coworkers and clients won’t stop commenting on my arms

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I am a program director for a very public-facing, often-busy, and somewhat-high-profile mobile health services program. Half of my day is spent mostly outdoors at rotating pop-up sites for which I have long-term relationships with the host, and half of my day is spent in-office.

My Pandemic Body Journey has been getting into heavy lifting and distance running, and my body has changed accordingly. I’m now a pretty visibly muscular (and, for what it’s worth, butch-presenting and queer) woman, and I honestly look very different from when I started my job about two years ago.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, I’m wearing a lot of short sleeves (and occasionally shorts), and it appears that MANY people have unwelcome opinions about my body. I have a few egregious repeat offenders (one of my site hosts, a few of my in-office coworkers); I’ve talked to a couple of them to no avail. In one case I attempted to set a hard boundary with one of my colleagues and it ignited World War III because he believed he was simply being supportive and that I “hated him.” I don’t! Then I have the separate problem of patients making comments about my body while I’m trying to provide them with health services, which is distracting and frustrating.

This might be a me problem, but it’s really making it harder to do my job. None of the comments I get are sexual, but some of them are pretty … weirdly specific … about the body parts they can see. I’ve never had a body that attracted ostensibly positive (albeit deeply irritating) attention before, and I genuinely don’t know how anyone deals with this without throttling the commentariat into the sun.

Maybe my script for this is poor? Maybe I just need to get over it? Do you have any suggestions?

I wrote back and asked, “When you say you’ve talked to a few people to no avail, what have you tried saying to them that hasn’t worked so far? Also, with the person who ended up thinking you hated him, what was that conversation?”

Regarding the people I’ve talked to: mostly, the standard “please don’t comment on my body while I’m at work.” I feel like this sets a pretty firm boundary, but I’ve gotten the feedback that it comes off as rude. I kind of don’t care, but I’m not trying to poison any relationships. And then, it’s often only a temporary fix before I do a competition or something and my body changes again, or we forget after winter when next summer comes and I’m wearing shorts again. I haven’t ever set this boundary with patients because my interactions with them are one-offs.

Regarding the specific coworker I had an issue with, I pretty much said the above to him, and he immediately became icy in our interactions. A few days later, his supervisor (a friend of mine) asked what had happened, because he told them (rather than simply approaching me) that he thought I “hated him” and didn’t know what he had done wrong. I told them that no, I’d just tried to set a boundary around my weight and my body, and it had gone poorly. I approached the coworker in question directly after this and reiterated what I had said, but added that I meant no harm and that it wasn’t a reflection on him. He told me that he’d lost a significant amount of weight at another point in his life, and that he was just trying to support my work towards weight loss and health. The thing is … I’m really not trying to lose weight, I’m just an athlete. It’s important to me to accept my body no matter what it looks like and to celebrate what it does, so intentional weight loss isn’t something I would pursue and it’s important to me to make that distinction. I tried to explain that difference, but he experienced that as a rejection of his well-intentioned support and continued to think that I had some kind of personal distaste for him. Again — I don’t! That working relationship has never recovered, and that happened quite a while ago.

One thing that I didn’t mention in my original letter, but which a colleague of mine has pointed out after seeing some of these interactions, is that at times I think there’s an element of homophobia or misogyny laced in there. Especially when men make comments towards me, it feels like they’re pointing out how non-normative my body is for what they’re expecting out of a woman. It’s hard to qualify exactly why this felt like an apt observation, but some of the comments I’ve gotten in the recent past from men (“wow, you must be a strong lady” or “are you in the army?” or “I can see in those jeans you must be lifting”) really feel like they’re not only evaluating my physique, but also stacking me against their image of what a woman is supposed to be. Most often from women, it’s something about a “summer body” or how I’m “looking great” with a whole lot of enthusiasm. It’s annoying, but doesn’t feel as demeaning.

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 613 comments… read them below }

  1. AnotherJen*

    I feel you — I also (re-) started lifting heavy things during the pandemic, and although I’m not competing I’m still visibly muscled. Especially my arms. However, what works for me (live in a town full of competitive athletes, work from home, be older — and have the ability to apply a stern mom-look) probably won’t help you in the short-term.

    I have found that a quizzical look and a sense of humor can sometimes be applied to these kinds of situations — more of a “what an interesting thing to say?” kind of response. Or even “what an interesting thing to say at work/in a professional setting?” in a kind and questioning tone.

    I’m also going to be curious to read responses here. I don’t work with people daily (see the work at home part), so I also deal with it by just not caring much about other people’s opinions.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Ah, the Miss Manners response to rude comments. I might go with “odd” rather than “interesting,” as the latter can be taken as an invitation to further discussion.

    2. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

      This was my gut reaction as well, and it let’s you off the hook for doing a lot of work to manage other people’s feelings. You are offended by these comments, so just let yourself be offended and it’s OK to express that. It can be especially helpful to be puzzled or performatively caught off guard–let the commenter squirm in the awkwardness they have created, and then offer them sweet sweet relief in the form of the thing you want: “you know, it’s probably best to leave the body talk outside of the workplace.”

    3. Smithy*

      I’ve been a tall girl/woman my entire life and the height I am now since the age of 12. Comments on my height started young and have basically never stopped.

      Some are comments with no where to go i.e. “wow you’re tall” but certainly others have been more along the lines of “you must be/do xyz”. As it is so pervasive and from audiences that can be customers, supervisors, etc. – I’ve found over time that the best approach is a closed lip smile and a version of “mhmm” or saying something like “yup”. For questions about modeling or playing basketball or reaching shelves or whatever, yes/no/huh? Basically as polite, short and flat as possible.

      For more problematic people, I think that’s where escalating is needed and usually around something other than chat about bodies – but I really try to give as little as possible to begin with. For most people who are just awkward with small talk, I’ve found this most effective and takes the least amount of my energy.

      1. Goldenrod*

        I’ve always had my tallness commented on too! I was always the tallest girl in the class starting in 2nd grade and the comments never stopped, although they have declined as I’ve gotten older (I think, for some reason, people feel more free to judge/comment on young women’s bodies).

        I do know that once I truly stopped giving a shiz, everything got better. A woman even yelled at me FROM A CAR the other day: “How tall are you?” I ignored her, and it also didn’t bother me one bit, because I just think those people are morons.

        So I agree with Smithy – to the extent you have to reply at all, just give the most non-committal bored reply, then change the topic or walk away. It’s not worth your attention.

      2. Migraine Month*

        That was my thought, too. Just being as boring as possible often kills a conversation faster than pushing back. “Huh.” “I guess.” “Yeah.”

        This discussion reminds me of a section from Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series where an alien wonders at human beings “peculiar habit of continually stating and restating the very very obvious, as in ‘It’s a nice day,’ or ‘You’re very tall,’ or ‘So this is it, we’re going to die.’ ” His theory was that if humans ever stopped moving their mouths, their brains might start working.

        1. toaster*

          Sometimes, when I find myself accidentally saying something like “Wow, you’re very tall” I will follow it up with “‘You seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you okay?’ ‘So this is it, we’re going to die.’ Sorry, I seem to be making obvious statements today.”

      3. Yoyoyo*

        Too snarky for work, but I saw a post somewhere on the internet where someone had ordered business cards that said something to the effect of, “Congratulations, you have noticed that I am tall! No, I do not play basketball. The weather up here is just fine.” I thought it was hilarious.

        1. Northland*

          Ex boyfriend’s brother was 6-8 and had a shirt that said “no I dont play basketball, do you play miniature golf?”

          1. Liu*

            I need to get this tee shirt for my grandson. He’s 6’6″ at 16 years old. The funniest comments were when I took him shopping for his first vehicle last year when he was only 6’4″. He was already too tall for most vehicles. Glad he has a sense of humor.

        2. Sleeve McQueen*

          I have an Irish heritage and an Irish sounding name. I did go through a phase where I’d introduce myself and then say “good Irish name, that” in unison with the person I just met.

      4. Another tall person*

        Huge sigh of recognition from a fellow tall woman who’s been getting remarks since childhood. I also tend to give the vaguely bored/disinterested “Yep” if a response seems to be indicated. My height made for a very awkward adolescence so it wasn’t always a welcome subject for discussion, on top of the standard-issue discomfort with having one’s body/appearance commented on by strangers or acquaintances.

        OP’s standard script sounds fine to me. A polite, dismissive tone on “Oh, I don’t discuss my body at work, thanks,” ought to be enough for people. Guessing the people who read rudeness into it are the ones who now feel uncomfortably aware that they’ve made an unwelcome, intrusive comment. If it’s not causing any actual harm, well, let them be uncomfortable! Maybe they’ll think twice next time they want to make a comment about someone’s body.

        1. Despachito*

          I think there is a huge difference between commenting on something you cannot change and are well aware of (like the tallness), and something you have changed (probably actively and it looks positive). And a difference between making (inappropriate and often hurtful) fun of the bearer of that trait versus a thing meant as a positive comment (although it does not land as such).

          That said, I’d definitely not do the first and be very wary of the second – never say it to someone I do not know very well, and even if I do, think twice before I say it – but I would not completely dismiss it.

        2. J*

          I think there’s a benefit to using “oh, I don’t like to talk about my body at work” over “please don’t comment on my body” as well, especially since OP is encountering people who think the second phrase is rude (insert eye roll – it’s a perfectly reasonable request). The first phrase employs Allison’s strategy of making it seem like your quirk to let the other person save face. It might be helpful to use that method with people who OP wants to preserve a relationship with (or people who seem to be extra sensitive). OP, you might also consider adding a “thanks for understanding” with a smile and then change the subject.

      5. wine dude*

        Tall guy here. It’s always amazed me how people act as if they “discovered” that I’m tall. So I just tell people I’m just a hair over 2 meters tall.
        I also have some rejoinders for weather reports, but they’re too disgusting to record here.

        1. eisa*

          I am only aware of a non-disgusting one ..

          “How is the weather up there ? ”
          “Smells like dwarves”

        2. LittleMarshmallow*

          I’m sure I’m part of the problem… but as a fairly short person, I like to stare at tall people. I do wonder what it’s like up there. Down here I have to watch for elbows to the face… and sometimes I forget people can see me… I mean… tall people can’t. You’d be amazed at how many times I’ve had two tall people just have a conversation right over my head like I’m not even there.

          1. pancakes*

            In fairness, it doesn’t always make sense to include someone in conversation just because they happen to be nearby! It’s hard to tell what sort of encounters these are from your comment. If I operated that way on the subway I have a feeling I’d end up having a lot of unwanted conversations with strangers I’d rather not get to know better.

    4. Greige*

      Another, shorter dismissive response might be, “ok” or “k”, and changing the subject. It makes it less of a thing, though I grant that it’s not as direct and people could miss or ignore the subtext.

    5. FisherCat*

      LW clearly is frustrated and flustered by this (with cause! to be clear) but if she can inhabit a kind but blasé feel in her responses such as the ones you suggested it might be better re: fallout.

      Not that managing people’s feelings *should* be a work responsibility, but it often is, and LW might not feel as irritated about this if she can shut them down without backlash.

      1. Smithy*

        The very true part of using approaches that essentially do not call this out i.e. “please don’t comment on my body at work” – is that an all too common reality is that it leads to more emotional labor for the woman. Both in regards to the immediate interaction but also around any further fallout.

        Approaches that don’t call out why this behavior is problematic or like being a “bad feminist” in that it lets people off the hook, but I do think that’s where the OP can take a step back and consider the ultimate goal of these interactions. And if its just for the comments to stop, I do think that assorted grey rocking approaches are in fact more effective. Not that the OP’s current approaches are wrong, just that they can involve more work.

        1. Lioness Rampant*

          yeah. I’m in a role that requires strong personal connections and I have really good (too good) emotional management skills (it’s done a number on my psyche and I’m trying to scale it back).

          But I’ve found that to put the least amount of work into folks that feel entitled to comment, I say “Thanks, but I feel really uncomfortable talking about my body at work. It just makes me really self-conscious and distracted, when I really just want to be focusing on work! Especially with Project X going on! [calling out a shared problem reinforces that we’re on the team; helps reduce perceived attacks on egos] I know you didn’t mean it like that, so now you know! I don’t talk about my body at work! Anyways, about the Trillium account….”
          I say it all with a smile and a bubbly voice (I’m also a petite fem blonde, so I get a lot of assumptions with that. I’ve kind of co-opted those assumptions for my own gain (though I’d really prefer not to waste energy playing that way).

          1. BlueChimera*

            Redirection with a smile is probably the most effective answer, although I kind of agree that this is emotional labor that people really shouldn’t have to perform at work.

            OP sounds like she isn’t particularly bubbly (I get that — I’m not, either!), but you don’t have to be to pull this off. You can just make eye contact, smile, and say gently but firmly, “Thank you, but I would rather not discuss my body at work. I’m just not comfortable with that,” and then pivot smoothly to another topic (as you demonstrated). The pivot & continued conversation — even if it’s just a bit of small talk — helps take the sting out of the rebuke and makes it clear that you’re not angry (because if you were, you wouldn’t be continuing to engage with them in a friendly way).

            People are sometimes unhappy with saying “Thank you” in these circumstances, but what you are thanking the other person for isn’t their “compliment” but their kind intentions. Just like when someone offers you a seaweed-flavored cookie and you say, “No, thank you” or “Thanks, but I’m good.” Thank you does not imply that you like seaweed-flavored cookies, merely that you appreciate the other person’s kind intentions. It is social lubricant, literally reducing the work you need to put in to achieve the intended results — that’s it.

            (And anyone who’s ever pointed out that “Sorry, but” isn’t really an apology should see pretty quickly that “Thanks, but” isn’t really a thank you — in terms of necessarily being grateful for the thing offered, anyway! It can be, but it isn’t taken for granted as such.)

            1. Despachito*

              I like this.

              One thing is that you do not consider this a compliment (same as you probably will not like seaweed-flavored cookies), but the fact that the intentions of the person were good is not something to be lightly dismissed.

              You can argue that it is the result and not the intentions what counts, but given that positive body comments have been and sometimes still are a socially welcome thing, I think that the complimenter deserves some acknowledgement for the good intentions and explanation that it is not the kind of compliment you are comfortable with.

              If I genuinely tried to pay a compliment to someone and they would be uncomfortable with it, I’d appreciate if they told me clearly that this makes them uncomfortable. I will be much more likely not to repeat it if I understand their point of view – there is no need to go into excessive explanations, something around “thank you, I appreciate your thought but comments on my body, even if positive, make me uncomfortable, can we please restrain from that from now on” would be sufficient. But given that my intention was good and that the compliment was not something outrageous (as there are still people who like and appreciate positive comments related to their appearance), I would also appreciate that the one who refuses the comment is not too curt about it.

              1. PicklePants*

                Intent doesn’t really matter, it can still be harmful and unwelcome. No one owes anyone thanks and an explanation of an unwelcome or potentially harmful observation of their body.

                I have a friend who has lost a lot of weight due to a severe medical issue and who is very very sick. She does not want to hear “how great she lookes” at a smaller weight/size. Nor does she want to explain or even owe anyone a why about her body has changed. That “praise” was awful and intrusive to her, with only positive intent meant by the giver.

                No one needs to talk about other people’s bodies. End stop.

                1. Despachito*

                  “Intent doesn’t really matter, it can still be harmful and unwelcome.”

                  It can be harmful and unwelcome indeed, but I’d still like to differentiate situations when you mean well but didn’t read the room well enough, and situations where you are an active a-hole.

                  I was in a similar situation as your friend – I had some severe medical issues, and I sometimes got complimented on my looks when I was actually very sick – as these were coming from strangers who did not know me well enough to know I was not OK, the easiest response was “oh, thank you”, and that was it. I did not think I owed them any explanation, but I also did not think they were being evil and was not offended by what was a genuine attempt of a compliment, and to brush it off like that was the easiest way to handle it.

                2. allathian*

                  @Despachito, out of nesting.

                  Perhaps, but a different reaction is also completely appropriate. A former teammate at work was out for 3 months. A long absence, but not unusually so since I’m in Europe and we have long vacations anyway, she could’ve saved up some vacation time from previous years and taken it all at once. So nobody really commented on her absence, but when she returned, she had visibly lost weight, and she wasn’t overweight before. I never said anything, but several people kept commenting on how great she looked whenever they saw her (all of them women of various weights). Until one coffee break when she’d had enough, and in front of the worst offenders took off her wig and said something like “I really wish you’d stop commenting on my body. Cancer is a great way to lose weight, but I don’t recommend it otherwise.” That shut them up good.

                  People need to stop commenting on each other’s bodies, full stop. As a fat woman whose weight has fluctuated at times for various reasons, I wish people would err on the side of not giving someone a compliment on their looks who might want one rather than risk hurting the feelings of someone who doesn’t want their body to be commented on, for any reason.

                  When the comment hurts, the intent doesn’t really matter. If people who mean well but can’t read the room are treated as if they’re active a-holes every time they come out with an unwelcome comment, maybe, maybe at some point they simply decide to stop saying unwelcome things, you know?

                  That said, it’s obviously up to the recipient of the comment how they want to respond.

                3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  At a time when weight was dropping off me due to depression, I rather revelled in the compliments I got. Like, life was shit but at least I had an amazing body. I started dressing to show it off and got a slew more compliments, it did help me.
                  Of course depression is not the same as cancer or whatever other conditions might make someone lose weight.

    6. Sad Desk Salad*

      I was going to suggest something like this. A prolonged, direct stare, followed by “….anyway, [work subject].” But these guys have been hit over the head with her protests, so it’s probably too subtle. Then again–sometimes men like to get a rise out of women, and her reaction, albeit negative, is what they’re after. A pointed non-reaction may help. It kind of sounds like they’re hopeless though.

      1. pancakes*

        Calmly changing the subject is pretty close to a non-reaction in some circumstances. I don’t think that’s a bad idea. Likewise “………anyway, [etc.]”

      2. Beebis*

        I do what I call “aggressively ignoring” strangers (let’s be real, 99% men) that are clearly trying to get my attention and talk to me in public when I’m just trying to live my life. I fully support LW doing more or less this. Acknowledge it was said but don’t engage with it at all. Hopefully they’ll drop the stick if they realize you won’t react to their poking you

        1. zuzu*

          I had a dude latch onto me on the subway one night after I went to a club (I was in my early 30s). I don’t know why (I didn’t talk to him, and I wasn’t even dressed all that attractively, but it was late and I was female), but I was alone. I got up when he sat down next to him, told him to leave me alone when he followed me, but he was STUCK to me. I even changed cars and he kept at it.
          He eventually got off at my stop and kept a half step behind me ALLLLLLLL THE WAY from the subway to my apartment, where I had to shove him out of the way to get the locking door between us.
          And then I went upstairs, where I had to look at my poor dog, who really needed to go out, and break the news that she’d just have to pee on the floor because I wasn’t going out again while he was there because she wasn’t nearly scary enough.
          All that to say, sometimes ignoring strangers doesn’t work.

          1. Beebis*

            It definitely doesn’t and I should have added the disclaimer I usually give when I mention this IRL – that this is all done under the assumption that the guy won’t go ballistic on me in public or follow me through an entire commute done via public transit and walking. I haven’t been assaulted in public… yet

    7. pancakes*

      I’m sure it’s considerably easier to not care much about comments like the ones the letter writer gets when people are working from home and not getting those comments daily or near-daily. I don’t think wanting the comments to stop is necessarily an indication of caring too much what people think when they’re happening so often, and/or are so personal. I generally don’t care what strangers think, let alone people I have significant disagreements with, but would find this exhausting and very unwanted.

      I’m fairly tall, probably less tall than commenter Smithy, and also favor the “yep” response, followed by swiftly changing the subject to get back on track if possible. (I’ve also sometimes had an arm wrapped with lymphedema bandages, and have heard some really odd comments about that). Often it is possible to get the conversation back on track. If not, a sort of “hmm,” with a vaguely friendly smile but neutral or unsympathetic eyes, depending on the unpleasantness of their comments. I’m not sure I’m explaining that well, but the idea is to convey that things can be ok between us but they probably shouldn’t proceed with that line of commentary.

    8. Kali*

      As a visibly muscular petite woman, I get comments a lot like, “wow, you look like you’re strong!” To which I reply, “yup, I am. [topic change]”. People often don’t know what to do if you just accept the ‘compliment’ with all the enthusiasm of Eeyore. I think that a lot of people want acknowledgement of their acknowledgement of my body, which is weird, but as long as it doesn’t cross into creepy (which gets its own appropriate reaction), I know I’m not going to change this about society. If they persist, asking what I do/eat (and I don’t feel like talking about it, which I normally don’t), I just tell them that I don’t want to bore them or myself and then change the topic. If they *really* persist (and I want to maintain the relationship), I tell them that I’m not qualified – I just do what my coaches tell me to do.

      That’s just me, of course. These are the boundaries I have set – be boring about it and move on. If OP wants to set firmer lines, that is very much her prerogative.

    9. JSPA*

      For general, “great guns” / “looks like you’ve been working out” / congratulations on your body” comments:

      “I prefer to focus on what I can do, not what I look like. So let’s see what we need to get done here, now.”

      For stuff that’s more about extrapolating, correctly, to what you’ve been doing: “Yes, I lift and run. But that’s extracurricular; at work, I’d rather focus on work.”

      For anything even slightly smarmy or body-shaming: “I know you don’t mean to be talking about my body at work, so let’s get back to the widget report.”

      That said, if you have amazing muscles, and look really strong, it’s not intrinsically gender-shaming or gross for people to acknowledge that? You’re not doing what you to to achieve a look, sure…but you also didn’t wake up one morning all muscled up, not knowing how it happened. This is a choice that you’ve made willingly. It’s not some dark secret. People are allowed to notice, in passing, that you’ve put in a lot of effort, and gotten super buff, so long as they’re not using that as an excuse to be weird or creepy about it.

      One way to think about it–if it were your dog who’d been doing obstacle courses and canine olympics, and she’d gotten all muscled up, and they were commenting on her–would what they were saying be weird? If not, then there’s a fair chance that it’s also not wildly weird when it’s about your arms and legs.

      As to the military questions–that’s it’s own category.

      It’s a comment on our society that so many people’s first guess, when someone gets buff (and has an assured stance and a no-nonsense haircut), is that the person must be in the armed forces (because somehow military is more normal than just being super active???)…but it’s not unique to you-as-female or to you-as-butch or to you-as-lesbian. I think you have to try to separate out the discomfort of, “people are more aware of military women than of butch lesbians or of power lifting women” from, “people commenting on my body.”

      Finally, comments from other lifters are also in their own category. Normally, what’s in your jeans is completely off limits; but of all people, fellow lifters are least likely to be talking about your ass and legs as an erotic thing, and most likely to be thinking of them as glutes, gastrocnemius, etc. “I don’t talk about my hobbies at work” is an appropriately gentle response to someone who is using a body comment not for it’s own sake, but as an opportunity to talk about a shared interest.

      People talking about lifting to talk about your ass? They get the full, “body comments are inapropriate in the workplace” (plus an extra half hour’s wait, with nobody checking in on them, if it doesn’t risk their health or your assessments).

      1. Really?*

        Did you really just compare talking about a dog’s body and talking about a woman’s body as being the same?

        1. JSPA*

          It’s because people and dogs are NOT the same, that this trick works.

          I can’t think of a single comment one would normally make about a muscular dog that would be skeevey to make about a muscular person; can you?

          Nobody says, “I love what working out has done for that dog’s calves.” Nobody says, “Ooh, that dog looks so strong, I’d like to feel those muscles.”

          “Hey, looks like Ginger in top shape, those workouts must be awesome” is something one might say about a dog, and that level of comment is similarly not skeevey for a person.

          That said, it’s not intrinsically offensive to compare any two things; any comparison of two different things invokes both similarities and differences. (If they had no material difference, they would not be two different things, they’d be two of the same item).

          Humans and dogs are similar in hundreds of ways. (Both are animals. Both are mammals. Both are somewhat omnivorous. Both have a basic-or-better level of object permanence. Both like to call shotgun, and may hang out the window if you let them. Both get indigestion if they eat too much cheese. Both can be devoted, or threatening. Both have some ability to read and follow expressions and gestures.)

          Those comparisons are not intrinsically offensive to either people or dogs…nor does my making this list imply that I think people and dogs are the same; that I think people and dogs should be treated the same way; or that anything you can say about a dog can be said about a person.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            I can’t think of a single comment one would normally make about a muscular dog that would be skeevey to make about a muscular person; can you?

            Yes, all of them. Because people are not dogs. Also, I’ve been around dogs my entire life and have never heard anyone comment about their muscles.

      2. iliketoknit*

        This seems to be parsing things way too fine. Commenting on someone else’s body is just not a good look unless it’s someone you know who you know is okay with it and likes to talk about it. Just because a person has clearly engaged in a lot of activity that builds muscle doesn’t mean they want people commenting on it.

      3. pancakes*

        “People are allowed to notice, in passing, that you’ve put in a lot of effort . . .”

        Of course they’re allowed to notice, but why are they thinking people are necessarily interested in a running commentary on what they’ve noticed? Noticing something doesn’t put it outside the usual conventions of conversation – that the topic should be mutually agreeable and not a mindless or otherwise unsolicited monologue from one party, for example.

        “I think you have to try to separate out the discomfort of, ‘people are more aware of military women than of butch lesbians or of power lifting women’ from, ‘people commenting on my body.’”

        Hold on, why don’t people who make comments like these have to do some quality control in terms of what they’re aware of and what they contribute to conversation with coworkers and people they don’t know well socially? In this instance, with someone working with the public. What happened to the idea that one learns about new or unfamiliar things — gains awareness — by listening to or reading more knowledgeable or experienced people rather than by guessing aloud?

        That seems to me a pretty regional perception, in any case. I don’t live near a military base, and a number of people in my city who are buff are buff because it’s considered attractive and good self care to be really fit, not because it comes hand in hand with what they do for work. The people in David Barton Gym ads were not known for looking militaristic.

    10. Jessica Fletcher*

      Yes. Make a friendly but quizzical expression and observe that it’s an odd or strange thing to say.

      I wouldn’t feel bad about the guy who’s holding a weird grudge over this. That’s a him problem.

      Alison has sometimes recommended a friendly sounding, “I’m trying to get away from commenting on people’s bodies.” There’s an implied “AND YOU SHOULD TOO” that usually doesn’t read as rude.

      Unfortunately, people still assume that women are mean or rude when they aren’t overtly cheerful.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I like Alison’s version, because some people take umbrage when you directly ask them not to do something. I think a version of what OP said in her letter would also work – “The pandemic made me realize I enjoy working out”.

        1. Despachito*

          “some people take umbrage when you directly ask them not to do something”

          Here I think it is fully THEIR problem, as long as you ask politely and take into account the person’s primary intention was rather to compliment you, not to hurt you.

          This is exactly the thing women have been groomed for centuries – that it is not OK to ask directly and that it is OK to take umbrage if you do – which I think we should actively fight against.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            This is exactly the thing women have been groomed for centuries – that it is not OK to ask directly and that it is OK to take umbrage if you do – which I think we should actively fight against.

            …what? I’m sorry, I sincerely don’t understand what you’re implying here.

            1. Despachito*

              Sorry, I will rephrase it:

              I mean that women have been historically supposed to “soften” their messages more than men, and the same blunt message that was taken well from a man was more often taken almost as an offense from a woman. And then she was expected to “smooth it over” somehow, as if it was her fault that the person took umbrage.

              And my point was that as long as she was not rude, it is not her problem that anybody takes umbrage at her “do not do this to me”.

      2. Despachito*

        “Alison has sometimes recommended a friendly sounding, “I’m trying to get away from commenting on people’s bodies.” There’s an implied “AND YOU SHOULD TOO” that usually doesn’t read as rude.”

        I ‘d find this wording strange and almost passive-aggressive and also confusing – why say I do not DO something if I mean I do not want it DONE to me? Of course I have been around long enough to figure it out, but I’d consider it rather a part of the strange grooming women had been subjected to for so long – that it is not polite for a woman to be direct.

        What is wrong with saying directly (yet politely and friendly) – I prefer not to discuss my body at work, thank you for your understanding, and how about the Jones report ?

  2. L-squared*

    I think the disconnect people have is that if you are doing competitions, you are kind of doing these things for the purpose of showing them off, so if people know you are in competitions, its going to come off a bit odd to not discuss something very noticable at work.

    also, i’m not saying its “right”, but I also think for guys its one of those things where we would totally take it as a complement, so its hard for some to not see it that way. If I’ve been hitting the gym, and I wore a short sleeve shirt, and someone commented me on my arm definition, I’d feel ecstatic about it. So I think that when it is specifically non sexual, people don’t really equate it as “objectifying” in the same way. Again, not saying its right, but I kind of understand it.

    As far as what to do, I’d try something like “that is a hobby of mine that I don’t like discussing during work” or something to that effect.

    1. Ridiculous Penguin*

      Uhhhhhh. Nope.

      Doesn’t matter whether she’s doing it to compete. She’s not required to put on a show for them, and her willingness to do so in another context signals nothing about what she should accept in the workplace. (If she were a burlesque dancer in her spare time, would it be understandable for guys to comment on her body because, clearly, she likes the attention?)

      This is dangerously close to “what do you expect if you do things that attract a man’s attention?”

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Agreed with @Ridiculous Penguin. If someone says, “Please don’t comment on my body at work. Thanks” then…don’t comment on their body at work. Full stop.

        If you keep commenting on their body or try to justify why you commenting on their body, then stop. Otherwise, you’re just being rude.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. The first comment? Fine. No harm no foul. Then she lets them know she doesn’t like body talk at work and they are having a hissy fit and whining to the boss? Now it is on them for making the workplace uncomfortable for the OP.

          1. Pocket Mouse*

            Disagree that commenting on someone’s body even once is fine, particularly in a workplace setting.

            1. Jora Malli*

              It’s not fine, but a lot of people are socialized to do it and act like it’s a part of normal, positive interactions. A person who generally has good intentions and thinks they’re doing something nice doesn’t need to get the same reaction as a person who’s already been told that the behavior isn’t welcome. So I would say it’s okay to give a person a one-time pass as long as they don’t keep pushing after you ask them to stop.

              1. pancakes*

                Sure, but it’s not ok to make the same mistake repeatedly, or to be inattentive about being pushy or over-familiar with people about their appearance or their body.

                1. Despachito*

                  We all agree about the REPEATED offense, but here we were talking about the first one.

                2. pancakes*

                  Yes, but Jacked OP’s coworker isn’t on their first offense. They’re still reacting to having been redirected from it. There are also a few commenters who seem to have various justifications for commenting on people’s bodies, and to differing degrees, so I’m not sure we all are on the same page about first offenses. (To be clear I think that’s to be expected).

            2. Pocket Mouse*

              Clarifying (after Jora Malli and tessa’s comments) that my intent here is a) to let people who may currently be unaware know that commenting on people’s bodies at all is not fine so that they are less likely to do it even once going forward, and b) relate how I feel with each ‘first’ comment on my body. As we can see in this comments section, I’m not alone. Something being common does not automatically make that thing okay, and the only hope of changing that part of our culture is to keep repeating the message.

              I do think Artemesia’s “Fine.” was a bit of a frustrated-but-can-handle-it-quip, which I get and agree with responding more gently to the first comment on one’s body than subsequent comments. That said, I don’t think the response to the first comment on one’s body needs to be *gentle*, just that it can get more blunt if the person commenting persists.

              1. No Longer Looking*

                Do please also remember the corollary when forming your response to whatever offended you, that being: a person or even a crowd of people being offended does not inherently make something offensive – specifically addressing the First Comment crowd here.

                Example: Having a bunch of vegans in your office do not correlate to make drinking milk or eating meat an offensive action. It probably does mean that you should consider changing your actions (where you are eating, perhaps) to account for them once you discover the environment you are working in.

                1. Jennifer Strange*

                  Pocket Mouse is specifically talking about making comments about a person’s body. That’s not in the same league as someone drinking milk or eating meat. It’s a pointed action at a person, regardless of whether it’s meant to be a compliment or not.

              2. Despachito*

                ” That said, I don’t think the response to the first comment on one’s body needs to be *gentle*, ”

                I do think that the response to the first comment has to be gentle, given that there is no unanimous view of this issue. As L-squared said, some people will be flattered if someone notices they gained muscle, and when I lost about 40 pounds, I was definitely flattered if people noticed and told me I look great.

                So this is NOT an absolute no-no. I fully understand why some people find it uncomfortable and do not want to hear it but on the other hand, there are some people who will love to hear it, so I am convinced that the first commenters do deserve some grace and explanation.

