my coworker is spreading a rumor that I have bulimia

A reader writes:

I really need some unbiased advice here as I am really struggling with a situation at my job but at the same time love my position and don’t want to leave.

I’ve been at my current job for just over two years. Initially, I really enjoyed my job and my coworkers, but over the past few months the office secretary, Marcia, has started to make multiple comments regarding my appearance and what I eat. She has made comments regarding dresses I wear, claiming they are not work appropriate ( even though they are turtleneck, maxi, sweater dresses), made comments about how much I eat, comments about how little I eat, and so on.

These comments had started to chip away at my morale, but the most recent incident has me completely baffled.

We were having a company luncheon at which all of my colleagues were present. Midway through the lunch, I notice Marcia making odd looks at my plate, motioning to her boss (the VP) to look at my plate, and such. Finally, I asked her what she was looking at as I could genuinely feel her stare from across the table. She proceeded to tell me, in front of all of my colleagues and the VP (!) that I reminded her of a girl she knew with bulimia. I was so taken aback that I stood up, threw my food out, and left.

Multiple lower-level managers, including my boss, asked me about the incident and I responded that I was obviously offended and would not be attending any food-related work events. I did hear from my boss that when Marcia was spoken to (by him, not her boss) she said the only reason I was offended was because I must actually have bulimia!

Fast forward a few weeks, I am finally starting to forget about the incident, and suddenly Marcia storms into my office, raises her voice at me, and tells me that I need to stop discussing her comments regarding my bulimia (!) and that people do not like that I keep bringing it up. An important fact to note is that I’ve only ever discussed the incident when asked about it. Her boss, the VP, then came over to my office to state that while the way she “apologized” was not acceptable, he really needs to work culture here to remain good! From his statement I sort of got the feeling he was telling me to stop talking about the issue as well.

A few weeks have passed and I’m really having trouble getting over this. Is there anything I can do about to make sure Marcia doesn’t continue spreading these hurtful rumors even though multiple weeks have passed since the initial incident? It seems the VP and the rest of the office (minus my boss and immediate coworker) have her back and are doing nothing to rectify the situation. Furthermore, I have lost all trust in the local leadership and am not sure how to move on from this. Note, we do have a small HR team but they are not local.

What is up with Marcia?!

Aside from being off-the-charts rude and obnoxious, Marcia’s actions are also creating a legal liability for your company. If you actually were bulimic, Marcia would be creating a hostile environment over a disability — and in fact, the law protects you even if you’re just perceived as having a disability (regardless of whether or not you actually do). By attempting to convince people that you have an eating disorder, Marcia risks triggering the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that could have significant ramifications for your company.

Two next steps:

1. Go back to your VP and say this: “I thought about our conversation and I’d love to put this to rest — but to do that, Marcia needs to stop commenting on my food and clothing and spreading false rumors about my health. Can you help with that?”

2. I also suggest getting in touch with HR. It doesn’t matter that they’re not local; this is the type of thing that any decent HR department wants to be looped in on, and they would want to hear about it now, not after Marcia has handed you a legal cause of action.

I’m also curious about your other coworkers and whether you can enlist any of them in shutting Marcia down if they hear her talking about you. Ideally you’d have a few — or even just one very assertive one — who will say things like “that’s really inappropriate” and “wow, why would you say something like that?” if she tries commenting on your food or clothing again.

Last, where’s your boss in all this? If there was ever a time for a manager to advocate for someone on her team, it’s when they’re being harassed by a coworker and no one else thinks it’s a big deal.

{ 398 comments… read them below }

    1. AnonInCanada*

      I don’t know if it needs to go to that level, but yes, OP needs to make it abundantly clear to the bosses AND HR that Marcia’s behaviour is intolerable to the point where she needs to be told one last time to either keep her comments to herself or be fired. If that still doesn’t solve the problem, then it’s lawyer time!

      1. AKchic*

        If not a lawyer, then perhaps the local equal rights commission/EEOC. The investigators aren’t lawyers, but they CAN investigate the claims and make a determination about whether or not it’s actionable. They can work to resolve the issue(s). If it doesn’t go to trial, it is confidential (which is good when the employee does inevitably decide to move on; no whiff of employer lawsuit to hinder a job search).
        Calling an equal rights commission/EEOC agency is free. You have 180 days to file, and you don’t *have* to file a claim to get advice.

        1. ADA question*

          A question for Alison/labor lawyers.

          OP is not, in fact, bulimic and therefore doesn’t actually have a disability (at least not one relating to bulimia). Can she thus claim protection under the ADA?

          Alison writes that the law protects workers who are perceived as having a disability, but here the only person with that misperception is Marcia; it does not appear to be held more broadly

          1. enma*

            It doesn’t matter how widely held the perception is. If Marcia harasses LW based on a perceived disability (Marcia perceives the LW to be bulimic), ADA protection applies. See the second paragraph of Alison’s answer.

            1. Miette*

              Also, it seems like the VP and other co-workers not on OP’s team seem to be siding with Marcia, so I’d think that was relevant to the harassment as well

          2. AKchic*

            OP’s also had comments directed at her for her clothing/body. A case could potentially be made for gendered harassment/discrimination. Especially since the VP didn’t want to get involved or discipline Marcia for her bulimia comments. Granted, I don’t know if the VP is aware of Marcia’s other commentary or not (I couldn’t really tell).

            1. Random Dice*

              Also use the phrase “please stop harassingg me about my body, my clothes, and my health.

              Make it super clear that’s what’s happening. It’s very gendered.

          3. HB*

            “(3) Regarded as having such an impairment

            For purposes of paragraph (1)(C):

            (A) An individual meets the requirement of “being regarded as having such an impairment” if the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this chapter because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.”

            The way I read this, OP is protected. OP can establish that Marcia is harassing her based on Marcia’s perception that OP is bulimic. It doesn’t matter that OP is not actually bulimic, and I don’t think she needs to prove that Marcia genuinely believes that OP is bulimic.

            Similarly, I bet you would be able to claim discrimination/harassment if a coworker was bullying you out of a belief that you were a member of a religion they didn’t like – irrespective of whether you were actually a member of the religion. My guess is a lot comes down to knowledge in terms of shifting the burden of proof. In this case OP is not actually bulimic, so it would be a higher bar to show that the action is tied to a perception that she is bulimic, except Marcia already established it herself by using the term repeatedly and implying OP is bulimic.

          4. Festively Dressed Earl*

            Marcia is spreading a rumor about what she perceives as LW’s mental illness to multiple people, including higher ups, and LW is having to deal with not only Marcia’s comments but the inept responses of their bosses. (Not to mention all the unwelcome commentary about LW’s clothes… actually, yeah, let’s mention that.) That’s unwelcome harassment based on two protected classes: gender (the clothes) and disability (supposed ED). It’s gone on for months, Marcia’s public call-out of LW and running her mouth to their bosses could negatively affect LW professionally, and management’s response to the problem has been ineffectual. LW’s office has given an employment lawyer plenty of paths to choose from.

          5. JSPA*

            IANAL, But I believe it’s read as offering protection on the basis of “the person or people who are singling you out in negative ways (harassment, lack of promotion, rumor-spreading) to be doing so or have done so on the basis of their perception of your disability.” And on management not shutting it down firmly and effectively (whether or not management shares in that belief).

          6. goddessoftransitory*

            But Marcia is using that perception to harm LW professionally.

            Say LW had twisted her ankle and was walking with a limp. Marcia decides based on this that LW has MS and is trying to keep it secret, and spreads this around the office. It’s the same kind of scenario; it’s her positing and repeating of the information itself that’s illegal, whether or not she was correct about the actual source of the limp.

          7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Yes, because, as Alison said, she can be creating a hostile work environment over the perception of a disability.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t think that’s petty. I guess the lawyer could tell you if it’s petty or not, but I think at least having one on the radar would not be a bad idea.

    3. Not Australian*

      Just dropping ‘I believe it’s time I consulted a lawyer’ into the conversation could work wonders!

      1. Nesprin*

        It’s a bad idea to drop that into a conversation. A good company takes legal threat seriously, and they send their lawyer to talk to your lawyer.

      2. Statler von Waldorf*

        I strongly disagree. That would be like using an imaginary job offer to try and negotiate a raise. In either case, if they call your bluff, you are in a much worse position than if you had simply kept your mouth shut.

        Don’t let your mouth write checks that you aren’t willing to cash.

        1. AKchic*

          Exactly. NEVER tell an employer that you are going to consult an attorney. Let the attorney deal with them after you’ve retained them, if you so choose to retain them, or use their language if you’ve consulted one; but never make the threat of consulting with one.

      3. Festively Dressed Earl*

        That tends to be received as “I’m telling Mom!”, especially if it becomes apparent that the dropper hasn’t actually consulted a lawyer and/or knows nothing about employment law. Sometimes words like “harassment” and “discrimination” have the same effect, but they’re necessary in situations like this where HR needs to know the real extent of the problem.

      4. Orv*

        Where I work that would result in the conversation immediately ending and all further discussion happening through the company’s lawyer.

    4. Jaina Solo*

      So I don’t think it’s petty–I was recently in a situation w/ family and was feeling like my behavior seemed petty but realized that if the other person hadn’t started the issue, there would be nothing for me to bring up/call out.

      OP didn’t start harassing Marcia; Marcia chose to harass OP. And publicly at that. Then when Marcia felt unfairly “discussed” (i.e. consequences of your poor behavior Marcia!) she whined and OP was corrected. I’m not always on the “hire a lawyer” train, but honestly if no one internally will respect OP, then a lawyer can likely shut this down.

    5. Miette*

      And start documenting these interactions while they’re fresh in your mind, with dates and conversation details. Just in case.

    6. Orlanda*

      Not petty that’s a good choice to have everything documented – a good letter from a lawyer is what will spur action from top to bottom

  1. StressedButOkay*

    What on earth? Not only will I never understand the Marcia’s of this world, I’ll never understand the people that enable them. OP, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I also suggest using some of Alison’s wording from other posts if Marcia keeps at it while you’re (hopefully!!) getting HR/your boss/HER boss to stop this.

    “Please stop commenting about my body.” “It’s really weird how much you comment on my body, I need you to stop.”

    1. AnonORama*

      I’ve done that. It didn’t stop her in the long run, but it made her show the stunned face of a bratty child denied her fun in front of several organizational leaders. Who also then started to believe that I and others on her team weren’t actually crazy or making things up for attention. She wasn’t disciplined or fired, but it was worth it to stand up to her, for my mental health mostly.

      1. Rose*

        It sounds like you’re handling this really well! So many of us would be too stunned or angry to react with a calm, smart take down like that. Good on you. Even if it hasn’t worked long term, I say keep it up! The more she realizes what an idiot she looks like, and the more people who see her act like an entitled, rude, hateful brat, the better. Hopefully she’ll pick up on how every comment is moving more people to your side.

        I cannot imagine the audacity you would need to have to be offended and annoyed that someone told you to stop commenting on their body. And in the work place! People are wild.

    2. Margaret Cavendish*

      Seriously. Who ARE these awful people?

      Sorry you’re having to deal with this, OP!

    3. Starbuck*

      It’s truly cowardice that makes people go for appeasing the Marcias, even when it’s clear they’re wrong, just because they’re the ones making a hassle complaining. And it feels so easy to get away with vs the very reasonable LW who they figure will be genial enough to put up with a correction for something that’s not their fault.

      1. tangerineRose*

        It’s sad that the people who actually have power over Marcia’s job don’t seem to care about the way she’s acting.

    4. anon_sighing*

      They enable her because they don’t wanna do the work of managing a personality and having a tough conversation, even though I would say 50% of management should be personality/people management and the other 50% is work management. They just want the victim, the more reasonable person, to suck it up and deal with it.

      1. tangerineRose*

        “50% of management should be personality/people management and the other 50% is work management” Sounds right, and that’s why I never want to be in management.

  2. Sloanicota*

    This seems like the opportunity for OP to use the language in her email to HR that I’ve seen suggested elsewhere on the site, like “possible ADA violation” and asking to be protected from blowback. If nothing else, OP, you might be able to get a settlement/generous severance/paid FML while you job search if you decide you are done with this culture and want to get out (which I would, not because of Marcia but because of the rest of the organization not taking a clear stand).

    1. ariel*

      Agree, use language that indicates This Is Actually Not Legal with HR, they will hopefully take that seriously.

      1. Xan*

        “I have been advised that in her doing X, and the company not acting to effectively stop it, you are potentially in breach of ADA.” They don’t need to know it’s advice from a blog or a lawyer to know that they need to take this seriously.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      Can’t hurt to sprinkle in things like “harassment” and “hostile environment” either.

      1. Nina*

        I understand the US definition of ‘hostile environment’ is pretty strict – it may well hurt to sprinkle that in if it doesn’t apply.

        1. Random Dice*

          In this case it applies (IANAL) because she’s being harassed over two protected classes: gender and disability. Hostile work environment doesn’t mean that it’s mean, it means violating protected classes.

    3. Dek*

      I don’t even know if it’s a “possible” ADA violation. Bullying someone for a perceived medical condition is just straight up an ADA violation.

      It’s really upsetting and telling that the bosses didn’t crack down on this nonsense IMMEDIATELY

      1. syzygistic*

        Agreed—but I think a positive result from HR is more likely if OP approaches it from a “Please advise on potential legal liability” standpoint. It’s rarely worth it to open the conversation in an adversarial way, even if the truth is blatantly obvious. Just saying something like “This looks like X to me, but is there anything I’m missing?” can prompt people to step into problem-solving mode rather than CYA mode.
        OP wants to preserve relationships and standing in the company. That’s important enough to warrant a more strategic approach, even though I think I’m echoing the rest of the commentariat in acknowledging that the facts of the situation are completely reprehensible and unacceptable.

  3. Justin*


    There are people who will use the fact that denial is a sign of various issues to try and say, well denying you have something means you have it. But that’s not really how it works.

    Talk to HR, talk to your boss, talk to your colleagues, get it taken care of and hopefully it goes away.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      I was in my early teens when one of my parents went in for inpatient alcoholism treatment. At some point, I was interviewed individually by one of the facility’s counselors.

      Who was dogmatically convinced I was also alcoholic. There was nothing I could say — including the truth: that the most alcohol I had ever had at one time was the sips of wine at Pesach seder — to convince her otherwise. The only answer she was willing to hear was “yes.” “No” just meant “yes, but lying about it.”

      I suspect this phenomenon is at the root of the AAM site rule about believing OPs.

