/not at all the same scenario. And yes, it’s likely someone might compliment a bold new hair style or outfit in an attempt to be kind and/or polite, and it’s something one should accept was well-intended. It is part of being an adult in a civilized society.

        1. LB*

          And I agree with Workfromhome – one can always express that they would prefer no one comments on their constantly changing hair or bold new clothing if it makes them feel uncomfortable. The poster made it seem like he did not feel his coworkers were actually using microagressions; that they were well-meaning. So I assumed the same in my comments. It would be different if the comments didn’t seem well-intended.

  88. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

    Perhaps the people who are giving you the positive compliments on your clothing and hairstyle feel like they can’t pull off that style as great as you do. On a smaller scale at my work, I have been getting compliments on my belt purse because it’s unusual,cool looking and practical. I could see after a while how it could get a little bit annoying if every single day somebody is complimenting and saying the same thing over and over again. I wouldn’t really term it as a microaggression when they seem to just be excited about your dress style. Compared to a lot of toxicity that can happen at a workplace having people complement how you carry yourself and your style is not a bad thing. If they’re just being really positive and cheerful and not creepy towards you then I would just take it as a positive. If I was in your shoes and felt annoyed with people complimenting me on my appearance I would just test it by just wearing regular plain work clothes random days just to see if anyone says anything. Hopefully you can figure something out to strike a healthy balance with the abundance of compliments you’ve been getting.

  89. It's Me*

    Would it be out of line to use a strategy I’ve seen Alison suggest in more preemptively somber situations and deputize some helpers? That is, if there are one or two people who do this as well, but whose intentions and reactions you’re more likely to trust and who generally conduct themselves as helpful people, using them? So the next time one of them says something about your appearance, use a version of Alison’s script above, but then asking, “Everyone’s doing it, which is part of the problem, but that also makes it harder to stop. Could I ask you for help with gently putting the kibosh on this kind of talk when you hear it?”

    That may put more power in the hands of another person than you want (which is also why I dropped in guiding words like *gently*) but if there is ANYONE in your work circle who could do this diplomatically, that might help take some of the burden off your shoulders?

  90. Also a colorful queer*

    hello LW #2!
    So, this may feel uncomfortable, but you might have to totally grey rock this. It’s what I’ve done. This looks like
    “Did you change your hair color?!”
    “Oh, I don’t know.” And then just stop talking. Or bring up something else interesting.
    “Oh my god, I love your boots! My kid would love them!”
    “Oh, thanks.” Flat tone, no eye contact. Then in brighter tone, eye contact. “Did I get any mail?”

    OR you can start aggressively complimenting them back. I’ve noticed people get uncomfortable if you turn it back on them or they feel happy and it creates a culture in which everyone compliments each other and not just you.

  91. Beth*

    LW2: As a fat lesbian with blue hair and, I feel you. It’s hard to call people out on this because the compliments, because there’s every chance it is well meant! People assume dramatic style means you want them to pay (positive) attention to your appearance, or that complimenting someone who’s visibly a member of a minority group shows acceptance and allyship, or all sorts of things that make them think commenting is a kind and welcome thing for them to do.

    But when it’s *just* you getting comments, it can be so alienating. Like, why is it remarkable that I look good when my equally-stylish-but-thin coworker isn’t worth commenting on? If that goes on for long enough, it starts feeling like the person making comments thinks it’s unusual and remarkable for a fat person to look decently stylish–which isn’t exactly flattering. When it’s in a professional setting, it comes with the extra fraught-ness of “Is my appearance the main thing you notice about me? What about my work, is that becoming invisible because you think my visible queerness is so unusual and remarkable that you’re unable to look past it?” Once again, not really a positive for me. If it goes on long enough, it can absolutely be a microaggression to be constantly singled out like this.

    I don’t really have a solution for this, especially when it’s happening on a wide scale like you’re experiencing. (If it were a one-or-two people problem, I would suggest telling them you’d prefer to cut back on the appearance talk at work, or simply compliment-bombing them back so it’s an equal and mutual part of your relationship instead of a thing they’re singling you out with. But those are hard to implement on a wide scale.) But I want to validate that this is reasonable to be put off by.

    1. QueerTeacher*

      I feel this so hard. I have bright magenta hair and am visibly queer. I am also nonbinary and express my gender identity in a really variable way. It’s baffling to me that so many commenters here don’t recognize that there are in fact queer coded style choices, and when a cishet person comments on them, it can feel very uncomfortable. No, queer people don’t have a monopoly on bright hair and fashion, but when I see a guy in a loud floral print shirt with pink hair, I assume he is One Of Us, and that I can treat him as less of a threat.