                1. Saucier's Apprentice*

                  In support of a gentle first infraction rebuff if, as OP indicated, you want to facilitate friendly work relationships.
                  Especially given there is a wide range of tolerance for this kind of small talk adjacent behavior.

                  Repeat offenders deserve something stronger, and the guy who took offense to OP’s response needs to get over himself.

            3. JSPA*

              Body-as-body and body-as-tool are distinguishable, though. The tall person being asked to get things from the high shelf isn’t being mocked, shamed, praised or commented on; they’re being asked to do a task that’s easier for them than for someone else.

              So are, “body as it happens to be, and body as I have made it be.”

              Muscles that “just happen” are in the same zone as any other body part.

              Muscles at the level of, “it’s its own hobby to make them this way”–that’s got elements of “hobby discussions are not intrinsically unprofessional” as well as “talk about someone’s body as it happens to be, is intrinsically unprofessional.”

              Making someone feel freakish for their hobby (or their body) is wrong in a whole other set of ways, of course. But just as a cyclist may comment on the bike chain grease mark on another cyclist’s calf, or a bike-shorts tan line–“I see you ride!”–people who work out seriously, or have a family member who does so, also tend to form community based on recognizing the resulting physique. It’s like yoga people recognizing each other from certain stretches.

        2. Momma Bear*

          Right. If someone has set a boundary and your response is “they hate me” then that’s about you, not them.

          1. I'm Not Phyllis*

            This. And if you are finding them difficult to work with afterwards, it may help to only focus on the parts that are impacting the work without validating feelings of your “hating” them just because you don’t want to hear comments on your body at work.

          2. Despachito*

            It is quite a strong reaction, but I’d look at the way HOW I am setting boundaries as well.

            I think they can be set pretty firmly without a need to be curt about that if this is a first-time thing. I understand that if I tell someone “I do not like that, please do not do it to me” and they do it again and again, it is time to be unpleasant, but I do think that the FIRST setting of boundaries deserves some kindness (because it is likely that the “offender” is not being a a-hole, just does not know where your boundary lies, and that is neither a transgression nor a sin)

            1. Distracted Librarian*

              I agree, especially for something that isn’t a boundary for everyone or even necessarily the majority of people. For example: I don’t think you have to be gracious if someone makes a sexual or fat-shaming comment about your body, because that person almost certainly knows they’re doing something inappropriate and hurtful. But if someone makes a comment many people would find innocuous or complimentary, don’t damage your working relationship with them by being overly hostile the first time.

            2. Kate*

              I don’t think all body comments are inherently offensive or off limits. I wouldn’t comment on someone I’ve just met but if Deborah, who has shared my cube for 3 yrs suddenly looks like an MMA fighter I may well tell her she looks amazing. Note I am a woman in my 30s.

              The reason why your boundary drawing is offensive is because of how you put it. You say “I don’t talk about my body at work” but what people are hearing is 1. I only see you in terms of a professional relationship and 2. You are not my friend, therefore this topic is off limits. You’re not saying that the comments make you feel insecure or upset, what you are literally saying is just “I reserve this topic for people I am friends with and we are not.” That’s why that one guy thinks you hate him. Your comment is more about the other person’s status to you than your own feelings. If I offered you a compliment on your strength with good intentions and you responded to me that way, I would also never want to engage you again.

              Look, intent does matter. Plenty of people may make comments on athletic builds in order to find something to talk to you about. They may be trying to connect with you or signal to you that they have similar interests. You are totally ignoring that intent and figuratively slamming the door in their face over something you totally view as some sort of crime which other people don’t see as a problem at all.

              You need a more tactful way to talk to people. A casual thanks and change of topic are in order. Or you can tell people “thanks I do weight lifting as hobby.” I don’t see why you can’t talk hobbies with coworkers and acquaintances. It’s a way to bond with people and that actually IS important in a work setting. In fact if you talk their head offf about it once or twice, that’ll be a way more effective way of preventing any future comments. Honestly, I don’t know how you manage to have long term coworkers that you interact with regularly who are somehow unfamiliar with your hobbies. To me that’s a sign that maybe you’re being a bit too “all business.” Being able to form friendships at work and inspire the loyalty of the people around you are actually important skills, especially if you want your career to advance and you want to manage people. People aren’t loyal to automatons, though. They are loyal to real people with real flaws and real gifts. You need to be able to open up to people at least at some level if you want to climb the ranks at any job. Your hobbies are not uncommon- they should be easy things for you to talk about when getting to know others.

              I’m sure you are right that some of the comments are judgy and I know that as a queer woman you are extra sensitive to those. But you need to really ask yourself which ones are and which ones aren’t and not treat everyone the same. You seem to focus a lot on stopping the comments but that’s just surface level stuff- if ppl are judgy they remain that way whether you’ve demanded their silence or not. You sound like an amazing, super interesting person, and I think you’ll be happier when you totally own your look and physique and your interests and you decide for yourself that you actually don’t care about these comments. Or even better, that when someone says something about your super woman build, that you respond more with a “damn straight!” Right now, You are driven by them to the point that I think you are needlessly risking your career. It seems like you *are* super insecure about your body and it also sounds like you should be super proud of the healthful form you’ve accomplished instead.

              1. Jennifer Strange*

                You say “I don’t talk about my body at work” but what people are hearing is 1. I only see you in terms of a professional relationship and 2. You are not my friend, therefore this topic is off limits. You’re not saying that the comments make you feel insecure or upset, what you are literally saying is just “I reserve this topic for people I am friends with and we are not.” That’s why that one guy thinks you hate him.

                That is reading a LOT into an innocuous comment. Also, I think the OP’s original message plenty tactful. She very specifically used “Please” which is soft enough, in my view.

      2. Justme, The OG*

        Agree. Just becasue my kid competes in dance doesn’t mean that she dances on command when in public or that people can comment on her being petite.

      3. Greg*

        I’ve got two rules for general conversation in professional settings: don’t comment on anyone’s appearance and don’t inquire about anyone’s marital status. Even if well-intentioned, there is way too much room for interpretation and I don’t need to know what is going on in someone’s life.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      What? No something you are doing recreationally is not to “show off”. It can be to compete, to reach personal goals, a lot of things. And it’s definitely not anyone’s business at work of all places.

      1. earmouse56*

        yes! Competing in sports like this isn’t about showing off – it’s about what your body can do. I don’t run so I can have conversations about looking like a runner.

        1. pope suburban*

          Exactly. If I know that someone in my life competes in an activity, I might ask them how their training is going, or how they are feeling about an upcoming/recently passed event. That has nothing to do with their body, it’s an expression of interest in what interests them- and if they prefer not to discuss it at work, then fair play, I won’t bring it up again. People get like this with me occasionally about my martial-arts training, which came along with a substantial physical change (Which was frankly weird for me, because I’d been athletic until illness/injury, so I felt I was back to my normal while everyone I hadn’t known before saw a whole different person), and it’s like…I get that they mean well. I get that they are trying to express admiration and to be kind. I’m lucky in that I present fairly conventionally and also identify as such; appearance is much less fraught for me than it is for a lot of people. But every time it happens, in my head, I’m like, “But what if this bothered me? What if I was smaller because I was ill? What if I was having some internal struggles with appearance/identity?” It’s not a hill I’ve chosen to die on and I’m not sure it will be, but it would be nice if we’d collectively ease up on body commentary, simply because you never know what might be going on with someone.

        2. JSPA*

          But…runners recognize other runners as runners all the dang time, and use that as a conversational intro. My spouse gets “you look like you run” and “are you a runner” and “do you do marathons” all the dang time (two of them, ~30 years ago, there seems to be no statute of limitations on talking about why you do or don’t still run).

          It’s clearly based on body type, not on current athletic performance…but the goal isn’t body comment per se, it’s “I bet we share this thing, and some level of personal interaction makes professionals treat their clients as real people, and vice versa.”

          1. Ppmarigolds*

            All of your examples mention the sport not the body. OP’s are more problematic: “I can tell my looking at your legs you’re a runner” is infinitely more creepy and invasive. Don’t tell me you’re looking and thinking about my legs if you want to talk about running?

            1. JSPA*

              But…there’s literally no other way for them to recognize a potential runner, when they’re not in running shoes or running shorts, or in a T-shirt with a race on it?

              So it’s intrinsically a body-type and musculature comment.

              Short, plump, top-heavy people who do run (note: we exist!) don’t get the comment. Lanky, leg-muscled, light-upper body people do get the comment. It’s more, “your body shape would be good for a runner, and you look fit enough that I’m going to use that as a conversation opener.”

              1. Jennifer Strange*

                “your body shape would be good for a runner, and you look fit enough that I’m going to use that as a conversation opener.”

                Yeah, no, that’s creepy.

    3. Name of Requirement*

      Depending on the type of comment, people may think they’re giving you an opening to chat about your hobby (a lot of muscle definition on a woman usually indicates some sort of activity). I think being slightly baffled or ignoring and skipping to another topic would stop some offenders.
      Your line is very clear and expresses your (very reasonable) boundary well.
      If it needs to be softened, maybe “I appreciate the thought, but I am pretty bored talking about any of that (your body, activity, past as Atlas)”.
      Or “You know, I get a lot of those kind of comments while I’m working, and they make me uncomfortable. If you could help me out by not talking about my body I’d really appreciate it.”

      1. cleo*

        Just want to highlight this one:

        You know, I get a lot of those kind of comments while I’m working, and they make me uncomfortable. If you could help me out by not talking about my body I’d really appreciate it.”

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I think OP’s coworkers will receive this message a lot more positively than ‘Please don’t comment on my body at work’. Especially if you aren’t harsh about it.
          It sounds like nobody is trying to be malicious; they are just not thinking of it the way OP is and this will give them that context with a warmer, more collegial delivery.

          1. MJ*

            I agree! “Don’t comment on my body” is very direct. People who are clueless enough to make the comments in the first place are very likely to also feel defensive when challenged. I think the phrasing suggested here is much more likely to have the desired impact.

      2. Jacked OP*

        I really like this script! I sometimes struggle with bluntness – it’s come up before – so this message softening is definitely helpful for me.

        1. River Otter*

          Yeah, “please don’t talk about my body” is sort of nuclear. I wouldn’t start there with most people. I might start there with the guy who made comments about your legs in those jeans, but not as a response to a positive comment about your biceps. Save the nuclear option for the third or fourth time you have asked them not to comment.

    4. Tired*

      LW said she was doing heavy lifting and distance running, not bodybuilding. The visible muscles aren’t what the competition is about, so I think you’re off base with your first point.

      1. Jones*

        The general public has no idea about the differences between bodybuilding, powerlifting, olympic lifting, etc. They see muscles that denote lifting and the image that comes to mind is bodybuilding or muscly dudes in the gym (ie the gender transgressive behavior mentioned above). I don’t think sports are done to show off, but they are public, which is part of why people feel like they can comment, I think. Just to be clear, your right to privacy and dignity doesn’t go away because your body is doing something in the public sphere, but as we see with pregnant people, trans people, disabled people, some bodies are considered public; athletic bodies sometimes enter into the same realm. Add to that diet culture and gendered ideals and well, it doesn’t surprise me this is happening.

        That being said, if someone told me to not comment on their body, I’d get all the implications, apologize, and be careful to maybe ask about a competition *if* we had that kind of relationship and I knew it was welcomed, but not reference their body. But for someone who thinks that commenting on visible weight loss=good and supportive, they’re not seeing the implications and can’t yet make the leap that the OP needs them to, they just feel like their good intentions are rejected. Fair or not, that’s where I think the slightly softer messaging can do a lot of good.

        One skill I draw on a lot I learned from DBT is when having hard conversations, you can generally prioritize 1. getting what you want/need, 2. the relationship with the other person, or 3. your self-respect. Sometimes you can get all of them, but often you have to choose. So here while I would love to just say “don’t comment on my body,” the softer messaging will get you #1 and #2, and for me wouldn’t cost a significant amount of #3. Being strategic and intentional helps me figure out these kinds of situations at work and resolve them in a way that feels authentic and right to me without alienating the other person, even when they’re being an ass.

        1. Distracted Librarian*

          I’ve never done DBT, but I love this framing. Being intentional about your priorities in an interaction is so important. Thanks for sharing this!

        2. allathian*

          I love the framing in your last paragraph. Thankfully I work with sensible people, mostly, and nobody’s commented on my body at work for nearly 15 years. When I’d been working for about 6 months, a WW group started which I was a member of. I managed to lose a significant amount of weight, and because I was trying to lose weight, I was happy to get compliments on it at the time. I got pregnant almost immediately after I switched to the maintenance phase. When my pregnancy started showing, a few commented on my cute baby bump, but not many. Nobody commented after I returned to work from maternity leave, when I’d regained most of the weight I lost in WW.

          That said, at work I provide services to other people. I do value relationships quite a lot, but I don’t need to cultivate particularly good relationships with anyone to get my job done, it’s rather they who need to cultivate good relationships with me to get what they need from me. Not that I’d ever refuse to comply with a professionally-worded request even from a jerk, but if I have two tasks with the same priority, the more pleasant person will get what they need first, it’s just the way the world works. So yeah, I guess I’d be able to sacrifice some of the relationship with a jerk, although I’d be willing to soften the message a bit if I figured that would get me what I want faster, i.e. for them to stop commenting. But my self-respect would definitely get a higher priority than the relationship.

    5. Less Bread More Taxes*

      This is a great comment.

      To add to this – most people are happy to talk about their hobbies at work, as long as they aren’t generally offensive (i.g., someone might be passionate about writing soft porn, but may still not want to discuss it at work). For example, I like to sew, and if I wear something I made to work and someone compliments it, I’m going to give them the shpiel about how I made it. Likewise, I’ve seen coworkers wear pride-inspired makeup and are happy to talk about when someone comments about it, and I’ve seen coworkers wear race t-shirts and talk about their running habits when it’s mentioned. It’s just a normal thing to do when you don’t hate the people you work with.

      All this is to say that some people are going to think you hate them if you don’t want to talk about a hobby. Granted, this is quite different in that it’s your body and you can’t change it daily just like I can choose what clothes to wear or my makeup-loving coworker can choose to go bare-faced. So I get it, it’s weird to get comments about your body. But I think when some people get shut down, they might to jump more to “OP is super secretive of her hobbies” rather than “OP justifiably doesn’t want people commenting on her body.”

      Is it possible to have a softer approach with people? Instead of “I’m not willing to talk about this”, could you say something like “Yeah, I lift in my spare time, but it’s really rather boring and I’d rather not talk about it at work.” For what it’s worth, I know a lot of people who are into various sports and like to talk about them with others, so would it be possible for you to be more open about that with people who are genuinely interested?

      Again, it’s your body, and you shouldn’t have to discuss it with anyone if you don’t want to. But if you’re not trying to poison relationships, I think you’ve got to try a different approach.

      1. D*

        This is a terrible comment, and anyone saying things like, “Lift much?” or “Wow, you must work out,” is much closer to sexual harassment than they are to “Asking about your hobbies.”

      2. Double Crochet*

        We have no indication that OP’s coworkers want to talk about her body because of a hobby. In fact, the man in the example thought that OP’s body was changing due to a weight loss plan, not a hobby.
        It’s perfectly normal and reasonable for someone to not want to discuss their body at work. To suggest that OP should actually be “more open” does not seem helpful to me.

      3. Jennifer Strange*

        The problem is they aren’t discussing a hobby with her, they’re discussing her body. If she were wearing a shirt from a run she did and someone commented on that it would be different.

        1. KRM*

          This. Saying “oh you ran the Boston half marathon? What was the course like for you?” is VERY DIFFERENT from “wow your legs look amazing you must be running”. The first is discussing a thing the LW. The second is commenting on LWs body inappropriately, even if the commenter actually wants to talk about running. Do Not Comment On Somebody’s Body (unless you are close and the person has brought up the topic for discussion).

          1. The Tin Man*

            “oh you ran the Boston half marathon? What was the course like for you?”

            See that’s just an invitation for me to complain about the stupid out-and-back towards the end

            Jokes about the BAA aside, I agree 100% that asking about the hobby and commenting on OP’s body with regards to the hobby are very different. It’s disappointing too many people are trained to think exercise exists only for weight/health/aesthetic reasons.

                1. The Tin Man*

                  I mean, a lot of it is nice and it does go through the zoo. But it goes through the zoo at mile like 12.5 when your soul has left your body.

      4. Pocket Mouse*

        The difference is that people aren’t talking about her hobbies. They’re talking about her body. Saying “Hey, are you training for a race?” is super different from commenting on the contours of one’s limbs.

        1. Less Bread More Taxes*

          I’m still not sure what’s wrong with saying “Hey, are you training for a race?” to someone who is obviously muscular. I would obviously be sensitive and listen to someone if they told me they didn’t want to discuss their body, but I just don’t see the problem with that question in the first place.

          1. Pocket Mouse*

            I gave “Are you training for a race?” as an example of a question that’s about a hobby, not a body (that is, different than and better than a comment or question about someone’s body). This example does assume the asker knows the person runs in general, which one might know about a colleague. Coming from a stranger or near-stranger, yeah, it’s probably based on how someone’s body looks and is not a good thing to ask. Personally, I’d only be okay with it coming from a stranger or near-stranger if I was wearing something that indicates I run (and specifically that I run races) and there’s contextual clues or verbal confirmation the asker runs too. Otherwise… just, why? There’s no need.

          2. Cringing 24/7*

            What I see wrong with it is how much of a jump it is based solely on looking at someone’s body. I don’t look at muscular people and just assume they’re competitive athletes or want to talk about their bodies with a stranger or acquaintance, and that’s almost precisely what’s happening to OP. People’s thought processes are essentially going, “Oh, a muscular woman? Let me ask her why her body is the way it is, because it’s outside of the norm from what I would expect to see.” It’s invasive, rude, and presumptuous. It’s not like some of the examples above where one might take a queue from the theme of what someone is wearing or as a part of a conversation that the hobbyist actually brought up themselves. Don’t ask people anything about their bodies or assumptions you’ve made about them because of their bodies unless you’re close enough friends that you won’t be offended when they tell you, “Hey, that’s rude, Mattholomew.”

          3. Northland*

            I do. Because what if someone’s body looks a certain way due to something they don’t want to discuss. Maybe they have changed something about the way they eat and its making their body go to their more natural state, maybe they are an overexerciser, maybe they are doing some other type of physical activity they arent interested in discussing whether that a hobby or not. I would hate for people to assume what I do based on what my body looks like, even if society dictates that being fit is positive.

            1. Northland*

              Also I would say that maybe someone does something they love and then doesn’t really like what it does to their body. I was a high level gymnast. Yes I was fit and strong, but in a bikini I didn’t look like what society deems is hot. I had no curves and washboard abs but not in the “desirable” way. I also was self conscious about my back muscles.

              1. pancakes*

                Yes, good point. My best friend in high school was a great soccer player and quite fit and strong, but being strong wasn’t always seen as hot in a 90s waif context.

      5. Pikachu*

        Lifting is a huge hobby of mine. It is very easy to talk about lifting without EVER talking about how I look in my jeans today.

        For someone who doesn’t lift but is genuinely interested discussing my hobby with me, why is it so important that we discuss MY BODY specifically and not something like the differences between powerlifting and Olympic lifting?

        1. AnotherJen*

          If you have a quick answer for that question, I’d love to borrow it! I started learning to do Olympic lifts as a pandemic project (with a coach!) and I still struggle for a concise explanation of the difference. I usually wind up saying something like “it’s all about the momentum and the hip drive, and a certain amount of magic”, which is cool, but not genuinely helpful.

          1. Jacked OP*

            I kinda have something for this! The way I explain it is, powerlifting is about the absolute number of lbs you can put in the air off of the Big 3, without using any momentum: squat, bench, and deadlift. You just gotta pick it up, wait for the light, and put it down. All of those stay below your neck – the weight is getting moved around, but it’s not traveling that far. Your feet stay planted, and you get No Ups.

            Olympic lifting needs momentum – The Ups – to get the weight as much weight into the air as possible. So, like, for the competitive movements for Olympic lifting, the snatch and C&J, both get over your head. How do you get big weight to move that far? By using your whole body to launch it in a way that often involves your feet coming up off the ground. If you stamp out the momentum like you do for powerlifting when you try to get weight over your head, your capacity is capped so low you’re useless as an Olympic lifter.

            That can be a little in-the-weeds but often gets the point across!

          2. Cedrus Libani*

            Maybe it would be useful to make the analogy to pull-ups. Powerlifting is the “strict” dead-hang version: pure strength, no momentum. Olympic is the CrossFit kipping pull-up. Some people think strict pull-ups are the only valid exercise; if you have to flop around like a fish to get yourself over the bar, you’re cheating. Some people think kipping is superior; it’s not purely a test of strength, there is a technique that must be mastered also, and of course you are rewarded with big numbers if you can do it properly.

      6. pancakes*

        “But I think when some people get shut down, they might to jump more to ‘OP is super secretive of her hobbies’ rather than ‘OP justifiably doesn’t want people commenting on her body.’”

        When people make that jump, they’re making a mistake. Their perception of what’s happening is wrong. In a lot of situations there is more wiggle room for people to have different perceptions without necessarily being wrong, per se, but thinking that someone who doesn’t want to talk about their body or their appearance at work is being “super secretive” is wrong.

        Sometimes it seems people confuse “here is a thing that happens sometimes” with “here is a thing that we need to accept.” We don’t need to accept the mindset that having a body that looks a bit (or a lot) out of the ordinary is showing it off, or that people who don’t want to play along with that mindset are poisoning relationships or interactions with their coworkers.

        1. allathian*

          “We don’t need to accept the mindset that having a body that looks a bit (or a lot) out of the ordinary is showing it off, or that people who don’t want to play along with that mindset are poisoning relationships or interactions with their coworkers.”

          Thanks pancakes, that’s a great way to put it.

      7. Ppmarigolds*

        Why did he have to make it weird? The problem wreaks of misogyny and his entitlement to control OP’s response. Now she’s doing all this emotional labor to fix a relationship he couldn’t be bothered to maintain. These are kindergarten concepts of grace and courtesy here, and he’s the one refusing to be civil and professional.

    6. Dark Macadamia*

      Competing outside of work doesn’t mean she’s always showing off just by existing in her body. Same goes for being really tall, having big breasts, or any other distinctive feature. There’s just no need to comment on people’s bodies and “it’s noticeable” isn’t a good excuse.

      Also, the LW is a woman so if they’re trying to treat her like a fellow dude that’s not actually a compliment either. Would you really be ecstatic to receive unsolicited comments assessing your body, gender presentation, and sexuality? At work??

      1. L-squared*

        I didn’t say “treat her like a dude”, but at the same time, if they are treating her the same as they would treat any other guy, is that wrong either? Either we should or shouldn’t treat everyone the same. Not seeing exactly where sexuality comes into this.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Not seeing exactly where sexuality comes into this.

          OP states that she is butch-presenting and queer. Also, you can’t really wave away centuries of women having their bodies put under a microscope (both negatively and “positively”) by claiming they’re just treating them like they would any other guy. We don’t exist in a vacuum.

        2. Pocket Mouse*

          Re: treating everyone the same or not, it’s actually pretty important to consider (as much as is possible) the totality of a person’s experience. So much has been written just on this site about small innocuous-seeming comments that, when received constantly, can really wear a person down. I don’t think it’s good to comment on anybody’s body, but women in general have to deal with WAY more judgment and verbal feedback about their appearance than do men. Also see the difference between equality and equity.

        3. Dark Macadamia*

          You’re saying that comments about muscles are considered a compliment when given from a man to a man. Either that’s completely irrelevant because she’s a woman, or it’s relevant because they’re treating her like a man.

          We should treat everyone the same by not making unsolicited comments about anyone’s bodies.

        4. Lenora Rose*

          But we don’t treat everyone the same, and we don’t want to. That may be some lovely ideal for a Star Trek future which doesn’t have the very real and very extant issues with current sexism, but while we do, being aware that something you say to Jack may go over very differently when addressed to Jacqueline and even more so when addressed to Jacinta is Reality 101. (And also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the guys who bring this up to her *don’t* bring these things up to other guys in a work context. Most guys of my experience don’t, they save it for the gym or it’s a once in a blue moon discussion. So that excuse doesn’t fly anyhow.)

        5. Fitz*

          L-squared, I think this comes down to the golden rule vs the platinum rule. I was taught as a kid to treat others as you would like to be treated, but as an adult I’ve learned that it’s more important to treat others as they WANT to be treated. I’m a very touchy person and love to give hugs, but I’m extremely cautious in the workplace and don’t touch other people because I don’t know if THEY want to be hugged. Make sense?

          And even if it’s hard to understand why LW doesn’t like the comments in the first place, we can all agree that once she asks for them to stop they should stop, right?

          1. MEH Squared*

            Yup, agreed. I was in my thirties when I realized that ‘treat others as you want to be treated’ should be ‘treat others as they want to be treated’ (golden rule v. platinum rule as you noted). It really cuts out a lot of the ‘but I didn’t mean anything bad’ excuses.

            1. Fitz*

              I’m so glad I’m not the only one who learned this as an adult. It’s so clear to me now that it’s a bit embarrassing to go back and look at the times I treated others as I wanted to be treated, when it was clearly not what they wanted!

          2. mandatory anon*

            The golden rule makes me think of religious extremists who think they are doing good deeds by hate-criming others.

        6. I'm Not Phyllis*

          Right … but I would also argue that it isn’t ok to comment on a man’s body at work either. Not ok to comment on any body of any gender at work. There are SO many other things folks can discuss.

          1. pancakes*

            Yeah, that too. It’s not as if there aren’t decades of baggage around mens’ bodies as well. It’s different baggage, but being jacked or not, lean or not, etc., should probably be pretty far down most people’s lists of good small talk topics.

          2. Alie Anon*

            This reads like “what about the menz”. You can’t just overlook the centuries of baggage with how men feel expect for women to always be on display for their pleasure.

            1. pancakes*

              I didn’t read “also” as “let’s overlook . . .” or “instead . . .” I think it’s ok to mention without derailing on it, in the context of when, if ever, these type of remarks are appropriate at work.

        7. pancakes*

          “Either we should or shouldn’t treat everyone the same.”

          Nope. This is a huge and counterproductive oversimplification. In addition to what others have said, I want to point out that if you treat your coworkers the same way you treat close friends whose sense of humor, gender politics, etc., you’re familiar with and simpatico with, you’re likely to run into problems interacting with them. Simply spending time in one another’s company at work doesn’t mean you can or should start treating coworkers (or public-facing workers like the letter writer, when you’re the public) like close friends as a way of getting to know one another.

          1. Despachito*

            I think this was meant rather as “treat all your coworkers the same irrespective of their gender”, not “treat every person the same irrespective of their relationship to you”

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              Right, but that still ignores centuries of misogyny that have shaped the experience of being female (or female-presenting). Interactions are not a one-size fits all.

        8. Batgirl*

          I think treating people like they’re the same as we are, and as though they will appreciate everything we appreciate *intends to be* inclusive but in practice it feels excluding and like people are trying to make you fit. I can really empathise with OP not wanting to slam these guys too rudely because she sees the intention! However she also feels singled out and surveilled and needs them to stop. I do think it’s genuinely tricky.

        9. Ppmarigolds*

          If a dude had asked him to back off I’m guessing (with all my middle aged life experience of a woman) that he would have backed off peaceably, maybe even made overtures to mend the relationship. A woman told him no and he responded accordingly. It’s hard not to see it this way from my perspective.

    7. Nayo*

      It’s really not okay to comment on a coworker’s body unless explicitly invited to by said coworker, and even then you need to exercise judgement so it doesn’t get weird.

      1. JustaTech*

        Exactly. It’s one thing for me to ask a coworker who told me about an injury how they’re doing today, or to offer to pick up something for them. I am following up on a conversation and expressing concern/interest in them as a person (not just their body).

        It would be something else entirely for me to say “Oh, have you lost weight?”.

        I feel like this is a bit similar to the conversation about the difference between “your dress is really cool” or “that’s such an interesting necklace” vs “that dress looks great on you”.
        One is talking about about you as a person (ie, your taste), the other is talking about your body.

    8. Banana Pancakes*

      This is a compliment like being catcalled is a compliment, i.e. not at all. Women didn’t just start telling men we don’t want them to comment on our bodies at work yesterday. This isn’t new. If this is your first time hearing this message, you haven’t been listening.

    9. Gerry Keay*

      Please explain to me in detail how this is different from “she’s wearing a short dress which is obviously showing off her legs so of course I can comment on it and actually you’re in the wrong if you tell me to stop” because it sounds pretty darn similar to me.

    10. RuralGirl*

      If someone says, “I heard you won your last competition – congrats!” or “I hear you’re competing now – how cool! Are you enjoying it?” that’s fine. To say, “I can see you’re working hard. Your arms look great!” to a colleague is not okay. Unless they’ve invited the comment, your opinion on their body is not appropriate to share, even if you perceive it as positive. That said, it sounds like the colleague said something like, “I can see you’re working hard and lost a bunch of weight, congratulations!” which is NEVER okay to say unless someone asks you for feedback on their weight loss. Even if you’ve heard from others that they’re trying to lose weight, your opinion is not invited so keep it to yourself.

      1. metadata minion*

        Seconding! I would welcome that sort of comment on my body from a coworker that I was already pretty close friends with, preferably someone who was also into sports/bodybuilding/whatever. Because then it would feel like talking about a shared hobby that happens to be intensely body-oriented.

        Coming from someone I don’t know well puts the comment in this uncomfortable uncertainty field where I’m left wondering if they’re hitting on me, or feeling threatened by my gender presentation, or they’re also into running and trying to make a connection, or just feeling awkward and reaching for the first conversation topic they could find…

    11. Esmeralda*

      Please. People competing are not doing competitions just to show off. Maybe some people are, but the athletes I know are competing because they love the sport, they enjoy doing the sport, they like competing against other athletes, they like to see how well they can do, and most of them don’t give a flying F about what anyone else thinks they look like or what anyone else thinks about their motivations.

      How guys would take it: yeah, I too understand why they feel that way and just because THEY don’t see it as objectifying doesn’t mean it isn’t. Intent does not matter here — actions do. OP is telling them politely and they are pushing and being jerks about it. Frankly, it’s at work so why are they saying ANYTHING about someone else’s body? And once OP asks them to stop, the professional thing to do is apologize and stop it, not get all butt-hurt and whine to the boss (which, seriously???)

    12. Jacked OP*

      hi! I appreciate your contribution! But there’s actually something I think is important to point out about weight-classed competitions and body comments.

      The specific kind of lifting I do is powerlifting, so it’s not about the look of my body at all – it’s about how much weight I can pick up and put down. Powerlifters come in all different shapes and sizes. My general shape/size is “Russian-Potato-Shaped Brick Shithouse,” but there are A LOT of powerlifters who carry more body fat on their frames, carry less, or who put on strength without putting on as much visible muscle.

      My pre-pandemic background is, actually, in combat sports. Both powerlifting and combat sports are universally weight-classed, meaning that one sometimes has to go up or down in weight for competition. (Less so in powerlifting, more so for a fight, but it does happen.) I haven’t actually had to cut weight, but I have a lot of friends – men, women, and nonbinary folks – who have cut. Often, cuts take you pretty far away from your regular “walkaround weight,” and the way you look for a fight is not the way you look 3 days after due to a combination of broccoli-and-chicken-breast-diet, water cut manipulation, and carb/salt restriction.

      I know a lot of folks – again, men, women, and nonbinary folks! – who HATE getting body comments close to a comp because their bodies are just…dehydrated husks. They look Jacked for the Gods, and that’s just simply atypical for almost anyone to look like that all the time. It can really give people agita because when they do put literally any water and electrolytes back into their systems, they gain back weight REALLY quickly and they don’t look like that anymore. I can tell you from personal experience that I know people who have gotten comments enough around their comp bodies that it led them to start eating in disordered manners outside of comp time because they felt that their bodies were unworthy when they weren’t as shredded.

      Even though I haven’t ever had to do a huge cut, I can tell you that my body around comp time isn’t typical for me in my off-season. I put on weight and muscle when I peak a powerlifting program, and I get unsustainably lean before really long-distance comps. My body shifts around, and I’m okay with that. But even though I’m competing, I simply do not want to deal with this in my day-to-day at work.

      Hope this gives some more context as to why I really don’t love comments on bodies for any athletes! Myself included!

      1. L-squared*

        I appreciate your clarification. Amazing how much nicer you, the person who this is directed to, can be, than some of the other comments on here.

        But I hear what you are saying, and I apologize if anything I said came across poorly.

        1. Le Sigh*

          “Amazing how much nicer you, the person who this is directed to, can be, than some of the other comments on here.”