      Anyway, OP, I was a child and you are not. You have recourse that I didn’t. I concur with other commenters that HR is a good first stop, and making clear that Marcia’s conduct may create legal liability for the company is likeliest to spur HR into useful action.

      1. Lady Oscar*

        I’m so sorry that counselor was weird and irrational, and it does sound like something similar to what Marcia is doing here.

        However, I feel the AAM rule about believing OPs is more an issue that it’s more practical to respond to a letter that way–speculating about whether they’re lying isn’t helpful to the OP, and even if they are lying, the answer could be helpful to other people who are genuinely in a similar situation.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      I honestly cannot STAND that argument because it means that the person making the accusation is right no matter what! If denying it means it’s true, and admitting it means the same, how on earth can anything be proven untrue?

  4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Go directly to HR, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Seriously. HR needs to know about this. She yelled at you for telling people about her comments? If she doesn’t want what she says talked about she can just stop talking.

    Also, you might want to chat to an employment lawyer. Your company is not addressing this appropriately. They are allowing this unhinged person to carry on and putting the burden on you to deal with it, instead of dealing with her appropriately. She needs to hear a very simple — knock it off or you’re fired.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree, but it gives me pause that her boss, the VP, was witness to the worst incident and still came to talk to OP about “good culture” instead of reining in this employee. That doesn’t bode well for OP in my opinion – HR may act to get rid of a bullying secretary, but they’re unlikely to do anything about senior leadership in this case. I hope I’m wrong.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        “Bro, if you want good culture, tell Marcia to zip it.”

        I don’t have high hopes since her boss seems disinclined to handle it and HR is off-campus, I’m afraid.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          THIS. There is no way that letting people speculate loudly about someone’s health – especially mental health – and shout at someone for half an hour generates a good office culture.

          1. Random Dice*

            Well yeah… but they’ve shown themselves to be weak spineless cowards. They’re afraid of a bullying admin… you know what they’re more afraid of?

            Lawyers and DOL and EEOC oh my.

        2. BubbleTea*

          Being off-campus isn’t really relevant. There’s no dispute that the comments were made, so no requirement for HR to witness them (and even if there were a dispute, the threshold can’t be “HR actually personally witnessed the event” before they’ll act). They have a job to do, wherever they’re based.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            It wouldn’t matter where I am because our HR is competent and responsible, but we don’t know if that’s the case with the OP’s HR.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This sounds like a classic missing stair situation. Marcia is being awful. I’m assuming she has a history of being awful, since apparently nobody is shocked by this. It’s seen as too difficult to try to get Marcia to stop being awful, so everybody else has to just accept her cruelty with a smile so that nobody is visibly uncomfortable. The “good culture” doesn’t really exist; it’s just a façade that everyone is bullied into acting like it exists.

        It’s BS. Marcia sucks. The VP sucks. Any other VPs or higher who know about this and aren’t fixing it ASAP suck.

        1. Baunilha*

          “The “good culture” doesn’t really exist” I really hope OP sees this! No reasonable company would allow an employee commenting on another one’s food choices and appearance, and the fact that a VP witnessed it and didn’t shut it down… Or that no one shut it down, for that matter.
          Like, I honestly can’t believe Marcia is saying these things and not a single person told her to stop. This workplace is toxic and everyone else is getting so used to it that it’s altering their perception of right and wrong.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        Agreeing – This should be brought up to HR as well. The VP is handling this in a very WRONG way.

        A good HR team will do an investigation. They will talk to the various people who witnessed the incident at the luncheon. They will take a report from the OP, and from the VP. And they will put together a report of their own, together with recommendations. I can pretty well guarantee that the EA will be disciplined and the VP will be educated wrt his leadership skills and responsibilities.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          ETA – definitely point out the PATTERN of behaviours as well – Marcia in terms of her repeated comments about your weight, clothing, etc, AND the VP in terms of ignoring the issue, brushing it off, and making it your problem instead of really dealing with it.

          1. Artemesia*

            This is critical and use the world ‘pattern’ — she didn’t ‘make a mistake’ i.e. say something thoughtless once. She had a history of remarks about the OP’s body and eating and then made an ugly remark publicly and then continues to talk about it and has now harassed the OP about the situation.

            Use the magic words with HR: pattern, ADA although I am not bulimic to gossip that I am is creating a hostile environment, harassment.

        2. Sloanicota*

          I wish I could guarantee that HR always conducts fair unbiased investigation and acts promptly to address issues. I have not always found that to be the case, personally. Maybe being off-site is actually in OP’s favor in that way.

          1. (Former) HR Expat*

            Unfortunately, we’re sometimes at the mercy of what the business wants to do. I can think of several instances where I’ve conducted very thorough investigations with recommendations that were overruled by business leadership because the recommendations were “inconvenient” to them. And yes, it absolutely makes my day when I get to come back and say “I told you so,” professionally of course, when failing to follow my recommendations causes the same problems in the future.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Strongly seconding this whole comment. We don’t have the power some people think we do – which is frustrating but also makes “I told you so” moments kind of nice

          2. Velomont*

            I honestly don’t know how much to trust HR (I’ve never needed them for anything serious) but there’s one other site I like to read that always stresses that “HR is not your friend!” This obviously depends on the objectivity and quality of the HR organization in question.

            1. Oh yeah, Me again*

              There is the attitude that HR’s job is to protect the company, not the employee, but in a case like this they should protect the employee from the bully in order to save the company from an ADA violation.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              They are the friend of the company, but what Marcia is doing is putting the company at risk of legal trouble. So if they’re at all competent, they will handle this appropriately.

            3. Dust Bunny*

              I don’t want to see “HR is not your friend” repeated too vehemently. HR works for the company, yes, but a good HR knows that it’s in the company’s best interest to support employees (to a reasonable extent), and basically encouraging employees to go in as cynically and adversarily as possible doesn’t help that. Our HR would have figuratively knocked Marcia on her ass a long time ago.

              1. HR Friend*

                100% this. “HR is not your friend” is so weird to me. Of course they’re not? Neither is your boss, neither is the sales department.

                HR’s job is to act in the best interest of the company, and more often than not, that means advocating for employees and for policies that support employee health and development. To your point, when an employee needs help from HR, it’s in their best interest to approach their rep with that in mind vs. as an adversary.

                In this case, “protecting the company” means shutting this down so freaking quick. LW should have nothing to “worry” about with HR here.

                1. Goldenrod*

                  Meh, I think HR is usually pretty useless and in my experience, they rarely truly advocate for employees.

                  However, one thing they usually DO care about is avoiding lawsuits – since Marcia is doing something illegal, they actually might be useful here.

                2. Dust Bunny*

                  The coworkers I’ve had who complained the most about how much they hated HR also had the most unrealistic expectations of what HR could, would, or should do for them, and also usually the most excuses for their own poor conduct.

                  Obviously there is a wide range of HR, but going in like an angry bull on the assumption that HR is always incompetent and/or undermining isn’t going to help matters.

                3. Typing All The Time*

                  I have mixed feelings about HR. When I left my first employer and told HR I was leaving, I asked about scheduling an exit interview (I wanted to tell them about being harassed and having to work with dying computer equipment that no one wanted to replace.). I was told by our HR rep that they don’t do those things and to just send them an email. I tried to explain why but she didn’t want to hear it.

              2. Eldritch Office Worker*

                Yep, very much this. Protecting the company means my job is to ensure that the company is a safe, supportive place to work where people feel heard and appreciated. We want to retain high performers and upskill as much as possible, we want to avoid lawsuits (and even just unnecessary drama, legal or not), we want everyone to be managed efficiently, and we want people to not dread coming into work and have a reasonably comfortable time when they’re here. All of that supports the company.

              3. Cicely*

                Good call, Dust Bunny. I, too, get concerned when I see over-the-top generalizing of HR here. I’m not in HR, but the vast majority of HR people in my workplaces have been very dedicated, competent, and hardworking.

            4. Random Dice*

              I’ve worked with so many HR people who work tirelessly to protect employees. It’s worth keeping in mind their actual job – they’re not camp counselors, they’re there to do a whole variety of jobs. One of which is trying to keep the company from being sued.

          3. Grith*

            The adage that “HR exists to protect the company” is often over-used, but is very appropriate here. Marcia is dragging the company to the brink of being complicit in illegal discrimination – HR’s entire raison d’être is to deal with this and to side with OP.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              Oh, I’d say Marcia has flung the company over said brink and is standing on the edge laughing maniacally while lighting and thunder crash behind her.

        3. Catherine*

          Is this HR team capable of investigations? In my experience, most off-site HR has been strictly about benefits administration and not actually equipped to handle bullying, harassment, etc.

      4. Starbuck*

        Hopefully at least HR can protect LW long enough for them to find a new job before they have to quit this shitshow; best case someone high up in HR or the company realizes how badly this is being handled and both Marcia and the manager leave soon.

    2. Ess Ess*

      The fact that she is yelling at you about your comments, and the fact your only comments were to your boss means that she is retaliating against you reporting an issue, which also falls under ‘HR needs to know about illegal work behavior’ that you need to escalate to HR. Right now!

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I think LW mentions that she responded to questions about the incident, which may have come from other people and not just conversations with her boss.

  5. A Simple Narwhal*

    wtf Marcia?

    Seriously, what could she possibly be getting out of this? (I guess good ol’ fashion cruelty is always an option but sheesh.)

    1. Phryne*

      Could be projection. Marcia might have a troubled relationship with food herself and prefer projecting on others to dealing with her own feelings.

      1. AnonORama*

        I worked for someone like this — constant commentary on my clothes, eating choices and body. I was too thin (“eat a cookie!”) and too fat (“don’t you know how many calories that has?”) within the space of about two weeks at one point! She didn’t say anything that would’ve triggered the ADA*, but it was extra awkward because she was my boss. In her case, it was definitely insecurity/projection, as she went from one bizarre fad diet to the other and treated all the younger women on her team as rivals, putting us in our place by insulting our looks.

        *Not with respect to food/body type, anyway. She did call me “Rain Man” in a meeting because I remembered a large-ish number offhand. (It was the number of clients we’d served in the previous year, something I used almost daily in my job. I don’t happen to be on the spectrum, although this treatment would’ve been even more evil on her part if I had been.)

        1. Bast*

          Eating is a struggle for me. I try and succeed for MONTHS to keep myself on track and not go back to some pretty disordered ways, and then it comes back like a cockroach I can’t get rid of. Having worked in an office where comments would be made along the ones you mentioned did not help. If I refused a doughnut when someone brought in doughnuts, it was, “oh, lighten up, one doughnut won’t hurt, you’re skinny anyway” and if I subsequently took a doughnut — “I thought you were on a diet?” “You don’t really want that — think how many carbs are in a doughnut!” Even if I could manage to convince my own brain that the occasional doughnut was not going to send me over the edge, comments like that would make me immediately feel guilty about having the doughnut. It would be like I was chewing sawdust and it was all I could do not to spit it out. I don’t know how to explain it, but thinking you’re FINALLY going to be able to enjoy something you’ve denied yourself for awhile, and JUST gotten your mind to get on board with and then having it ruined was awful. Then comes having to feel like you have to constantly watch what you eat in front of others in case it “isn’t healthy enough” or whatever. People just need to stop with the negative and passive-aggressive comments about what someone eats.

          1. Paulina*

            And stop even with the positive comments, if they’re not asked for. When I’ve lost weight, it’s been entirely an internal issue for me, and having random coworkers try to cheerlead for me was extremely offputting. I do not want to know that these people are paying any attention at all to what I am eating. My weight and fitness level is precisely 0% their business, even when things are going well.

            1. Cicely*

              Oh, can I relate. An additional angle on this for me is people who are dismissive of or haughty toward me when I am overweight suddenly become sweetness and light “at” me when I lose weight. Misfits like that are just so sick and sad and weird.

            2. Kristin*

              My mother once complimented an acquaintance on her weight loss, and in return got a very frank and embarrassing recital of the cause – stress caused by the acquaintance’s very recent and traumatic divorce. Stick to complimenting hairdos and outfits, it’s the safest thing to do!

            3. Jane Anonsten*

              OMG yes. My child is having a reaction to a medication that has resulted in 16 pounds of weight loss in 2 months — I have been horrified by the number of people telling me how “Child has really slimmed down! Child looks great!” Um, no, Child does not look great, Child was sent for a full blood panel workup by the pediatrician at the med check and passed out having blood drawn. Also, Child is EIGHT…F off.

          2. Festively Dressed Earl*

            And then they won’t stop with the passive aggressive comments about being told not to comment about people’s food or bodies. I’m sorry you’re going through that.

          3. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

            Are your coworkers my mom? Because the constant “you shouldn’t eat that” combined with “oh, just once won’t hurt” definitely messed with me, too. I’m sorry you had to go through that at work.

            The only comments I ever make about food at work are “that smells delicious” sometimes followed by “Did you make that? Can I have the recipe?” And even those are only said to a few people that I know enjoy discussing food.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Ugh. I’ve worked for women like this at the start of my career (now that I’m solidly middle age, it’s stopped for me) who were obviously struggling with their own stuff around aging, but were “dealing” with it by spraying their insecurity all over any woman younger than them in their vicinity and being bullies.

          No one is being young at you. Or old at you.

          1. AnonORama*

            Yes, I think my bully/boss was definitely struggling with being 10+ years older than everyone else on her team, although she wasn’t particularly old (and aging is a good thing — consider the alternative!)

            1. CommanderBanana*

              Seriously! I’m having my own mental stuff around aging going on, but that has nothing to do with anyone but me!

        3. Lizzianna*

          Yup. My mom is like that. It took me a long time to deal with the fact that her commentary says a lot more about her view of herself and her own issues around food and diet culture than me. I suspect she has a better filter with her coworkers than with me, but she is hyper aware of what others are doing and their weight (if they’re overweight, underweight, if their weight changes).

      2. WeirdChemist*

        That was my thought too. I’m dealing with a similar(ish) problem with a coworker, and in my case it’s 100% her projecting her food issues into everyone around her. The best strategy I’ve found is “grey-rocking” and just acting indifferent, not engaging with any discussion about food, and changing to subject. Plus getting other coworkers on board (to help change the subject away from food, to tell her she said something inappropriate, etc) helps a lot too. My coworker has, at the very least, cut out the food-related comments around me.

        LW should absolutely go to HR with this, I’ve just found these strategies helpful on the day-to-day interactions!

      3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Doesn’t matter why she is doing it. Projection, cruelty, genuine concern. It is inappropriate and needs to stop, now, today.

