It’s the very beginning of our semester, and I’ve been sitting on this blog for about a month now. I wrote it as soon as I got back from Winter Break, but wasn’t sure about publishing it. My friend from NASPA @MsKelseyGamble suggested I let it sit with my soul for a while, and after almost a month I’ve realized it needs to be said. When I first wrote this, I had just had a cymbal-crashing, jaw-dropping realization: I’ve felt fat-shamed in my workplace for the past 3 months. For an intro into what fat-shaming is, I’d recommend starting here. You’re probably thinking, “What made her have that realization now?” Let me backtrack a bit.
Leading the Team
My current institution is continually rated one of the healthiest places to work in Baltimore. We have a personal trainer on staff through HR, fitness classes available to staff for free every weekday, and semester-long challenges geared toward healthy living and weight loss. When I got here, I quickly realized I was the heaviest person in my department. That’s not saying a whole lot since there are 8 professional staff total, but I noticed it. When the semester’s weight loss/healthy living challenge was rolled out, I signed up to be out team leader. It was a small way to engage in a healthier workplace with my coworkers while moving my personal health in the right direction.
When we learned Weight Watchers (WW) was going to be coming to campus, that was a whole different animal. I tried to think of every excuse not to participate because I’ve never talked about my weight gain with anyone, much less a bunch of colleagues. Nope. I wasn’t going to do it. My boss is a lifetime member and convinced me to go to the interest meeting with her, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. The university was also subsidizing half the cost, so I figured I might as well give a whirl.
In order to attend the meetings, my boss and I needed to move our weekly staff meeting back by an hour. Before committing to the meeting on our campus—we have two campuses and two meetings, so going to the other campus would have been an option—my boss asked the other people in our department if moving the meeting back by an hour would be okay, and everyone agreed.
During the first actual week of WW meetings, I went to lunch with the other RDs before the weigh-in. The fact that our boss had bumped our staff meeting came up, and I mentioned that it was because of our WW meeting. The response was, “Are you [expletive] kidding me?” I obviously wasn’t so I didn’t know what to say, but in the coming weeks, it continuously came up. More than once, I mentioned that everyone had agreed to the time change before the decision was made, and the response was, “Well if I’d known that was the reason…”
And these weren’t isolated incidents with just my immediate coworkers. There’s been this underlying eye roll from other people in the division when those of us participating in WW talk about it. At all levels of the division, it’s been treated like a joke. The most supportive group of people—aside from my boss, the WW participants, and my off-campus people—has really been my student staff, which is not what I expected.
I don’t write this blog as a cry for sympathy or even support. I have an awesome support system in my family and friends, and a boss who’s been in my shoes and is willing to push me in the right way. No, this realization turned into a blog because I’m working somewhere that is supposed to value healthy living. If this is happening to me here, I know it’s happening to my peers other places. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think people realize that what they’re doing is fat-shaming. Admittedly, I’ve rolled my eyes before reading articles about the topic, but it’s hard for people to acknowledge something as hurtful if they’re not experiencing it first-hand.
I’m asking that, in a field where we’re supporters all the time to students, we’re cognizant of how we support and fail to support our peers. I don’t want my coworkers to acknowledge every pound I lose or new workout I try, but I also don’t want them to make me feel bad about bettering myself, and that’s what fat-shaming is.
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Podcast With Kristen Abell on #SACommits