          I’m going to ask you, politely, to sit with this comment and reflect on it a bit. Internet pile-ons aren’t helpful and can get downright nasty. No argument there. But I’d also like you to consider how it sounds to people — people who have since age 11 or even earlier, been catcalled, people who fall outside the “norm” for what we expect with bodies and gender, or perhaps have a visible disability — that your biggest complaint in this thread is that people weren’t nice to you. That perhaps our lives have been one big Internet pile on, a consistent peppering of “harmless” comments or “compliments” from coaches, teachers, people on the sidewalk, partners, friends, doctors, our own parents, or guys in the gym who insist on helping you with weights as a means to hit on you (but get really bent out of shape when you decline). And that on more than one occasion — frequently in fact, as the OP points out — when they try to state their boundaries, even nicely, they’re dismissed, argued with, ridiculed, or even yelled at (as I have been on more than one occasion, including once when I asked a mutual friend to stop commenting on how good I looked in a dress and I was screamed at until I cried). No amount of being polite or nice guarantees a good outcome when you speak up.

          At a certain point, you lose your patience with people. And so to you, it’s one comment, an observation. To others it’s a lifetime of remembering all the ways we’re undermined and harmed, and you want to just shut it down immediately and remind people it’s not okay. It sucks to have people attack you, and yeah, pile-ons aren’t always a good thing — but if this many people react this strongly to what you said, please think about that and listen to what they’re saying, even if it doesn’t come in the package you prefer.

          1. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

            Mailed you a case of champagne.

            (didn’t) (I’m told it’s the thought that counts)

          2. Despachito*

            I feel sorry that you had problems stating your boundaries, and I think nobody deserves to face that.

            But I do not see how this is the fault of an innocent first-time “offender” and why he/she should be snapped at because unfortunately, the snapping person has met more than fair load of a..holes before.

            Like, if you tell me “please do not do this to me”, I’ll do my best to obey, because I am not an a-hole an do not want to hurt you. If you treat me as an a-hole because you met a lot of them before, I will still not repeat the behaviour you find offensive but I will probably lose any willingness to interact with you more than I will absolutely have to.

            1. Distracted Librarian*

              I’m with Despachito – and I’ve been catcalled, sexually harassed, and sexually assaulted, as well as fielded a variety of unwelcome comments about my body over my 50+ years on this planet. So I understand the frustration, but it’s possible to set a firm boundary without biting someone’s head off. And when you’re interacting with co-workers or clients, biting someone’s head off can harm you more than it harms the person who offended you.

        2. Nameless in Customer Service*

          “Nicer”? Are you seriously reaching for the Tone Argument here? The Master’s tools will never pull down the Master’s house, to semi-quote Audre Lorde.

          You know how some people will deflect criticism of racism by saying that Black people are being insufficiently deferential when we’re demanding to be treated as human beings? You’ve done precisely the same thing to the women disagreeing with you here. Is that really what you want to do? Does improved social status really come down to rising to a position where you can freely treat others in a bigoted manner?

          1. L-squared*

            Yeah, when people make a ton of assumptions and negative comments toward me because they didn’t like an opinion I expressed, I feel like calling out tone is valid. There are ways to get your point across without being a jerk, and the OP very clearly showed a good way to do that. Just because you disagree with me, does that mean I have to just accept any way people choose to do it?

            1. Nameless in Customer Service*

              What assumptions have people made about you here? Looking back over the thread I see people disagreeing with you — is that no longer allowed when someone expresses an opinion, especially a harmful opinion that has, can, and will lead to actual harm for people? What I’ve seen from you is praising the OP because her explanation centered around the practice of powerlifting (praise she does deserve) while dismissing everyone who explained how your opinion is sexist and how it can be hurtful as “not nice”. That’s not actually a rebuttal, just a statement that we deserve the sexism unless we can sufficiently please you. Don’t you hate it when people do that to you on matters of race? I know as another Black person I do. Why do you want to turn around and do it to others on matters of sexism? That’s not actually progress.

            2. Eyes Kiwami*

              This is literally the kind of thing that OP wrote in about, though. OP wants people to stop commenting on her body, and when she says that, people get upset and try to defend the “compliment”. Then OP has to spend time and energy explaining to them why it didn’t feel like a compliment. You tried to defend your compliment, and OP had to write several paragraphs to explain it to you…

              Also I think it’s weird to wade into a discussion of sexism with Let Me Explain On Behalf Of Men and then get upset when people criticize your explanation. Like, you saw a bunch of people unhappy about a situation, and then you express an opinion kinda defending the thing people are mad about, and then you’re surprised when people respond negatively? So you want them to respond sweetly to you about this sore spot you jumped on?

      2. Sloth_in_a_speedboat*

        Thank you OP! I can’t remember the last time I read a comment on the internet that was so informative and also hilarious and inclusive. You are amazing and I hope you find the magic words to get people on board with your boundaries.

      3. mountainshadows299*

        Thank you for clarifying OP. My first thought after reading your letter was actually that you were not concerned about the “positive” tone of the comments, but of the implied opposite- the weight stigma/ableist/body desirability BS that comes out of people when they’re referring to bodies at all. Even (and especially) people who are athletes also face this, it’s just that the positive comments can be more of a reminder of what happens if you don’t eventually fit the societal ideal. (As we all will someday b/c the fallible and changeable nature of bodies + aging). I could see where the positive comments are a factor that drives people towards ED. People don’t realize it’s the flip side of their (sometimes) well intended comments.

        I don’t have much helpful advice except to use the literal method. (Huh? Army lady? [Blank stare] Okkkk well… [Subject change]. Or: Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess I have muscles. Anyway… [Subject change]).

        Returning awkward to sender generally seems like the least antagonistic option especially with strangers/clients/members of the public, but I fully believe you *should* be able to forthrightly address the issue with your coworkers without them getting butt-hurt. (But what I believe and the way reality lines up don’t always match).

      4. Batgirl*

        This is so good, I wonder if you could use a distilled version in the moment. If we accept L-squared’s prediction that they’re clumsily talking about your body when they mean to discuss your hobby, you could distinguish the difference by saying: “Oh in my sport we try not to focus on the look, it can really throw you off your game.” If they ask you to clarify, I would just say: “Oh it’s a long boring story, but thank you for indulging me on the no body talk thing.”

    13. Flash Packet*

      Wow. No. Full stop. Do not comment on people’s bodies at work.

      Someone lifts weights and competes? Ask them about the competition itself, not their body.

      Someone plays baseball in a league? Ask them about the games, not their body.

      Your comment takes us alllllllll the way back to the person who wears colorful / non-drab clothes to work and is really, really tired of their clothing choices being a topic of discussion at work. There is no “CLEARLY you are seeking attention so I’m just giving you what you want,” in any of this.

      People ought to be able to exist without a whole multitude of others saying, “But you’re existing AT me! I have no choice but to comment! You’re asking for it!”

      1. pancakes*

        It has a lot in common with the Daily Mail mindset and headline style – a celeb photographed walking down the street, or even a celeb standing on a beach or going for a swim or whatnot photographed by paparazzi with a zoom lens, is said to be “flaunting” their body, etc. Yes, some of them do tip off photographers because they very much want to be seen, but some of them are just going about their business.

    14. Marcy Marketer*

      You’re getting so much hate! But I agree as a woman who loves to work out and equally loves to talk about it (and also my (arm) guns baby!!) that I would find a conversation about my lifting capacity or muscles welcome. I don’t think people are in the wrong for trying to make small talk about a hobby the OP clearly enjoys.

      That being said, if the OP doesn’t want comments but also doesn’t want to torpedo their relationship, one word responses, staring blankly for a minute, or just saying “it’s a hobby I don’t love talking about at work, thanks for understanding [topic change].”

      The reality is that people aren’t mind readers and they also try to make small talk to connect with people. Some of it is bad and some of it is bound to be annoying.

      1. Lady Danbury*

        Just because YOU love to talk about your muscles doesn’t mean everyone does. We have plenty of examples in this thread, including OP, of people who don’t want to talk about them. Talking about hobbies/small talk doesn’t require talking about bodies. Nobody has to be a mind reader to follow a blanket rule not to comment on people’s bodies in the workplace. You getting an ego boost because someone noticed your guns isn’t worth someone else potentially feeling othered because of their gender identity, triggering an eating disorder, or being sexually harassed.

        1. Santiago*

          I think the objective is to help OP solve their problem in real life, and so a part of solving that problem is recognizing that people are processing these comments about OPs body as comments about an exercise hobby rather than as an inappropriate comment. This isn’t a defense of that behavior, just a practical first step to solving the problem. In this context, I’m not sure what OP should say. Maybe “thanks, but I don’t talk about my health at work.” Not sure

        2. Marcy Marketer*

          I agree that people respond differently to various small talk topics— that was actually my point by sharing the example of how my response would be different than the OP.

          I do not think we can control what small talk topics people lead with, and while ideally everyone would be good at navigating talking to strangers who might be sick of hearing the same old thing, sensitive about certain topics, or struggling with an issue the small talker might not know about, the reality is that many people struggle with human interaction and fall back on standard topics or even random thoughts.

          I tend to accept things in the spirit they were delivered, since I am also bad at small talk and I feel empathy for people who are trying to connect in a low stakes coworker interaction. For example people constantly believe me to be a teenager, when I am mid thirties. It used to annoy me but now I know I can’t control other people so i say something warm in response and just move on. However, I gave lots of examples about how to meet those conversation topics with a different energy above.

          1. pancakes*

            Taking things in the spirit they’re delivered is generally a good idea, but when the spirit is, basically, “I was just saying random things without giving much thought to how that might come across,” that’s not a particularly considerate spirit. People who do that are occasionally going to talk themselves into sensitive territory, unwittingly. The unwitting aspect isn’t strictly necessary or helpful.

        3. Despachito*

          But this also means there is no one-fits-all opinion about that – some people like it, some don’t, and it is not fair to automatically assume nobody does.

          I think we will all agree that once the person expresses that they do not like/wish/appreciate such comments, this should be a hard stop, and it is OK to be harsh with repeat offenders.

          But I am all for being gracious to those who mention it for the first time (of course, not in a sleazy or intrusive way), just because of the chance that there are people who will like it.

          1. Batgirl*

            Thank you! There is no blanket rule! I was waiting for someone to say this. I agree that bodies are personal things and a savvy small talker will not initiate in the talking of them. However (and yeah I know this will differ from place to place) it’s not a widely known or accepted blanket rule, any more than diet talk is. There is a whole swathe of people out there who are very dedicated to talking about their bodies and firmly believe that others want the same attention/support, so long as it’s not sexualized. It’s still not a “duh, of course you don’t” level of etiquette everywhere, which is why it’s so great it’s being discussed here.

            1. Nameless in Customer Service*

              What defines a “blanket rule”?

              Besides, requiring someone to explain in essay level detail, over and over, to every single person, why they don’t want to have a particular conversation, is a good way to wear someone down and exhaust them. Since you’re a superheroine I’m a little surprised to see you recommend that be done to your fellow women.

              1. Despachito*

                I think that there are things that will be generally considered rude (like fat shaming, sleazy sex comments), and there are things someone will welcome and someone will not. And comments about someone’s physical appearance fall into this gray area, and as we are seeing here in the commentariat, there is no clear consensus about what is acceptable and what is not.

                Someone will not want ANY comments on anything about their physical appearance.
                Someone will not mind if the comments are about something they can influence and are proud of (new haircut, cute shoes).
                Someone will welcome if a work friend acknowledges they are in a great shape after starting exercising/spending some time with Weightwatchers. I personally know it is tricky to acknowledge that someone looks good because they’ve lost weight (and I will probably not mention the weight loss, just say that the person looks good), as it may mean that it is due to an illness, but I must confess that I was flattered that people around me noticed that I lost about a quarter of my weight because of a concentrated effort, and told me so, and I would miss it if they didn’t.

                So this is why I consider this a grey area because no one has the obligation to know beforehand if I would or would not like such a compliment. And I do not think that any “essay level detail” should be required if this is not welcome – among decent people, it should be sufficient to say “please, I’d rather not discuss this” and that would be it.

                1. pancakes*

                  That doesn’t seem all that grey to me. You’re saying that if we discourage people from making small talk about bodies, people who’ve enjoyed being complimented on weight loss will be deprived of a nice thing. It seems preferable to me for people to hold off on complimenting someone until they know them well enough to know whether it was intentional or not (say, though illness). That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable restriction on compliments or an unreasonably high bar to clear to me.

                1. Despachito*

                  to pancakes – yes, you are very right in this.

                  It is not about banning small talk about bodies altogether, but it is only appropriate if you know the person well enough to know that the change is not due to being sick or something like that, and that they will appreciate your comment. Which is definitely not somebody you only greet in passing.

                2. Nameless in Customer Service*

                  Does it make it clearer if I rephrase the last line as “I’m a little surprised to see you require such perpetual exhausting explanations from your fellow women” ? Although I’m not really surprised — many women think that declaring that they can vouch for sexism being fictional will gain them personal status with men, but in my experience it doesn’t usually succeed — so much as dismayed.

                3. Batgirl*

                  I’m sorry but you’re talking about someone else’s opinion entirely; I never mentioned women at all, or any recommendation about exhausting them and it is not my aim to get credit with men! Please don’t be so insulting or put words into my mouth. What I actually said was that it was great we were discussing this issue ffs.

      2. metadata minion*

        But why not start out talking about the hobby itself, rather than the person’s body? As you point out, there are certainly plenty of people who do enjoy having people comment on their bodies, but as a general, society-level rule, you can seldom go wrong with assuming people don’t want comments on their body in the workplace.

      3. pancakes*

        I don’t think trying to connect with people one doesn’t know well about their appearance or body is a good idea, in general. For people who are working out in the same gym or doing the same activity in the same place (say, playing tennis, or going to a group yoga class) it’s less egregious, but even then it’s going to rub many people the wrong way. And there are so many other things to talk about.

      4. mandatory anon*

        And some of it is bound to get the commenter a reaction they don’t like. No one owes randos any kind of small talk, esp not on the harassment spectrum.

      5. whingedrinking*

        Sure, but that’s not universal at all. I used to cycle a lot, I love cycling, I love being in a community of people who cycle and I want to get back into it, further if possible. (I want to learn to build wheels, not because it’ll save me much money, but because I think it would give me almost immeasurable satisfaction.) I want my legs to be strong, so I can ride the way I want to.
        But what I don’t want is comments on them. My body type is one that puts on muscle fairly easily but also cheerfully deposits fat around my hips and thighs, and finding pants that fit is an exercise in frustration – the more so when I’m riding a lot. Someone saying, “Looks like you’re ready for touring season!” may think they’re complimenting me, but it actually just makes me thinking “Oh god, they’re looking at my legs. Aaaagh.”

    15. pancakes*

      No, not at all. People who enter competitions that have a physical component (or who take part in the same sort of activities some people do competitively, like weight-lifting or dancing or etc.) are not obliged to talk about their bodies or their routines with anyone who has questions or comments for them. Particularly when they’re at work! Their bodies aren’t like community landmarks or the weather or some other generally appropriate topic to chat about with people one doesn’t know well.

      More broadly speaking, being overly-familiar with people often isn’t a good way to get to know them. To the contrary, it’s often a way to encourage them to put a stop to you trying to get to know them. It can be intrusive, particularly if it’s about their body or appearance.

    16. Irish Teacher*

      Showing off what you can lift is a lot different than showing off how your arms LOOK though and anyway, most people compete for themselves, to test themselves, rather than to show everybody else “look how well I am doing.”

      I write; when I enter a story in a competition, it’s because I want to see how my writing ability compares to others, not because I want others to see how well I did (not that one necessarily has much seen in a writing competition). I imagine most people who enter weight lifting contests and so on are doing the same, seeing how well they are doing themselves, not trying to be seen.

      And there IS an issue about men thinking everything women do is to impress them/for their reactions, from wearing make-up to how women dress and so on. Even those things…usually aren’t and I VERY much doubt somebody who is testing their strength is doing it to show off their body.

      I will add that while I have entered writing competitions, I REALLY don’t like discussing my writing at work, to the point that I avoid mentioning it and was even wary of posting about it on facebook as I have colleagues added until I got to know them and felt pretty confident they weren’t the type to make stupid comments.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes, many people don’t like talking about their writing that way. Entering competitions with your work doesn’t mean you’re obliged to talk about your routines, your structural choices, your earlier drafts, etc., with anyone who happens to be curious about those things.

    17. Hrodvitnir*

      Not sure if you’re still checking this L-squared, and I haven’t actually finished reading all your replies – but one point I haven’t seen mentioned is there’s a big difference between a compliment on muscularity (probably inappropriate at work but yes, I enjoy it) and a “I’m weirded out by muscular women” comment even when dressed up as a compliment. Much like men finding out I used to do muay thai and saying “I won’t make you mad!” It’s just patronising (and I know you think your testosterone means you could beat me, and probably not).

    18. zillah*

      i think that this is more of an example of how gender roles and norms are toxic for everyone rather than this being okay for men.

      if you’ve discussed working out with someone and they know that’s something you want compliments on, sure, there’s nothing wrong with that – but that’s your personal situation. i promise that many men don’t have muscle definition because they’re working out to impress people, and if you haven’t come across them, it’s because you have a specific subgroup who you’re exclusively interacting with or (more likely) they just haven’t told you, because our culture makes it awkward for men to speak up about things like that, especially to other men.

      women aren’t always as clueless about men’s feelings as i think people assume we are. many men (not all, but many) are a lot more comfortable talking about some things with women than they are with other men.

      also, please be mindful of the microaggressions people who aren’t cishet face every day. some shit is likely to land different for different lgbtqia+ people because there are barbs and minefields accompanying it that are specific to certain groups – as a bi woman, a lot of the microaggressions that are most damaging to me on a daily basis are things that do not target people who are gay, for example, and vice versa.

    19. iliketoknit*

      Building muscle to be able lift the heaviest weight in competition is absolutely not the same as building muscles to show them off. Weight lifting and body building are different things. Your comment might make sense if the OP was flinging heavy items around their office, but having visible muscles is the side effect of getting strong, not (necessarily) the goal of the exercise.

    20. Ailsa McNonagon*

      Maybe the essential difference is that men can’t imagine why something that seems nice to them isn’t actually nice at all? I don’t imagine for one second that the men making sexual comments about women’s bodies would revel in having a man making the same comments to them.

  3. bamcheeks*

    him problem him problem him problem ewwwwwwww

    LW, you were completely clear and reasonable in this conversation, and he doesn’t get to impose his ideas of how you should feel about either his support or your body on you. People who genuinely want to support you (versus wanting to impose their idea of support on you) hear you say, “that’s not supportive” and go, “oh no, crap, sorry, my bad!”

    If he simply continues to be icy with him, but that’s not a barrier to your work, consider this Not Your Problem To Fix. If his iciness does impact on your work in any way, go to your manager and spell out the problem it is causing for you and what you need from him instead.

    but do not under any circumstances feel that this is “your fault” or that you should have found the perfect set of words to set the boundary or that it’s your job to mollify him. 100% a Him problem.

    1. Darsynia*

      Wholeheartedly agree, here! I wish there was a way to call out this idea that the phrase ‘Please don’t comment about my body at work’ should be AT ALL considered aggressive or rude! It’s… basic social behavior kind of stuff! I’d like to normalize for the OP that it’s not rude to say such a thing, and you’re not wrong to find it gross and invasive to both have those comments made AND to have to defend your rejection of their applicability to work conversations.

      1. Chris too*

        I’d find “please don’t comment on my body,” quite rudely put, and I’d soften it to the “commenting on my body makes me uncomfortable, please don’t do it.” That said, I’d consider it weird and rude to comment on somebody’s body except in situations where it was going both ways so I guess it’s a draw.

        OP has the right to put it any way she likes but she has to accept that if she’s very blunt, she is going to harm some work relationships.

        I’ve had people in the privacy of the washroom, unprompted, show me their tattoos in progress, that sort of thing. Hey, look what I’m in the process of getting! I would assume in that kind of situation it might be ok to say hey, you look strong! That’s the “going both ways,” that I mean.

        1. INeedANap*

          I disagree with your first point, largely because women are often forced to soften our tone to avoid offending men, which seems like the case here. Commenting on a colleague’s body, at work, unsolicited, was rude to begin with. Being direct is not the same thing as being rude, and there was even a “please” added which is plenty polite.

          But in general, I think a lot of people have boorish manners specifically because no one has set a firm boundary on them. What cannot be gently learned in childhood will be firmly learned in adulthood.

        2. ferrina*

          I can see where “please don’t comment on my body can be off-putting”- usually the person that commented meant it as small talk or a compliment, not as a dissertation on someone’s body. That cognitive dissonance can be jarring and triggers discomfort and defensiveness.

          But INeedANap is right. It’s very reasonable to not want comments on your body. It’s a reasonable expectation that you shouldn’t need to emotionally caretake to someone in order to convey that. We can’t put “Avoiding cognitive dissonance” as a higher priority than “Not being subjected to invasive personal comments”. Even if the commenter meant well. (cuz let’s be honest, if you truly mean well, you’d like to know that it didn’t land the way you wanted)

        3. Abogado Avocado*

          I find this comment implicitly gendered. I would wager that a man who said, “Please don’t comment on my body” wouldn’t be considered rude, but women are expected to accept all sorts of ass-hat comments about how we look and to say “thank you,” to boot. The same is true, also, of people for color (“Gee, your skin is so dark I think I can see myself in it.”).

          This sort of commenting reflects — whether understood by the commenter or not — an effort to reduce the target to the commenter’s level. It is not a compliment, no matter what the after-the-fact protests of the commenter.

          Jacked OP is entitled, as a matter of personal integrity, to say to her colleagues and her patients, “Please don’t comment on my body,” and then focus on the subject that brings the commenter into her workspace (which, ideally, is not to comment on her body). Jacked OP also is entitled to not respond at all and, again, proceed to the topic of why the commenter is in her workspace.

        4. bamcheeks*

          I think the perceived rudeness here comes from someone explicitly naming what just happened. Pretty much all the commenters-on-people’s-bodies people recognise that it’s rude when you put it like that! So they’ve found a way of justifying why it’s not *really* commenting on someone’s body, it’s supporting their health, or asking about their hobby, or, uh, something else. They’re disconcerted by “please don’t comment on my body” because, wow, when you put it like that, it IS rude. But that’s why it’s powerful— because it reframes whatever excuse they have in their head and makes them feel bad. Sometimes you need that shock reframing to make you realise you’ve been rude and you need to stop!

        5. Ailsa McNonagon*

          Why isn’t it okay for women to be blunt? Men are often lauded for their honesty and bluntness.

        6. Jennifer Strange*

          I’d find “please don’t comment on my body,” quite rudely put

          It literally starts with “please” which is considered the beacon of politeness. Not saying a person can’t say “please” in a rude tone, but since none of us know the tone you’re only basing this off a woman asking someone not to comment on her body.

    2. CatCat*

      100%! You have no obligation to do any emotional labor for your coworker because he has somehow made your totally reasonable boundary on body comments somehow about his feelings. I am certain it’s because you’re a woman and you are not behaving how he expects a woman to behave (because he has normalized a misogynistic view that you owe him something here, like that you need to thank him for his “support,” make him feel good, or assuage his feelings). You’re doing nothing wrong. You have not made the work relationship awkward, HE HAS.

      You’re not doing anything wrong and you’re being perfectly reasonable. It’s appropriate for you to continue to politely, but firmly set the boundary you have. I am sorry that you’re having to deal with the misogyny from entitled, fragile men.

      1. watching the detectives*

        “Ewwwwwww” was my first thought too. OP, your Spidey-sense is completely right. If I shared your story with any queer woman or nonbinary person I know, they would all roll their eyes and recognize EXACTLY what is happening here. If we haven’t had it happen to us, we have seen it happen to our friends, girlfriends, rock climbing partners, etc.

        Do what you need to do to be safe and not risk your job (unless you want to!), but please know that you have done nothing wrong and your reactions are completely appropriate.

        1. Jacked OP*

          Thanks for adding this piece about other queer folks feeling similarly. It does feel salient. And that’s not to minimize what happens with others – it’s all bad, it’s just different bad.

        2. Bagpuss*

          I’m *not* queer and that was my thought as soon as I read the first part of the the letter, that LW was not fitting with his conception of what women ought to look like or to feel about their bodies and physical appearance.

          I’m sorry you had to deal with this – it sounds as thoug hyou were clear and non-comnfrontational, and he’s just pissy that you weren’t grateful for his interference

        3. JM60*

          My experiences as a queer man are a bit different from the experiences of many queer women, but this does set off my “spidey-sense” that this is likely homophobia(/sexism).

          1. pancakes*

            Yeah. I’m a bi cis woman who’s generally pretty femme and has some friends who aren’t either of those, and I think Jacked OP is really on to something when they say there there seems to be an element of homophobia or misogyny in a lot of the comments directed their way.

          2. Despachito*

            I am a hetero woman, and when I was actively training, someone commented on my muscular arms, and I took it absolutely as a compliment (like – I have been training and it shows) and I was flattered.

            Just to say that although it is absolutely justified to not want to hear such comments, it is not like no one ever wants to hear them.

    3. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

      I totally endorse this. You don’t owe your coworker any more emotional labor. At most, you should be appropriately cheery/friendly professional towards him, even when he’s icy. Then you know your side of the street is totally clean, but you don’t need to fix the problem he imagined. If he’s icy, then he isn’t commenting on your body either, and that feels like a win.

      If he continues to try to explain to you how his comments could not possibly have offended you or been unwelcome, try this: “I understand your point of view, [Coworker]. The issue is that I’ve asked you to please stop and that’s really the best way that you can offer me support. Thanks for understanding.”

    4. JM60*

      As a guy who lost a lot of weight and hope others maintain a healthy weight, I think his idea of “support” is odd and misguided at best.

      As a gay person, it would not surprise me at all if homophobia (as well as sexism) is driving most of this. In a way, homophobia is a subset of sexism; homophobia is essentially gender-based prejudice that a woman should be attracted to man and only a man, and a man should be attracted to women and only women.

      I don’t have a whole lot of practical advice beyond keep setting clear boundaries, and to try to do so in a polite-sounding tone of voice (so people are less likely to unfairly consider such boundary setting to being rude).

  4. Dust Bunny*

    “some of the comments I’ve gotten in the recent past from men (“wow, you must be a strong lady” or “are you in the army?” or “I can see in those jeans you must be lifting”) really feel like they’re not only evaluating my physique, but also stacking me against their image of what a woman is supposed to be”

    This does not surprise me at all. I have a friend (cishet woman) who is tiny but works with horses and can out-arm-wrestle all but the most muscly dudes. Guys comment on her arms all the damned time. She mostly just wears shirts that don’t show her upper arms so it’s not an issue at work, and guys who work with horses don’t comment because it’s normal in that context, but, especially when we were younger and all had more-limited life experience, yeah, guys were intrigued/turned on/wigged out.

    I’m not sure what to suggest, though, short of finding new coworkers, because this is so weird and out-of-line in ways you ultimately can’t control. My supervisor would tell this guy to stuff it and stop commenting on people’s bodies, but if your supervisor is a wimp I’m not sure where else to go.

  5. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    Unfortunately, I think you’re doing everything you can. I think “Please don’t comment on my body while I’m at work” is a perfectly reasonable response to this behavior, and anyone who has an unreasonable response back is, well, being unreasonable.

    That said, if you’re interested in mitigating the potential social consequences from those unreasonable people, you could try softening your tone the first time you have to tell them to something like, “Oh, actually, I really don’t like to talk about my body and fitness in a work context. Thanks for understanding!” with the overall inflection that your desire for bodily privacy is just a weird quirk of yours. Personally, I don’t think you should have to do that — I don’t know about you, but as a woman I tend to spend a lot of time softening their messaging around their boundaries to protect other people’s feelings. But that option is there for you if you want it. You can always dial up to a firmer tone on the second or third offense.

    If there is a second or third offense, perhaps at that point you can bring it to HR: “I’ve asked John to stop making comments about my body at work and he won’t stop” is a pretty clear line to harassment.

    1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      Should read “but as a woman I tend to spend a lot of time softening *my* messaging around *my* boundaries to protect other people’s feelings.” Never change the subject of a sentence before you’ve had coffee, folks.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      I think this is a really good script. It carries the same clear boundary but sounds much warmer, so well-meaning people will feel less affronted and jerks will have a little less justification to criticize you or claim you hate them. How are you going to go around all huffy saying “and then she THANKED me for respecting her feelings, UGH”

      1. Anonym*

        Yes, and it doesn’t even have to be in the “my weird quirk” vibe – it can be more “oh, I bet you mean well but probably didn’t realize” which can be warm, give a little extra room for the person to avoid embarrassment*, but also not suggest that your boundary is unreasonable. (*not your job, but potentially useful)

        Of course, in the case of the icy coworker, that’s his own issues at play. If it came up again, I’d be tempted to have the intent vs. impact discussion, but that’s really putting too much on OP.

    3. elena*

      Yea, the thing is, this is something that (correctly or not), most people in our society view as a positive attribute or at least, acknowledging something you’ve worked hard at. So I doubt you’re going to get rid of all of the initial commentary, any more than you could get rid of “Wow, you’re so tall” or “Wow, you have such cool hair” for like, an afro or something. But for sure, after you say you prefer not to discuss it, it is extremely rude not to respect that!

      I think you will probably be better off coming up with a few short, subject changing phrases when people initially comment, said in a calm and nuetral way. Then you can focus the actual effort on people who repeatedly bring it up after it’s been said once.

      “Wow, you clearly work out!”
      “Yep, I do. So let’s take a look at this chart.”

      “Are you in the army?”
      “Nope! How is (thing) looking today?”

      1. Smithy*

        I mention this above, but as a tall woman – I actually find the yep/nope + smile + topic change to be received better than correcting people from commenting on bodies.

        Comments on height, being muscular, losing weight are very often perceived as both not being negative and not being sexual. Saying someone must be a beast on the basketball court at work lives in an awkward friendly space that does just ultimately go back to (often a woman’s) tall body. If someone doesn’t respond well to “Nope, hey do you know how the coffee machine here works?” – then that’s the issue you can address.

    4. CTT*

      I think the softening tone would be good with patients if LW wants to set a boundary while maintaining quasi-bedside manner. I can get why she said she doesn’t set this boundary since it’s a one-off interaction, but it’s good to have an option if someone really fixates on it (as someone who has a tendency to nervously babble when getting blood drawn, I could see me doing that without realizing it. Thankfully I usually just focus on discussing how much I hate needles)

    5. CEB*

      Yes, I agree that this is the best solution. It’s a really unfortunate solution because you shouldn’t have to soften your message at all, but unfortunately, this is often how things are for women. I also think it’s a good idea to go ahead and push the conversation on to the next topic. Be friendly, but make it clear that this is NOT up for discussion.

      Finally, being extra friendly about it means that if you have to go to HR, nobody can pull the same bullshit that you just dislike them or whatever. You can say no, I was super friendly to them, I just don’t want to discuss my body.

      1. Kermit’s Bookkeepers*

        +1 to swiftly dovetailing into a friendly change of subject! It lets them know you’re still interested in talking to them, and doesn’t allow them time to get huffy.

    6. Jacked OP*

      So, for what it’s worth, when a coworker commented about my butt/legs in my jeans (the context I didn’t add about that comment in my original letter was that he was behind me on the stairs, which I feel adds a layer of ick), I DID bring that to his supervisor and a formal warning was drafted. (In my org, it usually makes sense to go to the supervisor for egregious behavior and not to HR.) That person was eventually let go for being…That Guy, and I don’t regret contributing to that termination.

      Thank you!

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Sorry you had to deal with That Guy, but happy to hear you and your org handled that situation well!

      2. no clever username*

        I’m so glad to hear that update. The other comments are aggravating and not appropriate at work, but the jeans comment made me gasp audibly as it is SO inappropriate. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

    7. Quinalla*

      I do recommend softening your message a bit as well per this example or the one I saw above, but there is honestly nothing wrong with your previous message and the one problem coworker is an ass IMO. Even if the comments aren’t sexual (sounds like except for the one you mentioned in the comments, they haven’t been), still when someone says “Stop commenting on my body.” you just…stop. It’s not confusing or complicated. This problem coworker may have *feelings* about it, which is ok, but it isn’t your job to work out his feelings. He thought he was complimenting you/supporting you/whatever, you calmly explained how it wasn’t supportive and he’s mad at you for not accepting his support, get over yourself dude.

      And again, while the comments don’t sound sexualized, they DO sound gendered at least in some cases. Comments that wouldn’t be made or would be made in a different way if you were a ripped dude or more feminine woman vs. being a butch woman. That is a thing and may be where some of the ick feeling is coming from on some of these. You have no obligation to address it from this particular angle, but I thought it might help you out and might help you get support with boss/reasonable coworkers if you need it.