        Same with the VP, doesn’t matter that he wants a quiet culture, he is abdicating his responsibility to not have violations of the law in the company.

      4. Ann Onymous*

        Or a close friend or family member of Marcia’s has been impacted by an eating disorder.

        1. renata ricotta*

          If that’s true, I feel terrible for that friend or family member, because Marcia clearly has no sense of how harmful her comments about food and appearance are to anybody, much less someone who is in fact struggling with disordered eating.

        2. Cassielfsw*

          I’m gonna go ahead and guess that if there is a person in Marcia’s life who has an eating disorder, that this person is no longer on speaking terms with Marcia, and that if asked, Marcia would insist that she has “no idea why” Jan won’t talk to her anymore and she was “only trying to help!”

        1. DrSalty*

          Not that it makes it ok. But in my experience, only people with personal food issues judge what other people eat.

      5. Goldenrod*

        “Could be projection.”

        Yes, this could be it! Or maybe OP reminds me of someone she knows.

        Either way, Marcia is a huge freak.

    2. morethantired*

      Marcia clearly has personal issues that are triggered by LW’s body and food choices BUT that is 100000% Marcia’s problem and the right thing for Marcia to do would be to have the self-awareness to think to herself “Whoa, it is not okay to have this strong of feelings about a coworker’s body and diet. I should talk to a therapist about this.”
      I hope HR backs up LW and tells Marcia it is not okay to talk about a coworkers body and diet ever, and explain what retaliation is.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Exactly. To quote the 80s humorist Cynthia Heimel about a guy being a douche, “Who cares what this guy’s motive is? Who cares about his issues?”

        Marcia can deal with any issues she has on her own, quietly. The LW and everyone else shouldn’t have to suddenly Solve A Problem Like Marcia in order to work.

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      I’m guessing part of it is not having to admit she was wrong. Why she started it, who knows? But now, she can’t admit, “yeah, I said something stupid. It was ridiculous and childish to compare you to somebody with bullemia, not to mind being horrible to them to use them as a way of insulting somebody else” so rather than admit, even to herself, that that is what she did, she is trying to turn it around as the LW is hiding her bullemia and doing something wrong.

    4. What_the_What*

      I’ve worked with women like this (sadly ALWAYS women) and they seem to like to create the persona that they’re just being concerned and motherly and “worried about poor little X and why is she so skinny” when it all comes down to gossip and malice.

      1. Ruby Soho*

        So true. I’ve been on the receiving end of their “concern” more times than I can count, especially when I was in my late teens/early 20s and naturally very scrawny. They always seemed to be bitter for whatever reason, and their bitterness rubbed off on me at times. It usually went hand-in-hand with “are you feeling ok? you look sick?” when I wasn’t wearing makeup. Talk about a kick in the gut…

      2. Panicked*

        I’m celiac and can’t eat a lot of things. I have one well-meaning but misguided colleague who is convinced it’s an eating disorder. I have told her many times that no, I can’t eat her homebaked goods to which she always replies “You’re so skinny, you can afford the calories!” and “back in my day, we didn’t have the luxury of refusing to eat!”

        I finally replied back “You know, I’ve told you many times that this isn’t a preference; it’s a medical condition. You may want to talk to your doctor about these lapses in memory. I’m concerned for you!” She hasn’t made a comment since.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Ugh, last week I was at a conference thing about developing a curriculum for senior students (15+) with General Learning Difficulties. Afterwards, we had lunch and the two people in charge of developing the course started asking why I wasn’t eating anything. I laughed about how I am the absolute world’s most picky eater and one of them started on about when he was young, you ate what was put before you. (I am not young; I am in my 40s.)

          I wasn’t bothered by it but it did concern me that they were in charge of developing a course for students with additional needs and yet, could dismiss what is in my case likely a sensory issue as “just don’t let kids do it.” It showed very little understanding of how people varied.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Oh this infuriates me. My youngest has a lot of sensory issues with food and we’ve spent YEARS working to help him feel secure and confident that his safe foods will always be there so he is comfortable trying the occasional new thing. He would take a comment like that so hard.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            “Luckily, I am neither you, nor young. And as a full grown independent adult I have a firm grasp of my food preferences.”

        2. Empress Ki*

          And if someone has an ED, it wouldn’t be helpful to make comments about their food and body. How do I know ? I have an ED !

        3. goddessoftransitory*

          Nice to know a terrible and chronic intestinal disorder is a luxury now. My God.

        4. Dina*

          I have a friend with severe food allergies who had rumours about her like this flying around in high school. She was just trying to, you know, not die…

    5. Elle*

      Our society has really sold the idea that being “healthy” makes you morally superior. So we have managers that won’t advance fat employees, tons of inappropriate diet talk in the workplace, and people like Marcia.

      I have ARFID and, as a rule, don’t discuss diet with people. I will discuss food, restaurants, or cooking, but not diet. If it’s brought up I treat it like the person lightly overshared (polite, slightly surprised, withdraw from conversation).

      1. CommanderBanana*

        And that being thin is synonymous with health! I’m ‘thin’ but in way worse shape than almost everyone else I know and most of those people are heavier than me.

        1. Freya*

          Thiiiiiis – I stopped struggling to keep weight on when I got medicated for ADHD, and the RELIEF of having enough body fat now that a single bout of mild gastro won’t put me at risk of hospitalisation!

      2. Coffee Protein Drink*

        +1000 to all of this.

        In other work-related spaces I’ve seen people say they are justified in not hiring fat people because if “they aren’t disciplined enough to take care of themselves, they won’t do good work.” or other variations or lazy and immoral. It makes me want to throw things.

        I withdraw from diet conversation too, especially when people start saying things like they’re bad for having one M&M.

    6. RagingADHD*

      In my work as an EA, I’ve observed over the years that is a particular variety of career admin / secretary who are very enmeshed in the power dynamics of the office. They resent the fact that they have no official authority, and cultivate personal influence through their knowledge of leaders’ personal lives, confidential business information, or arcane details of office procedure. They then use this personal influence as a form of control.

      They particularly relish being able to domineer over people who have a higher title on the org chart. They brag about it.

      Sometimes this manifests as overstepping “office mom” behavior and faux “concern.” Sometimes it’s passive aggressive and petty. Sometimes it’s straight-up verbal bullying, but that is rarer – since it takes an exceptionally dysfunctional office to get away with it.

      1. AKchic*

        Oof. You are not wrong. That type of career admin thrives in family business and government work where it’s easy to get comfortable and *stay* in the same role for decades.

        1. RagingADHD*

          And you know, there’s a healthy, non-domineering way of cultivating and using personal influence, too. Building social capital at work is a good thing for anyone to know how to do. The kicker is in how it’s used, and whether it’s satisfying one’s need to be good at your job and have positive connections, or whether it’s satisfying a need to put others down.

      2. Peaches and Scream*

        This describes my previous workplace to a T, and it’s why I left. I hadn’t really thought about the dynamics there in this way, but it’s spot on.

      3. Shreir fan*

        Raging ADHD nailed it. This is about a secretary flexing informal power because she’s a secretary and has no formal power.

        1. Forty Years in the Hole*

          Can confirm/relate. It’s all about tacit power and (perceived) control. Worked with one of these ringwraiths; she blew up the organization, flouncing off on paid “sick leave” – cleaning out some of the digital files (“evidence” she had compiled against the CEO). CEO didn’t have the stones to deal with her so left it to me, the COO and HR. The aftermath was akin to a depth charge dropped on the organization. Took me years to (mostly) recover.

      4. Marcella*

        Dealing with this right now. A young male admin who is an executive’s “best friend” in addition to being her assistant, and constantly hints and gossips about all the stuff she tells him. He is extremely disrespectful to several female directors, has shared people’s ages and salaries to stir up resentment or ageism, and constantly criticizes how women dress – but is never held accountable. He has free reign and he knows it.

      5. Beka Rosselin-Metadi*

        Or it takes he EA being so enmeshed in the chairman’s life that he can’t do without her, so any bullying/bad behavior is okay, because she runs his life and makes it easier.
        Yeah, ask me how I know and I’ll give you the ugly details.

    7. Generic Name*

      I’ve known people who actively enjoyed putting people in uncomfortable situations and then watching them squirm.

    8. Avi!*

      Marcia’s obsession with the LW’s food intake combined with her apparent insistence that everything the LW wears is too ‘suggestive’ makes me suspect that the LW is, to put it bluntly, comparatively well-endowed. There’s a distinct hint of body-shaming out of jealousy here.

  6. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Marcia is also snarking about OP’s clothing.

    She’s attacking OP in two ways that we know of; she could be doing something else as well. This calls for something more significant than just “don’t comment on OP’s food, and don’t judge OP’s food”.

  7. Charlotte Lucas*

    She’s clearly a bully who feels threatened by the OP. Unfortunately, she also seems to (somehow) have management on her side.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, seems a lot like this is one of those “Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” situations. Argh. So frustrating. OP, I agree that HR is your next step. And if they don’t do anything about it, then unfortunately it seems like the only step beyond that is to plan your exit strategy. And until you get out, try to grey-rock as much as possible with Marcia and the VP (grey-rock = appear as emotionless as possible, even while you are roiling inside, the idea being you are totally boring to them and not worth picking on anymore). Grey-rocking is really hard but in some ways can be enjoyable in that, because you are not giving the bullies what they want, which is for you to react emotionally to whatever they’re doing to you, they start getting emotional themselves. So yeah, it’s not enjoyable really, because being bullied is totally stressful and awful, but it can give you a little control over the situation and that really unnerves the bullies.

      I’m so sorry, OP, what a terrible situation for you. I’m hoping HR or your manager will go to bat for you but know that if you just want to walk away, that’s a perfectly acceptable solution to this problem as well.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      I also thought Marcia sounded kind of jealous. People don’t know how to handle these sort of things and it kind of seems like OP not engaging VP about this to the same level as Marcia has let Marcia have control of the narrative somehow?
      Anyway, they are both a problem and HR definitely needs to be involved.
      I am sorry this is happening to you.

      1. cottagechick73*

        I don’t think giving a reason for Marcia’s behavior will get it to stop or make the OP feel any better. Your evaluation might be true, but OP can’t go up to Marcia, put their arm around her shoulder and tell her that OP knows she is just jealous and if she would just control her jealousy everything will be just roses.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Nope. That’s a reason, but Marcia’s behavior needs to be addressed by someone in authority. And the OP should document everything.

  8. Not on board*

    Marcia is bananapants crazy! I just can’t imagine commenting on a coworker’s eating habits, their body, or their clothing, unless it’s to compliment an outfit. Why does this person’s boss expect the OP to keep the work environment friendly when Marcia is the one making it unfriendly?

    1. Michelle Smith*

      For the same reason that children in a family with a narcissist are raised to appease the narc rather than actually cutting the toxic person off or addressing the problem head on – it’s easier for them.

      I don’t want this comment to get lost from a link, but if you Google don’t rock the boat reddit, you’ll see the best post I’ve ever seen that describes this issue in the context of a family.

      1. Lizy*

        As someone who was raised by narcissists (both parents – yay…..), your comment and that reddit really hit home. Thank you.

      2. Your former password resetter*

        Children are also extremely dependent on their parents, so they don’t really have any options untill they’re fully independent adults themselves. And then the behaviour has been ingrained for decades.

        Of course a senior manager does not have that excuse. They can and should deal with these problems directly.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I once had a bullying manager who told me that I was the problem with my team. (Spoiler alert: She was the problem, but it was very hurtful to hear.)

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I had one of those too. Went to the team to apologize because it was ‘ubiquitous’ that I was the issue. They looked at me like I was crazy and affirmed that boss was the one causing ALL of the problems. Nobody missed him when they got rid of him.
        Some people just project all of their nonsense onto others.

        1. AnonORama*

          I was told by gaslighting abusive manager (same one as the one who smack-talked my body and called me Rain Man, shockingly enough) that people were “lined up outside [her] door” to complain about me. Also, everyone hated me and my work, but wouldn’t give me any edits or suggestions because I was either too fragile or too explosive. When I talked to folks about these issues, or encouraged people to send me more edits, they had no clue what I was talking about. No surprise, but it was so bizarre!

          1. AnonORama*

            And she had 100% turnover every year on her 5-person team. I lasted 2-plus years, but that was sheer force of will after having moved to a new town for the job. This was ten years ago and she’s still there! To be fair, she’s decent at her actual job (not the supervisory part) and is particularly skilled at “kiss up and kick down.”

            1. MikeM_inMD*

              Decades ago, I interviewed in-house for a team lead position. The boss mentioned that she had implemented good programming practices and everyone in the office had accepted the change or moved on, practically bragging in an 80% turn-over in one year. While I agreed with the standards she had introduced, I didn’t think that kind of turnover was something to brag about. It gave the impression that she was “my way or the highway” rather than a persuader. I took a different job.

          2. Elle*

            This is so, do deeply f’ed up. I think this would have affected my sanity in a potentially career derailing way. Lined up out her door! I’m kind of floored by that.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      I know! I was expecting OP to have had an unfortunate bout of an upset stomach at one point. That’s still not enough to speculate on this, but would at least be something that would make someone concerned. Marcia is just assigning random pieces to a serious issue that is full-on bananapants.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Adding on – knowing that someone has been sick at work is not enough to think they have an eating disorder. Just concerned about them ~generally~. What happened? Are they feeling okay? Is it catching? Most will not ask these questions, but may think them.

        1. Artemesia*

          If I knew someone was sick at work my absolutely first thought would be ‘oh no, is this norovirus and am I and my entire family going to get it. As it is super contagious.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            My new colleague witnessed me vomiting at work and assumed I was hungover. A week later I announced my pregnancy.

    4. mreasy*

      Many people believe commenting on women’s bodies – especially fat bodies but as in OP’s case literally any body – is just part of common discourse and totally fine. So OP’s company isn’t taking it seriously and Marcia keeps going. HR needs a stern email for suresies. OP I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

  9. Abogado Avocado*

    Put strongly consider putting your complaint regarding Marcia’s outrageous behavior to HR in writing. It is too, too easy for companies to claim that a complaint wasn’t made or that it wasn’t phrased as a complaint if you only verbalize your concerns. Putting a complaint in writing forces managers to reckon with the fact that there is now a “record” and that they cannot manipulate the record to fit their need not to manage (as it sounds like Marcia’s boss, the VP, is doing).

