Anonymous: I’m in a work situation where a co-worker makes comments about my size and is just a bully. I’m not sure how to deal with the situation, but it is affecting my work. I didn’t expect to have something like this happen to me as an adult. What should I do?
We thought we were rid of them, huh? Bullies were just something we had to endure while we were still in school. Kids are cruel, but when we all grow up, we start becoming respectful adults, right? I mean, that’s definitely how it should be, but a lot of bullies never face any push back or consequences for their behavior during their school days. They may mature a little bit, be less direct about their comments, maybe even shrug it off as just good ol’ fashioned ball-bustin’, but there’s no debating it, they’re assholes.
Don’t Ignore the Situation
As bigger people, we have pretty thick skin most of the time when it comes to comments about our weight, because we expect it, it’s happened our entire life. There are places, however, where we expect to feel safe enough to let our guard down: where we live and where we work. Whatever your job is, I’m sure it requires your attention, and if you are spending your whole day either being insulted or thinking about being insulted, it makes working impossible. So let’s stop this bully, shall we?
The only reason your coworker seems to think it is ok to bully you and comment on your weight is because no one has stopped them or said something to them before. They probably snickered and said mean things to people throughout school and college, and because they weren’t physically hurting someone, they believed that they were perfectly justified in doing so. We’ve all seen countless stories of standing up to your bully on tv and in movies, just think of good ole George McFly finally socking Biff in Back to The Future. Sadly, most bullies never get their comeuppance when they are younger, so you will have to be the one to do it.
Address the Antagonist Head-On
No, I am not telling you to punch your bully, as much as we would love to do that, I am assuming you still want your job and your freedom at the end of the day. I am telling you to confront them. Don’t insult them, don’t yell in their face, just calmly let them know that what they are doing is inappropriate. It is beyond disarming for a bully to get told to their face what they are doing is wrong.
“Why do you need to say that? That really hurts my feelings. You are making me uncomfortable while I’m trying to do my job”.
That simple. It works because you’ve never seen it happen in any movie, it’s not dramatic, it’s not over the top, it’s truthful and genuine. You aren’t lashing out and attacking the bully, you are appealling to their humanity. Now, this person probably doesn’t think of themselves as a bad person, and confronted with being told they are acting inappropriately, chances are they will try to defend themselves by giving you reasons for their comments. Most likely they will use the stock excuse that anyone uses when they are confronted about insulting a fat person.
“I am not being mean, I am just concerned for your health”.
What an original and valid excuse, right? Of course not. It’s ridiculous. This is their justification for bigotry, because in their minds they get to paint themselves as the concerned angel who just might save you from yourself. It’s self serving and an attempt to let themselves off the hook for being a dick. So when they try that little ditty on you, you respond:
“You don’t know anything about my health, you are not my doctor, you have never examined me or seen my bloodwork, my health is none of your business.”
The only way forward for the bully is now outright assholery. They will have to own the fact that they are mean, and not that great of a person. Their power over you is gone.
Hold Them Accountable
If you want a little extra leverage in making sure this works, try to confront them in front of at least one other coworker. Being called out in front of your peers makes the bully less able to hide, deny, or sweep it under the rug, because your coworkers are going to be talking about it, holding this bully accountable not just in your situation, but in all situations.
It’s as much about liberating yourself as it is shutting your bully down.
This approach works. It will probably be a little weird because it feels so unnatural to do, but it works. I had to do this exact thing with one of my best friends. He would constantly make little jokes about my weight, thinking he was just busting my balls, but one day I had enough and confronted him, calmly and human to human.
“You keep making fun of me for being fat, and I don’t know why, as my friend, you are deliberately trying to hurt me.”
He got defensive just like I told you your bully would, but I
stayed calm, stayed the course, and didn’t make excuses for him. I held him
accountable. He is still one of my best friends, and he has not made a comment
about my weight since. He still busts balls, and I still bust his, but now it’s
for what we do, what we say, and the contents of our character, just like God
You do not deserve to feel unsafe and uncomfortable in your
own work place, you aren’t overreacting, You are standing up for you. If it
continues and gets more aggressive there is always the option to talk to your
boss or the HR department. They cannot ignore filed harassment claims. But do
not do that until you have spoken for yourself first. It’s as much about
liberating yourself as it is shutting your bully down.