    8. Kes*

      I agree with this. Many people making these comments may think they’ll be welcome, so making it clear that they are not in fact welcome but in a slightly softer way the first time will give those who actually mean well and don’t realize a chance to correct their behaviour going forward. If people react badly or continue to make comments you can get a lot more serious in the wording and escalate the matter if needed.

      1. Despachito*

        Yes, this.

        Anyone can make a comment that you do not like.

        Once you explain you do not like it, only an a.hole will repeat it.

        I think it is wise to give one chance to save the face to those who are not a-holes.

        (And sometimes it is even not saving the face – there are things some people hate but are normal to the majority, and this is still to be respected but you have no chance of knowing it before. I have a colleague who hates being photographed, and when we took a group picture for some official reason she refused. It was immediately respected and no-one commented on it (which I think was the right thing to do), but she presented it as “it’s my quirk but I don’t want to be photographed” not “DON’T PHOTOGRAPH ME”.

        The overall impression was that she did not assume beforehand that we are jerks, and this was what counted.

      2. Elsajeni*

        Yeah, this strikes me as very similar to comments on weight loss — I think they are inappropriate! Lots of other people do too! But the person making the comment almost always intends it as a compliment and thinks it will be welcome, and lots of people do hear them as compliments and find them welcome, and because of that, responding to them as if they’re obviously inappropriate tends to throw people off and make them feel like you’re the one being weird and hostile — which, it’s fair to decide “well, that also sounds like a them problem,” but if maintaining a good relationship is a factor, which it usually is at work, it’s worth trying the softer approach at least the first time.

  6. V*

    Ugh. Body comments are the worst. I did have a truly strange director once who, upon hearing someone comment on my weight loss, went into a long story about how she knew someone who’d lost weight really fast and it turned out they had cancer. Which was a lot for the office kitchen but very tempting to borrow to put a stop to the discussion in general. I definitely feel the homophobia and misogyny at play here. Unfortunately the only thing that’s ever worked for me is Grey Rocking conversations like this – a technique of just making it incredibly boring to talk to you about it. But having to do this constantly with patients as well as coworkers would be incredibly frustrating.

    1. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

      Grey Rocking! That’s the term. I agree – I think making these conversations boring and unrewarding for the commenter is probably going to be the most effective route.

      1. Becky S.*

        I agree with this. OP, you should NOT have to deal with this, but the only person you can control is you. Can you train yourself to not respond at all when people comment on your arms.? It takes a little concentration to ignore some comments (the ones about your arms) but respond to others (comments concerning the job, or weather), but it’s doable. Really ignore… no faces or any response. Expect some idiots to ramp it up a bit, but do not respond.
        Good Luck!!

    2. Jareth*

      Grey rock, grey rock, grey rock — I’m a nonbinary trans person. I’ve worked in warehouses and offices, looking everything from high femme to stone butch to eye-catching to dont-perceive-me. Sometimes the only thing to say to someone who starts every conversation with “Wow, you’re strong” is, “Yep.” And then you walk away to continue your task, or you redirect to work topics. I’m so sorry, OP. From one GNC queer person to another, sending love and a short social memory.

    3. Just Another Starving Artist*

      I’d say exactly the same thing you have been re: commenting on your body, but add on that what they’re doing is rude. Some people (stupid people) are better at boundaries when they realize what they’re doing is a large-scale etiquette faux pas rather than one person’s rules. I also don’t love implying that other women should soften their delivery, but “that’s a weird and inappropriate comment to make to someone at work” said with curiosity might come off better for people whose undies get in a twist when faced with firm boundaries. A “I really hope you don’t say inappropriate things like that to patients” may be useful as well here, since you’re public facing. Anything at all to change the framing from “I don’t like this” to “you’re being rude.”

      Beyond that, it really feels like you’re either going to have to address this with a supervisor/HR (if it exists and is useful in this manner), or find some way to get basic “We don’t comment on people’s bodies unless it’s patients and then only for medical reasons” training going in your workplace (which, with a health services program should definitely be a thing).

      Also, that guy who thinks you hate him? You may just have to accept that he’s an oversensitive jerk, as are many people (particularly cis-dudes) when you react to their actual inappropriate behavior rather than their (in their heads) positive intentions. If people are very attached to “but it was a compliment!” in your workplace, it’s going to take some training to get them out of that. Until and unless someone with authority over these folks says something, you may just have to keep asserting your boundaries and letting them think you’re rude.

    4. Jareth*

      Grey rock, grey rock, grey rock — I’m a nonbinary trans person. I’ve worked in warehouses and offices, looking everything from high femme to stone butch to eye-catching to dont-perceive-me. Sometimes the only thing to say to someone who starts every conversation with “Wow, you’re strong” is, “Yep.” And then you walk away to continue your task, or you redirect to work topics. I’m so sorry, OP.

  7. els*

    “I approached the coworker in question directly after this and reiterated what I had said, but added that I meant no harm and that it wasn’t a reflection on him. He told me that he’d lost a significant amount of weight at another point in his life, and that he was just trying to support my work towards weight loss and health.”

    Is it conceivable in your work environment to let people be mad at you? It sounds like trying to explain your (quite reasonable and correct) stance is going to backfire, since this guy in particular made a comment in the first place, made it all about himself, and then doubled down by expecting you to know his own journey and blaming you for not making it about him.

    I think your approach is a good one; if people go to your boss to complain, your boss should be shutting that s*** down! “I commented on her body and now she hates me!” “Why were you commenting on her body? Don’t do that.” “But it was a complimennnnnt, I’m a Nice Guy, why can’t she just smile?!”

    I think you might be overexplaining; if they’re mad because you’re being reasonable and setting boundaries, let them be mad. If it affects your work, that’s something you need to address; if your approach gets them to stop saying unwelcome things (or, in fact, anything), I’d take it as a win. If you’re hoping to stay friends with these folks, I will say that an actual friend, even a work-friend, will take your boundaries as what they are and not an unreasonable imposition.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Is it conceivable in your work environment to let people be mad at you?”

      What a good question! I wonder this all the time with some questions, but it is really workplace specific isn’t it? In this case I might still say something if someone was going around telling people I hate them, but it wouldn’t be more than “Hey, I heard ____ – I don’t hate you, I made a reasonable request and since we like and respect each other I know you’ll honor it, so we’re all good!”

    2. Myrin*

      “Is it conceivable in your work environment to let people be mad at you?”
      Yeah, I think this is an important thing for people to realise. Like you say, if someone’s being mad leads to actually hindering your work, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed (probably with the help of a supervisor) but if the only problem is that you feel bad because they feel bad, well, too bad. (Too bad for them, I mean.) It’s not a very nice feeling to know someone is mad at you or sulking because something you did or whatever, but I have found that one can indeed practice becoming (more) indifferent towards these things.

    3. Redacted*

      Bingo. This is very well-put.

      I had a friend that was very into competitive weight training as well, and she developed some quippy responses to use in the moment that worked for her. Most of them were because she, like you, was in a service capacity and couldn’t be as direct with some commenters as much as others (i.e. clients vs. co-workers).

      Random dude: “Wow, you’re really [stacked/cut/whatever]!”
      Her: “Thanks, my boyfriend thinks so too.”

      Nine out of ten times this was enough, and the tenth person was usually legit interested in discussing her regimen with her. {she also had to deal with a few inquiries from fetishists but that’s for another time}

      This is all to say I think it’s wise to develop some one-liners that most folks will accept and hopefully move on, delivered with the casual breeziness that Alison always recommends.

      Co-worker: “Wow, you’ve really lost a lot of weight!”
      You: “Oh, you know, I don’t like to discuss my body, thanks. Now, can we talk about those TPS reports?”

      1. Casual Poster*

        Eek, I cringe at the casual boyfriend name drop – certainly there’s no shame in saying what you need to say to get yourself out of an uncomfortable situation, but the implication with that is “I’m taken – a man already is interested in my body so back off.” It also usually reads to me as implying “…back off or you’ll have to deal with him.” In other words, having a boyfriend has no relationship to whether someone might want to hear what someone thinks about their body, so it’s irrelevant.
        Seems like the heteronormativity of that comment is particularly not useful to OP here, but the misogyny of it makes me shudder.

        1. As per Elaine*

          It makes me shudder, too… but at the same time, I recognize that there are situations where it may be the most effective option (unlikely for OP’s context, but as a general statement) and I hate that. But also that’s the world we live in, and I’m not going to ding another woman for using “I’M TAKEN; BACK OFF” subtext if that’s what she needs to go about her day without being harassed, even if I hate the way it feels into heteronormativity.

    4. Jess*

      I think anyone who automatically jumps to “that person HATES ME” is very emotionally immature. The people I’ve run into with that kind of response are middle-aged men who have been divorced 3x (one man) and 24-year-olds who are getting their bearings in the professional lives.

      1. Queen of the File*

        Eh, emotional immaturity knows no such restrictions unfortunately :) I’ve definitely run into this with coworkers across other demographics. Some people take any rejection of their perceived compliments extremely personally.

    5. MEH Squared*

      I really like this response and have not thought about it that way before (as a compulsive people-pleaser). OP did try to smooth the waters with the coworker, but he refused to let them be smoothed. That’s on him. If she doesn’t have to depend on him for her work to get done, it might be viable to just let it be. If other coworkers mention it, just shrug and say you have no problems with [insert coworker’s name here].

  8. calvin blick*

    Unfortunately this is the kind of thing that conventionally attractive women have to put up with on a daily basis. (Not saying OP isn’t attractive, but it sounds like she typically hasn’t focused on dressing for the male gaze). My SO is very attractive and she has told me about crazy stuff she’s had to deal with from men and even some women. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a solution; at least she hasn’t found it yet. I think a lot of guys don’t realize how they come across when they talk to women (that’s probably not news to a lot of married women).

    On the other hand, I’ve had a lot of people comment on my shaved head and thin physique (both of which I would change in an ideal world), so maybe this is just a universal thing with no easy fix and OP is mostly doing the right thing here by expressing her discomfort and moving on.

    1. Jack Bruce*

      Seems weird to mention the conventionally attractive part- why not just say women? Pretty much all women get these comments if their body changes.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yeah it definitely happens regardless of where you fall on the “convention” spectrum. I’d say it happens even more if women are being perceived as “improving” themselves.

      2. calvin blick*

        I think attractive women are seen as fair game for a lot of men. Obviously all women get unwanted comments, but there is definitely a correlation based on attractiveness. I think this fact is pretty well known.

        1. Dark Macadamia*

          I think you should stop telling women what we experience and why. You think ugly women don’t get unwanted comments about their bodies???

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Is it? Do you have statistics on that?

          Because if I had to throw a dart at the data I’d aim that the women who get the most comments on their bodies aren’t women, they’re girls ages 14-19.

        3. Banana Pancakes*

          No. If you’re “unattractive”, especially if you’re queer and/or gender non-conforming, the comments are just more overtly homophobic and threatening.

          1. Middle Name Danger*

            Also, there’s an air of “you’re ugly so you should be grateful for any attention “

        4. Rainy*

          No. There is almost always a correlation based on whether the dude thinks he can get away with the behaviour, and that’s pretty much where it sits.

      3. Monday's OP2*

        Yeah, it’s pretty much all women. I’m average-looking and middle-aged and very taken, and I still get them. Two random people asked if I had lost weight this week (I haven’t).

        I’m the archivist from earlier in the week and also get comments sometimes about how I must be strong for a woman (yes, probably, but let’s not, OK?) so I feel for this OP. Even though I need coworkers to know I’m physically capable of the lifting requirements in my job, I’d still be super uncomfortable if they commented on the appearance of my arms.

      4. Mf*

        It’s relevant because conventionally attractive women get a lot of unwelcome comments that are intended or disguised as compliments.

        1. Rainy*

          I am by no means conventionally attractive and I also get unwelcome comments intended or disguised as compliments.

          It’s not relevant and your claim is factually incorrect.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      This is… not a helpful comment. The “woman” part is much more of a factor than then “conventionally attractive” part. Also, very few women are “focused on dressing for the male gaze” and when we do choose to do so, that still doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll appreciate unsolicited comments. Do you think being attractive means someone is actively trying to invite attention?

    3. Foila*

      calvin blick, you sound to me like you’re right on the verge of “getting it”. But you’ve got some weird ideas about “conventionally attractive women” and “dressing for the male gaze” and “married women”.

      There’s a bigger story for those observations of yours, which is: our society is still an entrenched patriarchy that perceives women as public property. All women. They do not own themselves or their bodies. Thus, it is fair game to comment on their bodies (all of them, attractive, dressed, married or not).

      Women don’t get comments because they’re “conventionally attractive”. They get them because they are women existing in public. Those comments aren’t unwelcome because the women are married. They’re unwelcome because they’re a statement about how women’s bodies are under constant scrutiny. They’re unwelcome because they’re a statement about how women in public must be evaluated and judged at all times.

    4. TPS reporter*

      Agree with everyone saying that as women we get a lot of body related comments from everyone, at any age and size. It’s so ingrained in the culture to just constantly comment on others. I really want it to stop. Even at the gym where I would be much more open to discussing body stuff, most of my peers are very respectful. They don’t bring something up about my body unless I bring it up. In general we talk about how we feel and our strength gains. It’s very appreciated.

      I’m sorry too for the men/male presenting people who get body and hair comments. My boss thinks it’s funny to joke about my male coworkers going bald. It makes me ill. Everyone just stop picking at everyone else please! Unless you actually have a need to touch their body as a medical professional, service provider or partner, just refrain.

    5. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Calvin, I think you have a few typos in your first sentence. It should correctly read: Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that women deal with on a daily basis.
      “Conventionally attractive” has nothing to do with it. And no, women do not “have to put up” with it. And most women don’t “dress for the male gaze”.

    6. Gerry Keay*

      “Dressing for the male gaze” is not a thing and is a misuse of a term coined by John Berger in Ways of Seeing. The male gaze framework for analyzing sexism in visual art and was never intended to be used to describe real women’s behavior — and certainly not in the victim-blaming way you’re deploying it.

    7. calvin blick*

      I probably could have phrased this comment better (wrote it fairly quickly between work tasks). This definitely comes across as a little sexist, but that wasn’t the intent and would have sounded a lot better if I had edited it better (or at all).

  9. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

    I think the best approach here is probably some combination of the small smile + very short acknowledgement, since maintaining these relationships are important but you want to make it clear that you’re not looking for any discussion.

    So for patients you might say a quick “Thanks” + small smile, and then change the subject. Or for repeat offenders you could say something less friendly like “Okay” + small smile. I think that might take the wind out of their sails without coming across as rude (even though you did nothing wrong and were not rude before, to be clear!) And if someone tries to press you on it after that, then you can pull out the “you know, I actually wanted to talk about [work thing].”

    I agree with you about where these comments are likely coming from especially re: men, but unfortunately I don’t think there’s any way to head them off at the pass.

    1. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

      Some other ideas –

      “I get that a lot!”
      “So they tell me.”

      1. Revengeofpompom*

        +1 to these and your suggestions in the parent comment. As a petite woman who also gets comments about my body size, shape, etc., you can just smile bemusedly, say thanks, and change the subject. I get how wearing and annoying these comments are, but I also think a lot of the suggested comments in this thread lack social gracefulness & would likely get the other person’s hackles up.

    2. Bongofury*

      You hit on something here. If someone says “wow, your legs are intense” LW can just practice their death stare and not say a word. Cold Silence is SO uncomfortable.

      1. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

        And it doesn’t even have to be cold unless the LW wants it to be – some people can pull off the smile or nod + say nothing, then continue the conversation like the other person never spoke at all.

      2. KRM*

        Add in the Head Tilt of “Why Would You Say That” and just let it linger until they get uncomfortable. Return the awkward/inappropriate to sender.

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      This is my approach for the one-off. “Um, thanks” and back to the subject at hand, which was most definitely not the intrusive conversation.

      For a co-worker, the boundary setting ramps up from there.

  10. KofSharp*

    “I am aware of that.”
    “I’m surprised you thought that was important enough to say.”
    “…Is my body physically harming you? I am within dresscode and I see no reason why anything else is your business.”
    And then of course there’s “Did I ask for comments?”
    Also the shrug with, “I can’t see how this is your issue.”
    I’ve lost patience over the years and honestly started using the same comments to get people to leave me alone when my appearance doesn’t matter.

    1. KofSharp*

      There’s also “Why is it important to you to comment on my body? We are JUST coworkers.”
      Because then they either start to realize you ARE just coworkers, or they say something obviously sexist that you can report them for.

    2. PinkCandyfloss*

      With all due respect, none of those responses will further OPs chances of not continuing to seem rude, short, or condescending.

      To respond to all comments in this way is a fast track to getting written up, put on a PIP, etc. On the plus side, no one will comment any more as they will all be avoiding the rude co-worker. But. That has its drawbacks as well.

      1. KofSharp*

        Fair enough. I just hate people commenting on my body and it sounds like she’s at the end of her rope as well. At that point the options feel like “be rude and lose friends” or “find a new job where they don’t make harassing comments.”

      2. CEB*

        Agreed. These are great responses for the non-workplace (and totally what I would say), but I can’t imagine anyone saying them in an office. I imagine that even if your coworkers are assholes, responses like this will just alienate you and create an even bigger problem.

      3. Esmeralda*

        The thing is, she’s already being polite and being accused of rudeness.

        It doesn’t matter what she’s saying — if she’s not saying “oooo thank yewwwwwwww” she’ll be accused of being rude.

        BTDT, say it plain and clear and just a bit loud. So that you know they hear you and so that anyone else around can hear, too.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          This. Being polite hasn’t worked, and if HR doesn’t exist or isn’t going to do anything, it’s time to escalate.

          Where is HR in all of this, by the way? This seems like a fairly straightforward HR issue.

      4. Nameless in Customer Service*

        OP has to deal with coworkers commenting on how her jeans fit and you think she’s the one who should worry about being put on a PIP?

        All right, then, what should she do instead of telling people she does not want to have this conversation? Why should accepting this be part of the modern workplace?

    3. Artemesia*

      I think the first time someone comments, a softer response is called for. Lots of people view comments as compliments — even when they may be really annoying to the recipient and a sharp offended response feels like a slap. This can damage the work relationship.

      But it needs to communicate the ‘I don’t like to talk about bodies at work.’ And if a soft cue doesn’t fix it then a firmer boundary should be set.

  11. CM*

    I think the boundary you’re setting is perfect. The coworker you’re describing has their own issues which you don’t need to fix.

    For me, I think the first time I’d let it go with a non-response — someone says, “Wow, you must be in the army,” and I would just shrug and change the subject as if they hadn’t said it. The second time I would set the boundary — “No comments on my body, please.” And if it happened a third time I’d set it firmer — “Hey, no comments on my body, remember?”

    So I think you’re doing the right things, but for the one-off comments you could consider just shrugging them off or acknowledging them with a brief, “Yup,” and then moving on to a new topic.

  12. quill*

    My advice is to make it as boring as possible. I’ve spent a long time getting comments on my hair sporadically, and a dry, breezy “Yeah I grew it myself” tends to stop people from spending too long on it. That probably works best for the patients.

    For your repeat offender, I think it’s worth pointing out that he is making this a way bigger deal than it needs to be. I’m sure he has mental justifications along the line of it not being creepy because he’s not talking about a highly gendered body part or he’d attempt to talk to a guy about getting more visibly muscular too, but ultimately? You asked him to stop making comments and he is now doubling down.

    1. kicking_k*

      Ha, yes. I’ve had many comments about how long my hair is. I’ve used “yes, I grew it myself,” “it saves a lot of money on haircuts”, and sometimes just “yes, it is”.

      I have always wanted to respond to “Your hair is really long,” with “Is it? Argh, how did that happen?” but I have never done so (and definitely wouldn’t at work!)

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I dye about 3/4 of my hair purple, green, teal and blue and have done for about 12 years now.

        “Your hair is purple.” “Holy crap, really??”

        “Is that natural?” “…. only the blue parts. The rest is dyed.”

        ALL. THE. TIME.

        1. kicking_k*

          I’m going to have to say your hair sounds awesome, even though it is a comment on your appearance…

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          Should I stop making comments? When I see a checker at the store with bright colored hair, or braids, or something that just looks cool, I’ll sometimes say something like “I really like your hair – that is a beautiful color” or “those are cute braids” or “wow, your hair is so cool!” I’m an old lady, but maybe it is unwelcome.

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            There’s a difference between complimenting a chosen color and just stating a fact. Just stating a fact is annoying, and borders on the ridiculousness of, “you’re so brave! I could never do that.”

            It’s Purple! You’re Tall! You’re Strong!

            Yes, and? What exactly is the desired response? Do you want me to confirm your statement? Do you think I will deny it? I have NEVER understood!

            With the caveat that commenting on hair color can be massively different from commenting on someone’s body.

            1. kicking_k*

              It is different from a comment on someone’s body and I don’t mind it that much by comparison. I do, after all, choose my hairstyle.

              When my kids were little, we suggested the rule that if it’s something the person could easily change (“your hairstyle/T-shirt is really cool”) it’s OK to say something, so long as it’s complimentary or helpful (this allows for “you have something on your face/shirt” comments). If it’s something they can’t quickly change or is inherent, then best not even if it’s complimentary (“you have beautiful eyes…”)

          2. Hlao-roo*

            There’s a major difference between your comments and the comments kicking_k and Red Reader the Adulting Fairy are receiving: your comments are compliments.

            “I love your hair” and “your hair is really cool!” express appreciation, and can be responded to with a simple “thanks.”

            “Your hair is purple” and “your hair is really long” (even said with an appreciative tone) are statements of rather obvious fact, and a bit insulting to boot because they imply kicking_k/Red Reader/etc don’t know what their own hair looks like. I am a big fan of Red Reader’s replies to these comments.

            1. kicking_k*

              Yes, this. I absolutely don’t object to “your hair looks lovely” or something.

              But with the “wow, your hair is really long,” comments…it’s either banal or there’s at least a hint of criticism. And the conversation which follows is highly predictable too.

              No, it doesn’t take a long time to dry, and no, it doesn’t give me headaches.

              There are two free passes, by the way; if you know me but have only seen me with my hair up before, you’re allowed to be surprised it’s this long. And if you’re a little kid, anything goes. I get the best compliments from under-fives, who see a Disney princess, not an unkempt hippie.

              1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

                Ditto, pretty much all around. I grin like whoa when I hear the “mommy, she has princess hair!” comments from munchkins. (Except mine DOES take a long time to dry. But no headaches.)

                Compliments are fine, like someone else said, because this is a thing that I chose. It’s the weird stating of obvious facts (or really stupid questions) that annoy me :)

          3. kicking_k*

            “Your hair is cool,” is always acceptable. Your compliments all seem fine, indeed! I bet you’re not even slightly implying “Your hair is different and that’s freaky,” but that’s strangely common.

        3. pancakes*

          You and quill both have very funny responses. Well done! I can’t remember what I’d say in my Manic Panic years.

    2. wordswords*

      Yeah, I agree. Especially if your coworkers (or at least some) are reacting badly to Alison’s standard script about not commenting on your body. (Which, to be clear, is an extremely reasonable boundary! But the phrasing is a pretty brusque smackdown to my ears. Fine if that’s what you’re going for, but not the friendliest of options. Obviously, I assume reactions here will depend on the individuals and region etc involved, but it also seems as if OP’s coworker took it similarly, and then overreacted badly on top of that.)

      So maybe something like “Yeah, it’s a hobby!” or “Guess so!” or “Yeah, I lift,” followed immediately by a subject change, with the option of “I’m not really into talking about my hobbies at work, sorry” with someone who keeps following up instead of yakking the subject change? Or whatever bland boring sidestep works for you personally.

      For the repeat offender, I agree that he’s the one making all this weird, and that maybe pointing out how ready you are to go back to normal will help jar him out of it? Or maybe not, but I do think quill makes a good point here.

  13. Xavier Desmond*

    I’m not saying it’s fair but I think you need to resign yourself to these comments to an extent, particular from patients. With the co-workers try to make your response as boring as possible and move the conversation to something else rather trying to set a hard boundary where you may come across as overly defensive and make it even more of a ‘thing’. Just to be clear, not saying this is fair but think it might be more effective than trying to completely stamp out all comments about your arms.

  14. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    I wish people would just stop commenting on bodies period.

    As a patient, sometimes I make awkward small talk because I’m so uncomfortable. If they bring up your arms, maybe change the subject or start telling them about the types of competitions you’re in to distract them from what you’re doing (if that makes sense for the treatment you provide).

  15. Jmac*

    I don’t know why it’s so difficult for people to keep their comments to themselves. Nobody cares what your opinion on their body is and, especially when it comes to men, usually the commenter is no prize pig themself and not in a position to be deciding what is or isn’t attractive.

    1. Generic Name*

      Exactly. It’s one thing to notice, but why comment? I think it’s a symptom of how many men think that a woman’s body exists for his “consumption” (visual, physical, etc.).

      1. Miss Muffet*

        I think people are just being trained by the internet or whatever that whatever they think needs to be said out loud, for …. reasons? It’s bizarre. People need to keep their inner monologues more inner.
        I do think your consumption point is spot on for why this guy thinks “it was just a compliment, what’s her problem?”

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Even on social media, people need to keep their inner monologues a WAY lot more inner. The comments I see on TikTok can be horrific, even for something as innocuous as “here’s a recipe I made and wanted to share with you.”

          1. pancakes*

            Yes. It’s wild. Some people seem to think they need to throw out an off-the-cuff Yelp-style review of every person who comes into their view.

    2. Craig*

      I’m struggling with this one. As a rule I don’t comment on peoples bodies, especially at work. Where I’m struggling is comparing this to a real life scenario. I worked with a woman who was into lifting and she loved getting compliments about her arms when she was working towards an event.

      That’s possibly where the colleagues are coming from, because OP is deliberately trying to build muscle people are probably being (intending to be) nice and complimentary.

      All of that said, being asked once not to do it should be then end of it. To carry on if you’ve been asked not to is bang out of order.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        I will take you at your word that the colleague in your anecdote really did enjoy the comments on her body, and wasn’t just performing gratitude under the pervasive social pressure women feel to smooth over awkwardness caused by other people.

        Many of my coworkers in the past probably thought I welcomed their comments about my appearance, because in many of those situations I responded graciously. The truth was, I had stuff to do. I knew smiling warmly and thanking them would get them out of my hair, whereas if I told them they were out of line, I’d lose more time dealing with the fallout.

        If someone was so clueless this late in life, what were the odds I could retrain them?

        1. Angstrom*

          Context matters. To use Craig’s example, there’s a world of difference between unsolicited comments and something like
          “Got any big plans for next weekend?”
          “Yeah, I’m signed up for a competition over in Beachville. Feeling pretty good about it except that my arms are smaller than I’d like them to be.”
          “Your arms? They look great!”
          Also, “colleagues” could be anyone from “someone you recognize from passing in the hallway” to “someone I’ve shared stories with for many years.” The same comment might feel complimentary from a close acquaintance and uncomfortable from a relative stranger.

          1. Craig*

            Yes, this is the distinction I should have highlighted. This was a colleague who many of us were on friendly terms. She would regularly talk about her training and give us Monday updates on the competitions. She was very enthusiastic about it all.

            The other reason I can be sure she liked the compliments is that she was incredibly good, and definitely not shy at, making clear her disapproval on any issue at all; from being polite, to firm, to the expertly deployed cutting sarcasm.

    3. Adalind*

      This 10000%. No one should comment on anyone’s body ever, especially at work! I don’t understand why people think that’s a good idea.

  16. Double Crochet*

    I don’t think your problem is your script, here. Due to misogyny and homophobia, some people are going to inevitably perceive any personal boundaries as aggression. If you want, you could try something like “I’m not comfortable talking about my body at work” or “I don’t want to talk about my body at work” for something “softer” (ugh) but I’m not sure how much it will help.

  17. irritable vowel*

    ANY comment that starts “I can see in those jeans…” in a work context is absolutely inappropriate! It doesn’t matter what comes after that or what their intention is or what gender they are. We should not be verbally expressing appreciation for/admiration of our coworkers’ bodies. If the people you’re asking/telling to shut this down have a problem with that, that’s absolutely on them, not on you. You’re completely justified in continuing to set boundaries in the way that you have been.

    1. Lapis Lazuli*

      + 1

      “I can see in those jeans…” = immediate projectile vomit. No one deserves comments about their body while they’re at work, especially not to this level of creepiness. OP, your boundaries are completely reasonable and it’s completely unreasonable for others to not respect them. For me, the comments also seem patronizing and that’s probably wrapped up with the misogyny as well.

    2. Ashloo*

      The jeans comment leapt right over the line into sexual harassment in my mind too. “Gross! Please don’t imagine what’s under my clothes.” Something said sternly anyway, since we can’t just throat punch people like this.

    3. Generic Name*

      I agree, it’s wildly inappropriate. I had a male coworker commenting on my jeans and how he liked them. The second or third time he said something, I told him point blank to stop commenting on my jeans. Because this guy is just clueless and is not a predator, he was a bit confused as to why I took issue with it, but he stopped immediately and we’ve maintained a good working relationship. That’s different from the guy in the OP’s scenario who is acting like a victim because the OP set an appropriate boundary for the office.

      1. Artemesia*

        This seems 10 times more inappropriate than a comment on muscular arms meant as a compliment. Jeans = ass. commenting on a co-workers butt is never appropriate. Gentle response on the arms, but a firm boundary the first time (certainly the second time) someone is exhibiting that they are focusing on your ‘jeans.’

    4. Squidhead*

      Yeah, the jeans thing is super weird. I wouldn’t even say that to a friend, and certainly not a coworker of any gender. Too much “I’m looking at your butt” vibe. Calling this out in a joking-but-but-not-actually joking tone might shut it down? “Dude, are you looking at my butt? That’s weird.” “If you don’t comment on my butt I promise not to comment on yours.”

      (I admit I–cis, mostly het female–have complimented a coworker/friend’s arms out of genuine admiration for how amazing they looked. Arms seem like a different territory from butts/legs and she was wearing an appropriate short-sleeved shirt, but I hope I didn’t make her uncomfortable :/ I did it in a text conversation since when we saw each other face to face we were doing work stuff.)

    5. eeeek*

      Yeah. That would get my standard, “Can you explain why you think that’s an appropriate thing to say to a colleague/provider? Because in my view, it’s not.” Follow up comments: “I’m happy to hear your explanation, but will warn you that it will take some convincing.” Also, “You may feel free to apologize.”

  18. Bongofury*

    If it’s a patient, especially if you’re doing community outreach and they’re feeling vulnerable, maybe they are just looking for a way to make the exchange less awkward so they make small talk about whatever they can see?

    If I’m in an award conversation about something personal I’ll usually start complimenting someone’s earrings/scrubs/hair just to start a conversation that isn’t about my upcoming boob-squeeze/mammogram.
    I’ve definitely said something like “wow your biceps are incredible, I’m so jealous” but now I’ll be thinking about how it might make them uncomfortable. Good to know!

  19. soontoberetired*

    Sometimes it takes management to remind people to not comment on co-workers bodies. It is not appropriate in the workplace for co workers to do this, and you should never feel bad at telling them so.

  20. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    The only way I’ve been able to tone down comments is to appear blasé about the subject.

    “Yup, new exercise routine.” + shrug or pursed lips, followed immediately by a return to talking about work stuff. The same way you’d acknowledge a cast or a cane if you didn’t want to talk about it (“yup, minor accident; no big deal”). Heck, the same way you’d acknowledge a new car or a new haircut if you want to shut down discussion.

  21. DisneyChannelThis*

    I think you should just “grey rock” the comments. Immediately change the subject, make it boring to comment on. (‘Your body looks so fit!’ ‘Ok now about that work setup’; ‘you must be pleased to have lost weight’ “sure but as I was saying I think we need to address XYZ.”). Acknowledge the comment with okay/sure/interesting/indeed or other neither positive or negative short answers then immediately redirect. “Thanks” said really flat delivery works sometimes too. Ask the repeat offenders to stop and then ignore any drama that results. Your “please don’t comment on my body” is fine. A breezily delivered “Oh I don’t like discussing my workouts at work” would work too. Don’t waste your time on them. The other thing you can do is to try to let it bother you less, work on tuning it out as just as idle of conversation as talking about the weather, especially for clients you only see once.

      1. Delta Delta*

        You can make talking about working out SO BORING. Actually, if you do it right, you can make anything SO BORING. You can do this in a couple ways. First, you can be breezy, and say, “oh, yeah, I’m lifting again” and shift back to the TPS reports or whatever. Make it clear you don’t really care to talk about it and breeze over.