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree, plus it sounds like there’s some literal factual confusion going on (judging from the VP’s statements, OP is being accused of stirring sh*t by bringing up this incident, whereas she has never done that; and I do think it’s actually important context that OP doesn’t have this eating disorder and Marcia’s comments came out of the blue after first criticizing her clothing, so it’s not as if she’s acting with concern for a medical issue). OP should calmly get their point of view on the record and formally request that the workplace meet its legal obligations to prevent an environment where she’s being unfairly penalized for a perceived disability.

      1. Khatul Madame*

        It is bullying and it doesn’t matter whether OP has the eating disorder or not.
        Like, if the OP were a bald man and Marcia was always on his case about his baldness, it would still be bullying, even if she were telling the truth about the baldness.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yes, that’s absolutely true that it shouldn’t matter, and it’s certainly not the most important thing OP needs to communicate to the decisionmakers here, but I do think it’s relevant that Marcia is using a lie she made up to attack OP.

        2. CityMouse*

          If OP had an eating disorder, this certainly wouldn’t be helpful. I have a loved one with an eating disorder and this kind of treatment could absolutely lead to relapse. Marcia’s behavior is abhorrent.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            100%. I have a loved one with an eating disorder, and when she was in treatment her husband invited all of her close friends over and gave us the instructions from her care team on what to say/what not to say when she came home. Number one on the list of what not to say? Literally anything about her food choices or her body.

        3. Random Dice*

          It matters because the definition of “hostile work environment” refers to harassment over legally protected classes.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            But the language of the ADA includes ‘perception’–lots of times, folks are thought to belong to one particular group, but they actually aren’t. It’s still not okay to bully them for it.

          2. Kit*

            Sure, but that legal protection applies to anyone who is perceived to belong to a legally-protected class, whether they do or not – a Sikh dealing with Islamophobic comments is still facing a hostile work environment in the legal sense. Likewise, OP is facing a hostile work environment based on Marcia’s perception that she has an ED (although her harassment is also heavily gendered and the pattern of behavior may actually leave the company liable on multiple axes – yet another reason to take this to HR).

      1. Laser99*

        Very good advice. That way it can’t be dismissed as a “she said/she said” or a”catfight”.

    2. Doctor Fun!*

      If I were the LW, I’d take that one step further and start documenting all conversations I have to have about this issue and cc’ing HR. For example, the conversation with the VP where he agreed Marcia had been inappropriate but said he needed the workplace to have a “good” culture? I’d be emailing him and cc’ing my HR rep all like, “Dear VP, regarding the in-person conversation we just had in my office, I want to confirm that you agree Marcia’s actions are unacceptable, and that your plan to address Marcia’s actions is to do nothing and tell me to accept it because you want a good work culture. Thanks, Doctor Fun”

      I’d also possibly contact an employment lawyer and start making my exit plans, because that workplace is trash.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, this. “The work culture needs to remain good” = “Can you just shut up about your coworker harassing you so we can all go back to pretending everything here is great?”

    2. Isben Takes Tea*

      Oh wow. I’m going to sit with this one for a while.

      One response I’ve held onto after years of reading Ask a Manager and Captain Awkward is if someone asks you to do (usually ignore) something to “keep the peace,” it is within your rights and sanity to ask “whose peace?”

      1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

        I’m sure it’s Captain Awkward who points out that in circumstances like this the request to “keep” the peace is impossible, because “the peace is already broken”

      2. Your former password resetter*

        They know the victims are way easier to reason with or pressure than the people creating the problems. Much easier to silence a victim than to fight a bully or abuser.

    3. Banana Pyjamas*

      The quietest place I worked was the least peaceful. It was quiet because everyone was walking on eggshells.

  10. MuseumChick*

    Talk to HR TODAY. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Go straight to them and detail everything that has been happening.

  11. Michelle Smith*

    Holy hell, I am FURIOUS on your behalf. Please, please, please update us and let us know how those conversations go. I am horrified!!!!!

  12. Seeeeeee*

    I suggest going to an employment atty now for a consult. They are free (and most take cases on contingency, regardless) and will help you with the right language to use in your state and may even send a cease and desist letter to your company legal counsel and HR dept. Marcia needs to be shut down but this manager is also enabling the behavior to continue and that is also a huge problem. You could also call your EAP to ask for a legal consult. Those are also free for 30 min.

    1. Busy Middle Manager*

      Thank you for being somewhat more specific. Tired of “speak to an attorney” getting thrown around in situations where it won’t help, with no script on what to say, and no real outcome that could come of it

  13. LaurCha*

    I am enraged on LW’s behalf. This is a GROSS overstep, insanely intrusive, and has surely got to be an ADA violation. This is mean-girl bullying bullshit. How on EARTH could a turtleneck maxi sweaterdress be “inappropriate” unless it’s like, July or she works construction? In which case, STILL not Marcia’s purview.

    I bet Marcia bullies other people too. She’s a menace.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      It could also be “inappropriate” if it’s not formal enough for the dress code. But if that were the case, the LW would probably know that already — for instance, from her manager.

    2. MikeM_inMD*

      A sweaterdress, being knit, could be very form-fitting and body-hugging, and Marcia might consider that inappropriate for the office. But without pictures and the ability to mind read, this is just my speculation.

      1. Enai*

        Marcia might consider all sorts of things, but that doesn’t mean the sweater dress is actually inappropriate. She needs to either mind her business or complain to OPs boss if indeed OP dresses inappropriately.

      2. LaurCha*

        Marcia is not OP’s boss. It is completely inappropriate for her to be scolding OP about her attire if management does not have a problem with it.

    3. Banana Pyjamas*

      Generally speaking maxi-dresses do not read as businesses professional, but lean too casual or too formal. Unless the dress code is casual, I would only expect to see maxi dresses as maternity or religious accommodation.

  14. I should really pick a name*

    First off, Marcia is awful, and that VP sounds sketchy, and your company is not being as supportive as they should.

    But some of the actions you’ve taken, while understandable, didn’t help you.

    Throwing your food out and leaving probably made this a bigger deal to onlookers. Marcia’s comment was ridiculous, but that response was big enough that it may have overshadowed that to someone who didn’t know the background you already had with her, or hear what she said.

    When your manager approached you about this, it was an opportunity to describe Marcia’s pattern of behaviour, and ask them to take action to stop it. Your response that you would not be attending any food-related work events may have come across as closing off the discussion.

    I can totally appreciate that it can be hard to think about these things in the moment.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Poor OP I totally sympathize with being so stunned and angry that you can’t even defend yourself. But this is your chance to take back your power, OP, and present your own clear, factual version of events, knowing that the law is on your side here (for once! So often the law doesn’t apply to letters, but in this one case it actually might!!).

    2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      It’s weird that you think the OP’s actions mean management can’t do anything. Like welp, you didn’t respond perfectly, so shrug, my hands are tied.

      This is not OP’s fault. At all. In any way. A *good* manager would have dug into things on their own. A *good* VP would have insisted Marcia stop bullying OP and acting like the victim. A good management structure would have handled this whole incident differently instead of trying to sweep it under the rug. Marcia is a missing stair.

      Also, you didn’t actually add any advice here, since “go to the past and change your actions” isn’t possible. It is still possible now for LW to go back to boss and explain everything that has happened. Personally, I’d also see if anyone else has Marcia problems, because I doubt OP is the only one.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        It’s weird that you think the OP’s actions mean management can’t do anything. Like welp, you didn’t respond perfectly, so shrug, my hands are tied.

        That’s not what I said.

        I was pointing out how their actions may have been viewed, as it could be useful context if there are future incidents. As for advice, I thought that Alison covered it pretty thoroughly.

    3. tabloidtained*

      Hindsight is 20/20, but yes, agreed. I can imagine that leaving the luncheon and then refusing to attend any food-related events would actually add fuel to Marcia’s ridiculous rumor. It makes it seem as if the events are the problem, not Marcia and her cruel targeting of LW.

      1. tabloidtained*

        LW–the point being, to course correct, you should now take the opportunity to clearly and directly address the actual problem with your boss and HR. That problem is Marcia. Not the events, not the food, not what you eat/wear/don’t eat/don’t wear. Marcia, her behavior, and her actions.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        And that’s because nobody else (or nobody else with power) had the context of Marcia’s relentless bullying before the meeting.

    4. theletter*

      I would think tossing leftovers and leaving is a relativily tame response to having a stigmatized medical condition brought up at a company lunch.

      1. Yet another person.*

        I agree; an example of an over the top response would have been to throw the food AT Marcia.

        The OP acted perfectly reasonably by removing their self from a situation where they were being attacked, in front of bystanders who failed to stand up for them.

    5. Bast*

      As someone who DOES struggle with eating and patterns of disordered eating, someone making nasty or passive aggressive comments about what I am eating/not eating would make the meal unpalatable to me and I would be unable to eat, as I’d feel that my every bite is being monitored. It would make me extremely uncomfortable and potentially sick from both the guilt of eating whatever it is I’m eating and the anxiety that comes from the feeling of being watched. LW does not share my eating issues, but I can sympathize with and understand their reaction, as I am sure accusations and comments like this would ruin a meal for many. Even if LW DID have an eating disorder, these comments only make it more of a jerk move. This is alllll on Marcia and her BS.

      1. Yet another person.*

        Exactly. And no one in this room full of people stood up for the OP in the moment to stop the bullying. That would make it even harder to react perfectly, I think.

    6. What_the_What*

      “Throwing your food out and leaving probably made this a bigger deal to onlookers. ”
      Right. I get being stunned and angry and wanting to extricate oneself from the scene, but honesly a “What the hell are you on about?” comment in the moment and then back to eating, would probably have done a lot more to stop it in its tracks, IMHO. But, water under the bridge. HR needs involved now, and that VP who repeated the “must be true” comment and wants to preserver “good culture” is an asshat.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I definitely understand not wanting to be around Marcia any longer. Leaving the room seems like a perfectly reasonable reaction to me.

        And I don’t see a problem with making it a bigger deal to onlookers. Yeah, if they noticed the LW leaving (which it’s quite likely they didn’t; somebody getting up, dumping out their leftovers and leaving the room wouldn’t even register to me. I’d just assume the person had finished eating), then it would draw attention to Marcia’s behaviour and probably make onlookers think, “woah, she’s gone too far now. It looks like she’s really upset the LW.” But…I don’t see why that is a problem. I don’t think there is any need for the LW to basically cover up for Marcia and avoid drawing attention to the issue.

        Marcia’s bullying is a big deal. I don’t see why the LW should try to hide it. If people notice, well, Marcia is just going to have to deal with the consequences of her actions.

    7. WantonSeedStitch*

      To be frank, this sounds a little victim blame-y to me. OP still has the ability to talk about Marcia’s pattern of behavior, and there is nothing wrong with being furious enough to chuck your food in the bin in a situation like this.

      Also, it wasn’t the OP’s manager who approached her about this, it was Marcia’s, and he seemed to be pretty firmly on Marcia’s side, as he wasn’t even the one who spoke to Marcia about her behavior. I don’t blame the OP if she felt like the VP was not going to listen to, or take seriously, an accounting of Marcia’s patterns of behavior.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Multiple lower-level managers, including my boss, asked me about the incident

    8. Ginger Cat Lady*

      Interesting that your reaction is to blame OP, not Marcia who created the incident.
      Maybe do some thinking about why you reacted that way and what you can do to change, because blaming someone who is the victim of bullying is completely inappropriate.

      1. Stardust*

        The commenter didn’t blame OP but rather point out how her reactions to some of these incidents might’ve looked to outsiders without any background knowledge. It seems pretty realistic to me tbh.

        1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby.*

          Frankly it only looks bad to people who are bullies, hon. To a sane person, leaving to get away from the banana pants wretch is a perfectly reasonable response. Why are we criticizing the LW AT ALL?

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          Honestly, I think her actions would make it look to outsiders like Marcia was bullying her. If you hear somebody say something completely off the wall and the person they are speaking to gets up and leaves the room, the obvious conclusion, even without background knowledge is that that person is picking on them. Especially since people like Marcia are usually well-known and the odds are others have had her make nasty comments to them too. My guess is most onlookers would react with “oh, what has Marcia said now?”

          And even if they don’t, even if they didn’t notice Marcia at all and just saw the LW get up and leave the room suddenly…well, firstly, there are many possible reasons for that (she could have gotten bad news, for a start). Without context, LW’s response doesn’t look “big” at all. Just putting your leftovers in the bin and leaving the room after eating is normal. The only thing that makes it noteworthy is that it’s in response to Marcia.

          Secondly, it’s not really the LW’s job to ensure other people don’t get the wrong impression. The onlookers aren’t relevant here and if management or HR works on “well, you left the room when she was bullying you, so therefore we can’t fire her for bullying,” then yeah…that HR isn’t going to do anything anyway.

          I am a teacher and I once had a kid walk out of my class, a good kid, who it turned out was being bullied. It was his walking out of the room that alerted us to the bullying, as what was happening in each class was no big deal but apparently it was going on and on, just making one or two comments in each class, so no one teacher noticed anything amiss, until he reacted that way to a minor comment.

          And that was with 12 year olds. An adult would presumably be taken even more seriously, since teenagers tend to be more prone to overreaction,

          Anybody who works on “the LW left the room before the meal was over. Therefore whatever happened must be the LW’s fault”…well, the problem is with them. That is not a reasonable interpretation. And the boss saw Marcia yelling at the LW and basically trying to bully the LW into going along with her lies. “Stop telling people I said you had bulimia. It’s making me look ridiculous.”

          It’s obviously from the fact that Marcia doesn’t want people hearing about this that anybody who has heard of it is thinking less of Marcia, not the LW.

    9. House On The Rock*

      I think OP’s strong reaction should be a huge wake-up call for her boss, the VP, and the organization that Marcia is deeply problematic and needs to be shut down. Having someone say you have an eating disorder in the middle of a work lunch is pretty bananas and needs to be taken seriously. It is a big deal and they should acknowledge that (although it doesn’t sound like they are).

    10. Hrodvitnir*

      If someone loudly accused someone of having bulemia in front of me and they threw away their food and left, I would think that’s a very normal reaction to a horrendous thing to say.

      At most, if I knew nothing at all I might be concerned she does have an eating disorder, but regardless the only person I would be upset at would be Marcia and anyone in charge not immediately pulling her up.

      I find this a confusing take.

      “Your response that you would not be attending any food-related work events may have come across as closing off the discussion.”

      Uhh and a manager with a functioning brain would have responded saying that’s not necessary and they’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again? Clearly OP does not feel supported to demand further action, though I hope she will now.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        And there’s a good chance Marcia is well-known for picking on people. It seems unlikely this is her first rodeo.