      I’ll give an example of a compliment that felt like a microaggression. I had short, fairly butch hair with a side shave. I am also a preschool teacher. When one of my students remarked that her fairly conservative mother had said I had “cool hair”, it didn’t feel like a compliment – particularly since it was not addressed to me directly. It felt like the mother was uncomfortable with her child having a young, queer teacher, but was trying to be chill about it.

      LW2,I see you. I believe you. Don’t dim your shine for them, but know that their microaggressions are not in your head.

      1. Beth*

        I don’t know about you, but in my experience, most cishet people have absolutely no idea how to recognize queer people. Mayyybe they’ll interpret a super femme man as gay, but outside that? Nope. Queer fashion absolutely exists–we see each other just fine! We know what it means when a person is walking around with neon hair, a parrot-print shirt, and doc martens. But most cishet people have no conscious knowledge that there’s such a thing as ‘queer coded style,’ much less any ability to tell you what it is.

  92. RedFraggle*

    As a fat woman with red curls, I get comments all the time about my hair. It’s exhausting when all I want to do is get through a patient’s exam, and all they want to do is talk about my hair or my name (I have a common name with an uncommon spelling).

    I haven’t worn red scrubs to work on days my doctor is there for years, after they made a comment about how “it’s just so much red.”

    But I’ve also been the person wearing crazy, bright clothes. People who cared about me when I was in a place in life where I could wear my preferred bright clothes regularly NEVER mentioned what I was wearing, unless it was particularly flattering. People who felt I shouldn’t be wearing such bright clothes were the ones to comment.

    So I completely understand where LW2 is coming from, and they’re very likely going to have a hard time trying to break people of this. Pretty much the only option is something like, “thanks, but I really don’t care to discuss my appearance. What do you think about this project?” – and you’re gonna have to say it on repeat for a while.

  93. Anni*

    I think there is a disconnect sometimes between people who dress loudly to stand out and those who dress loudly to show belonging to a group – which is what many queer people are doing. Outfits that seem like they MUST be intended to grab attention to some people don’t really stand out at all in our own spaces, and they usually signal not only our individual queerness, but our chosen place in our culture and our proud affiliation with our people. So its exhausting, not only to have our looks commented on when we’re not people who enjoy that, but then also to have people insist that that must be our intent in the first place, when all we were trying to do in the first place is signal our belonging. And what is dressing loudly is really subjective – no, no one’s hair is naturally pink, but no one’s legs are naturally shaved and no one’s eyelashes are naturally mascara’d. It’s all about what is “average” in your scene, so commenting about someone looking not average can make them feel out of place.

    Overall, if you are someone who has commented on these sorts of things in the past (amd based in the defensiveness in the comments section, I think that’s some of you), I think there is some advice that is often given to men that is good for everyone: just because someone is dressed in a way that you think means they want attention doesn’t mean they want it from you, here, now.

  94. Scout*

    I’m not doubting their experience or their feelings, but I do think that 6 months at an organization, when much of that time was not in the office and the rest has been very part-time in the office, is maybe not enough time to actually know the workplace and colleagues – in large part because I don’t think the workplace has even had enough time to settle back into any kind of new normal yet.

    The compliments might slow down on their when they see the OP on a more regular basis, and are less giddy in general about leaving the house and seeing people they don’t live with.

  95. queerinthemidwest*

    Just want to offer solidarity to the fat queer person whose appearance is constantly commented on. I don’t have much advice but I’m a fat, queer, non-binary person who has a flair for bold patterns and dresses. I see you, you are not alone and this has to be super frustrating to constantly have to talk about.

    If your org has a LGBTQ+ workgroup you might be able to reach out to that group for support with this. My org has trainings that I didn’t even know existed because they aren’t advertised. Maybe there’s something like that available from a queer or DEI group/team.

  96. Failing Up*

    Not sure if this is what you are looking for, but I also get lots of comments about my appearance that are meant to be complimentary. I say “thank you” (sometimes with a smile, sometimes not) or if I am feeling myself even more I say “I know” and keep moving. I don’t add a comment, I don’t say “oh you too, sis!” or offer where I got my items. I have noticed people make less of the comments because I am not engaging in the back and forth. I know it’s different because I am not exactly in your shoes, but as a queer POC, I understand the feeling of microaggressions in this context. I’m not sure if “just say thank you” or “ignore” is the satisfying answer you are looking for, but to me, I notice that if I just engage as little as possible without being flat out rude, that is as much control as I can have in these situations.

    And personally (speaking only for myself and not for anyone else), I experience so many microaggressions on a daily basis that I am not stressing too much about this type of microaggression. So I say “thank you! Can you send me that email you were talking about?” “Thank you!” Turn around and read AAM. “Thank you!” keep walking.

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