        Option 2: Mr. Coworker wants to talk about your muscles? Tell him in excruciating detail about your routine on Arm Day and then how you tweak it slightly for Arm Day 2 in the same week. Number of reps, changes in sides, how often you adjust the tape on your wrists, your favorite kind of tape, how much the cost of tape has gone up in the last few months, blah blah blah. He’ll be climbing out of his skin before the end of it.

  22. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Keep setting that boundary! But also, have a little grace for people who may be (however awkwardly) trying to offer admiration. Some people who work out/bodybuild/lift are really excited to talk about their journeys and the commenters may have encountered that attitude. You are absolutely entitled to have a different preference!

    1. Lab Boss*

      Related to the idea of a some people being excited to talk about the journey- OP is in a situation where their activity makes a visible change to their body, which means that someone with the good intention of offering admiration and an opening to talk about the activity is also commenting on OP’s body. Presumably OP wouldn’t be upset if she’d picked up a different quarantine activity and her coworkers commented on how good her gourmet home-cooked lunches smelled, or how awesome her new hand-made scarf looked, or whatever.

      OP’s boundary is super reasonable, and people don’t get a free pass for weird comments just because they were meant well! But it might help the problem seem less monolithic if OP can differentiate in her mind between something more neutrally conversational (“are you in the army”) vs something waaaaay more inappropriate and intrusive (“I can see in those jeans…” ew).

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Excuse me. Do you really think asking a butch presenting openly queer and visibly muscular woman if she is in the army is neutral? Because… that’s not “neutrally conversational.”

        1. mairona*

          Definitely not “neutrally conversational” – I’d say that’s more “offensively stereotyping”!

    2. Nynaeve*

      Yeah, this. I would even go so far as to say that *most* people who have managed a transformation like the one OP describes are just waiting for any opportunity to discuss it ad nauseum. Couple that with a non-zero percentage of the population looking for advice that they now think you not only can, but, based on prior experience, are more than happy to provide, and you have the perfect storm of awkward commenting directed towards the OP. None of this excuses their behavior, and Op should continue setting that boundary as often as necessary. But also, try to let the merely annoying ones go a little bit and just shrug it off and change the subject.

    3. Bob-White of the Glen*

      Agreed as most people don’t read AAM, and society wants to praise bodies being improved. But once a “don’t comment” is made in any way, shape or form, no more comments should be made. The first comment is inappropriate, but the second comment equals harassment and a strong response, and the third a report to HR.

  23. mocah latteh*

    OP I may be in the minority here but I am curious about the strength of your reaction to people commenting about your physical appearance. If one or two people were being egregious and insulting, that’s the problem of those people, and to be addressed with those people. I hope I am interpreting your letter correctly when it seems to me that you do not like any comments on your appearance and that you are very sensitive to such comments.

    I am not saying this sensitivity is a negative things and it is absolutely your right to wish to not have anyone comment anything about your appearance especially in the workplace or in a professional setting.

    However given that this seems to be a universal reaction for you to ALL comments, (again please excuse me if I am misreading!), I wonder if you have ever talked with a therapist or other professional about why other people commenting on your appearance evokes such a strong reaction for you.

    Generally if people comment on my appearance at work I am sometimes flattered, sometimes annoyed, but it lasts about 10 seconds and I just say thank you or respond in whatever vague way is socially expected and then I move on. It seems like you may be carrying this with you for a longer time and it is impacting you in a much stronger way. I feel like no matter what sort of script you come up with to respond to such questions, this is just putting a bandaid over the issue – a reactive response. Rather than a proactive approach to asking yourself, why does this bother me so much? Is there something I can change about my own mindset so that these comments impact me differently?

    OF COURSE egregious comments or out of line comments should be addressed and shut down immediately! And a script can be very helpful for that.

    I am not saying this very well at all, but I hope you get a chance to explore why these comments evoke such a strong response for you. That in itself can be very helpful in formulating a reply when a reply is needed.

    1. Just Another Starving Artist*

      This is a weird, presumptuous, and completely out-of-line response.

      Most people don’t want comments on their body day in and day out. That volume is weird and exhausting and it is in no way “sensitive” of the letter writer to want it to stop.

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        Agree. Why is it a bad thing that the letter writer doesn’t like comments on their appearance? Why is it that she’s suddenly “very sensitive to such comments?”

        “Very sensitive”
        “Strong reaction”
        “Impacting you in a much stronger way”
        “Bother me so much”
        “Strong response”

        These are all direct quotes from the comment.

        From the OP: “it’s really making it harder to do my job.”

        1. I'm Not Phyllis*

          Yes – and they don’t need to have a detailed reason to be uncomfortable. If they don’t like it, they set a boundary (which they did) and people should respect it. People don’t need to justify why they don’t like things. This is very much a gendered thing – when men say they don’t like something we never ask them to explain why in detail or tell them they’re being too sensitive.

      2. just another queer*

        + 1000

        OP is having a totally normal reaction to a shitty situation with overtones of misogyny and homophobia. It’s totally normal not to want to talk about your body at work. It’s totally normal to be exhausted by fielding contant comments from clients and co-workers. I mean I would talk about this with my therapist but it would be more like “how do I take care of myself and set boundaries in this shitty situation?” And not “what is wrong with me that I’m upset by this upsetting thing?!”

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      I don’t think the OP Needs to speak with a therapist. Lots of people don’t appreciate comments about their physical appearance (especially at work).

    3. Squidhead*

      Mocha, I do think everyone has a different tolerance for certain types of comments, which I think is the heart of what you’re saying. But not wanting to have a certain type of conversation over and over is the OP’s prerogative, especially since comments on bodies and fitness tend to be filled with subtext.

      Two examples: I have long hair. People comment on it a lot. I actually don’t mind, it’s good fodder for the kind of mindless chatter I have to do with a variety of people sometimes. I have the same conversation over and over (with different people) and it doesn’t bother me.

      I’m also kind of thin. It’s mostly due to genetics, and this is a very boring and uneasy conversation, since most of the time people ascribe some type of virtue to weight and I fundamentally disagree with this viewpoint but I don’t like arguing with people. No, I don’t eat really healthy or work out a lot. I’m happy enough with my body but I don’t need external moralistic validation. Please don’t make me out to be “better” since I’m not and the whole conversation is weird.

      I don’t think I need therapy to explore why these two types of conversation land differently with me, but my reaction to the latter helps me understand why a different person might have a negative response to people asking about their hair (for example).

      1. Lady Danbury*

        This. Plus how you receive comments about your body can be related to other experiences due to your race/gender/sexual identity. I am a Black woman with naturally curly hair. When I wore it longer, I would get comments from non-Black coworkers that I’m sure they meant as compliments but just made me feel othered and came across as microagressions.

    4. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      Gently, you are wrong. Everyone is reacting this way because we exist in a culture that doesn’t respect boundaries especially where women’s bodies and/or weight are concerned. OP is not the problem here.

    5. Quinalla*

      You are missing the point here unfortunately.

      For one, it isn’t one or two comments here and there. This is at the harassment (some like the term microaggression, I don’t because it is to minimizing) level, not by one person except maybe the one jerk coworker claiming she “hates him” (all the eye rolls for that guy), but it’s a constant thing happening to her all day long.

      Two, people commenting on your body in the way she is describing is NOT just annoying, it is uncomfortable and even hostile because of the misogyny and homophobia and gender binary assumptions and our whole fat=lazy, fit=moral BS we have going on inherent in many of these comments. That’s why the OP is feeling icky and weird about them but not really being able to pin down why necessarily.

      Some people are more sensitive to their bodies being commented on for sure, but it would really be better at work if folks wouldn’t make any comments on people’s bodies. New haircut or tattoo, I can see a quick “Love the haircut!” or “Nice tattoo!” if you are friendly and know they will appreciate it, but otherwise just cool it. If the person wants to talk diet, lifting, etc. with you and brings it up and you are game – great have a conversation – but stop the constant commenting on people’s bodies – even if you think you are complimenting them. When I was in my late teens/early twenties and as close to conventionally attractive as I ever have been, I HATED the attention I got because of my body. I also hated that I suddenly was reduced to being an attractive body and was no longer seen as a person. It was unnerving, uncomfortable, weird, etc. and I purposely dressed in more masculine and form hiding clothes whenever possible to avoid it. I eventually learned to (mostly) NGAF about others’ reactions and wear what I want now that makes me comfortable, but it sucks to have people constantly commenting on your body especially when it is sexualized, gendered, etc. Also, I am a tall woman and because of the intimidation factor of that and the fact that I’m older, it is frankly easier for me to NGAF now as I am not as vulnerable as when I was young or as vulnerable as my shorter women friends.

    6. Gerry Keay*

      Absolutely unreal to pathologize a queer woman’s response to unwanted comments on her body to the degree where you’re telling her to “go to therapy.” Like, this is so insulting and offensive on so many levels that I can barely wrap my head around it. I’ve rarely been as horrified by an AAM comments section as I am on this one.

      1. Name Required*

        Absolutely. Especially since the letter calls out how this behavior comes across as homophobic and misogynistic.

    7. Jacked OP*

      hey! So I noted this elsewhere, but there are some specific reasons it makes it harder for me to do my job as I’d like to.

      First, I work in public health, and believe strongly in a weight-neutral approach to care. When I started my job, I was heavier, and I lost a bunch of weight. It wasn’t intentional, it happens. But I can tell you from direct conversation that some of my coworkers perceive my personal body changes as an endorsement of intentional weight loss for health purposes. This doesn’t affect the tenor of my program since I don’t often see people more than once, but it does affect how my coworkers perceive my orientation towards health services. In that sense, it is actively a job-related problem.

      Second, when this happens at my sites (particularly through the one egregious repeat offender working for one of my hosts, who also tends to yell this kind of thing very loudly), it’s frankly kind of embarrassing to have this brought up in front of clients while I’m trying to do my job.

      Also, I need to maintain good relationships with my colleagues because I have some employee health responsibilities, but I tend to be blunt when I’m annoyed. A lot of the scripts I’ve been provided have been helpful!

      I just want to clarify that, yes, it’s annoying and bothersome, but there are also some pretty solid job-related issues that I need to address that have come about as a result of the body comments. Socially, I simply do not care that much – I’m used to coaches making comments about my weight and my muscles, and if someone is obnoxious I will simply tell them about themselves. But at work it’s different, and I hope that you can see why that is.

      1. Nameless in Customer Service*

        This is a very classy response to a comment that should never have been written. I don’t have any advice that others haven’t given, but I wanted to take the moment to explicitly cheer you on and to say I don’t think you’re overreacting, pathological, mentally ill or whatever other foolishness people might claim.

    8. pancakes*

      “Generally if people comment on my appearance . . .”

      In addition to what others have said, I want to point out that you didn’t give people much of a sense of what type of comments you get, in terms of content and in terms of the volume of them. Weekly? Daily? Are people making guesses about you based on stereotypes, along the lines of the “are you in the army?” comments Jacked OP gets? Do they make leering comments like “I can see in those jeans you must be lifting”? To clarify I’m not expecting or saying it would be productive for you to go over all that in response – I just want to point out it’s not evident that your experiences are comparable. If you get fewer comments and/or less intense ones, you can’t quite say you wouldn’t be bothered if the volume increased and/or the comments got more personal, or started to reflect -isms and assumptions about your identity.

  24. Daisy-dog*

    From Jonah Hill: “I know you mean well, but I kindly ask that you not comment on my body. Good or bad. I want to politely let you know that it’s not helpful and doesn’t feel good. Much respect.”

    This takes my feelings and makes them so much kinder to reply. My feelings are: You “complimenting” my body now is insulting my body before. And I may look like that again. I’d rather not know that you think I will look bad.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yes, generally, it is:
      “Please stop doing X.”
      “If you don’t want me to do X, it is because you hate me, not X.”
      Specifically, it is:
      “Why won’t you let me compliment you? You must hate me!”

      See, OP how much this does not have to do with you and how much is has to do with how the speaker feels?
      They are being rude. You don’t have to return it in kind, but you do not have to accept it.

    2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Yeah, I think this is key – “I understand that your intentions were positive, but I made a simple request because despite your intentions, I didn’t like discussing this topic with you. Please respect my boundaries”

    3. Lab Boss*

      I love Hill’s scripting. Opening with an acknowledgement that people mean well is a great way to short-circuit a negative response- it puts him on the same side as his listener, instead of making them feel like they’ve been chastised or are in trouble for doing something they thought was good. He then centers the specific behavior and his response to it- “Behavior X makes me feel bad” rather than “YOU make me feel bad.” Finally, he shows grace but does not apologize for his request or soft-peddle it, he is firm and clear in asking for what he wants.

    4. kicking_k*

      Augh yes, this encapsulates why I’ve always felt icky about being complimented for weight loss (real or imagined).

  25. Minerva*

    As much as I hate the idea that women need to start with “softer” language, maybe a “Thanks for the compliment, but I rather not talk about my body at work, I am sure you understand” would help?

    This may disarm people who don’t mean it as a compliment, and satisfy people who do genuinely mean it as a compliment. It also gives them a face saving “Oh of course” by assuming they would understand that they had a momentary lapse into an inappropriate statement.

    If they continue to make comments then a more firm, but still good natured “I really rather not talk about my body thanks” may end it. If they continue after that, be as professionally brusque as needed.

    1. MK*

      This would definitely work better. I also don’t think her initial response came across as rude simply because she was a woman. I think a good general rule is, regardless of who you are, if someone who does not clearly have the intention of being rude says something you are uncomfortable with, be kind about correcting them the first time. Of course people are going to think you’re mad at them if they blunder into doing something that bothers you and you respond by bluntly telling them to not do that thing again, while strongly implying that what they did was inappropriate and perhaps verging on sexual harassment.

      To OP, I’m sure she’s fed up because she gets these comments all the time. So when a new person says it, it’s the latest in a long list, deserving of frustration. But for that person, it’s the first time they’ve made this mistake! Don’t treat the person who did the stupid thing once, who has never been told it’s a problem, like they are the source of the incessant comments and need you to “set a firm boundary” to make their behavior stop.

      (Believe it or not, “don’t comment on people’s bodies at all” is not something “everyone” knows and is taught is horribly rude and inappropriate, it’s not a widespread social rule that this is rude to do so as long as you’re not making sexual comments or pointing out people’s flaws…I think it SHOULD be the rule, of course, but I don’t think you can treat something as a grave social offense without any repercussions to you when it’s pretty widely accepted behavior.)

      I’m reminded of a friend I had in college who was well over 6 feet tall. Soon after we met I said something about him being really tall. He responded by saying something like “Ugh, yeah, people tell me that a lot!” with a friendly tone. I said something like, “Sorry, I never thought about it but that must be annoying to hear all the time!” Then all was well, we became friends, and I never said anything about his height again. If he had bluntly said, “Please do not comment on my body,” well, I still wouldn’t have said anything about his height again, but I also would have thought he didn’t like me and been uncomfortable around him.

      1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

        Yeah. A lot of people are jumping to ‘she can shut people down however she likes’ and while that’s true it completely ignores the social context most people have to actually operate in.

      2. Distracted Librarian*

        I second all of this. I wish people would stop commenting on other people’s bodies too, but as someone said upthread, not everyone reads AAM. Norms around these kinds of comments vary greatly, and I don’t think it’s helpful to advise people to be brusque right out of the gate, at least not at work.

        1. pancakes*

          That makes some sense, but I don’t see a lot of encouragement to be inappropriately brusque. I’ve also seen a number of people saying they’ve made comments that may have been borderline or unwanted in the past because they have a tendency to ramble without thinking at times. I’d hope most people don’t need to read this site (or any particular other) to learn that talking at people rather than with them isn’t always going to go well or get a welcome reception, and is best avoided. People who aren’t particularly interested in or able to be considerate of others in their presence need to put in some effort as well. Conversation doesn’t need to be like getting into bumper cars.

      3. pancakes*

        “but I also would have thought he didn’t like me and been uncomfortable around him.”

        I can definitely understand feeling uncomfortable with someone after a relatively stern rejoinder, but 1) in perspective it’s maybe not wildly out of line for someone annoyed by repeated comments to sound a bit annoyed, and 2) it’s ok for people to not like one another. That shouldn’t be leaned on by either person as an excuse to behave weirdly or rudely at work, such as repeatedly complaining to other people about not being liked the way the letter writer’s coworker has been. 3) A single redirect of an unwanted, tedious, etc., conversation isn’t necessarily an indication of being disliked at all, and it’s overwrought to treat it as one. Particularly in this example, where Jacked OP has repeatedly tried to reassure the coworker that that wasnt their intent or feeling at all.

  26. Don*

    I think if you can’t find it palatable by viewing it as an (unwelcome) show of support – and you shouldn’t have to! – you should just offer as “I appreciate the effort to be supportive but it makes me really uncomfortable to talk about my body” and hope they accept it and move on. I’m sure some folks like the ones above will not let it go, just like some folks just can’t accept a pronoun correction with a simple “sorry, got it.” At which point you probably have to say, again, “I understand but can we please not talk about the subject of my body anymore” or even “I don’t understand why we’re still talking about something I told you makes me uncomfortable to talk about” or “if you really want to be supportive why are you still doing the thing I have told you makes me uncomfortable?”

    Should you have to give them the “thanks but” treatment? No. But it will probably end the discussion quicker. Only you can decide which results in the lowest total amount of aggravation for you.

  27. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    This is DEFINITELY the place to use Alison’s go-to statement of “What an odd thing to say to a (insert appropriate title here, whether it be co-worker, job title, or even stranger in the case of patients)”
    We’re so used to thinking it’s okay to comment on other people’s bodies that when somebody explicitly states that it’s a weird thing to say to another human being it’ll set them back on their heels and they’ll likely realize that it was an unnecessary and unwelcome comment. Said with a mild and slightly uninterested tone in the vein of “What and odd thing to say! Hmm oh well, what sounds good for lunch” this’ll not only help them realize that it’s a weird thing to say to people but will also help you reframe these comments in your mind as it being a THEM problem and hopefully help you brush them off easily.
    Good luck with your next competition!

  28. Mehitabel*

    “I have asked you to stop commenting on my body. It is not supportive or helpful, and I need you to stop.” And stick to that script. If they start trying to justify it with “But I was just…..”, shut it down. “I need you to stop.”

    And don’t apologize for saying it! You do not have to explain that you mean no harm. Clearly these people don’t care about your feelings, why should you worry about theirs? If the only way they can keep from being butthurt is to continue to refuse to respect your boundaries, then let them be butthurt.

    And if it doesn’t stop, go to your boss and/or to HR, and if that doesn’t work then go to your grandboss. What they are doing is NOT okay.

    1. Queen of the File*

      “Clearly these people don’t care about your feelings, why should you worry about theirs?”

      I disagree, and think there’s room for reading good intentions in many of those unwelcome comments (not all of them). Unfortunately most of us have been socialized to believe certain bodies are “good” and therefore a lot of people truly don’t see anything hurtful or inappropriate in body-related “compliments” (while most of us here recognize by now that it isn’t helpful or appropriate).

      As an example, I could easily imagine my dad commenting on someone’s arms looking ‘ripped’ as a way of making chitchat and potentially opening up a conversation about a shared interest. It’s the wrong approach and he should rightfully be told so, but it’d be a bit of a journey for him to understand why what he thought was a normal and positive thing to say was unwelcome.

      While OP doesn’t owe anyone this generosity (especially as someone who likely deals with more than a fair share of bias against them and their appearance–I would likely lack the patience by now too) I think it’s always helpful, if you have the energy, to consider other peoples’ feelings when trying to educate/correct.

      1. Mehitabel*

        I think anyone who has already been asked at least once to stop with the comments, and who has chosen to ignore that request, has forfeited any right to the benefit of the doubt or extra credit for good intentions.

  29. Susan Anderson*

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking colleagues not to comment on your body. I think that you’re spot on with suspecting misogyny. I can’t even count the number of times in my career that I have had polite assertiveness deliberately taken as aggression or pettiness by male colleagues, when I have simply been attempting to nip in the bud overly personal and sometimes downright creepy comments about my body shape, or clothes, or shoes. These colleagues seem to have no problem with quite aggressive jokey banter with other male colleagues, but when a female objects to a comment, however mildly, the male colleague is suddenly hurt and shocked and insulted. I hope that doesn’t sound too cynical and it certainly doesn’t apply to all men, but I have seen it happen to myself and others too often to think that it isn’t on purpose, to make it as awkward and uncomfortable as possible for women to assert themselves.

  30. Emily*

    I’m a weightlifter as well and I shift the conversation away from my body and toward lifting. Which some people are going to enjoy talking about and others are going to find incredibly tedious, and either way that’s good with me.

    1. Doing the best we can*

      Yeah, i was going to suggest a similar approach for clients/random people when they make comments. Act as if they just asked what activities you do rather than about your body. For coworkers or people you will interact with again, you keep asking them not to comment on your body.

  31. nonni*

    “intentional weight loss isn’t something I would pursue and it’s important to me to make that distinction”

    OP, it may be important to you to make that distinction for yourself, but you don’t owe ANYONE any kind of explanation of how your body looks or any changes to your appearance or size, ever.

    The guy who said you hated him? Is an ass and probably a misogynist too. And maybe homophobic as well. Why in the world does he think you need his support for anything you do? F him. Truly. What is wrong with people?

    I would just say, as you have: ““please don’t comment on my body while I’m at work”. For the second time you say it, and every time after that, I would drop the “please” and maybe add a “I’ve told you this before”. Document and report, maybe get it on camera, because at that point it is an HR problem as sexual harassment.

  32. Savvy*

    I think a modified version of the orginal script word work without seeming overly abrupt. Something like “I know you don’t mean to, but when people comment on my body it makes me feel uncomfortable, especially while I’m at work. Would you mind not making those comments in the future?”

    1. Invisible fish*

      Ohhh, that’s good. Maybe hearing it put so clearly will help folks think about whether they should comment on anyone’s appearance or body.

  33. WingedRocks*

    Ugh. Unsolicited commentary on anyone’s body is gross and never appropriate. Full stop

  34. nuqotw*

    “I know you mean well, but I don’t like to receive comments about my body. Please don’t do it anymore.” It lets them have a feeling of good intent and “I don’t like” means they can perceive themselves as not talking about your body because they are respecting your personal preference rather than you imposing a boundary on them. But if anyone is fussing about this very reasonable boundary and your very reasonable language, so be it.

    1. Hanani*

      Yup, I hate that I have to soften things, but a combo of “I assume good intentions” and “but don’t” is usually what works for me.

      First time: “I know you mean well, but please don’t comment on my body”
      Second time: Mm. [Subject change]
      Third time: what an odd thing to say to a coworker, particularly when I’ve already told you not to comment on my body

      Depending on the situation, I’d then talk to HR and/or my manager either on or after the third time.

      I desperately wish so many people didn’t see bodies and diets as small talk

    2. Pocket Mouse*

      Adjusted slightly: “I don’t like it when people comment on my body.”

      This covers both comments to me and comments about me made to others.

    3. Hg*

      Agree with this, since OP wants to maintain work relationships, maybe even add something about how social norms around discussing bodies are changing and you’d like to encourage ending talk about other people’s bodies. While “please don’t talk about my body” should shut things down… Sadly often things don’t work the way they should. People have a wide variety of personal and cultural norms (and perceived norms) around body talks and hopefully we can all make small impacts towards shifting the norms to just… Not. It’s definitely hard though, for instance I don’t mind complements or discussions around my muscles (although makes me nostalgic for when I really had muscles), but I don’t necessarily want to encourage that… And I find comments on weight loss really inappropriate, whereas some people may appreciate them.

  35. Kate, short for Bob*

    Can you get your boss to be a bit more supportive by pointing out that it’s a really bad idea for co-workers to comment on each others’ bodies – it’s an excellent short cut to developing a hostile environment for women in the workplace. Especially the jeans comment – you’d be justified in a hard stare and an ‘ew, creepy’ to that guy.

    The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck might be useful . You could also – with co workers – take the route of deliberately boring them out of any interest. Go into detail in your nutrition and training until they beg for mercy…?!

  36. Essentially Cheesy*

    I have always been very much ‘thumbs down’ on anyone making comments about a coworkers body in general. This includes weight loss, possible pregnancy, tattoos, or whatever a person might feel like commenting on. It’s no one’s business and too personal – it definitely crosses a personal boundary.

  37. Taylor*

    LW, I think you are doing great! I’m sorry this is frustrating for you though, and I understand how it would be. I also have a goal of loving my body no matter what it looks like/not focusing on weight and am also a woman who experiences a lot of body talk at work (I guess it’s just something my coworkers love to talk about). Maybe try making yourself as BORING a person to talk to about bodies as possible. Your responses right now SHOULD work but you’ve encountered some stubborn people. Also, it seems like right now your responses seem to be eliciting a counter-response, likely because people get defensive when you say something they deem to be a criticism (to be clear…it’s not, but society has been so conditioned to view comments about bodies as welcome conversation, that saying “Please do not comment on my body” is seen as an insult. so strange!) Maybe try just not responding at all and see how it goes? “Wow I can tell you’ve been working out in those jeans.” “Hm, ok…anyway, as we were just saying…” and keep it moving. Just kill the convo altogether. That’s been my strategy at least and it works reasonably well. A recent interaction I had: “Wow your lunch looks good. I wish I could eat that but I’m trying to lose weight.” Me: “I love lunchtime. It’s nice to take a break–I’ve been busy! What have you been up to?”

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      Whenever someone would talk in the lunch room about, “I’ve been so bad! I ate chocolate cake” etc. etc., I would just say, Food has no moral value.

      Obviously, I’m a little obnoxious and direct with people I have a solid relationship with. But it did get to the point where people either stopped saying those types of things entirely, or when they did, they would laughingly roll their eyes at me and say, “I know, I know! ‘Food has no moral value!’ I get it!” If nothing else, it was entertaining and made them think twice about it. And again, I had a great relationship with these people, and still do.

  38. WonderWoman*

    I get a lot of questions about comments about my appearance, and I sometimes respond by flipping them back on the speaker. So, something like:

    speaker: “wow, you must be a strong lady”
    you: “do you like to exercise?”

    speaker: “are you in the army?”
    you: “no, are you in the army?”

    In my experience, this has 2 benefits:

    1.) the speaker is distracted because most people like talking about themselves, or
    2.) alternatively, the speaker may realize their initial question or comment was rude and feel a bit embarrassed.

    It’s a passive technique, but it can save a lot of sanity.

    1. f_fairford*

      Yeah, this is usually my approach too. I’d estimate that it works to redirect conversation about 70% of the time, which is a decent rate of success.

    2. Foila*

      That’s a good idea, if the person just wants to talk you can go straight to the conversation while bypassing any personal remarks.

    3. Rocky*

      Oh, I really like this idea! It seemed like the particular co-worker with hurt feelings was determined to center himself in the conversation rather than hearing and accepting OP’s boundaries. Often people try to make it about them when they are uncomfortable (“I lost a lot of weight and enjoyed external validation about it”, “I’m just trying to be nice” etc. etc.) Flipping it back allows them to talk about themselves, if they want to, but also might continue to enforce that boundary, by simple redirection. That said, there’s nothing wrong with what OP has said or how they have handled this. People don’t like to be called out, even gently, and often get defensive when they should be listening.

    4. pancakes*

      I like this. I don’t think it’s passive, either – you’re re-directing the question away from yourself. An activity well worth doing, and this is a good way to do it.

      1. Red*

        I agree with the distraction technique. I teach high school, and comments on body/hair/makeup/everything happen frequently. I need to keep teaching instead of addressing questions and comments in order to get my job done, like you do in a medical situation. I need to do it quickly and without provoking a defensive reflex, like you do, so you can move on with the goofball who keeps saying these things. I find that it works to redirect with something humorous and ridiculous – the superhero distraction.

        Wow, you must be a strong lady.
        Yes, I’m a super hero in my off-time, but I am not at liberty to discuss my powers for obvious reasons.

        But seriously, how did you get such big muscles?
        Remember: I’m a superhero, didn’t you hear me?

        Why do you do that with your hair?
        It helps me get better wifi reception from superhero headquarters.

        Are you in the army?
        No, I’m a superhero.

        It works on overly talkative people on cruises, small children, folks with no boundaries in supermarket and restaurants, teenagers. It’s harmless and ridiculous, and it lightheartedly points out that I am not interested in sharing any details about my personal life, habits, physical appearance, life partner, sexuality, race, hair shape/straightness/curliness/updo/braids and is somehow not threatening enough to raise fists.

        You can substitute in ninja, secret agent, Star Wars Resistance Fighter, whatever keeps you most entertained in a never-ending battle.

        Their reaction is an immovable rock in the rapids of life; you cannot move it by yourself, but you might be able to move around it and save energy for the next one. Their will always be a next one.

    5. Red*

      I agree with the distraction technique. I teach high school, and comments on body/hair/makeup/everything happen frequently. I need to keep teaching instead of addressing questions and comments in order to get my job done, like you do in a medical situation. I need to do it quickly and without provoking a defensive reflex, like you do, so you can move on with the goofball who keeps saying these things. I find that it works to redirect with something humorous and ridiculous – the superhero distraction.

      Wow, you must be a strong lady.
      Yes, I’m a super hero in my off-time, but I am not at liberty to discuss my powers for obvious reasons.

      But seriously, how did you get such big muscles?
      Remember: I’m a superhero, didn’t you hear me?

      Why do you do that with your hair?
      It helps me get better wifi reception from superhero headquarters.

      Are you in the army?
      No, I’m a superhero.

      It works on overly talkative people on cruises, small children, folks with no boundaries in supermarket and restaurants, teenagers. It’s harmless and ridiculous, and it lightheartedly points out that I am not interested in sharing any details about my personal life, habits, physical appearance, life partner, sexuality, race, hair shape/straightness/curliness/updo/braids and is somehow not threatening enough to raise fists.

      You can substitute in ninja, secret agent, Star Wars Resistance Fighter, whatever keeps you most entertained in a never-ending battle.

      Their reaction is an immovable rock in the rapids of life; you cannot move it by yourself, but you might be able to move around it and save energy for the next one. Their will always be a next one.

  39. Jareth*

    Oh gosh. I’m a nonbinary trans person with an androgynous and conventionally attractive body who has worked everything from warehouse stock, to factory food production, to service, to admin, to recycling. I’ve worked these jobs while running the gamut of presentation in clothes and grooming. High femme, stone butch, flamboyantly nongendered, or dont-see-me hoodie. Unfortunately, any time I took a “woman’s” body to a labor job (especially the labor jobs with loose dress codes) I had to be a big old meanie to every man for about a week. I can pick up the thing; I can carry the thing; yes, I sure am strong, now follow me to where we staged the shipment; so on. This was my constant until people stopped perceiving me as a woman, gender conforming or not. No one told me they had hUrT fEeLiNgS about how they spoke about my body, but one coworker asked HR whether they could report someone for sexual harassment for … wearing shorts … AT them ??? so the loss of their cordiality was for me a blessing.

    OP, I’m so sorry. I hope your one coworker learns that it literally isn’t that personal. What I did was continue to be aggressively pleasant and aggressively work-focused. Folks will know you as the dependable buff person, and will either learn to drop the topic if they want to be your work pal or they won’t be your work pal and they’ll wonder why they can’t get anything done.

  40. HannahS*

    UGHHHHHHHH this sucks for you, I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, you’re not doing anything wrong. I have absolutely no doubt that some of there’s some unexamined dynamics around “but women LOVE to have their bodies complimented” and/or “but you’re queer so that makes it not sexual harrassment” and/or “we’re the same gender so it’s fine” going on here.

    I think saying “I’d rather not talk about my body at work” is fine and appropriate. You can say it pleasantly with a smile and a tone of “of-course-you-couldn’t-know-that” or you can say it tersely with a frown and a tone of “wtf-you-should-know-better” and both are professional. You colleague is, frankly, being childish. Does it hurt someone’s feelings to be told that what they thought was a compliment was unwelcome? Sure. But it’s unreasonable to take that to mean “She haaaaaaates me.” Even though that may be genuinely how he feels, it’s also a way for him to avoid confronting the fact that, actually, he is #likeothermen and complimenting on his female colleague’s body is not something that he should be doing. Much easier to believe that he’s supportive and awesome and that you just haaaaate him. You can’t control this about him, nor can you apologize or explain your way out it.

    For patient interactions, to be honest, when they say inappropriate things, I often straight-up ignore it, plaster a smile on my face, and say, “Well, I’m here to focus on you. Tell me more about the issue with______”

    1. bee*

      Ugh. I (female healthcare provider) mentioned being so tired of patients commenting on my body to a female colleague in front of a room of both male and female coworkers and all the women commiserated and all the men were ASTOUNDED that this happens because none of them had ever experienced it.