        So I’d imagine Marcia says something and somebody gets up and walks out would get the reaction of “oh gosh, what has Marcia said now?”

    11. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I agree, was wondering why I was at odds with most of the comments. Marcia’s behaviour is terrible obviously, but OP’s reaction turned it into an incident.

  15. Database Developer Dude*

    Why in the world does Marcia think it’s okay to do what she’s doing? OP needs to stop discussing her comments? No. Those comments didn’t need to be made in the first place!!!!

  16. WorkerDrone*

    I am also a huge fan of publicly naming inappropriate behavior and demanding a resolution. I would encourage calmly doing so if this happens again in front of an audience.

    “Marcia, that was incredibly rude and inappropriate. I want you to stop commenting on my body and my food. Do not speculate about my health again.”

    Drop it just like that – calm, firm, unapologetic.

    1. The Other Sage*

      If you want to do that, it’s a good idea to practice first at home, where you are safe and can make mistakes without negative repercussions.

      Practice saying what you want to say, in a calm and assertive manner. Then it will become less difficult to so it when you are being bullied.

      1. Working with Professionals*

        I agree you should practice at home to help you when the time comes. I think when you wrote your letter you were still shocked by her actions and perplexed that the VP wanted you to just not make waves instead of supporting you. It’s time to get angry and use that anger to help you respond in strength. Marcia isn’t going to quit so the next time she tries something, turn to face her squarely, look straight in her eyes and tell her you won’t be bullied. If she tries coming to your office and yelling at you, firmly say stop, I won’t be bullied and tell her to leave. If she doesn’t leave, you leave and notify your manager of the continued harassment. I know from experience it can be hard to do these things, especially if you are easy going and reasonable. Remember the bully is not and take a firm, polite stand. Many bullies back down when they realize you no longer tolerate their behavior. Keep your head up and assert your right to be respected and treated decently at work. Good luck! I hope we hear soon that things got corrected for you!

  17. Ms. Elaneous*

    Management everywhere needs to stop mistaking quiet for peace.

    too true.

    Also governments.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Totally. Anyone pointing out the negative behavior in that type of culture is automatically the problem for ‘rocking the boat’. VP sounds like the kind of person who would foster that kind of environment.

  18. Toadalu*

    It’s a bit unclear from the letter if OP explained the full context to management.

    If they see this as one off-color comment (which yes, should still have been addressed better) their reaction will be different.

    I think it’s worth having a full discussion with your boss about the comments before this, and the comments after, and letting them know that you’re looping in HR in case this escalates.

    Management should be doing a better job with this even if it was the one comment, but the additional context makes it extra egregious.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yes, the most generous possible interpretation of management here is that they don’t understand what’s happening – they just saw OP angrily leave the table and say she won’t eat with the secretary again, so they’re chalking this up to some kind of personality conflict. I actually hope that’s the case because the best outcome for OP is that she clears this up and they actually act. The worst case scenario is they don’t care and the higher ups would rather protect Marcia despite her bad behavior, and OP is basically bullied out of her role. Going the legal route isn’t going to make OP’s life easier in the short term honestly, or at least that’s been my experience.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I don’t see here that the OP has gone to her boss and explained that Marcia is a) wrong and b) nuts and c) not that it’s any of her business, anyway. OP is responding when asked but is apparently not proactively pushing back, and I think (she?) needs to, and I’m a little confused about why (she?) hasn’t unless it’s because she already knows that management won’t do anything. But so far she’s hoping for change without filling the gossip void first, so Marcia is still the only “authority” on the situation.

      Don’t get me wrong–Marcia is a nightmare and Boss is apparently a blockhead, but sometimes you have to draw the first line in the sand.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Agree that it’s time for OP to be proactive and take control of the narrative here. This is not okay and you don’t just have to sit back and take it.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Trust me, (as someone who was also bullied once, although in a very different context) I wish the people who had the authority to stop this would just observe it and step in, but in real life, sometimes they don’t see as much as we think they do, or sometimes the bully is kissing up to them, or sometimes they’re distracted by other responsibilities, or whatever, and we can’t be passive if we want it to stop. Maybe the LW has and didn’t mention in, but then it needs to be escalated to HR. In writing. Possibly including the word “lawyer”.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I think we know from reading AAM that “spoke to” can mean anything from a real lecture that Marcia ignored to “yeah I’m supposed to talk to you about this or whatever but we all know that LW has a problem” or “girl fights, amirite?”. Without knowing a lot more about what was said, this doesn’t mean a whole lot.

      2. Myrin*

        Yes, maybe OP simply didn’t mention it but what I’m missing is a big picture talk from OP (with her own boss/the VP/whoever is appropriate at the moment). Maybe it’s because my natural reaction to situations like this is and has always been “defend yourself immediately and explain everything in detail!!” but I’m astounded in equal parts at both OP not explaining the whole thing and at whatever authority figure not digging deeper and trying to find out what’s going on here.

    3. Green great dragon*

      Yes, there’s a reading in which the VP doesn’t know the history and sees a single weird and tactless comment from Marcia followed by what looks to them like a major overreaction from OP. They’re still at fault for trying to calm things down without digging into what actually happened, but it’s a more understandable mistake. The lower-level bosses though should absolutely be paying more attention. And Marcia’s dreadful.

      If VP isn’t aware of the whole story OP needs to go back with as factual a summary as they can manage (including the subsequent yelling) then use Alison’s script.

  19. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

    Wtf is Marcia getting out of this? What does she want? This is awful and I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. I hope HR can shut it down quickly.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Eh, Marcia probably perceives – perhaps correctly – that she’s currently protected by the VP and that gives her the chance to attack other people and put them down, maybe even run them out of the organization. She’s testing her power and so far it seems to be working.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        I’d add she’s deeply insecure and this is how she feels better about herself – by directing negative attention at someone she perceives to be weaker.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I’m always interested in the psychology here. I think I’ve read that bullies generally don’t have low self esteem *of course, many certainly do, but it’s not some universal rule) but they do have a high degree of emotional intelligence that allows them to pick their victims and know how to keep on the good side of important people. Some people are everyday sadists who enjoy the power of making other people suffer and knowing they can get away with it, honestly.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Yep. My worst boss was pretty full of herself and extremely manipulative. It took a while for leadership to realize how awful she was.

        2. AnonORama*

          Agree. Also, she could think she’s “helping” OP by confronting OP’s “problem” head-on which OP is refusing to do. This is ridiculous, but Marcia seems to have a large dose of main-character syndrome, so I can see her saying “I’m going to save this poor woman, who’s doing terrible things to herself and is in denial about it.”

          Or, she might just be a cruel, terrible human being. Hard to know!

          1. Sloanicota*

            Good point. The most charitable interpretation of Marcia’s behavior is that she’s genuinely concerned about OP and just going about “saving” her in the absolute worst possible way. The previous comments about OP’s outfits could have been unrelated or maybe that was her first noticing OP’s body, I don’t know. Even if that was true though, HR should still be able to help OP and tell Marcia to take like ten steps back (and probably not talk to OP anymore, assuming their work doesn’t really overlap).

            1. AnonORama*

              Yeah, it’s gross and totally inappropriate, as well as potentially illegal, either way. I just can see Marcia having a chronic case of “I’m a star/I’m a fixer/I can tell everyone how I SAVED THIS WOMAN’S LIFE!”

          2. Cyndi*

            God knows there are all kinds of reasons why people do this kind of thing, but Marcia does remind me of the time I was griping in a Discord server about my new ID photo–it was really bad even by ID photo standards and I was having a rough week already for other, more legitimate reasons. It was just one of those days where you get super upset about something minor because it’s the last straw.

            But some total stranger in this Discord server became immediately convinced I had major body dysmorphia and needed immediate psychiatric help for it, because that was something that had happened to her. The more I said no, I have a pretty good grasp on what my mental health concerns are and aren’t, the harder she doubled down on insisting my grip on reality was much worse than I thought and she was the one who really knew what was up.

            On the plus side I wasn’t upset about my ID any more, because I was busy being mad at her instead.

            1. What_the_What*

              If it makes you feel any better, last time I got my DL renewed, the person taking the photo said, “Oh dear. Let’s retake that” …after 3 times, I said, “it’s okay; I don’t get any better looking!” But when the DMV says your picture is bad…. it’s BAD! LOL

    2. Berkeleyfarm*

      She doesn’t have to have a “filter” at work or act like a grownup and she is protected and paid for it.

      as a meta point it’s an example of apparently men thinking that this sort of thing is just “girl talk” “interpersonal conflict” and it’s really … a lot more than that.

  20. Ashley*

    I think a big note here that seems overlooked is how OP is talking about the comments seems to be skewed. OP has told us that they only make comments if asked about it, but it seems that the impression is that OP is going out of their way to tell people about the behavior. 1) I would be sure to clarify this with HR and management in some way while addressing the other points because 2) it appears OP is being painted as some sort of instigator in all this and that could make things messy later.

    1. Betty Beep Boop*

      I am wondering if this means that OP is being asked about it a lot because Marcia is spreading her nonsense a lot and now she’s mad that OP’s coworkers aren’t letting her get away with it, but instead are going to OP and telling her Marcia is At It Again.

      Or Marcia could be making it up.

      It’s on Marcia either way, of course.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I agree this is something OP will want to clarify with HR. If it’s true, you can say “I have literally never brought this incident up again, and have only once discussed it with the VP when he asked me about it, yet I hear I’m being blamed for gossiping about it.” It’s possible other witnesses are still talking about it and that’s being unfairly attributed to you stirring the pot.

    3. What_the_What*

      Yeah, that’s the way I read it, too. Like, “Hey Marcia said you have an eating disorder; that isn’t true is it?” and the OP has to clarify that Marcia is a wingnut and no, she doesn’t… But then that person goest o Marcia and says, “You’re wrong about OP; she says she’s fine and you’re a wingnut” and Marcia loses her shit.

    4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I would take Marcia’s representation that people are sick of hearing about it with all of the salt in the dead sea.

  21. David's Skirt-Pants*

    Replace all eating disorder-related items in this letter with anything related to someone who uses a wheelchair. Marcia is a terrible person and the VP is worse for allowing this to happen AND for expecting LW to problem-solve it.

    LW, this is not a normal or functional workplace. I’m sorry this is happening to you.

    1. Busy Middle Manager*

      The difference is that interventions on people with eating disorders are a thing, it’s not just an insult that Marcia is throwing around. They can be deadly. Not really analogous with unchangeable medical conditions

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Doesn’t matter. Still not appropriate in a professional environment. This isn’t a friend or a loved one, it’s someone with no personal context wildly overstepping.

      2. LGP*

        Not to get too off-topic, but I don’t understand your reasoning. Why would you assume that a wheelchair user has an “unchangeable medical condition?” People use wheelchairs for all kinds of reasons, including injuries that can heal and conditions that can fluctuate in their symptoms.

      3. AMH*

        I think that is a difference without distinction here. It would be completely completely inappropriate for a coworker to stage an intervention for an eating disorder — or, frankly, to stage an intervention for anything.

      4. Irish Teacher.*

        And that makes it worse. If somebody listening has an eating disorder and hears Marcia using it as a way to insult somebody, it is likely to offend them as much as it does the LW.

      5. spiriferida*

        What Maria is doing isn’t an intervention that has any chance of success, though. To be honest, most interventions don’t.

        I’d like you to think of something that you’re insecure about. Maybe it’s your weight. Maybe it’s your personal hygiene. Maybe it’s a symptom of depression. Now imagine that someone loudly brings up something that you are deeply ashamed of in the middle of a social situation, and keeps berating you about that thing.

        Do you actually think that would make you feel less ashamed? Would you believe that the person who did that cared for your mental well-being by doing it? Or would you feel that they wanted to humiliate you?

    2. English Teacher*

      Yeah, the way she was gesturing to the VP suggests to me that he had already participated in her rumor-y conversations rather than shut them down. Trash behavior.

      @Busy Middle Manager – a health professional or maaaaaybe a close loved one could intervene in an eating disorder. Not a bullying coworker. Someone could also find themselves in a wheelchair for a condition that requires active medical intervention, that still shouldn’t open them up to unkind gossiping.

  22. Alan*

    It’s rare that I’m really outraged for a LW, but this is one of those. I too think a call to an employment attorney might be useful, but if nothing else make clear to HR, with instances, that you’re being bullied at work for your health status. Marcia sounds severely ill and the management severely ineffective. I can’t imagine not shutting that down immediately if you were working for me.

    1. owen*

      please don’t characterise people behaving terribly as ‘severely ill’ unless it is specifically stated that illness has been diagnosed. sometimes, people are just mean, and terrible, and badly behaved. assuming they are ‘severely ill’ does a great disservice to acutally ill people.

  23. Guest*

    Marcia is a psycho drama llama and the VP’s attitude exemplifies toxic positivity. LW needs to document everything with HR and look for a new job.

  24. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    “The spice must flow”
    So yes, she’s insulting you, gossiping about you, and by the legal definition harassing you, but we all have to get along so stop reacting to her mistreatment of you.
    How do you do that?
    Ask him what you need to change so that she will stop commenting on your appearance and your eating, stop gossiping about you and spreading rumors and harassing you.
    Then let him speak.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Then let him speak” is such an important part of handling these things and keeping the power in a conversation, and it can be so difficult.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          “That’s not what I asked” or “Can you confirm for me in writing that your instruction is that I am supposed to withstand medical harassment” or “No” with more silence, depending on your style.

          1. Polly Hedron*

            I like all these responses, especially the second one, and especially the use of silence.

  25. Sloanicota*

    I hope this will be hopeful to OP, but one strategy I’ve seen discussed as being used by people like Marcia is the acronym DARVO, for “deny, attack, reverse victim and offender.” It’s helpful to have this framework because it’s very disorienting when it happens to you. Following this playbook, Marcia is likely to accuse *you* of bullying and causing drama, when in fact that is exactly what she is doing. You don’t want to get into it with Marcia, but you do want to ensure that the object third parties whose opinions matter here (HR, your boss, maybe this VP) understand what is going on. Being prepared my help with that.

  26. Garblesnark*

    Hey LW, I would strongly encourage you to write out a dated play-by-play of everything that’s happened between you and Marcia. And send your personal email a message every time she makes a dig about your clothes or weight from here on out. And if any of your coworkers are willing to write out, sign, and date what they remember happening, get that too.