  41. guest*

    I think you can stop worrying about why they’re noticing or commenting on your body. Unless they are specifically referring to a protected status or class, I don’t think it helps you in any way to get at their motivation. Without a very clear indication of their motivation it might be less upsetting to simply assume that they mean well while at the same time being clear that you do not wish to entertain any discussion at all about your appearance. So I think your script is fine, and if you get pushback along the lines of “I meant well” you could maybe reply along the lines of “I get that, but let’s just focus on the task at hand.”

  42. Aarti*

    I lost a lot of weight in the last 2 years, almost 100 pounds. I am proud of my hard work but I don’t really want to talk about it. I have handled it 100% by being as boring as possible. If people comment and it’s clearly meant to be a compliment, a smile, a “thank you” and a refusal to further discuss or a change of subject works well. If it’s just a comment (on Tuesday I got “Aarti’s wasting away” – nope, still slightly overweight actually) I just smile slightly and ignore it.
    I could go with the “Please don’t comment on my body” but that is just going to cause more issue, as you have seen. The best way I have found is to be as boring as possible. No matter what, I am not going to change people’s behavior. I would love that world but all I can do is change my responses to it.

    1. Catgirl*

      It’s baffling to me that anyone could take offence at “please don’t comment on my body”.

      1. Artemesia*

        Seriously? It is a pretty hard slap. And the person so slapped is likely to feel embarrassed and is if it is an overreaction and chill the work relationship. To a person who is thinking they are making complimentary small talk it will be a painful moment. Finding a way to say that same thing but with a bit of acknowledgement that you know they were trying to be supportive or complimentary might avoid the unpleasantness in a somewhat clueless but well meaning person.

        Then if they don’t adjust their behavior bring out clear firm. “Please don’t comment on my body.”

        1. Distracted Librarian*

          Exactly. Everywhere I’ve ever lived/worked, a statement like that would be perceived as a verbal slap. We can argue that it shouldn’t be. We can argue that the slap is deserved. But that doesn’t change the perception or the likely fallout. Softening a message is a thing people (not just women) do all the time to preserve relationships.

          That said, if someone does it a second time after being asked politely to stop, they’ve earned the verbal slap.

          1. pancakes*

            If people’s perception of whether a direct course correction in conversation is or isn’t deserved has nothing to do with their perception of it as a verbal slap, that’s pretty messed up. What you’re saying is that their feelings on the matter aren’t necessarily tethered to reality. I don’t doubt that’s true of a number of people; I’ve seen that reflected in people’s responses to things like that a number of times. But how does one preserve a relationship with someone whose views of themself or of how conversation ought to work (for example, that people ought to expect comments about their physique and be endlessly cheerful about receiving them) aren’t necessarily tethered to reality, and is that even necessary? Or desirable? That’s someone I would want to be very reserved with due to the likelihood of them misunderstanding something and being unable or unwilling to even begin to consider whether they might actually be in the wrong.

      2. Smithy*

        For better or worse, the “please don’t” is calling someone out for doing something wrong and in this case – doing something wrong that has bothered you or hurt your feelings.

        And in those moments, people very often get defensive that they “did nothing wrong”. And in work situations, people’s tendencies to back themselves as “doing nothing wrong” can be even more heightened.

        The bigger issue honestly is that if you are perceived as a woman, and having a body of note (I say this coming from the perspective of being tall and not muscular) – you can’t really stop the comments. And at work, choosing the approach of “please don’t comment on my body” can risk putting you in the situation of ultimately having those more offended interactions repeatedly. Which depending on the environment and management, the risk of being seen as sensitive.

    2. Kesnit*

      I’m in the same circumstance – lost about 100 pounds in the last 18 months. People that haven’t seen me in a while tend to comment on my pretty dramatic change. I just laugh and say I can only take credit for half since I lost about 50 pounds due to uncontrolled, undiagnosed diabetes.

  43. It was justified and I have witnesses*

    This reminds me of how Michelle Obama got tons of unnecessary comments about her arms. Too many people think it’s okay to comment on other people’s bodies, especially women’s. How dare women not be decorative in men’s opinions?

    It’s terribly rude, really. I have a friend who has a medical issue where she cannot keep weight on and she’s frequently sick. She’s constantly fending off people who tell her how wonderfully thin she is and it’s really stressful for her.

    1. pancakes*

      Yes. Ugh and ugh! And there are so many other things to talk about. People who find it very difficult to think of any should try making a list (internally, or on paper, or in the Notes app, whatever is easiest to use) of a few alternatives they can turn to when feeling put on the spot.

  44. Catgirl*

    “Shall I comment on YOUR body now?”
    Or, “How do you expect me to respond to that?”

  45. Fluffy Fish*

    OP – I think you need to become comfortable with being unable to control other peoples reactions as well as rude people are going to be rude.

    It is very much not normal to comment on someone’s body – but there’s no shortage of people who can’t grasp that as you are well aware. It is point blank with no excuses rude.

    Setting a reasonable boundary with rude people and them continuing to be rude is semi-predictable. Rude people gonna be rude. That is very much not your problem. In fact I would go so far as to shorten your statement to simply “Don’t comment on my body.” Repeat ad nauseum.

    Next – how people react to you being perfectly reasonable and polite is very much – not your concern. Your coworker? His choice (and it is a choice) to act unreasonable and be butt hurt is on him. You are absolved from needing to do anything to help him manage his feelings. You do not have to explain a perfectly reasonable boundary. YOU did not damage the relationship – HE very much did. So he can fix it if he wants to.

    To recap – continue to say do not to comment on your body. That’s it. No further explanation. Be unsurprised when the same people continue to be rude, but continue to give them the same short bland statement. And lastly, remember how other react have nothing to do with you and everything do to with them. No need to manage their feelings for them.

    I wish you continued enjoyment of your newishly found athletic stuff. It’s always so great to discover new things we love.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      The problem is that for queer people, people’s rude reactions can escalate to violent reactions, and you literally have to stay aware of that to stay safe.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Yes, I understand that via direct experience however that doesn’t appear to be OP’s concern here.

        If they wrote in asking about safety, they would be getting very different responses.

  46. Bob-White of the Glen*

    Men who hold grudges because a woman calls them on their behavior are infantile. He’s a jerk, and absolutely has misogynist tendencies. I am so sorry he is treating you like that, but trust me he is getting fulfillment from believing he’s a PC culture victim. Treat him professionally, and make sure he is properly doing his job, but write off any friendship with him – he won’t grow up and he’ll continue this pseudo power dynamic between you if you let him.

    I am so sorry about all the comments, even more so about the ones who won’t stop when they make you uncomfortable. I can see myself praising a woman who has built up an athlete’s body because I know how much work it is. It wouldn’t be sexual, and I certainly wouldn’t do it to someone I didn’t know well, but I am guessing at least of chunk of what you are hearing is because people are impressed with the changes. I’d find you inspirational, but that would not excuse making you feel uncomfortable, and I’m glad to see the other side so I don’t make that mistake.

    “Are you in the army.” “No, I’m a trained mercenary for the highest bidder.” Probably not appropriate. :D

  47. Gnomes*

    I’m a woman and a lifter, and also have muscly arms, and am a chatty extrovert… so I would totally be one of the patients making a comment at you. I would do so because, hey! I lift too! I want recognize the work and give you social encouragement in such effort because I understand the effort! But also, what do you do, what is your training schedule? I’d be thinking of it as great small-talk topic. All that is not to say many (if not most) of these comments you are getting are pretty icky; just that at least some of them are probably trying to be socially affirming. But in a society where bodies, especially women’s bodies, are over policed by others, it can be minefield all the way around.
    So I really like the idea from WonderWoman of turning the comment back on the asker, because it will help you get at what they are really asking. You’ll find out pretty quickly if they are genuinely interested in having a conversation and/or learning more about what you do and/or expressing something positive and affirming, or force the asker to realize their question really is pretty gross.

  48. Just Me*

    I’m curious what OP’s relationship is with the people who are making the comments–they mention they’re a Program Director and that these comments are coming from colleagues, but are they people OP supervises? Program partners who technically are employed by the hosts? Senior employees in a different area of the company? (Like, this is coming from Jim who does accounting for the whole organization and OP is director of one of the programs?)

    My first reaction would be to notify HR or a manager since there is an element of sexism and homophobia here and because OP has repeatedly told the offender(s) to stop, but that becomes more complicated if these are OPs subordinates, if there’s no HR, or if these are partners with different employers.

    1. Jacked OP*

      I can answer this! Not from my team, but from same-org-different-team office coworkers and colleagues from partner orgs.

      1. Just Me*

        Ohhhhhh I see. Yes, for the most egregious misogynistic and homophobic comments coming from within your org……it might be worth mentioning to HR (if there is HR), because the comments have not stopped even after you directly told the offenders to stop AND because you’ve received outsized, dramatic reactions when you politely try to address it.

        For everyone else…this is tricky, and I’ve also been in the nonprofit/government sphere where you work closely with someone who is basically a colleague but who has a different employer, and that person just feels at liberty to make all manner of comments. I like Wonder Woman’s suggestion above about flipping the question back to the person who asked it. I could even see responses to “You look like a strong lady” being along the lines of, “You look like a strong lady, too” and then just breezily moving on.

  49. Bigger picture?*

    Lots of good suggestions above. I can’t help but think that there are a bunch of things going on here and they are in conflict with each other:

    1) It is no longer acceptable to comment on people’s bodies at work. Period. But…
    2) The social contract has always been that compliments are a good thing. And when an individual makes a significant physical change in a way that is noticeable and likely done to BE noticeable the social contract says to make a positive comment; “Love the new {hair, clothes, body mod}”, “Looking {good, fit, toned}” And the compliments come whether the change was intentional or not (purposeful weight loss vs. health challenge weight loss).
    3) Power dynamics change the social contract such that what someone who is a co-worker/boss/underling says something it is different than when a customer, friend, or casual contact says it.

    Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the memos on how social actions translate (badly) into the work environment as many, many, many letters here attest. I think that the ask-a-manager commentariat is firmly in understanding of point 1. But your fellow co-worker is living in point 2 and so feels insulted that the compliment was rejected. After all, he probably relished the compliments when he lost weight (not defending, just commenting). And your boss isn’t supporting you in bringing your whole workplace up to speed on point 1.

    So maybe the way to go is not to focus on the specific comment, but just the category of comment. “Hey, we’re at work, no personal comments please”.

  50. Avril Ludgateau*

    I’m curious what the specific comments are. Is it the comments themselves that are the problem, or the fact that any comment is being made at all? If it’s the latter, the most effective solution might be to go to your manager or HR and ask for a general reminder to go out that it’s inappropriate to comment on people’s bodies, period. They could frame it as falling under sexual harassment.

    Relevant anecdote: I’m a woman, though not queer, who works out and strength trains (for personal fulfillment and ability, not for competition, though – I wish I had the dedication, confidence, and actual raw strength to compete!). In the beginning, I appreciated comments on my physique because they affirmed that I was making visible progress, but in my case, the specific comments I was getting were never lascivious or backhanded. The worst comment I got, that actually made me snap back at a colleague, was because she repeatedly attributed my physique to simply being young, when I was working hard and diligently monitoring my macro intake to reach my goals. Just because I ate a donut didn’t mean I didn’t account for it, or that I lived off donuts, or that I didn’t eat 100-120 g protein per day and spend 1-3 hrs across multiple gyms, every day. So I less than delicately told her to worry about her own plate and that I didn’t ask for her opinion. It worked to stop the comments, although it did make our relationship cold (which, from my perspective, is fine, we don’t work closely together anyway).

    I work from home now, but back in the day I had the “advantage” of working in a very cold office, so I was almost always wearing long sleeves and pants and leggings under dresses. But you work outdoors and this likely isn’t an option, nor is it a fair request. So I reiterate what I said initially, especially if you’re worried about alienating individual people, the best course of action might be having somebody in management send the overarching message that regardless of intention, body comments are not okay. And then if a specific individual keeps crossing the line, confront them directly – reminding them about the broad rule not to comment on people’s bodies.

    The unfortunate thing is, people who know they’re making nasty or inappropriate remarks will get the message before the well-intentioned but perhaps oblivious people who are trying to give a compliment. Because the latter case will think that the broad rule doesn’t apply to them since they’re “just being nice.”

  51. EngGirl*

    I think you maybe need an escalation scale for this if the comments are on the non creepy/sexist side of the spectrum “wow, you look really strong” vs “you must lift by the way you’re filling out those jeans” (which made me vomit in my mouth a little).

    1st time: firm but friendly/polite “Yeah, I lift/run, but it makes me uncomfortable to talk about my body at work”

    2nd time: firmer and slightly less polite plus call back “Yes, but like we spoke about previously I really am not comfortable with people commenting on my body in a professional setting, please refrain in the future”

    3rd time (or first if it’s a creep factor): just firm “I ‘m really uncomfortable with those comments, and I think it’s strange tot keep bringing it up/say at all at work. Please don’t speak to me about this again.”

  52. She of Many Hats*

    If your HR team is effective, I’d go talk to them about the behavior in general. You can also phrase it to cover all female-presenting employees having their bodies discussed even after requests to stop the comments, about getting the “but I’m just being complimentary/supportive/etc” spiel. Point out that not acting could open them up to legal issues if someone feels harassed based on gender or sex. It is time for a refresher DEI session about how not to treat fellow employees.

    I’d also talk with your manager about the coworker’s freezing you out after being to stop the (repeated?) comments. It feels a bit like retaliation especially if they’re telling others you’re the bad guy.

  53. Alex (they/them)*

    feels like a classic case of “this woman is Not Being A Woman Correctly and if I don’t comment on it I will die.”

  54. Red5*

    FWIW, I think your response is perfect as is and your coworker is being extremely weird about it. You shouldn’t have to do this, but maybe you can change your message from the implied “you” (Please don’t talk about my body at work) to a forced-teaming “we” (Oh, let’s not talk about bodies at work). Maybe making it a group thing (we all don’t do this) instead of a you thing (You’re doing something I don’t like, please stop) can help with receipt of the message. The other thing I’ve resorted to, as a fat woman whose body weight changes one way or the other pretty regularly, is respond with a non-committal “hmmm”, and change the subject. “So, about those TPS reports…” This type of grey-rock response seems to work well, especially with people who are really invested in the idea of my body taking up less space.

  55. lunchtime caller*

    I think I’m probably an outlier here, but OP it sounds like you’re bringing a lot of baggage to these conversations that is escalating things. Like there’s no real reason to get into your complicated feelings about good fitness vs bad weight loss thoughts or whatever with a coworker, especially since it sounds like you’re still working them out yourself. If someone says “are you in the army” that can either be annoying or a compliment or whatever, but to then go around thinking “that was probably because I don’t fit their idea of what a REAL WOMAN should look like” feels like it’s hitting on a sore spot of yours, because it could also be seen as “oh they’re talking to me like one of the bros.” It may never stop being somewhat annoying, but I think once you feel more comfortable being as visibly butch and queer as you are now, it will likely fall more into the emotional territory of people who have to hear “wow, you’re so tall!” all day every day.

    1. cwhfstl*

      Asking someone not to comment on your body is “escalating things?” I really don’t see it that way. People are allowed to have their feelings and not want their body commented on particularly in a work setting (all settings really), full stop. Your post reeks of “it’s only a problem because you are choosing to take it that way.” Which is not cool.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Agreed. There’s no indication that OP is uncomfortable with their gender presentation – in fact this

        I’m really not trying to lose weight, I’m just an athlete. It’s important to me to accept my body no matter what it looks like and to celebrate what it does…

        …sounds to me like exactly the opposite. OP is fine with who they are and what they look like – this is very much a problem of how other people behave around them.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      I didn’t see anything in the letter to suggest she isn’t comfortable with her appearance or sexuality. It is very common and normal for LWs to speculate about why a thing might be happening as part of their question on how to solve it.

      It really doesn’t matter how she feels about herself, though. She doesn’t want people to comment on her body at work and they need to stop. Also, “it’s not that they don’t think of you as a woman, maybe they think of you as a man” isn’t exactly a comforting reframe lol

    3. SJ (they/them)*

      setting aside the first 90% of your comment, i can guarantee that comments that relate to one’s failed adherence to cisheteronormativity will never fall into the same emotional territory as ‘wow, you’re so tall’. Like, they’re just… no.

    4. lunchtime caller*

      It’s fine that people disagree with me (I expected it from the tone of the comments so far! I knew it would be an unpopular idea to float) but I don’t plan on arguing about the topic, so just keep that in mind if you came to reply with heat.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        This seems like an oddly passive aggressive response. If you’re not going to argue the topic (which a perfectly valid choice!) why not just not respond?

      2. Dark Macadamia*

        It’s really weird to comment if you don’t actually want to engage in a conversation or have people respond to you.

      3. BuildMeUp*

        Do you interpret any comment disagreeing with you as “reply[ing] with heat”? If so, it seems like you’re bringing a lot of baggage to this conversation…

    5. Jacked OP*

      Ehhhhhh I get what you’re saying, but it wasn’t that single conversation that felt like these comments were weirdly tinted. Sure, most people have body baggage, and obviously I do too. But in bouncing these thoughts off of other queer people, I’ve had other folks independently bring up their similar lived experiences of homophobia and misogyny to me and it validated how I was feeling about it.

      Also just to be clear, I choose queer appearance signifiers every day! I would have to to continue to look This Gay. I’ve looked This Gay since I was about 18, and I’m in my 30s. I’m at home in my gender presentation, and the fact that I’ve received some impolite feedback about it (in this context and in others) doesn’t mean I’m not okay with it.

      1. MEH Squared*

        Hey, OP. I just wanted to let you know that it’s not you. As you said, those of us raised as women (I’m currently genderqueer as well as being queer in general) are bound to have baggage about our bodies. However, it can be shed (a life-threatening event did that for me. I love my body now for what it’s done for me), and you sound to be pretty comfortable in your own skin.

        Unfortunately, those of us who stray from the norm of the platonic ideal of woman get the most heat about it. I am solid and put on muscle easily. I practice Taiji weapons which has given me serious biceps. I can’t tell you how many women on Twitter are aghast that I practice weapons (as it’s not feminine, apparently). And I had an ex who was mad at me for having bigger biceps than his.

        I think your best bet with coworkers is just to say what you have and bring it back to work. Your male coworker who got overwrought is the one who made it weird, unfortunately. But I agree with the commenters who’ve said just to let him be upset. As long as you’re pleasant and professional with him, hopefully, it won’t reflect badly on you.

    6. tired librarian*

      Actually I think the “baggage” you refer to here is a normal response to the discrimination & microaggressions OP faces being queer & gender non-conforming.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes. Another way to say baggage is, “has been repeatedly targeted to hear a lot of messed-up comments and experience a lot of various people’s sometimes-complicated feelings, without necessarily wanting that, on certain themes.”

    7. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      I mean, you’re an outlier for a reason–this is a pretty bad, irrational take. I can tell you that I, who am not a very muscular, butch, and queer presenting woman have absolutely NEVER been asked if I’m in the army. That pretty clearly has it’s roots in some misogyny/homobia, regardless of intent, and VERY OBVIOUSLY is about the way the OP’s body looks and the way she presents gender-wise. “Talking to [her] like one of the bros” is… like, seriously? Are you seriously arguing that isn’t exactly the same thing? The logic does not check out, friend. Nor is there any reason to think that the OP is not secure and comfortable with who she is and how she presents. And then the tall thing… just oof. That’s a pretty flawed comparison, as tall people get the comments regardless of age, race, or gender, but the kind of comments OP is getting seem to relate pretty definitively to her gender and prevalent societal concepts of how gender is presented. So, yeah. Bad take.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes. I’m in my mid-40s and no one has ever asked me that in my life. My appearance is pretty femme. Not a coincidence! I have occasionally been talked down to in a weird little baby voice before I’ve even opened my mouth, maybe because I have big eyes and red lipstick and don’t go around wearing law review merch. I’d rather not try to play up to cliches, and I’m not interested in taking on board random people’s feelings about their own boring expectations turning out to be off.

    8. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      The thing you’re missing is that OP is perfectly comfortable being butch-presenting and visibly queer. If she weren’t, then she wouldn’t dress the way she does. The thing she wrote in about is how people react to her muscles, which is recent phenom.

      It’s interesting that you assume she isn’t comfortable being butch-presenting. Women who want to look like that have to do it on purpose. Me, I dress very androgynously and some people would probably think I look butch (because they haven’t met my friends), but queer women never do. It takes more than just “not wearing a dress”.

      1. pancakes*

        This too. It’s simply not correct to think that women who look butch are somehow not aware of it? Or need to get comfortable with unwanted comments about it from others in order to be said to be comfortable with themselves. Lunchtime caller is sort of trying to give butch women’s self-perception away to other people and say those people are responsible for shaping it. They’re not, and they can’t have that. They can have their own.

  56. cwhfstl*

    LW, I am so sorry you are dealing with this; this is always something that women I feel have to deal with far more than me (I guess because our society has so many more restrictions/standards/expectations of female physicality and presentation-ugh). The boundaries you are setting are completely appropriate. You should not have to manage other people’s feelings about your body, such as your bizarrely oversensitive co-worker. That’s on him. You may not hate him, but I kinda do reading this.

    I agree with others above that this is a great application for grey rocking. Honestly, some of these folks get off on upsetting you or commanding a response be it positive or negative and just suck your energy. Give them nothing but boredom and no reward. No reaction whatsoever. They will eventually learn this will get them nowhere and stop hopefully.

  57. Elizabeth*

    The number of responses, even from this crowd which I find to be generally knowledgeable about appropriate boundaries in the workplace, that are advising the OP to be nicer or less abrupt in her response, or to take it as a compliment, shows how much work we still have to do in this area.

    Set the boundary as firmly as you would like to. Keep detailed notes on every interaction and every time you set this boundary – what time it happened, where, who was around, what they said, what you said. Because if and when you need to make a formal complaint to HR, let alone take it to court, they will say “well you were too nice in your initial request, so how could he have known it bothered you?” If you’re going to be blamed either way, and most of us who report harassment are, might as well make it crystal clear. (And yes, this is harassment. Intention does not matter and is not how the law defines harassment.)

    1. SJ (they/them)*

      yeah skimming the comments as a visibly queer/trans person has been uhhhhh interesting

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Yeah also as a visibly queer/trans person, I am really horrified and disgusted by a lot of the responses here, which feel very very driven by both sexism and homophobia.

      2. Alie Anon*

        I’ve noticed that the MRA’s and all the self appointed defenders of men have been out in full force over the last couple of weeks. Here’s to hoping we don’t go through a hard right shift around here.

    2. cwhfstl*

      completely agree. This isn’t an issue of being nice enough. Isn’t it interesting when a woman has these kind of issues it is almost subconscious that we want her to soften her language and be less abrupt? It’s so ingrained and so frustrating. And as far as taking unwanted unsolicited commentary on your body in a professional setting as a “compliment”—I can’t even with that. Just NO.

    3. Spearmint*

      This is a really extreme reaction. Like it or not, these kinds of comments OP is getting about her fitness are normal small talk in American culture irrespective of gender. She should set boundaries, but I don’t see how this signals any sort of danger (court, really?).

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        No one has EVER asked me if I am in the army. How are those kind of comments normal small talk that has nothing to do with gender and the like? Or “wow, you must be a strong lady?” How many men at your job have you casually said “I can see in those jeans you must be lifting” to?

      2. Fluffy Fish*

        I would not say commenting on someone’s body is normal small talk in America. Certainly not in the workplace. And even if it were, that doesn’t make it acceptable. Lots of things used to be normal small talk that aren’t anymore. Because they’re wrong.

        While perhaps not in this case, repeated unwanted attention can constitute harassment as the poster of this comment stated. And yes that can lead to court orders of protection.

      3. Nameless in Customer Service*

        There are people here in the comments suggesting LW should be on a PIP for being “rude”. It makes sense to collect documentation in case someone similar works in HR or LW’s supervisory chain.

  58. Fitness is fun*

    How about good old fashioned “let’s change the subject.”
    Or a very neutral “message received.”
    . If they ask why or give you a hard time just shrug and walk away or say “not interested. How was your weekend?”

  59. anonymous73*

    You are not being rude, they are being rude. And while there’s probably no way to make them see that, keep setting boundaries. But instead of ASKING them to stop making comments, TELL them. “I need you to stop commenting on my body.” If they try and make excuses, or make you feel as if YOU have done something wrong, just say “I find it inappropriate and I need you to stop.” You don’t need to go into some long explanation about why it needs to stop. And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve lost weight, gained weight, built muscle, lost muscle, etc. Commenting on someone’s body at work (and mostly in life) is not okay. If people take offense because you’ve called them out on it, that’s on them. I would also encourage you to go to HR (if they don’t suck) and put this issue on record, as well as your manager to make them aware that you’ve gotten these reactions because they’re not okay.

  60. The teapots are on fire*

    With patients, you could say, “That’s kind of you. I’m really trying to create a culture here where we don’t talk about people’s bodies, except in a medical sense. I want everyone to feel comfortable here and that all bodies are (beautiful, fine, normal, whatever you value here). ” This way you can attempt to make them part of a team in building this important cultural change that we all need.

  61. mreasy*

    OP, I’m so sorry, this is SO frustrating. And it’s a great example that no matter your body type and how you present your tender, people always feel free to comment on it if you’re a woman!

  62. Empress Matilda*

    OP, you’re doing everything right! You’re setting reasonable boundaries in a polite tone – that should work for most people, but of course the key is “most.” There are always going to be a few people who crash right through your boundaries, no matter how clear or how reasonable. The problem (at least for me) is that setting boundaries takes energy, maintaining them takes energy, even Grey Rocking takes energy. So it’s not as easy as “just ignore them,” if you have to be capital-I Ignoring them all the time.

    It sounds like you’ll need two approaches. One for your colleagues and anyone you see regularly – use whatever scripts you need to tell them to knock it off, and escalate to your manager or HR if you need to. It’ll take time, but they should get the message eventually. Even if the message they get is “OP is so sensitive! We can’t talk to them about anything any more!” – or they get icy or whatever, that might be as close as you get to a win. As Captain Awkward says, there’s no magical script that will get them to not be offended – so use the scripts you have, and let them be offended all they want. Save your boundary-maintaining energy for clients and people you only see once, because there isn’t a good way to make them all just stop.

    For this group, changing the subject is usually a good tactic. “Yes, and how about that weather/ sports team!” is good for social situations, and “Yes, and let’s talk about your health services!” when you’re at work. Again, reasonable boundaries are for reasonable people – so most people will get the hint, but there will always be some who don’t. When you get to that point, I vote for throttling them into the sun.

    Good luck!

  63. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    First my reaction to the comments
    “wow, you must be a strong lady” (OK?? Whatever)
    “are you in the army?” (WTF?)
    “I can see in those jeans you must be lifting” (ICK!! and PERV!)
    “summer body” or how I’m “looking great” (Odd. I think they are jealous)

    OP I’m wondering how long have you been weight lifting? If it’s been just a little over a year then people may still be in the shock faze. especially if your body changes for competitions and such. It might take a bit longer for your coworkers to get used to that your body changes semi regularly. Hopefully, then the comments will die down and be more like “getting ready for another competition OP?” In the mean time you might just have to have to try and change subjects. Maybe not be quite as frosty, especially at first. Maybe “thanks, but I don’t like talking about my body at work. How is X project going.” Obviously only do this when people are not being homophobic. For those people an icy stare and an “It’s not nice to comment on people’s bodies especially at work.”

    As for the coworker who thinks you hate him. I think that’s just a him thing. I think when you pointed out that it was not about weight loss that he somehow felt threatened or something. Or maybe he has this weird thing that since he lost weight that everyone must be trying to loose weight if anything changes with their body. I don’t think there is anything you can do with him.

    Are there any other weightlifters or other athletes that you know who may have been doing this longer than you could maybe ask how they treat unwanted comments about their body?

  64. thelettermegan*

    for your colleague who claims that you ‘hate him’ – that’s a real overstatement of harm. Requesting a boundary – keeping body talk/exercise talk out of the workplace is both valid and in many ways necessary. We don’t condone discussion of body changes that are perceived as negative, so the consideration should go both ways.

    I think in other instances, acknowledging that the person meant it as a compliment, and then requesting a boundary on body talk b/c it’s the workplace and some people find those conversations, positive or otherwise, to be very difficult, might help your colleagues connect that whatever they were taught about complimenting women socially back in 19-clickity-clack really doesn’t apply in the workplace anymore. We shouldn’t have to be so soft with our language, but I’ve noticed a lot of great leaders today lean toward softness when providing feedback on something the first time.

    As for your clients, there really isn’t a great solution. Giving them the old “yeah, I love a good workout, but let’s talk about your health,” might be all you can do. If the patient gets hostile, you should be able to refuse services.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      People who react this way to boundaries are trying to stop you from ever setting boundaries with them!

  65. binge eating cereal*

    My favorite way to handle this is to make. it. weird.

    “Thanks, pretty sure I could crush a human skull with my thighs. But that’s weird to talk about, right? Let’s move on.”

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      My first thought was “crush them!” lol. You could also make it weird by singing Luisa’s song from Encanto!

    2. Jacked OP*

      Would it surprise you to know that my date is trying to get me to do the TikTok watermelon challenge?

      I don’t think I could do it, but if I could, why would I want to waste a perfectly good watermelon?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I mean you’re not wasting it, you’re just…opening it unconventionally. It’s still edible!

        1. Jacked OP*

          true! But I’ll only do it if they’re buying the watermelon and dealing with the cleanup. :)

      2. binge eating cereal*

        Also a heavy lifter over here and the watermelon challenge is what made me think of this response! Kind of want to try…

  66. HufferWare*

    Your script is fine, but people are awful and will continue to be so. I absolutely think that there is misogyny and homophobia involved, both unintentional and intentional, because people are that way. You are not crazy or thin-skinned or doing anything wrong. But unfortunately I don’t think the comments will ever stop. People feel an overwhelming ownership over female bodies. Support and solidarity to you, you’re better than them and they know it. Keep your chin up

  67. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I know the right answer is the right answer.

    But I really just want to have OP say “Um, yeah, I’ve got muscles. What happened to yours?”

  68. Invisible fish*

    Everyone here is very thoughtful and provides useful comments … I, however, am horrible, and wish that you could do some sort of amazing “flex” thing when you get comments. People wanna talk about your biceps? Show ‘em biceps and bore ‘em to tears with “I started out doing x, but then I realized y, so now I do z!” and describing every little bit of training and meal consumption and research you’re doing to pursue your goals. Make sure your descriptions of what you have done/are doing coincide with lots of physical flexing of visible muscles. Ask them the pros and cons of different protein sources. Offer recommendations on how they can do something similar and start developing muscle themselves!!

    Can you tell my opinion of average people commenting on others is low? Because it is.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m *actually* suggesting you engage with anyone like this!! I’m definitely not! But so often, when people feel they can comment on another’s body, they end up controlling the situation – it’s a shame it’s probably not a good idea to take that control back in such an obvious manner, kind of a “beat them at their own game” scenario. (Again, I don’t think you should do anything like this for real!! Body commenters don’t deserve your time or energy, of course. You deserve to feel comfortable as you work in a safe environment, and I hope that as you move forward, people you interact with realize this and help set the tone for comment-free environments.)

  69. Rain's Small Hands*

    I think I might take the approach of using the opportunity to talk about lifting. And not talk, gush. Get into details. Every comment about your arms turns into a discussion of lifting techniques, weight progression, reps vs weight, the purchase of special shoes……the stupid nitty gritty only lifters care about… that they learn quickly that comments regarding your body take them down the road into the minutiae of lifting. Immediately turn the conversation from something you don’t want to talk about – your body – to something they probably don’t want to talk about – competitive lifting. A few times you’ll get someone you can geek out about lifting with, but I suspect that most of the time you’ll get “yeah, avoid commenting about her body unless you want a fifteen minute lecture on the use of grip tape.” And you can use this approach with patients as well, just assume the comments about your body are an invitation to talk about lifting.

    The result you are going for is “don’t ask Barb about how the wedding planning is going unless you want to discuss the color of orchids in her bouquet.”

    (And yes, its rude to comment on someone else’s body)

  70. Mona*

    I noticed a similar pattern when I returned to work after the pandemic and decided not to put energy into passing as a cis woman anymore. I want to validate your sense that there’s more going on in the comments you’re getting from people at work. These people may not be consciously and deliberately setting out to be the gender/body police, but every time I make a noticeable change I also get a slew of similar awkward moments from people who are uncomfortable with my body.