    Your lawyer might want it, or the EEOC, when this falls apart.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Totally agree that this is the kind of thing you document, document, document. Create an excel spreadsheet in a place Marcia can’t access and that’s not your work computer. Go back and try to recall the dates/times and previous comments Marcia made to you and write each one down. Write down the lunch time incident and the VP’s comments afterwards and the dates/times of any other discussions that occurred. Save a copy of the email you sent HR and their response, if any. You won’t regret keeping this record even if ultimately you don’t end up needing to use it, whereas not having it if you need it later, if things really hit the skids and you end up needing legal assistance.

  27. LinesInTheSand*

    Hey OP, I agree with everyone who says to escalate to HR, etc, but I also wanted to flag this:

    “A few weeks have passed and I’m really having trouble getting over this.”

    I think, separate from everything else, you might want to make securing your own headspace priority one. No matter what happens, it’s not going to happen fast, and I think it’s unlikely that you’ll get a satisfying closure to this no matter what. Most likely, someone tells Marcia to cut it out and the comments stop, but people will forget to tell you that they had this conversation with Marcia and then you’ll spend weeks waiting for her to slip up again and being anxious the whole time.

    So, make Marcia the company’s problem, and use the time to take care of yourself. Don’t let this lady live rent-free in your head, as they say.

    When I was going through a similar rough patch at work, I used to do spite-based self care. I’d go jogging just to prove to the universe that the assholes at work weren’t winning and “they can’t take this away from me”. I’m not saying I was in great shape mentally, just that I understood that things had the potential to get a whole lot worse if I didn’t reinforce my own sense of control. Good luck and take care.

  28. Busy Middle Manager*

    OP – you were 100% in the right when the incident occurred where she called you out in front of colleagues (that is an insane way to bring up a conversation) to get up and leave or tell her off. However, throwing out your food as you leave is feeding into what they just said. I think you need some retrospection into why that was your reaction, separate from how you handle anything else. It isn’t the rational thing to do.

    With all due respect to the other commenters, the “go to HR and pass go” or “get a lawyer” may not be the slam dunk people think it is, in this case or any other. While I am not a fan of Marcia at all, solving the Marcia issue doesn’t address the issue of whether other people are thinking the same thing and just not saying anything. So if the solution is Marcia getting shut down, will that make OP happy?

    Having worked with someone who had an eating disorder, I assure you that 90% of people commented on it behind closed doors. Including many people who were discreet and quiet and never chimed in on anything. So shutting down one person here or there wasn’t really solving the issue, the issue was that they were genuinely shocked to see bones on someones back and someone who was clearly sick pushing around lettuce for lunch.

    HR’s response may very well be some variation of “talking to Marcia and maybe writing it up in her file in case it repeats” and telling you they’re open to talk or offer flexibility or help if OP does have any issues. And I think the comments are ignoring the possibility of the latter.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      People don’t react rationally in situations where they feel threatened. Fight, slight, freeze or fawn are the usual responses and she fled. Now that she knows that Marcia is like this, she can prepare for it, but not fair to fault her for not responding perfectly in the moment.

      1. Busy Middle Manager*

        I didn’t say at all that people need to act rationally, that’s not the issue, the issue is one behaving irrationally in a very specific way. I also didn’t say they needed to react perfectly. Again, there are many ways to react, this one will give many people pause, not just Marcia types

    2. Arthenonyma*

      I think the part about throwing out food may be a red herring – “company luncheon” makes me think this was a catered event like a buffet. In that case, deciding to get up and leave REQUIRES you to throw out your food, unless you want to be the asshole who didn’t clean up after themselves.

      1. Ginger Cat Lady*

        Exactly my thoughts. Taking care of your own food/plate is a normal thing to do when you leave the place where you’re eating, unless you’re in a higher-end restaurant with people who bus tables.
        I did not get the impression that this was a place like that. It’s just a company lunch. And leaving your plate there for others to deal with would have been much worse than throwing it away as you leave.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        Yeah, that was my assumption. The LW decided to leave rather than deal with Marcia and put her leftovers in the bin on the way out. I don’t see anything in the least irrational about it.

      3. Jane Anonsten*

        Yeah, I generally throw away my food when I leave the place I’m eating. It’s strange that people are being like “ooh, poor choice.”

        1. Banana Pyjamas*

          It’s not normal at many sit-down restaurants, even low-end wing joints or other chain type restaurants. Even for catered rooms wait staff clear at the end of the meal. Fast food is the only place people are responsible for clearing their own plates.

          1. Jane Anonsten*

            Were they in a sit-down restaurant? Were they in a catered room? We don’t know, which means we don’t have enough information to be like “oh she totally made a bad decision by throwing away her food.” Every time I’ve been in a team lunch on-site (all of my jobs have been for Fortune 100 companies) it’s disposable plates or boxes and you throw your own food away when you’re done with it. But YMMV I guess.

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      I have my doubts other people are thinking the same thing. It is a completely bizarre thing to think and from the description here, I’m…not even convinced Marcia believes it. I really doubt she does. It sounds like she is just throwing any insults she can think of at the LW and either realised this one upset her and continued on or else realised deep down how offensive it was and couldn’t admit she was wrong, so she doubled down.

      There is a big difference between people talking about somebody having an eating disorder and somebody throwing a load of insults at somebody: “your clothes aren’t appropriate. You have an eating disorder.”

      Also, the LW shouldn’t be planning to prevent her coworkers from thinking ridiculous things about her. She can’t control how others think. The issue here is to get Marcia to behave properly at work. She (and any other coworkers who might have equally ridiculous ideas, though I doubt there is more than one person in the LW’s workplace who would come out with something so bizarre) can think whatever they want. That’s their problem. It’s not the LW’s issue if her coworkers are wrong about stuff. So long as Marcia stops telling lies, stops shouting at the LW and stops commenting on what others are wearing or eating, that’s the situation dealt with.

      And honestly, Marcia’s behaviour here is so erratic and bizarre that I suspect all the coworkers are wondering what is wrong with Marcia, not what is wrong with the LW. If I heard a coworker telling another “your clothes are inappropriate for the office, you eat too little and you remind me of somebody with bullemia,” it wouldn’t even cross my mind that the LW had bullemia. It wouldn’t even cross my mind that Marcia genuinely thought she had. I would just assume Marcia is a really weird person who has poor social skills and no idea how to work in an office and is, quite frankly, behaving like a 12 year old class bully and just throwing out insults and looking for a reaction.

      And that’s assuming that Marcia is only targetting the LW. In reality, it’s quite likely Marcia is noted for making bizarre comments about everybody. I heard (second or third hand, so it may not be true) that one of my coworkers made a comment about another having an eating disorder. This person has also made bizarre comments about others – one I did hear was an implication that somebody had faked it when they fainted – and the gossip was around “did you hear x’s latest ridiculous accusation?” not “maybe y really has an eating disorder.”

      The LW has every right to throw their food away if they wish to do so and it is not their job to teach people that Marcia’s accusation is untrue. There isn’t an issue of what others are thinking. For one thing, there is no reason to assume they are thinking anything other that “here goes Marcia, insulting people again” and for another, even if they are, it is not the LW’s job to teach them better critical thinking skills. If they are gullible enough to believe what Marcia said, that’s really their problem. So long as they don’t behave badly around the LW, it’s not her job to try and ensure they have accurate information about stuff that has nothing to do with them.

    4. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “talking to Marcia and maybe writing it up in her file in case it repeats”

      Given that the fact it has not only repeated but escalated is the whole issue, this isn’t a terrible outcome. And if HR is competent – which I think they are because people with incompetent HR usually flag that as the issue vs geography – “ADA violation” is going to trigger a lot more action than “I’m open to talk”.

    5. AMH*

      “I think you need some retrospection into why that was your reaction, separate from how you handle anything else. It isn’t the rational thing to do.”

      I think her reaction was completely rational to a completely irrational attack, actually. It seems like you are advising OP to just let this go, unless I’m misreading you? I think that is poor advice; Marcia is out of line and will continue to be out of line unless her behavior is addressed by someone with the power to do so.

      1. Cyndi*

        And even if it wasn’t totally rational, sometimes the answer to that kind of introspection is just “I was shocked and my immediate reaction was in hindsight kind of silly,” which is just how people work and not a flag for anything deeper.

    6. New Jack Karyn*

      “I think you need some retrospection into why that was your reaction, separate from how you handle anything else. It isn’t the rational thing to do.”

      I think you need some introspection on why your reaction is to assume OP has an eating disorder.

  29. IHaveKittens*

    This reminds me of that wild post from the woman who had a co-worker who didn’t believe she lost weight properly and needed to follow the co-worker’s diet and exercise plan. The co-worker even showed up at the OP’s house! I hope this situation does not escalate in a similar fashion.

    1. Pizza Rat*

      I remember that one. There was either an MLM or a cult involved. Or are they the same thing? I’ve never been sure.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      Yeaaaaaaaah that entire series of updates could be summed up by that THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY gif. It went from bad to WHAT IN THE HOUSE OF BANANAS IS HAPPENING HERE?!

      1. Tongue firmly in cheek*

        The House of Bananas makes the most exquisite business attire, though! Provided, of course, that you like the color yellow.

  30. BellyButton*

    What in the world is that woman’s problem!!!!!

    LW, I am so sorry you are being attacked like this- and it is an attack. I have recently lost 25lbs- after getting out of a horrible relationship, I am finally happy again and my weight has gone back to my “normal”, with no diet or restrictions. I am HAPPY. The constant comments about my weight loss makes me so uncomfortable. It isn’t about anything I am doing- it is about getting out of the toxic relationship, and that isn’t something I want to discuss!

    I wish the world would get the memo- we do not comment on people’s bodies or their food! Just stop already!

    Good luck, LW. I hope you will update us!

  31. Managercanuck*

    Marcia, Marcia, Marcia…

    This dame is bananas. Document everything and tell HR soonest.

  32. Pizza Rat*

    I don’t know the legalities around this, but must a hostile work environment be related to sexual harassment, disability, or minority status? Because I’d call Marcia downright hostile, ADA violation or not.

    Regardless, HR does need to be looped in, and I would start documenting every time Marcia brings this up and any other conversations about the issue.

    It’s awful having to deal with this, downright violating. Even if such a thing comes from a place of concern (which with Marcia it obviously doesn’t), one’s health is between the individual and their medical team.

    1. Indolent Libertine*

      “Hostile work environment” in the legal sense does not mean “someone is being hostile toward me at work.” It requires that the bad behavior be related to some aspect of the recipient that’s considered a “protected class” such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, sometimes age, etc.

      1. Ginger Cat Lady*

        Yes, but disability, or *perceived* disability, as Alison points out, do fit that requirement.

      2. Kyrielle*

        That said, Marcia’s loud assumptions that OP is bulimic do probably move this into hostile work environment – at least if it’s allowed to persist – based on a disability.

  33. Bad Wolf*

    I’m just speculating. But I wouldn’t be surprised if OP is a petite person with a high metabolism that can eat a horse in a single meal. Meanwhile Marcia struggles with her weight.
    It would explain Marcia’s obsession with OP’s appearance and eating habits. Of course, nothing would excuse her abhorrent behavior.

    1. Shinespark*

      Maybe, maybe not. Ultimarely it doesn’t matter, the behaviour would be an issue regardless of the size of Marcia.

      I once worked with a person who aggressively policed others food and outfit choices. She was rail thin, constantly talked about how hard she worked at her diets, and treated anyone who wasn’t doing the same as committing a moral sin. But she didn’t act that was because of her body type, she acted that way because she was a garbage human being.

    2. Andromeda*

      Oh, I don’t like comments like this (likewise with the “maybe LW is younger/prettier and Marcia is envious”.) It’s possible the choice of insult is motivated by personal issues that Marcia has, but it definitely is not only fat people who make negative comments about others’ bodies and food choices… in fact it’s just as often the reverse. Sometimes it is also used as an excuse to insult a fat or ugly person for being fat or ugly, since now they are the “bad guy” it’s seen as acceptable to do so. Hell, LW might be fat herself.

      I don’t think how anyone looks is relevant — just like it’s never normally relevant at work. It’s the behaviour that needs to stop. Marcia can feel however she wants to feel about LW’s body but she needs to strictly keep it to herself.

    3. Ginger Cat Lady*

      No need to speculate about body types. It’s irrelevant to why the behavior is wrong and what should be done.

    4. LaurCha*

      Blaming being a bully on being fat is, in itself, fat-phobic. LOTS of people are bullies about weight and body shape and food, and they come in ALL SIZES.


    5. Anon Y Mouse*

      I don’t think it explains a lot even if true, nor should it, and of course it doesn’t excuse anything.

      I am actually bulimic (though have been in recovery for many years). During the whole time, I was overweight. Eating disorders do not translate to body types. I get that Marcia probably does not know that, but…

  34. Ms. Yvonne*

    Geez, if there was ever a LW who I want to see rip her office / troublemakers a new one, it’s this LW.

  35. Time for a lil treat*

    Oh Marcia. I actually had a coworker who shared this name, often comment on my eating habits too. Some examples being “A salad, that’s not like you!”, “Stir fry again? You had that last week too”, “Have you always had a good metabolism? Cause you don’t really watch what you eat do you?”, and the weirdest “Are the rest of your family also thin?”.

    I’m guessing this monitoring of my eating habits had a lot to do with her own issues with food so I tried not to take it too personally. I could eat healthier but I eat like a fairly average person and she was a self proclaimed health nut. If I could go back I would have said something more directly to her like “You pay a lot of attention to what I eat, why?”.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Ugh, I worked with one of these. Mine was Jan, not Marcia. (Really! Sorry Brady Bunch fans!)

    2. kiki*

      When I was growing up, it was a mom who was active in my church youth group stuff who had all sorts of comments and questions like this for me. I also think it came from her own issues with food and her body, which is a shame that she went through life carrying so much baggage that she would unleash it on a 15-year-old. I was truly just naturally thin at that age– it was genetic and true for both my parents and their families.

      I retrospectively have a lot of sympathy for that mom because she had definitely gone through life thinking thinness was “earned” by discipline or virtue. And then she saw a 15-year-old who was housing whole packs of Oreos without a care in the world, exercising sparingly, and still quite thin.

      It was inappropriate how she took it out on me. And I have a feeling it manifested in even worse ways for her own daughter. But as an adult, I can recognize it likely came from years living in a really messed up society.

  36. CityMouse*

    As someone with a loved one who has struggled with bulimia, this letter makes me see red. It’s so, so inappropriate and very much harmful both to OP and to anyone in the office struggling with eating disorders.

    Marcia should be fired for this. Full stop. It’s harassment.

  37. Elsewise*

    Just want to point out, although I haven’t seen anyone saying otherwise- if Marcia *did* have concerns about OP’s eating habits, this would be the absolute *worst* way of addressing this. Making someone with an eating disorder feel observed while eating in public will not magically cure them, it will make them hide better and reinforce the idea that their weight and eating habits are highly noticeable and being talked about constantly by others.

    1. RagingADHD*

      I’m pretty sure that would be a feature, not a bug, to Marcia. Nobody is under the impression Marcia had sincere concerns about LW’s wellbeing. Not after that outburst in the office.

      Someone who were sincerely concerned and screwed up through ignorance or accident would be horrified that they had upset the person they were concerned about, and genuinely regret it.

      1. enma*

        Not necessarily. The possibilities aren’t only malicious or uninformed/ignorant. I’m dealing with a third option right now, in a food-related (but not ED-related) online community. This person constantly says other members should leave the community because he believes they have ED problems, and he truly comes off as sincere. When people push back saying this is inappropriate/he’s wrong about the person/he doesn’t know about EDs or how to treat them, he holds to his position. He’s made posts (that got removed, because again, this isn’t a space for talking about EDs) urging the community to be on the lookout for EDs and to protect people from EDs and won’t listen to anyone saying his approach is ineffectual and in fact often detrimental to combating EDs. No idea why he hasn’t been banned yet, but he’s not malicious, he truly is concerned about people he thinks have EDs, but I absolutely believe his crusader mindset has done a lot of damage to the people he purports to “help.”

        1. RagingADHD*

          I didn’t use the word malicious. You did. Someone who is serving a personal obsession / emotional need at other people’s expense is not sincere in their concern for others, whether or not they are malicious. If this guy is confronted with actually having offended someone and doubles down, then he is not sincere in his concern for others. He is concerned for himself.

          Sounding earnest and impassioned is not the same thing as being sincerely concerned for others.

          1. enma*

            Okay, you’re going to have to define the word “sincere” for me. I used it to mean “does in fact wholeheartedly believe this” even if they’re factually wrong. You seem to be using it slightly differently, in which “sincere” necessarily includes factual, but that’s not my understanding of the word. So to break it down into more words and without using “sincere”, all I was trying to say was that this guy believes he is helping, even if the fact of the matter is he is not. Your comment “…screwed up through ignorance or accident would be horrified that they had upset the person they were concerned about, and genuinely regret it.” I just meant that some people are stubborn about holding on to their ignorance, but this may have been too wide a tangent to bring up something in my life that your comment reminded me of, which is not the letter.

            On Marcia, I do believe she’s invested far too much in LW’s person, and probably took a few hits to the ego, setting off that “storm into LW’s office” outburst (I suspect if everyone who was gossiping about Marcia/LW/bulimia was on Marcia’s side, she’d feel validated enough that she wouldn’t want the chatter to stop). I still think it’s easily possible that Marcia is at the “truly believes this; is ignorant and factually wrong” stage. Her reference point for bulimia is just “a girl she knew.”

            1. RagingADHD*

              I mean that someone who thinks they know what’s best for another adult better than the adult knows for themselves does not have a legitimate or righteous concern for that person’s best interest. You can’t be honestly concerned for someone else’s wellbeing if you discount their autonomy or their own assessment of their needs. Those things are in direct opposition.

              The obsessive guy may be self-deluded, and I suppose you could characterize that as “sincere.” But it is not honest.

              I do not believe that anyone, no matter how self-deluded, would scream and rant at someone as Marcia is described doing, if they were in any respect, to any degree, by any definition, sincerely concerned about that person’s wellbeing. They might cry and ask “why do you hate me when I’m only trying to help?” or something equally manipulative. But not what is characterized in the letter.

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          It’s possible, but given that Marcia is also insulting the LW’s clothes and saying they aren’t work appropriate, it sounds to me more like she is just somebody who likes insulting people. She didn’t even say the LW had bulimia until she got in trouble and got defensive. What she said at first was that the LW reminded her of somebody with bulimia, which sounds to me more like middle school bully behaviour than somebody genuinely, if problematically, concerned. “Your clothes aren’t work appropriate, you eat too little and you remind me of somebody I knew who had bulimia” sounds like somebody just throwing out random insults (not that being like somebody with bulimia is an insult, but it sounds like Marcia thinks it is).

          She only started focussing on the supposed bulimia after the boss spoke to her which sounds to me like she was deflecting rather than that she thinks the LW really has bulimia.

          I mean, it is possible, but whereas the guy you are talking about seems obsessed with EDs, Marcia just seems to be making a whole string of insults and personal remarks and the bulimia one was just the last straw that got her in trouble.

          1. AKchic*

            I agree with you. I think Marcia was just upping her insults because the gendered insults (clothing/body) weren’t landing. When her “girl I knew with bulimia” public insult got a public reaction, and then she was chastised, she doubled down because she actually DID get a reaction, and finally knew where she could dig deeper. It also served her a bit more since she was already needling OP about her clothes/body to begin with.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      Yes, if anything, I think this would be even worse if the LW did have an eating disorder. Not that it’s not horrible even when she doesn’t, but it would be deeply harmful if she did.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        If anyone in the room had an ED, quite possibly. Because the idea that colleagues might be paying such close attention to what each other eats/does is not helpful.

    3. pally*

      I was thinking this as well.

      If OP really did have bulimia, does Marcia think her actions would remedy it? That makes her twice the ass that anyone would be who harasses coworkers.

    4. kiki*

      Yes! I think a lot of Marcias of the world operate under the guise of “helping” but if you even think about it just the tiniest bit, it’s not helpful to anyone at all! Marcia is just being mean and rude.

  38. Csethiro Ceredin*

    I’m so sorry, OP. It sounds like she has some serious hangups about body size, which would be pitiable if she weren’t having them AT you. I agree, speak to HR as soon as possible!

    In my 20s I had a roommate who did this, telling a whole bunch of people (including my mom) that I was bulimic. My poor mom was quite worried as we lived in different cities. When I eventually found out and asked my roommate what on earth made her think that, she said angrily that well we ate all the same things and I was skinnier than her so what other explanation could there be, plus she had heard me coughing with seasonal allergies.

    She turned out to have a really big issue with my body that led to all kinds of other hostility until I moved out. It took me years to get over the self-consciousness and some kind of misplaced guilt. I really encourage you to get your management to deal with Marcia so you don’t have lingering weirdness like I did… plus she really needs to learn not to do this!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      well we ate all the same things and I was skinnier than her so what other explanation could there be

      What on earth! I have an otherwise lovely friend who has her own issues with body size and image and will sometimes say a variation of this to me, and it’s like 1. we actually don’t eat the same things, and not the same quantities and 2. genetics?? It’s not like there’s One True Body out there, everyone is shaped differently!

      1. Csethiro Ceredin*

        Yes, it was so nonsensical that I was shocked. To be fair, we were about 21 and it was in the whole ‘heroin chic’ era – not that I was THAT thin – so we were all swimming in a very toxic soup. I didn’t really see at the time that it was far easier to be largely oblivious to all that with my family history and body type than hers.

        I hope your friend starts to be kinder to herself. Society doesn’t make it easy, I know, but maybe she will internalize your very logical comments!

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        If CC was coughing in a deep, I guess from the whole body kinda way? it can sound like someone is retching. Coughing like that in the bathroom could make another person think they were throwing up.

        Not endorsing the roommate at all! Just saying why that detail might be relevant.

  39. Angelino Bambino*

    I sincerely hope this gets resolved; however, I have a sneaking suspicion that it won’t.

    I also worked with a deranged bully who enjoyed sabotaging our work, so she could tattle. Trust me, she was no model employee, either. In addition, she sexually harassed other women, and she behaved like a Single White Female where I was concerned. (No, this is NOT flattering; it’s damned creepy!)

    Many good employees, including myself, ended up leaving due to her sick shenanigans and we were dismayed by an owner and operations manager who found it easier to sweep this mess under the rug.

    I sincerely hope OP receives some vindication and reprieve, but she should be expanding her options in case the rug sweeping and victim blaming wage on.

  40. girlie_pop*

    This is so gross. My absolute favorite thing about fully remote work is being able to mostly opt out of conversations about diet/exercise/weight/food/etc. And I never even had anyone commenting on my body or food choices as directly as Marcia is on LW’s! Just, ew.

    1. Tammy 2*

      Yessssss! My relationship with food and my body has improved dramatically since not being so exposed to workplace diet talk.

  41. Indolent Libertine*

    I’m incandescently angry at the BP’s comment that he “needs work culture here to REMAIN good.” Dude. It can’t remain good unless it’s good to start with, and a culture in which coworkers feel free to bully other coworkers over perceived disabilities, perceived health issues, food choices, opinions about their clothing, etc. is demonstrably extremely far from “good.”

    Of course, we all know that what he really means by “good” is “free from what I perceive as “drama” that might require me to have an unpleasant conversation with anyone, ever.”

  42. Sneaky Squirrel*

    Start documenting all of this immediately – the food, the clothing, the “apology”, the VPs response, etc and be sure to bring this to HR. However, it reads to me that while you may have had a few conversations, most of them reference the incident. I wonder if it’s worth it to have a conversation with your boss (who initially spoke to Marcia and has your back) and/or the VP if you feel secure, to ensure that they understand that it’s a pattern of ongoing harassment behaviors from Marcia that you are requesting support in and not just an apology from Marcia.

  43. Delta Delta*

    I know it’s often a knee-jerk reaction to advise LWs to find a new job, but LW might want to find a new job. Let’s pretend for a second HR removes Marcia. Management has already shown LW that they don’t actually care about doing the right thing, they care about Marcia. Management is clear there’s only room for 1 of you in the organization, and it’s Marcia.

    This would be some exit interview with HR, as well.

  44. Hedgehug*

    The fact that your HR is not local I think will benefit you. They will see things as they are, black and white on paper, and won’t be swayed by Marcia the way leadership is for some reason.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I agree. See how outraged everyone here is reacting? That’s how it reads on paper if you don’t know either party. HR will likely have a similar reaction.

  45. No Longer a Bookkeeper*

    omg I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, LW! This is almost as bananas as the lady who showed up at her coworker’s house to give an exercise demo! I hope Marcia doesn’t escalate from banana pants to a whole banana suit! I agree with everyone else to go to HR and use the words “ADA violation” and “hostile work environment” in writing (because at this point Marcia is harassing you for a perceived disability). And if that doesn’t work, I would follow up with an employment lawyer.

    I’ll never understand why people can’t just keep their eyes on their own plate in offices, it’s so frustrating! At my last job a coworker felt the need to explain why she was getting candy from the (free) candy jar every. single. time. we both happened to be in the kitchen, until I told her that I had 0 opinions about her eating candy and that she never had to explain her food choices to me. She was blown away! I felt so bad for her because she must have experienced some really negative food policing at previous jobs.

    Ironically right before I quit that job we discovered that my boss had a SECRET CAMERA in the pantry to keep track of how many free snacks people were taking, so maybe the coworker was right to be afraid of the food police…

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Okay, what the actual fuck? She has so much time on her hands she installs A CAMERA to monitor free snack taking?

      I mean, if people’s actual lunches were being stolen, or said free snacks were regularly being cleaned out overnight or some other issue, I could see being worried and doing something about it. But this is unhinged.

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

    It’s probably faster to report sexual harassment…I’m sure she isn’t this obsessed with any man’s eating habits or body. While the OP could probably make a case for an ADA violation, that would feed Marcia’s conviction that she’s right, or get bogged down by needing to document a disability in order for HR to agree that it’s an ADA violation.

    From a marketing perspective, you’re rebranding the narrative that other people hear from “look at her food, is she or is she not bulimic” to “a woman’s body is not a work-appropriate topic.” Take food completely out of the discussion because many people think food is an okay topic.

    “Marcia, stop commenting on my body, this is sexual harassment.”
    “Marcia, my clothing is appropriate for the office, this is sexual harassment.”

    1. AKchic*

      You’re not wrong. Marcia wasn’t getting a reaction from her sexual harassment originally, so she upped the ante and moved on to the bulimia shtick, which, to me, seems to be adjacent to the body/clothing commentary. OP’s body is too “good” in Marcia’s mind for an office. She’s thin/toned/shapely/whatever and is able to wear fitted outfits nicely, and it bothers Marcia for some reason. Even though OP isn’t wearing anything revealing, the outfits still show off OP’s general shape, which is “in shape” and that, for whatever reason, offends Marcia. So… she makes comments.
      When the comments on body and clothing didn’t work, she had to find a reason for why OP is so thin/toned/shapely while working a desk job. Couldn’t possibly be genetics or luck or an active lifestyle outside of the office. Oh no, we have to go to catastrophizing and dramatizing so OP looks bad for looking good.

      I wouldn’t doubt that OP’s just the latest seemingly fit woman to be scrutinized by Marcia (and yes, I say “seemingly fit” because I do know that many thin people have underlying health factors that keep them relatively low-weight and they aren’t in the best health; I’ve been there myself).

      I agree that calling Marcia out in the moment is a good one. Especially if there are witnesses. It might get her to stop. If nothing else, it will call attention to her continued harassment and get others to start thinking about her actions.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s factually incorrect, and the reason why is addressed in the answer to the letter. You don’t need to document anything for an ADA claim, it also covers situations where you are perceived to have a disability. This has already been confirmed to be that situation, with many witnesses.

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

        Marcia wants to have a discussion about OPs body. She wants OP to be on the defensive. She wants OP to have to PROVE she isn’t bulimic. Don’t have that conversation. There is a reason in the courts why we don’t have a “prove you DIDN’T do it.” You can’t win that game. As noted in the original letter, any defense is seen as proof she is. You have to change the discussion entirely and take control of the conversation. It very much is sexual harassment… any continual unwelcome comments on a person’s body is sexual harassment.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It’s not sexual harassment by any legal statute and one of the main things she’s pointing to is behavior.

          This is just a completely unrealistic way to get anywhere in this situation.

    3. Ginger Cat Lady*

      But it is NOT sexual harassment! Reporting the issue as something it is not is a great way to have the complaint just dismissed.
      If someone breaks into your house and steals your laptop and you report it as a kidnapping, that doesn’t help resolve the real issue.

      1. AKchic*

        This started out as gendered harassment. Sexual harassment. I think the bulimia claim is just an escalation of the original body-shaming/clothing commentary since the original body/clothing comments didn’t get the desired reactions out of OP that Marcia wanted. The public bulimia accusations got a reaction.
        So yes, there is a sexual harassment component.