    Often the words they say are complimentary but the way they say it and their body language shows that they are uncomfortable, and are trying to discharge that electricity of discomfort onto me. Sometimes they want to laugh or joke to discharge the awkwardness/fear (the way that they can do when watching tv or movies where gender non-conforming bodies are an easy punchline). I think your method of handling it is sincere and kind. I tend to give in and make a joke about myself, which leaves me carrying around their discomfort for them.

    The underlying reality of violence against trans and gender non-conforming & non-binary people adds a charge to moments like this even when the words themselves are benign.

    1. SJ (they/them)*

      ahhhh yes seconded, this articulates something I could not put into words but yes yes yes. discharging the electricity of discomfort!! OP please know you are seen and heard on this, if not by everyone then at least by some of us. Much much love.

    2. Essential Illusion*

      I strongly agree with Mona. OP, you are not obligated to take on the burden of their emotions, despite the persistent insistence from your colleague that you need to manage his discomfort about your appearance. He is being unprofessional. My appearance does not conform to my assigned gender and I’m extremely short. People have felt the need to comment about both my entire life as if I was unaware. The comments about my height feel significantly more neutral than gender based one.

      I think to some extent these comments are likely inevitable because we live in a society where appearance is a common topic for small talk (which is awful), so you may find it useful to find a way to mentally reframe the casual comments so that they bother you less for your own inner peace.

      For people I will only meet once, such as your patients, I usually just acknowledge their statement dryly without discussing my appearance then redirect to business. Quite a few people will get the message that the topic is closed for discussion. I don’t thank them for their unwanted comment.
      “Wow! your arms are well defined, you must be in the army!”
      ‘I’ve never been in the army. If you look at this form, you’ll need to sign…”

      “Your legs are amazing!”
      ‘Ok. If you look at this form, you’ll need to sign…”

      Then if they persist, I would follow up with a clear ‘I’d like to focus on this task rather than discuss my appearance’ or your current script or any of the other suggestions.
      For colleagues who repeat the behavior, I just stopped acknowledging any comments they make about my appearance after the first two times I asked them to stop. If they get upset about that then I reiterate “I’ve told you that this is not a topic I am willing to discuss at work. Please respect that and drop it.”

    3. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      Oooh, this is really well explained. “Discharge that electricity of discomfort” is spot-on.

  71. Elle*

    I agree that there are elements of misogyny/homophobia here. No idea what to do about this though. I have tried to set similar boundaries (“I don’t really like to talk about my physique”) and either it is taken seriously or an atmosphere of of “wow, Elle is really weird and unpleasant about fitness!” has developed.

    I would definitely, as far as it’s possible, write off the guy who thinks you hate him. It sounds like he’s incapable of logic- he basically had an eight year old’s reaction to being corrected.

  72. A Wall*

    Oh yeah, a lot of those people (especially the dudes) are being backhanded. They’re being the gender cops.

    I once worked somewhere everyone would talk “complimentarily” about your body, but really it was backhanded little digs. Two things that I eventually found worked well for these people: complete and total bafflement, and agreement.

    Random: Are you in the army?
    You, eyebrows furrowed, completely perplexed: What? Why? [optional: I… Obviously work here? You know I work here, right? I’m not a volunteer?]

    Random: Wow, you must be a strong lady.
    You: Oh yeah, very! So about this other thing…

    The point of the little digs is to make you defensive or self-conscious. If you just like, completely do not engage with it on that level, they don’t know what to do. Especially if you go into a “why?” hole like a 5 year old and just keep asking for more and more explanation in increasing levels of utter perplexity. For a lot of the repeat offenders it will ruin their fun entirely and they’ll stop. Accepting it as if it were a real compliment and you’re happy they noticed will also ruin it for them, because the point is to make you feel bad. They’re not going to keep working on a sore spot if they think it clearly doesn’t exist for you

  73. Anon for this*

    I wish offices would start adopting the policy that my nieces’ elementary school has: “We don’t comment on other people’s bodies.” End of story. Simple and enforceable. As OP notes (and too many of us can sympathize) even a “compliment” can land in a hurtful way.

  74. Snorlax*

    UGH, I am so sorry OP, I hate this so much for you. I agree that there’s definitely a mysogyny/homophobia aspect to this which makes it all the more maddening.

    I’ve dealt with soooo many unsolicited comments on my body since I lost a bunch of weight, and as with a couple commenters above my tactic has shifted into making it politely uncomfortable with the truth. In my case: “thanks!! :) It’s IBS! :) Really miss the days where I could eat a bunch of fries without it coming out both ends :):):):)” I’m afraid I can’t come up with an equivalent for more muscle-based comments but maybe someone else in the commentariat can think of something!

    In the meantime, I think you’re doing all you can and that dude in particular is a freakin’ jerk. Sending strength to you!

  75. CommanderBanana*

    I’m a big fan of grey rocking about topics you don’t want to talk about. It works!

  76. Dax*

    I think what the LW is saying is exactly the right thing: “I don’t like discussing my body at work.” It’s clear and doesn’t provide any explanations that the commenter isn’t entitled to. Maybe just softening the tone and adding a few words will get the point across with less drama: “Thanks [to acknowledge/assume good intentions], but this is a pretty personal topic for me, so I’d rather not discuss my body at work.”

    I can totally see the implied homophobia in some of the comments, too, so I understand why those are particularly offensive. Just another good reminder to avoid commenting on strangers’ and coworkers’ bodies, ever.

  77. Gnome*

    If people are commenting on how your jeans show you are lifting… That’s pretty gross.

    Your best bet might be to just look at them blankly or mildly puzzled like they started speaking Klingon or something and let them sit in that awkward silence. Either they say something appropriate (have you seen the stapler?) Or when you are good and ready, you go on to a work topic.

    1. Suprisingly ADHD*

      I really like that idea, I’ll probably try it myself! It has the added benefit of not needing to think of an appropriate comeback or phrasing.

  78. Antilla the Hon*

    It could be that this is coming from a place of admiration and some people may just want to know what you have done to get yourself in such awesome shape. I myself would probably be tempted to ask for advice on how I could improve my physicality. (I’m a former athlete who struggles as an adult to find ways to stay in good shape.) However, I would have to have more than just a passing relationship with the person to 1) feel comfortable enough to ask such a question and 2) have a sense of knowing whether such questions would be welcome.

    It could also be that some people are just looking for connection and trying to make conversation albeit awkwardly. We’re all humans and sometime things are just messy, awkward etc. and no offense is actually intended.

  79. Erin*

    I got into bodybuilding about 15 years ago, and I compete in competitions. In general, I wear whatever my professional guidelines stipulate while working. I frequently wear skirts & dresses.

    I have found that if someone compliments my muscle tone, a quick thanks & re-direct to something else works really well. Compliments don’t bother me at all, but I also don’t need to go any further than “thanks! So, what about XYZ project…”


    We need to normalize not commenting on other peoples’ bodies. It probably needs to be added to the code of conduct at work or as some other formal rule that is championed by management. Commenting on bodies is so deeply ingrained as something that is OK to do that it is going to take a big movement to change behavior.

    There is a whole phenomenon with losing weight or going through the physical changes you went through. Before you went on that journey, you were probably invisible – you could live your life and people didn’t really take notice. Now with your new look, it is like there is a spotlight on you that you can’t escape. It creates a weird cognitive dissonance because other people seem to assigning more value to you as a person while you know you look different but your value largely stayed the same. We are making strides on other areas of discrimination, but weight discrimination is alive and thriving.

  81. orchivist*

    a thing that I think might be also happening here is people (especially but definitely not only straight men) perceive butches as mean, rude, brusque, etc WAY more than gender-conforming people, in my experience. A lot of advice on how to… not experience the negative ramifications of that are to de-butchify. For example a friend of mine who’s a barista gets way fewer tips than her fem (queer) coworkers because people think she’s scary or rude, and the coworkers recommended she put on eyeliner.

    That could well be playing a role here – things that you say that would, from a less-butch person, be totally fine, lead to meltdowns from coworkers about how you hate them. A lot of the advice and suggested scripts are around softening, which I think makes sense as an approach, I just want to note that like. That’s unfair! It shouldn’t be that way!

    I also just want to say as a person who has been a lot of body shapes there’s also a really weird dynamic of when you notice you’ve gotten sufficiently pretty/thin/strong/clear-skinned/toned/etc to start getting compliments from people that have never commented on that thing before. It’s quite discomfiting because it kind of shows you in absence how they thought of you before.
    ( <3 from a butch fat person)

    1. Jacked OP*

      Yo, thank you for saying this! The compliments after I’d been fat for the vast majority of my life has been my least favorite part of this Experience.

      I actually started working here back in like 2015, stayed for a while, took a break, and came back for this specific job, so folks have known me through all sorts of iterations of my human form. It really wasn’t ever my intent to lose weight – I’d really, really worked on living my whole life through a fat liberation framework, which was The Thing that felt like it gave me the freedom to become athletic. I always thought I’d say fat, because I always had been. I’m not anymore, and seeing how different the world has been for me has been eye-opening in a way that I really don’t love. This feels true especially working in the broader public health field.

      There’s also, I think, the assumption of subscribing to politics that I actually don’t endorse at all. When someone loses weight and Becomes Jacked, the assumption is they did it on purpose. In public health, this has career implications about how you see your constituents. Because, as I mentioned, my folks are one-offs, this isn’t a dynamic that’s fostered in my program, but it IS something that’s considered a reasonable coworker assumption. I personally would like to throw the word “ob*sity” in the whole trash and have the whole field start treating folks the same regardless of size, and I have actually had some conversations that lead me to believe that that’s not the framework folks see me coming with given what I look like right now and how I’ve changed with time. This isn’t a massive number of people, but it is non-zero. I would rather it was zero.

      Just as a note, for some of the sports I participate in, having a smaller frame actually is a huge detriment. For example, I’m a rugby player on the side (truly, I do too much!) and I used to be able to rely on the mass of my body to complete successful tackles for players about my size/larger. I can’t do that anymore, and I’m now not able to play the position I prefer as well as I could when I was heavier. My body will surely continue to shift and change, and I do have some speed advantages with a smaller body and a massive cardio schedule. But oh boy, even in sports, being smaller isn’t always better!!

    2. tired librarian*

      Thanks for saying this. This is so true to my experience as well and I feel like a lot of the comments are missing this nuance of the situation.

      1. Jacked OP*

        I think it’s not intutive for people who haven’t had significant body changes. And some folks experience these changes as desirable and welcomed. I don’t begrudge them that, but as a public health person and someone who didn’t do this intentionally, I think I have a little bit of a unique vantage point.

        1. jane's nemesis*

          I was fat, and then I was thin, and then I got fat again eventually. When I was thin, I noticed that people were markedly nicer to me. Like, just in general, strangers would smile bigger, be more likely to say hello or strike up a conversation, and yes, I got compliments on my appearance, which was weird for me as I never had before. When I got fat again, people’s behavior reverted to how it always used to be.
          But I didn’t like being on the receiving end of it when I was thin. It felt… idk, fake, somehow. So I didn’t mind too much when it went away. (But I do go out of my way to attempt to be equally nice to people no matter what their appearance is.)

      2. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

        Upvoting Orchivist’s comment, from another person who’s occupied a variety of locations in the body size/shape/utility spectrum and the gender-presentation spectrum.

  82. Jacked OP*

    So, for what it’s worth, when a coworker commented about my butt/legs in my jeans (the context I didn’t add about that comment in my original letter was that he was behind me on the stairs, which I feel adds a layer of ick), I DID bring that to his supervisor and a formal warning was drafted. (In my org, it usually makes sense to go to the supervisor for egregious behavior and not to HR.) That person was eventually let go for being…That Guy, and I don’t regret contributing to that termination.

    Thank you!

    1. Jacked OP*

      This was supposed to be in response to @Kermit’s Bookkeepers but for some reason it didn’t post correctly. Sorry about that, hope you find this!

    2. RagingADHD*

      No, that is absolutely icky and I’m not surprised he had multiple instances of that guy-ness. That’s not an ordinary compliment, it’s skeevy.

    3. mreasy*

      Wow, arms are one thing but I thought we, as a society, all agreed that you don’t like…talk about each other’s butts in the workplace? Unless you are like a professional waxer or trainer? Because we live in a society? Jeez, I’m glad this person was fired. Yikes!

    4. Alie Anon*

      Good. I’m glad you got him fired. The longer I live the more I’m starting to think that the only way to get through to some of these entitled men is for them to be terminated. I would encourage all the women here to never hesitate to start that paper trail. Even here and after they’ve been educated they keep posting comments doubling down. It’s obvious that male entitlement knows no bounds.

  83. Been There*

    There is a huge difference between talking about hobbies and talking about your body. If they were asking what it’s like to compete or why they enjoyed competition, that is talking about her hobby. Commenting on how they look in jeans is over the line.
    It’s never ok to discuss how someone fills out their jeans – even if you think it’s a compliment. Hiding behind the excuse that someone should be flattered to be objectified is just ridiculous.
    I think it’s perfectly ok to say ‘don’t talk about my body at work’ and not have to soften it or make the other person feel better about a comment they never should have made. It’s not harsh or snotty to draw a clear boundary about something that makes the LW uncomfortable.

  84. Robin Ellacott*

    The preconception that women will welcome unsolicited feedback on their looks/bodies is very, very weird… and very, very pervasive.

    I wish I had a magic bullet for this, but I’ve settled on a short, discouraging response when it’s at work. It rankles to not say my whole piece, but it’s been better than dealing with all the OFFENCE and FEELINGS when I was very straightforward.

    (There are quite a few older men walking around my suburb huffing about how foul mouthed that woman on the street was when all they did was give her some kind advice on how to look more attractive, though.)

    I noticed the higher I got in the work hierarchy the less it happened from men, though women older than me still comment on my body pretty regularly, usually pseudo motherly concern about thinness.

    1. Alie Anon*

      I don’t get it either. I will say that I’m one of those who feels like when women do it, it just doesn’t carry the same baggage.

  85. Lord Bravery*

    Your “don’t comment on my body” phrasing is pretty blunt for the first offense, unless they’ve said something obviously with a skeezy or insulting tone. A neutral / still-friendly “Oh, I don’t like to talk about my body at work, but [subject change to TV/weather/what-have-you]” seems more fitted to when someone is trying to be friendly/complimentary and just needs the boundary set for them, and then the bluntness can come in the second time, once the set boundary has been transgressed.

    You know that “wow, you’ve gotten buff!” comments are annoying, but a lot of people are still clueless about that kind of thing and haven’t really been presented with an objection to it. Your phrasing can be firm (i.e. no wiggle room or “thanks, but”) without being blunt and without a harsh tone, and it gives people time to learn that lesson and change. Some will, and some won’t and will keep persisting in making obnoxious comments, and that’s when a harsher tone is appropriate and more effective. But if people feel like you’re stomping on them for what they thought was a neutral/complimentary observation, it’s you who will be perceived as hurting that working relationship. (This obviously does not apply to creepy/overtly rude comments.)

    It’s not about softening your message or “playing nice” with people who are knowingly overstepping. It’s about matching the delivery of your information (“I don’t want you to comment on my body”) to the circumstances of the person you’re talking to.

    Often people feel like the choice is “harsh boundary-planting” or “giving in”. But it’s not – redirecting often works, and your only tone choices aren’t meek vs. blunt. Informing someone that they’re saying something wrong in the tone you’d use to tell them they have something in their teeth – a correction without antagonism – can be very effective.

  86. RagingADHD*

    I always think of conversation as a flow of energy, and you could think of a tennis ball to visualize it. People are lobbing balls at you in what they think is a light and playful way. You don’t want to play that game. Fair enough. No reason why you should.

    Right now, you are ending the game by returning the ball very firmly and “acing” them. It is definitive, but it can feel aggressive or harsh. And you are getting feedback that it is having a negative effect on your relationships. Now, what you have been saying isn’t wrong. It’s perfectly fine, and I totally understand your feelings about the situation. But since you aren’t happy with the results overall, you could try a different tactic.

    Instead, you could let the tennis ball go past you and not return it at all, or hit it into the net. In real life, that would look like saying something noncommittal and changing the subject.

    “I can see you’ve been working out!
    “Yup. So how about those TPS reports?”

    “Ooh, summer body, eh? You look great!”
    “Uh-huh, so are you going to see that movie this weekend?”

    You aren’t pushing back on the comment, just refraining from adding any more energy and letting it fizzle out. This won’t shut people down right away, but over time they will also change tactics since this one isn’t getting their desired result either.

    1. Churlish Gambino*

      I love the tennis comparison! I think this letter is also a great example of how scripts are not one-size-fits-all and that their effectiveness very much depends on context, presentation, tone, appearance, etc.

      “Please don’t comment on my body, thanks” isn’t in itself aggressive or rude, but if it’s in response to someone saying “You look great!”, that…just isn’t going to go over very well, and if you have relationships at work that you don’t want to negatively affect, there just isn’t room for that phrase in an otherwise friendly interaction. And yes, I’m well-acquainted with Captain Awkward’s “return awkward to sender” philosophy, but that only works when the other person is making things awkward (like the person who made the jeans comments — gross!!). Conversely, returning a truly well-intentioned compliment with “Please don’t comment on my body” isn’t returning awkward to sender — you are now creating the awkwardness.

      In a perfect world, people would absolutely keep their comments to themselves and understand the finer nuances of why telling someone they look great after an obvious physical change is not the compliment they think it is, but we don’t live in that world, so sometimes we have to respond with a quick “thanks” and subject change when we would rather not have to respond in kind at all. Unfortunately, this is just a thing we have to deal with when interacting with human beings. A good script is not always going to be the magic thing that solves every uncomfortable interaction. I realize this is a controversial take, but there is a good balance to strike between standing up for ourselves/communicating boundaries and occasionally just rolling with it.

      LW, I do think you are doing everything right with the things you’ve tried already. You should keep doing them, in addition to reporting truly egregious comments from coworkers, while also finding a way to make peace with the more benign “compliments” that come your way.

  87. fine tipped pen afficionado*

    OP you have done just about everything you can do. I would say your best bet now is to employ allies who will make weird faces and tell folk to cut it out when they comment on anyone’s body without invitation. This reaction from people is definitely a combo of the misogyny/homophobia/fatphobia that continues to permeate culture.

  88. Bossy Magoo*

    How about something to the effect of, “I know you mean that as a compliment, but I don’t like any comments about my body: negative or comments, so let’s stick to other topics. Thanks for understanding.”

    1. Bossy Magoo*

      that should say “…negative or positive” , not “…negative or comments”, which would make no sense

  89. Lisa*

    Sorry this is happening. It sounds exhausting! I lost the baby weight over the pandemic and now that I am returning to the office a bit, I’ve gotten a ton of comments on my weight loss. I just smile and thank them…. but they have been one off’s…. I can’t imagine how weird I would feel if the same people were commenting over and over again. I do feel like saying “please don’t comment on my body” could potentially come off as weirdly cold to someone depending on the tone. Especially if someone simply complimented you thinking they were saying a nice thing. That being said, you are well within your rights to say that, I do not think anyone would say otherwise, and I really wish not commenting on bodies would become the new norm. While I personally felt great when someone would notice my weight loss and give me a sincere, but not creepy, compliment.. I 100% get that not everyone is ok with that and there are all sorts of non-positive or very personal reasons for a body changes that people do not want to discuss with coworkers. But, I do think maybe there are a few things you can do. For the guy who got all icy after you asked him not to comment, show him you do not hate him by being pleasant and professional in your actions, say good morning, have a great weekend, smile and nod in passing, show him you do not hate him. Or you can chat with him and tell him that it was brought to your attention that he felt that you were upset with him and tell him that this is not the case but that you are simply tired of the comments on your body and are just getting frustrated as your attempts to curb it are not working and that you are just trying to be more clear and firm as you are trying to set boundaries…. maybe just giving him a little context would help him take what you said originally less personal. And it couldn’t hurt to have similar conversations with others in your office, especially anyone you have a particularly good rapport with who could become an ally in helping shutting this sort of thing down. And maybe arm yourself with some other phrases to use when someone comments (a one off, repeat offenders or people who say really inappropriate things are a different story!). For instance, you are meeting with a co-worker who you haven’t seem in a while an she says “wow, you look great, your pandemic workout routine really paid off, what is your secret?” …. you could maybe say “Sigh, honestly, I am really tired of fitness chat, so I’ve made my body and workout routine an off limits topic at work” then change the topic, maybe ask her how her summer is going or something that shows you are still interested in a warm chat, and just say it in a tone that coveys oh this is a boring topic, I am so over it, let’s move on. OR “I have to admit, I am just really tired of people noticing as discussing my body at work is just really uncomfortable for me” if it is someone you work closely with or whatever makes sense for you to say. I imagine most people are reasonable and will knock it off. Now for anyone who is repeatedly saying things after you’d asked them not to, it becomes more of “Hey the last time you made a similar comment I did ask you to stop, I really do not feel ok discussing my health or my body at work, thank you for understanding” and “wow, you keep making these comments even after I’ve told you a few times that this is not a topic that I am ok with at work, you’ve really got to stop” and really if it something that is really jarring or if they keep going, it is really ok to bring HR in the loop. I know that my HR department would be extremely unhappy to know that someone was constantly making body comments to someone even after they asked them several times to stop. As far as the comments from patients, UGH, again so sorry this is happening… but I guess same advice, if it is a patient you’ll be working with again there would be some value in saying something similar about how this is a boring topic and you’d rather chat about something else and then quickly moving on. If it is someone you won’t be seeing again, internally rolling your eyes and just completing your care of them, might be easier. But I am not in the medical field so someone else would probably have some better advice there. Good luck with everything and so sorry your co-workers are being so weird.

  90. Lizzo*

    There’s lots of good advice here already about keeping those boundaries firm but I just want to add to the chorus of “It’s a him problem, not a you problem.” YOU ARE AWESOME. Keep returning that awkwardness to sender.

  91. Dawn*

    Regarding your coworker who claims that you hate him: I’d recommend doing some reading about DARVO. Wikipedia defines it as such:

    “DARVO is an acronym for “deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender”. It refers to a reaction [that alleged] perpetrators of wrongdoing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behaviour. Some researchers and advocates have indicated that it can be a common manipulation strategy of psychological abusers.”

    Your coworker does not think that you hate him, your coworker – at best – knows that he is being inappropriate and is trying to turn the tables on you for calling him on it, and his supervisor – and maybe yours – should be handling it better.

    One thing that could really help, if you’ve got the position/capital to suggest it, is an organization-wide policy about commenting on peoples’ bodies (which all organizations should have anyway, honestly.)

    That aside, speaking as a trans lesbian, you’re probably not off the mark about where a lot of this is coming from and I’m very sorry for that.

  92. Turanga Leela*

    You’re not doing anything wrong, but you may get better results if you soften your approach. Keep being explicit that you don’t want to talk about this, but say it with a smile and a brief explanation. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t say that. I don’t like talking about my body at work.” Then change the subject.

    Even though “I don’t like talking about my body at work” doesn’t really add any new information—of course you don’t; that’s why you’re telling people not to!—it feels like you’re giving an explanation rather than a command. Sometimes people respond better to that, and it might address the problem of people thinking you hate them.

    Do you and your office colleagues talk about your hobbies at all? It might also help to chat with them about lifting and distance running, which could change their focus from “OP is jacked” to “OP is an impressive athlete in her spare time.”

  93. Jacked OP*

    hello hello! I wanted to respond to a common theme here with just a little more context about a job role I didn’t note in my letter, and a silly little update since I originally sent in my letter (a couple of months ago).

    Part of my job involves serving on the team that handles COVID positivity and exposures within our staff population. I also do this pretty much by myself for our partner orgs, in part as a favor for letting us do pop-up services with them. I spend a lot of time getting folks the testing (and, if applicable, post-test counseling) they need, and therefore I need our staff to be comfortable and honest with me and see me as an ally and not as The Rude Person Who is Rude. In that sense, I have to do a fair amount of reputation management, which I’ve been mostly successful with. I tend to be pretty blunt, so all of the scripts that have been coming to me from the commentariat have been SO helpful.

    I did literally yesterday find one thing that was helpful, so I want to share! Two of our HR staff (lolol) commented on my weight loss and my response was “yeah, I’ve been doing distance biking! This weekend I’m doing an 80 mile ride with 4,000 ft of elevation gain. I just got done with a powerlifting competition where I lifted 320 lbs, so I have the space to focus on endurance again.” I think I saw their lives flash before their eyes because no one actually wants to do those things except for me. I think in the future I might lean on the absolute ridiculousness of my training schedule as a means of demonstrating that truly, no one needs to use me as a yardstick for their own bodies. I hadn’t before because I don’t want to brag (and I’m still not trying to!), but hey, it’s the first time I was able to stop the conversation without offending anyone, so I am simply going to try this again in the future to see if it continues to work! Truly I am nothing if not a feral athlete.

    Big big thank you to everyone who’s offered suggestions and feedback! If nothing else, it’s helpful to hear I am not literally losing my whole mind by my level of frustration. I have a pretty light day today so I’m going to keep reading and responding!

    1. AcademiaCat*

      that was pretty much my suggestion below :)
      Non-sports types generally aggressively do not want to hear about all the hours of hard work we put into training for our next century ride, or how much you’re lifting, or even “I feel like an idiot climbing up and down (local hill) with a backpack full of water on a Sunday afternoon, but I can’t wait for my vacation thru-hike!”

      The only danger is when you find someone else with the same hobby, it might derail your workday.

      1. Jacked OP*

        is there nothing worse than biking with a camelbak?

        One of my nursing student preceptors is also a lifter and that’s been fun when we have slow days. And, back when I was doing fighting sports, I randomly found out that another of our program partners was training the same kinda-niche discipline that I was, which was SO FUN. I WISH I could find another gravel biker, I’d have a great time, we’d talk about like bib shorts and I’d tell them about the time I almost walked into traffic because someone ahead of me at an intersection had this gorgeous gravel bike and I NEEDED to figure out the make and model.

      2. mreasy*

        Major issue that I’ve just gotten WAY back into climbing and one member of my team also climbs. We’ll get derailed on like, liquid vs. powder chalk and forget the webpage layouts entirely.

    2. ariel*

      This makes me laugh, this would totally work on me if I were ever so foolish as to comment on someone’s body (it does still happen sometimes, thanks societal conditioning). Wishing you a comfortable work environment, Jacked OP!

    3. RagingADHD*

      This is an excellent response because the subtext is 100% “I don’t care what it looks like, my body is for *doing things.*”

      You are immediately and very organically changing the subject to talking about things you like to do. Thumbs up!

    4. Gerry Keay*

      I love this so much and I hope it continues to work for you and keep you feeling empowered and awesome!!!

    5. Lifeandlimb*

      Yes! Sometimes I wish the person would ask me further about my pursuits, but nothing kills a normal conversation faster than replying that I recently did a 1,300 foot traditional climb with a 4-hour round trip approach in a remote sandstone canyon, when all they were expecting was “I lift weights and boulder at the gym.”

  94. I'm Not Phyllis*

    OP I think you handle the comments in the right way. You may need to get a little firmer “I have already asked you to stop commenting on my body,” for example, and escalate when needed. And I SO want to tell you not to soften your language, but I also understand that you have work relationships to protect.

    You’re not under any obligation to explain to anyone why these comments make you uncomfortable – you are making a simple request (that they not comment on your body) and they should respect it. Coworkers should 1000% understand this, but the same goes for anyone else in your life. The issue is not why you’re uncomfortable – the issue is that they are being inappropriate and doubling down by not respecting your clear boundaries … don’t let them make this about anything else.

    And I don’t want to leave out what you said about homophobia and misogyny because I am sure your friend is correct in pointing that out. It does have a very “equating you with a man” feel. I’m sorry you are having to deal with this!

  95. TiredMama*

    Here is a passive-aggressive option for you. Lean into it. Tell them everything they never wanted to know about lifting and eating. Everything. Exercises, what exercises what days, form, how long to wait between sets, how much cardio to do or not do, when to eat, what to eat, how much water to drink, how much sleep to get, stretching, when to stretch, how long to hold stretches, what supplements help, what supplements hurt. Talk about the debates on those things. Never let them get in a question or response or their thoughts. Just keep talking at them about it. Make them never want to be on the receiving end of the tsunami of information you can bring. If you feel bold that day, start telling them what they could do to gain more muscle.

    1. Canadian Librarian #72*

      I wouldn’t call this passive-aggressive; it sounds more like malicious compliance to me, haha. Not a bad idea if it won’t bite the LW in the ass to alienate him further (though he’s being so unpleasant now that I can’t imagine it’s even possible to do that!).

  96. AcademiaCat*

    Probably not helpful, but as a female-bodied person who gains muscle just looking at weights, I get this whenever I get back into going to gym or bicycling even just a little bit. As an extrovert, I have success oversharing until their eyes glaze over.
    them: “Oh, I could never bike like you do! Look how big your thighs get!”
    Me: it makes pants shopping harder, but I had the greatest ride last weekend. (proceed to talk about ride and bike and bike related things until past the point their eyes glaze over)

    and then I never have to hear about it again :)

    1. Jacked OP*

      yeah, this is probably about where I’m landing. I’m not particularly extroverted, but I noted above – I have had a hard time grey-rocking because I need to form relationships. So instead I will try to kindly scare and bore my colleagues until they never feel the need to consult me on this topic ever again :)

  97. MicroManagered*

    I think, the first time, you could soften your boundary just a touch by adding “I know you mean well, but please don’t comment on my body.” If the comments continue after that, then a firmer statement like “Please stop commenting on my body while I’m at work” or “I’ve already asked you not to comment on my body at work” makes sense.

    My initial reaction to your letter was so? let that guy think you hate him! if it stops the comments… but since you asked specifically for a way to not-alienate people over it, that’s my suggestion!

  98. Ambelilar*

    I’m probably in the minority here, but as someone who lost a lot of weight from months of extremely hard work, and actually appreciates it when someone notices, I find myself wanting to compliment people when I notice that they work hard on their body – whether to gain muscle or lose weight. It was a total revelation to me when I realized
    that not everyone appreciates this, and I think I have at times offended people without meaning to, as I thought I was giving a compliment – one that I would have okay with had it been the other way around. In this way, I do understand where the coworker is coming from, although once you explained it made you uncomfortable, he should have left it alone! I think a lot of people, especially those over a certain age, just don’t realize it’s a big deal and think they’re being kind. Just saying, “Thanks.” should be enough to shut down the conversation in most cases.

    1. Jacked OP*

      Thanks for this perspective! I think it wasn’t even so much the initial comment that I found discomfiting as what I perceived as an intense overreaction to my response. But as I’d noted above, I tend to be pretty blunt, so I would’ve believed that I’d been truly over-the-top in how I’d responded and just not realized.

      And I’m glad that you’re feeling more comfortable in your body.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’ve been getting some ‘hey you lost weight – good on you!’ comments recently and I’ve no doubt made those people really uncomfortable by saying ‘please don’t say that; you have no idea whether that’s a compliment or a trigger’

      For me, it’s a massive trigger into not eating for a month. I lost the weight due to being exceptionally ill. Hence I don’t give people comments about weight loss unless they directly tell me first that they’re doing it on purpose and feel good about it.

      (One person not at work – friend of a friend – told me it’s impossible for an obese person like me to have a history and relapse into anorexia. They’re not someone I’m going to speak to ever again)

    3. pancakes*

      “one that I would have okay with had it been the other way around” – That’s just it, though. You worked hard to lose weight, but how do you know another person’s weight loss is intentional? Rather than, say, from illness or stress? You can’t quite say you’d have been happy to hear the same compliments if the reason you’d lost the weight was unintentional and enervating in itself.

  99. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Things I have had very unwelcome comments about despite telling people to stop:

    My height (yes I’m over 6 foot tall, I am aware of this, no I’ve never played basketball, yes I have issues finding clothes that fit)
    My tattoos (I did not get them to get comments from people)
    My weight (I’m obese. Again, aware of it, no I don’t want your advice on how to get rid of it or how ‘unhealthy’ it is)

    Recently I lost a lot of weight very fast. This was not intentional – basically medical problems – and I’m exceptionally anaemic and weak now. Regardless the number of people giving me compliments for it is seriously annoying. Not the least of which because I have a long fraught history with anorexia.

    So for those who don’t listen to ‘stop, you weren’t aware but that isn’t something I want comments on’ or insist I’m being rude I just put them into the ‘people I’ll be professional too but not listen to anything beyond that’ category. I’ve got a number of ways to take my brain offline to not actively listen to upsetting talk about weight – my favourite is to see how many Pink Floyd lyrics I can remember.