  47. StarTrek Nutcase*

    I had to go to HR to get my annual review corrected and my coworker, M, shutdown. M made frequent comments on my clothing (thought it should be tighter), makeup (should be more), and my ethnicity/religion (didn’t believe I wasn’t Jewish cause of my big nose & last name). M and I are both obese but she favors tight clothing & dramatic makeup (I never commented on her choices), she frequently discussed her Christianity whereas I refused to discuss religion at all. Anyway, I asked her twice to stop. I spoke to P, our supervisor, and unfortunately church friend with M, but got nowhere.

    Then one day, M, P and I are working in our tiny office, and M makes a comment on my dress. I stopped her and said I had warned her already and now I would go to HR. M said she was trying to fix my lack of fashion, P said zip. Next day, P gives me my annual review flagging as unsatisfactory working with colleagues. I asked for specifics and only thing was day before convo with M.

    I immediately went to HR to report M as well as P’s inappropriate review rating. M got a written reprimand, my review was changed to achieves, and 2 weeks later I promoted out to another department. My only regret is not going to HR sooner.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m sorry you had to deal with ANY of that but I’m glad HR was able to help

    2. Empress Ki*

      “didn’t believe I wasn’t Jewish cause of my big nose”. My jaw is dropping on the floor ! That’s clearly hateful speech targeted at Jewish people. M. deserves more that just written up.

      What happened to P. ? Fired ?

  48. Pyjamas*

    It sounds like the VP is repeating what you say to Marcia. There needn’t be any hanky panky; maybe they’ve been colleagues for a long time or are friends outside work. But I’d assume anything you say to VP will get to Marcia.

    Hmmmm… maybe you should confide to VP that you’re consulting a lawyer about harassment

  49. Grapes are my Jam*

    Oh, OP, I’m so sorry – this sounds crazymaking! I agree with everyone who says you should confront her, but instead of telling Marcia to stop “commenting” on your body, I would tell her to stop “fixating on” or “obsessing over” your body. That language is certainly more accurate to what she’s doing. Annnnnd, if said loudly for others to hear, might get more people on your side.
    The fact that she’s manipulating your managers to her side is really dangerous; you have nothing to lose here.

  50. Monty*

    I actually am in bulimia recovery and I worry all the time that people notice that my eating habits have changed now that I’m no longer acutely ill. Part of my recovery plan involves eating snacks or meals every 3-4 hours, serving my food on a plate (or tupperware, or napkin, but not just grabbing an orange out of the fridge), and including a balance of fibres, fats, and carbs with every snack/meal. As you might imagine, this is a night-and-day difference from how I used to eat at work (either drastically undereating or binging when I was alone at my desk) and the anxiety of someone bringing it up to me is actually a significant barrier to recovery in and of itself. If someone loudly pointed out that my eating habits seemed related to a disorder, it would catapult me lightyears backwards in my recovery.

    1. Tulip*

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, Monty. Sending positive vibes out into the world in your honor.

    2. Jane Anonsten*

      Sending you internet hugs. I hope your recovery continues, and that your coworkers (and everyone else) continues to not say anything.

    3. SereneScientist*

      I’m so sorry and glad for you that you’re on the road to recovery. Your experience also shows exactly why comments like Marcia’s, however well intended, can be so damaging–you never know what’s going on with someone, especially work colleagues where the threshold of personal information can vary a lot.

  51. Free Meerkats*

    The email to HR needs to have the subject line, “Report of ADA violation over a perceived disability.”

  52. Ms. Murchison*

    While I’d follow AAM’s advice IF the LW has reason to believe that the VP is open to new ideas (i.e. is able to keep an open mind if they hear they had their facts wrong), I wouldn’t hold out hope of the VP reacting constructively to that request. Someone whose response to witnessing bullying is telling the victim to shut up instead of the harasser is unlikely to respond well to the victim standing up for themselves. I hope the LW has other strategies (EEOC, labor attorney, etc.) ready to go in their back pocket after that conversation. I would more likely advise the LW to go straight to HR since, by approaching the LW to pressure her to stop gossiping based only on the bully’s claim that LW is doing so, the VP has become part of the problem that the LW needs to report.

  53. Elastigirl*

    I am so grateful for the entire comment thread here, as it helps me understand (and appreciate!) something in my own workplace.

    Last year, I received medical treatment for a previously undiagnosed hormonal problem. As a result, I have lost 1/3 of my body weight in under a year. I have gone from being clinically obese to having a normal BMI (for the first time in my life). I’m down 4 clothing sizes. I look (and feel) radically different.

    Out in the world, the way people react to me has changed. No more side eye from servers if I want to order something decadent to eat. Salespeople in clothing shops come to offer help instead of hiding when I walk in. And of course, my own social circle has been lavishly supportive and demonstrative about the change.

    But at work, nothing. Out of the dozens and dozens of people I interact with at my workplace, only 2 have said a word (and one was someone who’s a friend outside of the workplace as well). Tbh, I felt a little miffed. Shouldn’t *someone* say “you look fabulous!”??

    This thread has made me realize how very appropriate the non-reaction of the people I work most closely with has been. They’re not commenting on my new appearance because it’s irrelevant to my work — just as my former obesity was irrelevant to my work and therefore unworthy of comment.

    Thank you all for helping me change my own attitude! Makes me even happier about the great people in my department!

    1. SereneScientist*

      I can understand you would have perhaps liked more positive responses from your coworkers but your conclusions are correct. In general, I find comments on individuals’ bodies to be so highly fraught that it’s not usually worth it in a work setting, or really, any social environment in which we are “captive” in some way, because there are dozens of reasons someone might have lost a ton of weight ranging from very positive to very negative.

    2. Juicebox Hero*

      I can understand your coworkers not saying anything, honestly. The default regarding coworkers’ bodies seems to be, don’t do it. And I’m in favor of that.

      They don’t know if you’ve lost weight intentionally or if it’s due to illness, medication, life stress, etc. No one wants to be the jerk with their foot in their mouth. It reinforces the stereotype that thin is good at fat is bad therefore you’re worth more as a thinner person. It can come across as skeezy, patronizing, flirtatious, and all other kind of bad adjectives.

      I experienced this from the opposite side. When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and started medication, and cut out a lot of bad for me foods, I lost a noticeable amount of weight rather quickly. I also had nasty GI side effects from the medication and had trouble keeping my blood sugar steady. Low blood sugar makes you shake and sweat buckets and you get anxious and feel like you’re going to pass out. Suddenly, people were telling me I looked great as I’m shaking and sweating and running to the bathroom a million times. I was polite, but inside I was angry that they seemed to think I was such a fat ugly slob before.

    3. Enai*

      Congratulations on the perspective change! And I, too, would say nothing about a weight change if I don’t know for a fact that it is wanted. Nothing hits quite like saying “Oh you lost weight! Congrats!” and hearing “Thanks, it’s a side effect of the chemotherapy!”, thus I won’t chance it.

    4. Boof*

      I am glad you are feeling good! And it is an astute observation; I’ve seen plenty of posts here where someone lost weight dramatically because they were really sick and any complimentary comments felt bad, because for them the weight change was part of the bad things that were happening to them. I definitely think it’s a very good sign that no one at work is treating you differently / getting in your business about it.

    5. anon_sighing*

      You lost weight but do you look FABULOUS? ;) I am joking, of course, and I am sure you do because it sounds like this was a welcome change and the difference in feeling isn’t a negative one, so it probably shows.

      That said, you coworkers may also see you’re happy and nothing seems wrong/amiss, so they have no reason to say anything (out of “worry” presumably) since you seem alright and there is nothing to worry about!

  54. Maggie*

    OP I feel for you! This reminds me of my own “Marcia” my first job out of college. She bullied me so relentlessly that I drove home in tears at least once a week. From making a show of rolling her eyes anytime I was introduced or publicly questioning if I had read the dress code when I wore a skirt. I was so humiliated but was temp to hire and afraid if I complained to my boss (even though some of this behavior was in front of her!) they wouldn’t hire me. This lady would also come in at 4am and do all the work in our shared que so I had nothing to work on in an effort to get me fired. This is a business with over 30,000 employees in the US and definitely has an HR.

    1. anon_sighing*

      > This lady would also come in at 4am and do all the work in our shared que so I had nothing to work on in an effort to get me fired.

      This is some “Single White Female”-levels of behavior! Seriously going out of her way over you. Wow.

  55. Someone Else's Boss*

    The fact that Marcia’s comfort is more important to the VP than OP’s comfort tells me everything I need to know about this organization. Marica is in charge. No one is happy if Marcia isn’t happy. OP, start looking for another job in the background. You may find that nothing makes you comfortable here again.

  56. SereneScientist*

    Boy, that’s some pretty classic DARVO techniques from Marcia right there. No idea if it is intentional or some really warped reaction of “I’m *just* concerned about LW and she’s attacking me for it!!” but that shit needs to stop.

  57. DameB*

    Ah. This is a perfect example of a toxic culture. OP, I’m sorry I know you love your job but I would GTFO. This woman is a vicious bully and she’s somehow convinced the people in charge to go along with her and blame YOU instead of her for her behavior. There is exactly no hope for a VP who reacts the way that one did.

    Marcia is a terrible person and I wish you well away from her.

  58. Min*

    Everybody is telling OP to get a lawyer or go to HR (with good reason!), but would OP also need a record of all the improper comments, the yelling, what happened at the luncheon, etc.? Like idk, a written list of everything, recorded conversations where Marcia or management say those outrageous things, emails if there any…?

    I guess I’m used to people dismissing me when I tell them to stop being a-holes, so I always keep “proof” if I think a situation is escalating. But does OP need to do that as well? Would it hurt their case or help it?

    1. Jaydee*

      So, recordings are unlikely and may not even be possible if it’s a 2 party consent state (she would need Marcia to agree to be recorded). Emails – or chat, text, etc. – would be great if Marcia has put things in writing. But she probably hasn’t. The best bet is probably a) writing down as much as LW can remember with as much detail now and then adding to it going forward if Marcia says/does more and b) seeing if she can find some coworkers who have witnessed things and are willing to say what they saw/heard.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      Can’t speak for lawyers, but with HR – they will do an investigation. The more details that OP can provide about dates, times, witnesses, the better. HR will interview the witnesses and get as close to a consistent story that they can.

  59. Kella*

    OP, please do go to HR. Make sure to mention:

    –Marcia’s history of making comments on your clothing, body and eating habits
    –The fact that Marcia was sharing with the VP that she thought you had bullemia, in a way that would be obviously visible to you
    –The fact that Marcia told the entire group present that she thought you had bullemia
    –That the VP apparently did nothing to shut this down
    –Which managers came and addressed the issue with you afterward and what you told them
    –How much time passed between the last conversation with a manager and Marcia’s sudden outburst
    –That, unprovoked, Marcia yelled at you to stop talking about the issue, claiming *other people* wanted you to stop talking about it
    –That the VP also asked you to stop talking about the issue, by citing keeping the “culture good”
    –That as far as you know, none of the managers who initiated those conversations with you about the issue have been chastised for discussing it in the way that you were by Marcia and the VP.
    –That thus far, Marcia has received no consequences for her actions BUT YOU HAVE and there have been no attempt made to resolve things with you.

    This is absolutely a hostile work environment and ADA violation. Don’t let them shut you up about it.

  60. anon_sighing*

    I am so sorry – I had a similar coworker but it never escalated to her making a public comment like this but she was relentless about weight comments and appearance comments (and a mess of things you shouldn’t say in the office, like when younger female employees planned to have kids).

    At the time, I was intentionally trying to lose weight and tone up, but in general, I don’t like eating in front of others. They made a few comments and it made me so self-conscious. People feel so comfortable saying “you eat like a bird” as if it’s a compliment (and yet if you said “you eat like a pig”….WAY different social acceptance level)…it’s so uncomfortable to know people are monitoring your plate, whether its to say its too much or too little.

    Everyone telling you to document is correct. If you can clarify with everyone else and continue to enjoy your work, that’s ideal but I do think it’s time for escalation because talking doesn’t do things for these people. Just a lot of “why are you upset I am a jerk???? That seems like a you thing!”

  61. JSPA*


    On the one hand, policing other people’s food intake is something that’s sadly far too normalized in our society. A lot of Marcias don’t require explanation; they just suck. If Marcia sucks in all kinds of other ways, and is a bully more generally, to other people, in other ways, read no further. And a lot of bosses just suck at handling difficult employees. If that’s your boss, more generally? Again, read no further.

    On the other hand, if Marcia is otherwise decent (her attitude towards bodies and food intake is her one fixation) and your boss is not normally so feckless, it’s worth considering whether Marcia has some sort of accommodation of her own (which is naturally normally private) and your boss is unclear on the concept of what the limits are, on that.

    Let’s posit (not as a diagnosis, but as one unadressed possibility) that

    a) the level of policing, doubling-down, and personal investment in other people’s eating that Marcia has done and continues to do, is linked to her own issues with food / body image / other diagnosed trauma relating to disordered eating (noting that she’s already told you that she’s seen it in “a girl”; it isn’t a wild conjecture that the “girl” could be family, close friend, or she herself.)

    b) that she is (privately) on record as needing acommodations, and that your boss is handling this badly by assuming that her accommodation gives her the right to harass other people, and thus swinging from, “must do something” to “whelp, can’t do anything except ask for understanding.”

    In which case, a review of the following may be helpful, before you take the issue up with HR or with your boss (again). Not because I want you to “feel for” Marcia, who’s being absolutely vicious, regardless of her motivation(s). But because it’s useful to have counter-arguments ready, for a range of plausible circumstances.

    No matter what Marcia’s life experiences have been, no matter what her own issues are, and no matter how any hypothetical accomodations may be written, she’s not morally or legally justified in attacking, diagnosing and harassing you; and your boss cannot simply ask you to drop your anti-harassment campaign, for convenience. But sometimes you have to explicitly cover every aspect of this statement to prevail with HR.

  62. Whoa Nelly*

    It is true, HR is not the friend of the employee, but the manager. I had 2 experiences. When I was a manager, they supported me. When I was an employee, they supported the manager. That said, this is not a situation regarding the job duties. It’s medical and disability (even if perceived) harassment. Based on no knowledge at all. Kind of like how some people think anyone who is smaller than them, is “too skinny” and anyone larger than them is “too big.” They’re making themselves the standard bearer, instead of realizing people come in all shapes and sizes.

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