    It bites, it really does, but I’ve decided that 1) some people won’t change and 2) I haven’t the spoons to debate them.

  100. Kaiko*

    I tend to follow the advice to only give compliments on things people can control themselves – fresh haircuts, great outfit, stylish shoes – and stay away from commenting on anyone’s physical appearance. In the case or working out and getting strong, there’s a blurry line between “you did an interesting thing!” and “look at your body!” So…I really only give muscle compliments to people I know are actively working out and who I’m friends – not colleagues – with.

    (This does bring up the second blurry line, where one person’s “friendly relationship with a coworker” is another person’s “closest work buddy and maybe even real friend?” But either way, you don’t have to accept, tolerate, or condone any comments that cross the ick-line for you, regardless of intent or relationship or subject.)

  101. June*

    As someone who has gotten positive body comments much of my life, it’s embarrassing and I absolutely hate it. At work, from strangers. Random places. There’s no way to stop it. I just started raising my eyebrows a little and giving a little half smile. I don’t say a WORD. This has been most effective. I won’t respond.

  102. PlainJane*

    I get where it can come off as unfriendly–people work really hard on body issues, and for people who have also been working on their body, they may very well see it as supportive to say, “I see you, I know how hard you’re working, and I’m not ignoring it because I assume you want your accomplishment acknowledged” as opposed to “I’m paying way too much attention to a colleague’s body.” It’s a fundamental point of view difference. I’ve been on a weight loss thing for a while, and, while I found it sweet that a coworker worried that I’d gotten sick because of the weight change, I do genuinely like it when people notice and say, “Wow, you’ve been working hard.” And the fact that OP isn’t on a weight loss journey but a general fitness one isn’t, I think, relevant to the question–either way, the person assumes, “Wow, my colleague has been doing a lot of work, and I’d like to acknowledge it,” and getting a cold rebuff to what he perceives as full-throated praise without any ulterior motives is going to result in hurt feelings. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for OP to want to not have him comment! It’s just understanding when approaching it that there’s a difference between a malicious male gaze thing and a totally different understanding about what conversation is being had.

    I think I’d probably handle it by saying something along the line of (very happily), “Yeah, I increased my lift by fifty pounds over the last year! Do you have an extra stapler/the Smith file/Joe’s phone number/whatever?” Establish that yes, it’s a thing that’s there and is a positive, no, you don’t want to discuss it at length, and it’s about you being a proud athlete instead of a dieter. It might take a few times, but it’s a good way to get the point across without causing hurt feelings. And hey, maybe it turns out he’s super interested because of his own journey, and shared tribulations about the gym could be something to talk about when things get slow.

    And yes, I know it’s popular to say, “Why should I care about his hurt feelings?” I think this is a bad way of looking at it when the other person genuinely means well (and it’s good to start with the assumption that someone means well until and unless he proves otherwise). If there’s a way to get your point across without the other person feeling like what he perceives as kindness is being coldly rejected, then why not do it that way?

    As for people making negative comments (I’ve heard muscular women told, “God, you look like a line backer!”), in that case, a clear “Comments about my body are not welcome” is called for. That’s a totally different issue, and they know they’re being rude.

  103. Brain the Brian*

    Queer-presenting, very thin man here. The number of comments I get telling me that I’m “so thin,” “look great,” “need to eat a cheeseburger,” etc. is outrageous.

    “Thanks! I actually wound up hospitalized for being so thin once, so I try not to think too much about my weight” usually shuts them up.

  104. Sarah*

    This morning I complemented a coworker on the color of her jacket. We have a friendly relationship and I believed the comment would land well. It did- she appreciated it.

    But if I was wrong and for some unknown reason she had told me not to comment on her jacket, I’d probably be stunned at first but then accept that Susie doesn’t like jacket comments and apologize for offending her. I’d probably wonder if jacket comments were unwelcome to everyone or just Susie. I wouldn’t double down on the comment and demand to continue to give unwelcome comments on jackets. The point of the compliment was to make Susie feel awesome, not myself.

  105. waffles*

    I wouldn’t want to politely entertain people’s homophobia and misogyny either! The suggestions about saying, huh, that’s an in-ter-es-ting thing to say to someone at work, seem like a more polite way to shut it down. But it’s annoying to have to do that, and I think you’d be welcome if people are repeat offenders and you’ve asked them to stop to tell HR (if you have one). But based on your identity, I also know HR may not see these comments as inappropriate and you may not want to do that. For folks who are giving you a homophobic vibe, I think you should prioritize your own comfort and safety in your reaction, as you are already doing. The person who reacted with ‘she hates me’ is really immature. I hope his supervisor’s jaw dropped when you explained you just asked him to stop talking about your body.

    Returning from the pandemic, our HR explicitly asked people to not comment on other people’s appearance since after 2 years away a lot of things can change. Maybe your HR could do that at minimum? That could be helpful for lots of people too.

  106. Baker person (they/she)*

    I agree with everyone who says grey rocking/acknowledge and redirect your way through the one-offs with the patients.

    For coworkers, if you’re getting a lot of comments right before a competition, would something like a semi joking, “oh, I’m trying not to think/worry about my event on Saturday too much, let’s talk about anything other than my body/how jacked I look. + [Subject change]” work?

    I, personally, would appreciate your very clear and obvious boundary of, “please don’t discuss my body,” and think your one coworker needs to get over himself. If he’s framing his harassment of you as support, it might be effective to use that against him, “I know you’re trying to be supportive but what I would actually find helpful is X” (maybe, “being able to leave it all at the gym and focus on work at work”? Or some time consuming task that keeps him from interacting with you for long periods of time.)

    This is based on my experience as an afab agender person who has visible muscle tone because of my job (bread baking). I’ve gotten a lot of comments about how strong I am when people see me carrying things. My responses have tended to be:
    “Yep,” (aiming in tone for either cheerful implacability, slightly bored neutral, or confusion about why they’re mentioning something so obvious and boring)
    “Yep, flour bags aren’t going to change their weight based on my gender” (when I was younger, I’d be sarcastic about this, like isn’t it obvious, but I think I’d aim for cheerful or neutral and lose the gender reference if someone commented these days.)
    “Yep, can you move out of the way please?” Which I guess works as a redirect back to work things.

    But a bored acknowledgement and taking no action to advance the subject of my strength worked for me, although it sounds like I have more freedom to move away from anyone getting hung up on the fact that I’m strong than OP has.

  107. Canadian Librarian #72*

    Yeah, the comments here defending (or “explaining”) the LW’s coworker’s thinking are not as helpful as those commenters may think they are. It can be helpful to understand someone’s motivations – while intent ≠ impact, it can be useful for knowing how to approach something – but the LW is at the point where clearly the person commenting on her body doesn’t care what she wants, so his motivations are no longer relevant to the conversation.

    I was at a job for a few years a while back and I lost about 25 pounds after about a year working there. I got comments a lot from my supervisor – how did I do it? What was my secret? – ad nauseum, and it got old, because the reason I lost weight was not some magical diet or exercise regimen, it was that I a) changed medications and b) recovered from binge eating disorder. Obviously those weren’t things I wanted to share with anyone at work. I eventually told her that I just tried to stay active and eat a balanced diet, but that everyone’s different and what works for me might not work for everyone else. She backed off after that. But if she hadn’t, I probably would have said, “I know you mean well, but I’d rather not talk about my weight or body at work.”

    I’m a relatively feminine and not really gender-nonconforming, but I’m also queer and I suspect that some of the pushback the LW is getting is due to her not meeting her coworker’s expectations for what women “normally” look like. That’s his problem, not hers, but a lot of cisgender men (especially straight men) really struggle with this and it’s obnoxious.

    I agree with other commenters who have said the LW should continue to be pleasant and civil with him, and spend as little energy on him as possible. He hasn’t merited any further attention than he’s already gotten, and the LW has done nothing wrong. Somewhere between grey rocking and killing with kindness would probably be good.

    1. Ambelilar*

      Personal experience here – I am 47, I’ve battled weight all my life, and only realized it was offensive to some people to comment on weight loss about 6 months ago. Each time I lost weight or got in shape it was a huge amount of work and I felt proud of myself. I always thought it was a compliment to acknowledge someone’s hard work. I now realize there are a lot of other, not so positive reasons people can lose weight etc… I know it sounds dumb but that’s the truth. It was an “aha moment” for me to realize that isn’t the case for everyone. It has to do with how I was raised, how people around me have always treated me, how I think of myself, etc… So the point I was trying to make is that education is needed. Your experience is that it’s offensive or frustrating to you to have people comment on weight loss. My experience was the opposite. So, six months ago, if you got upset with me for commenting about your weight loss or muscle gain, without first explaining to me kindly why, I would have been very confused, as I was trying to do you a kindness. I am definitely not trying to excuse the rude coworker, but rather explain to those who feel it’s a no-brainer, that unfortunately some of us don’t mean it in a bad way and just need to be educated.

  108. DJ Abbott*

    It seems to me the best way would be to ignore it. When someone says something just say “uh-huh” or a grunt, and nothing more. Not getting a response will discourage them and they’ll eventually stop.
    The key for this is to actually train yourself to ignore it. Don’t put any attention or focus on it at all, let it be part of the background noise and don’t spend a single second thinking about it. When you train yourself to do this it won’t get into your brain and won’t bother you.
    The colleague who thinks you hate him is showing a tendency to take everything personally. I would limit interactions with him to strictly work things and maybe an occasional hello and nothing more than that. When someone takes things this personally, if it’s not one thing it will be another.
    Good luck! :)

  109. Justine*

    This really hits a nerve for me! Your response asking people to please not comment on your body is direct, not rude, and people thinking it’s rude reads as sexist to me. Of course no one ever wants people to think they are rude and it sucks that you even have to rethink a reasonable statement in order to not give that impression. Since you said there are repeat offenders that you see more often, maybe you could ask for their advice to make it stop? Something like, “you’ve brought this up before! I really don’t like it when people comment on my body and it’s frustrating because it keeps happening with site visits, patients, etc. how do I get people stop? What can I say that will end the conversation but not create an awkward experience?” It puts them on the spot, will hopefully stick in their mind that they hate it, and possibly forces them to share with you what they, the offender would want to hear?

  110. EMP*

    From one weight lifting, non-femme woman to another, it sounds you are taking the positive (non directly weight related) comments you get from people and projecting HEAVILY. Without more context, there’s no reason to assume they are measuring you up against imagined femininity and finding you wanting. Since this *is* a visible part of yourself, I think you’ll have an easier time of it if you can reframe the way you think about these comments.

    Maybe some people are judging you (my mom was super judgy when I started lifting), and of course there’s no need for you to have conversations or accommodate peoples opinions if you don’t want to. But it just sounds like you’re getting frustrated at something that may not necessarily be there in some of these one-off comments.

  111. Won't Get Fooled Again. Maybe.*

    Answer every question and comment with, “aren’t my arms awesome!” Every. Single. Time.

  112. People Picker Upper*

    This will probably get lost in the shuffle, but — I feel you. I work in physical therapy in several settings. I am constantly getting comments on my body. I pick up humans and heavy things all day long. For some men, this is pretty intimidating for them, or emasculating. This is very much a “them” issue, but some folks just don’t know how to keep it to themselves. When I get comments about my muscles or strength, I roll with it. “You must be a strong lady,” is met with “Sure am! I pick up people all day long” or “I should hope so – I lift heavy things for fun.” Comments like “I can tell you lift weights” are met with “Excellent. Mission accomplished.” Comments about weight loss, or changes in body shape that *they* think are compliments and said enthusiastically are met with either a thank you, or “huh, I hadn’t noticed. Nice.” And yeah, it was not something I appreciated at first, and yes, I’d still rather people not. But this is something that I’m able to let go because their intentions are to either praise me (awkwardly) or voice their own insecurities (awkwardly).

    The main problematic coworker has explained his position, which was probably a lot more vulnerable for him than many people can appreciate. He has assigned your body changes to the same emotions and motivations he experienced. This is obviously incorrect, and you’ve done your best to address and clarify and it’s not going anywhere, so I’d just drop it at this point. The next time he makes a comment, deadeye stare at him and say “Bruh, why are you so fixated on my body?” If he keeps telling people you hate him, and someone says something to you about it, say “I don’t hate him, he just keeps making comments on my appearance after I said to stop.” At some point, I’d raise the issue to a higher level and let leadership know that someone else needs to step in and say something.

    Ultimately, my advice is to accept the praise in the spirit in which it’s intended, and to recognize the non-praise for what it is.

    1. Alice*

      Is the main problematic coworker the one who told his manager he thought OP hated him? It doesn’t sound like he’s still making comments. He made a comment; OP told him not to do it again; he stopped. Right? They spoke about the topic again because OP brought it up to try and reset the relationship. It sounds like he is giving OP a wide berth, the opposite of continuing to comment on her appearance.
      Now, if he’s giving OP the silent treatment or avoiding her when they need to talk about work things, certainly get management to fix it. But if “that working relationship has never recovered” = “we no longer chat about our weekends” then I think OP just has to live with it.

  113. Julie*

    One day at work, I got the comment “what a magnificant arse”..I said “thanks” and carried on.
    Advice from an old lady..look them in the eye, keep your answer short (yes, thanks, not at the moment etc) say “excuse me” smile and drop your head back to your me, they will take a hint…..

  114. Sequoia*

    I’m sorry you are dealing with this. I really wish people would get the message that we don’t compliment weight loss unless we know the person really well AND they are talking about it. Even then it feels sketchy. I lost a lot of weight when I was 22. I got tons of compliments on how pretty I was suddenly. But I was incredibly sick with a chronic illness.

    If you are feeling generous with your emotional labor you could try something like “Hey, I’m sure you meant well, but I don’t like talking about weight or bodies at the office. It is very personal and I know weight loss and body talk can upset people and I want everyone to feel comfortable.” I wish women didn’t have to soften their words, but often more words softens the blow when you set a boundary. It shouldn’t be this way and it can make the boundary less clear, but it can also avoid what you ran into.

  115. Cremedelagremlin*

    My partner is a cis man with a naturally muscular body who was bullied about his looks throughout his childhood. He HATES getting compliments for his looks/body. I didn’t understand at first, but for him, it’s a trigger that reminds him of all the bad stuff he’s dealt with, rather than doing anything positive for him.

    I try to be “body neutral” now in my compliments to people, unless I know the person would appreciate it. It turns out there are lots of other things to compliment people for! Like others have pointed out, I can’t imagine insisting on “complimenting” someone about something that they don’t want to discuss. It doesn’t make any sense, and seems to confirm the LW’s impression that it’s about more than just friendly observation.

    When I used to work in retail, I would get comments (notably, a couple questions about my “due date” when I was neither pregnant nor overweight – simply slouching on a stool behind a cash register) from total strangers from time to time. I think public-facing roles make people feel more at-liberty with you than they maybe should be, unfortunately.

    With colleagues, I like the idea upthread of enlisting repeat offenders to help find a solution. Like, “I really don’t like discussing my body at work – is there a way you would like to be asked to stop that won’t come across as rude?” Or something…

    Or if people are going to insist that directness is rude, maybe soften the message with, “I appreciate your support, but I really don’t like talking about my body at work.” *apologetic smile masking internal middle finger*

    I feel like most people who can read social cues would pick up on an unhappy nonverbal response, like a “hmm” with pursed lips or something.

  116. Katie A.*

    “Let’s not talk about our bodies – that’s boring – let’s talk about ____________________ instead.”

    It’s something about the word “boring” that irks people! Should get them to change the topic!

  117. Teri_Anne*

    I am tall and like many other tall women, I have trouble finding clothes that fit. I’ve also endured my share of people asking if I played basketball.

    As a landfill manager, I usually wore pants. For a meeting, I wore a very conservative navy skirt that reached below my knees and a white blouse. One of the garbagemen exclaimed, “You have legs!” To which I replied, “Yes I have been walking on them my entire life”. In another incident, when I was a chemist for a state natural resource agency, I was invited to present my research to a team of managers. One manager ruined an exciting moment for me by commenting on my height and long legs.

    I am saddened to read that 30 years later, some men still make these kind of inappropriate comments.

  118. Mistakes Were Made*

    I also work in health care and have had many changes in my body, both intentional and not, over the years. I usually cock my head and say, “huh. I’ve always told my kids its rude to comment on other peoples’ bodies. Anyway, how much lisinopril do you take every day? (or whatever)” I’m pretty scorched earth about it – as a cishet-presenting woman with an ample bosom, the comments are incessant. If someone wants to be offended by my boundary, then that’s fine. I’m happy to take it to HR.

  119. Danniella Bee*

    I have learned to not ever comment on personal appearance or body, even in what I think are positive ways, when it comes to coworkers because it just creates weird situations. It is so hard to stop myself sometimes when I just think someone looks great, or super healthy, or I love their pants, shirt, dress, shoes, etc. This letter was a good reminder I need to stay vigilant and not comment!

  120. CCC*

    I’m not as muscular as the LW, but enough that people comment. When people comment on my body I usually go with something along the lines of “Yes, I work at it.” Like 19/20 people will not want to hear about what the work entails so it stops there.

  121. She of Many Hats*

    Many of the recommendations discussed here about unwanted comments about bodies are along the lines of Smile And Ignore, Minimize, or Redirect in an effort to manage others’ reactions. I know removing the onus for managing this type of poor behavior from the recipients is a slow societal change that is not just dragging its heels but lashing itself to the bedpost in denial but just so Tired of it.

  122. Lifeandlimb*

    If I were a stranger or coworker, I would probably find your response a little adversarial-feeling, especially as an initial reply. (Cis-gender female here who actually started implementing a work uniform so people would stop initiating boring opinions on my clothing.)

    Unfortunately, comments on appearances, especially by randos, won’t necessarily stop. The more irked and aggressive you seem about it, the worse everybody is going to feel (including yourself), so I suggest finding a way to make them feel lightheartedly awkward, yet not interested in pursuing the subject, without poisoning the water:

    “Mhm/Yup. So did you get your Teapots Vaccination yet?”
    “Thanks. How was your weekend?”
    “Eh, just hitting the gym. It’s boring. Did you get your Teapots Vaccination yet?”
    “Not in the army, but I do love Rambo. How’s your week going?”
    “Thanks, it’s whatever. Seen any good movies lately?”

    Then, later, if the comments persist (especially by the same person), you can try being a little firmer:
    “Hey, I appreciate the support, but I’m just not interested in body talk at work. *Amicably change the subject*”
    “Thanks, but honestly this is kind of a boring subject for me. *Amicably change the subject*”

  123. Denise*

    Just send out an email informing people to stop.

    “All – I would like to state that any comments about my body are inappropriate, harassment, and gendered violence. Do not comment on my body. Do NOT do it. I’m telling you NOW, so I don’t have to tell you THEN. I have stated my boundaries. Please respect my boundaries.”

  124. GoesUpGoesDown*

    I wish that “please don’t comment on my body at work” yielded results. I grew so tired and embarrassed of colleagues being so WEIRD about my weight loss, grilling me about what I was doing, watching me eat in the break room, etc that I just started saying, with genuine curiosity, “hmm, what do you mean?”

    “Wow what are you eating these days, you look so thin?”
    -“hmm, what do you mean?”
    “Well you just look healthier is all.”
    -“I’m not sure I understand, what do you mean?”
    “Uhh, you know, just like…you look different?”
    -“Huh…not really!”
    “….*nervous silence or stammering*”

    For the most part, it forces people to explain themselves and they’ll often realize that what they’re actually asking you is inappropriate/sexist/homophobic or whatever. It’s VERY fun to play dumb while someone tries to explain the incredibly weird or gross thing they said to you.

  125. Raida*

    “I can see in those jeans you must be lifting”

    Mate, this is not misogynist, or saying you’ve got a unfeminine body, or anything else.

    That’s a person saying “Wow, lookit them thighs!” And that’s either them checking you out or them just complimenting your physique.

    Other stuff certainly could be, but that one stood out for me as not having anything to do with normative body types or negative.

    1. Jacked OP*

      I noted this above, but this particular guy actually IS misogynistic in a lot of his interactions with people in general and also me specifically. Like, to the point that he got fired about how often this was a problem. There’s long-running context here that I didn’t share at the risk of turning this letter into a book, but please take my word for it that this was both a weird comment on my legs and/or but and was also sexist.

    2. Nameless in Customer Service*

      That’s a person saying “Wow, lookit them thighs!” And that’s either them checking you out or them just complimenting your physique.

      None of which is appropriate for work.

      1. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

        Raida, how anout if a man said that to a male wo-worker? Likely would not happen.
        This is completely inappropriate.
        There is a very long history of men talking about women’s bodies, with the comments dismissed because “It was a complimemt!”

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      Mate, this is not misogynist, or saying you’ve got a unfeminine body, or anything else.

      Unless you’re a mind reader, you have no way of knowing that.

    4. pancakes*

      “Hey, I just noticed something about your body” generally isn’t an appropriate way for adults to check one another out. It’s closer to the sort of comment a parent would be embarrassed by if their child blurted it out on the bus then the sort of comment that lays a foundation for mutually-friendly socializing.

  126. Plus*

    I think the LW is reading it exactly right wrt feeling weirded out by comments focusing on deviation from expectations of womanhood. She’s right to be ticked about this: it sucks. However, it’s clear she wants to play it cool, and polarizing scripts feel wrong, and that this problem is specific to men, not women, whose comments do not feel marginalizing. This is the moment for the word dude.

    There are so many meanings to the word dude, some of them problematic. I realize that I call girls dude sometimes, as a quasi-disarming way to discourage them from enforcing versions of femininity I consider negative or limiting — and that approach has limited effectiveness/may be negative about femininity in toxic ways. But women can always call men “dude.” It’s a way of saying “I see you, you’re cool, I wanna be real with you.”

    Script outlines in the moment: “I guess you’re being positive, but whoa, weird, dude.” It’s a boundary, delivered without aggression.

  127. A Pound of Obscure*

    I’d be inclined to use my powers of gentle sarcasm to turn it back around on them, with a little chuckle to soften it a bit. They comment on your physique, and you respond: “Are we taking turns?” (You anticipate they will give you a puzzled look, after which you clarify) – “Do I get to comment on your body, too? Ha, ha!” Then in a slightly more serious but kind tone: “It’s just the way I’m built that I put on muscle when I work out hard for competition, but talking about it at work and fielding comments about it makes me uncomfortable. I hope you understand.”

  128. Boof*

    Ngl once upon a time I (mostly cis het female) was pretty into bodybuilding/ women with big muscles (in the way i wanted to be) and would probably have complemented someone who looked like they were accomplishing some kind of goal like that – these days i just know to generally avoid commenting on peoples looks unless i know them. Anyway there’s a balance between enforcing appropriate boundaries and maintaining rapport with coworkers and patients. I think it tends to be
    — assume good intentions (unless you have reason to believe otherwise)
    — “thanks, but i prefer not to talk about that stuff at work” might be a better balance between conveying your needs and letting someone gracefully back out
    — if they double down then you can break into “it’s weird you’re so invested in commenting on my body” or whatever is applicable

  129. Chickaletta*

    Ugh. So, I dated at one time (I’m embarrassed to say) the kind of man who would make comments about a woman’s body if it didn’t fit the stereotype he had formed in his head. He had misogynist tendencies that he wasn’t conscious of, but there was nothing any amount of correcting, explaining, or therapy to be done to help him, it was so deeply ingrained in him from childhood traumas. Furthermore, having a WOMAN share an opposing viewpoint to his own just made him more upset. That is to say, OP, don’t waste your breath on these types of people. Respond in a way that makes you feel better, just don’t expect to change them.

    Second, as for the women making comments, some women just do that shit. I’m small-sized and when I was younger it wasn’t uncommon get questions from women about what size I wear or how much I weigh. I don’t know why – but I think it was a combination of insecurity and trying to establish dominance in a weird way because I couldn’t ask them back without being rude (seeing that they were larger than me). I got no advice except that there are women out there who feel free to talk about other women’s bodies. I just assume they’re obsessed with physical appearances and, like I mentioned, slightly insecure. A few might just be trying to make small talk, but you can deflect those by simply changing the subject.

    Finally, sounds like some of the negative reactions you’re getting is because you’re being so direct in your request to not talk about your body. I don’t know what kind of culture you live in, but maybe try a softer/less-direct approach a few times and see how that goes – you may succeed in getting them to stop asking about your body without the aftertaste.

  130. McS*

    I feel you and I very much believe you that the comments are often gendered and that makes them feel more overly judgemental and box-ifying (? Like they’re trying to fit you in a box so they can make a bunch of guesses about you). That said, I have had an experience where comments I was sure were gendered when I heard them later seemed to maybe not be. I’ve had a couple older male coworkers comment when I take a donut that someone brought in to share. “I didn’t think you ate donuts?” I LOVE donuts to be clear. I was sure I wouldn’t be hearing that if I were male… until my male partner who keeps the same gym (climbing) schedule as I do complained about the exact same thing from his coworkers! People just think that there’s a category of “health nut” people, and that anyone who has a gym membership also carefully tracks their diet and avoids all “bad foods.” For the record, we both go to the gym in part so that we can eat those foods!

  131. Egmont Apostrophe*

    I think if you physically change (positively) people who knew you before get one non-creepy “hey, looks like you’ve been working out! Looks good!” To me it would verge on weird to act as if you didn’t notice it at all, if you were friendly and small-talky before.

    After that, it gets creepy and they should cut it out.

  132. Jane*

    I started lifting during the pandemic too and really like it! I’m still working from home but I have been thinking a lot about what to say if someone mentions my body once I go back into the office (happening soon), since it has changed a lot and I am kind of sensitive about it. Personally, my coworkers are all jocks so I would just turn it to the subject of lifting/sport or just generally change the subject. This is personally what I’m planning on saying, with as much warmth as I can muster:

    To a coworker:

    “Haha, I got into lifting and I LOVE it. Do you lift?”

    To a patient/client:

    “Haha, I got into lifting and I LOVE it. I could talk about it for hours, but right now, I really just want to help you with [X].”

    Just a few more ideas for scripts!

  133. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    OP, cis-ish lesbian here.
    This sounds exhausting having to deal withe frequent comments
    Then trying to manage their feelings after must make you want to scream?
    Would you consider telling yourself that making them feel better is not your job? That’s a really big thing, particularly after a lifetime of being told by society (and your family?) that this is very much your job.
    This is not subtle; it is very clear: people make commemts about your body, you tell them to stop, they sulk and this is now your fault and your problem to solve.
    As you said, this is not a problem with a few individuals, it is systemic.
    It sounds like right now you have two goals: 1) getting the comments about your body to stop and 2) making the offenders feel comfortable after you you give them a mild rebuke. The hardest thing is to get yourself to not care about number 2.
    Are you willing to be sterner and more public with your reactions? In a voice loud enough for others to hear “Jerkface, stop commenting on my body” (or I to you to stop…” then remining silent or walking away when he sulks.
    This is definitely misogyny and homophobia. How about going to HR about this?

  134. NinjaKitten*

    As someone who lost 80 lbs over the pandemic, I can sympathize with this. I’m not even an athlete or doing anything impressive with my body. I’ve always been very uncomfortable and self conscious with my body. Before when I was obese, people made fat phobic comments (or micro-aggressions) all the time, but now that I’ve lost a lot some weight, so many people at work make inappropriate comments about my body. They are always compliments and praise but it makes me feel so uncomfortable to discuss my body with people. Someone even said I lost the perfect amount of weight from my butt and chest at the office! It’s supportive but also gross? I wish people would say nothing or if you must say something more vague like “you look nice today.”

  135. nonegiven*

    “Comments about my body are unwelcome and make me uncomfortable. Please refrain from making them.”

    …repeat without change as often as needed. Don’t get into any discussions about it otherwise.

  136. HeyToots*

    I like to reflect back/restate what the person has just said, in a mildly curious and unbothered tone, “Oh, you’d like to talk about my arms now.” “Oh, the size of my legs interests you.” I find it helps to get to the point faster.

    They’ll either backtrack a hundred miles an hour and apologize, or dig themselves in further. You might comment, “Oh, you see similarities between my training and your weight loss journey and are trying to be supportive” to clarify how the comment is coming across, at which point they can rectify or jump into the hole altogether.

    It’s still somewhat awkward, but that’s on them in the first place, but at least it leaves you in a spot where the person knows exactly where they went wrong and they can choose what to do about that.

    And persist; it often takes repeatedly hearing something for it to sink in, especially things they inherited thinking, without really questioning it.

  137. Shorts shorts shorts*

    I’m not sure if it would be helpful but you could try acting with complete surprise. I have different coloured eyes (one blue, one green) and people often don’t notice until we’re in the middle of a conversation and they blurt it out. It gets really awkward because the condition was as a result of a bad injury so pretending I’d never noticed gets them to realise how absurd mentioning it sounds.

  138. Batgirl*

    OP, I think I might be tempted to go with the enigmatic response here. Something that short circuits the loop but can’t possibly be interpreted as telling the person what to do. For example something like: (surprised laugh) “Oh they aren’t for show”. Or … (Puzzled expression) “Oh, arm definition is not actually what I was going for.” They might persist with “no really they look great” but finish it off with a disinterested shrug because this isn’t a pageant. You’re still totally in the right to go with a blunt direction, or to not bother engaging at all beyond a raised eyebrow…or whatever is easiest for you! The responses above are just about not joining in with the social “we look great”/fat phobia back scratching while avoiding overt coaching of what they should/should not do unless you want to.

  139. Aunty Fox*

    The jeans comment made me want to throw up a bit. since you’ve already ruled out throwing them into the sun, I’d probably stick with a short firm ‘it’s not appropriate to comment on my body, please don’t’ and if people are offended by it I think that’s their problem. And honestly it’s not. If people were genuinely interested they could be like ‘hey so do you lift?’ where they might get enthusiastic engagement about recent gains, and routines etc. These comments are no different than ‘your ass looks good in those jeans’ they are just trying to get away with it by not using blatantly sexual language.
    I’ll grant some of the women might just be trying to be supportive about you looking fab but again it’s not actually appropriate for work unless you are actively engaging with people and soliciting the conversation. People lose weight for all sorts of reasons including terminal conditions so it should never just be thrown at someone. (and yes i’ve been guilty of this and yes I feel like a tool and am trying to do better).

  140. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I think I’d go for “jealous much?” and quickly change the subject.

  141. CLC*

    I don’t have suggestions unfortunately but solidarity. I hope your letter reminds readers that it is never ok to comment on a person’s body even if you think it’s a “positive” comment. Also, there is a great podcast called the Maintenance Phase hosted by (queer) fat activist Aubrey Gordon—Aubrey frequently talks about “formerly fat” people and how they are often the worst offenders when it comes to scrutinizing other people’s bodies and giving unsolicited comments and advice. I’m not surprised that your “formerly fat” coworker said these things.

  142. TrixM*

    As a fellow (heh) butch queer woman who has been “built” in the past, I’ve 100% been there. I try and take the charitable view that it’s about cishet people awkwardly trying to express that they think you’re ok “despite” your non-standard looks (thankfully I’m too old for the “you’d be quite attractive if you wore makeup” line), still being nervous around the scary butch, combined here with the astonishing license some Americans seem to feel about commenting on acquaintances’ bodies.
    The “charitable view” is not for their benefit, rather, that I remind myself it’s not worth losing my temper publicly about it.
    My strategies:
    1. Tell them once (or more, if they slip up at long intervals) exactly as you have that your body is not for discussion at work.
    2. Further infringements – no comment whatsoever. Don’t even acknowledge what they’ve said by word or gesture. If they directly ask if they’ve done something, tell them, yes, you’ve said comments about your body are off limits. Nothing else. Walk away if necessary.
    3. Cover up. Not as a capitulation, but just to give yourself a break from unwanted BS. You can get cool leggings and ¾ length-sleeve tops to wear under shorts and t-shirts. It may not help if the comments are generally about weight, but if it helps, great. It’s about YOUR comfort. If anyone comments on the new attire, rinse and repeat re the unwanted body comments. Maybe it’ll sink in. Obviously, if you feel like you’d resent it or you would find it uncomfortable, that’s not a useful strategy.
    Finally, regarding the prima donna colleague, forget him. You’ve given him plenty of energy and explanations, time to let it go. Not everyone in the world will like you, including for unfair reasons like being a massive homophobe or “misunderstandings”. Not to co-opt Black experience, but I’ve experienced how visibly-butch women can get a variation on the “angry minority” trope, where your words and actions are interpreted as being much more aggressive than they are. That is, any mild disagreement is interpreted as AGGRESSIVE, the end. In that case, screw them and their internal homophobia/sexism/you name it. Be civil, no more explanations or Chinese whispers with mutual colleagues, don’t engage unless he starts stirring up trouble, then just go to the boss.

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