One word: earphones
March 26, 2012 5:11 AM   Subscribe

I have a lot of weight, eating, and body-image related issues that I am trying my best to overcome. It is going to be a long hard slog. I'm much better than I used to be, but one thing that makes me feel really bad is when colleagues and friends talk about dieting and working out.

I don't really know how to phrase this question.

I know that (a) people should totally diet/work out if they want to and (b) they are totally within their rights to talk about it a lot, should they want to, but it makes me feel really bad to hear, so I need some help in filtering this out, and in not feeling like such a gross fat failure whenever they talk about these things.

They are of both genders, but invariably thin (my overweight friends never talk about these things, possibly because we know what a sensitive topic it can be).

I have a very fraught history with food, weight, etc - I was put on my first diet when I was about seven years old - and I am pretty big right now, with a tendency to eat too much when stressed. I have been on diets before but they sent my anxiety off the charts so I stopped. I have bouts of being very active and bouts of being very sedentary. I was bullied quite badly at school for being fat (though I wasn't really that fat) and had very low self esteem. I work quite hard on my self-esteem now so it's not as bad as it has been. I work hard at being positive. I like the way I look about 70% of the time.

But one thing that always makes me feel like an outsider and a failure as a woman (!) is when my co-workers or friends start talking enthusiastically about dieting, how great So-and-so looks now that they've lost weight, how "bad" they felt after eating that one cookie, but how they're going to make up for it by running four miles tonight. That sort of thing. I feel like an outsider because I obviously can't join in, and I feel like a failure because, well, the entire conversation is about how they don't want to become fat, ie, like me. (I know this is a very narcissistic way to relate to their conversation. It is however my kneejerk reaction.)

So I guess I need some practical pointers on how to deal. I already use earphones at work, and when my friends talk about these things I just ignore it or change the subject. I am hesitant to say "When you talk about these things it makes me feel really bad" - what I can articulate to a bunch of strangers on the internet, I cannot say to people face to face. It would just put me out there and I would feel really vulnerable - and in the case of colleagues, these are not people I particularly want to show my vulnerable side to.

Sorry, this got super long. Thanks for your help
posted by anonymous to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You don't have to let them know how the conversations affect you, just that the subject is off-limits with you. "I don't like to discuss diet/exercise programs," repeated gently but firmly, should give them the picture after a few tries.
posted by xingcat at 5:14 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am a bit like you. I've lost quite a bit of weight recently, and whatever size I am, I don't like to talk about weight, weight loss or dieting. And I have some friends who go on at length about such subjects. It doesn't bother me as much as it does you, though.

What I try to keep in mind is that It Is Not About Me. When my friend who probably weighs 40% less than I do complains that she has put on weight, that is genuinely how she feels about herself and hasn't anything to do with me. I am fatter than my friend but I am doing pretty well along my own lines, and I am not a failure. I don't particularly engage with my friend's complaints - I try to change the subject if I can.

Another iron-clad rule for me is that I Will Never Use The Words Diet Or Dieting. I have made an effort to improve my eating habits and run a calorie deficit over the last couple of years, but it has not been drastic and I have not called it a diet. Ever.

I hope this helps a little. I know how difficult this can be - I'm at a place in life now where I care less about what others think of me than I used to, but I remember how it was to be more self-conscious and it wasn't nice.
posted by altolinguistic at 5:36 AM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

I hear you! Just suffered through yet another lunch where food, eating, diet, training, blahblah, shaddup, was discussed the entire way through the break. I am solving this by switching workplaces to where there are more people, and I can avoid groups who behave like this.

I am kinda already a "failure as a woman" though, so it worries me a shitload less not to be around such horrible people. In your case I might even say "you realise your entire conversation revolves around "how not to look like me" right?". It that's a little too vulnerable, I would totally go with "Hey, yo, sittin' right here ladies!".

Except for one thing... you probably aren't as big as you think. As someone whose weight fluctuates, people talk a lot more about this sort of shit the slimmer everyone is. Except for my present workgroup.
posted by Iteki at 5:38 AM on March 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

The coworkers you can't do much about, although you should feel free to quietly leave those conversations once they start. Politeness does not demand that you participate in this sort of group-food-shaming.

As for friends, if you trust them to not be jerks about it I would do pretty much exactly what xingcat just suggested. Say something to the effect of "Hey, dieting isn't really a thing I can deal with talking about right now, so I'm gonna have to bow out when you talk about it." You can bring it up in the moment, or talk about it with people one-on-one when you have a chance -- whatever is comfortable for you. I've had to have versions of this conversation with other people, and have had friends bring this and other topics up with me. I was relieved to know they weren't angry at me (usually I had sensed something was wrong) and was more than happy to make an extra effort not to put them in a bad spot.

If you can't trust them not to be jerks, deal with them the way you would deal with coworkers and then start to spend more time with your non-jerky friends.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:39 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you at all into FA/HAES? There are a ton of blogs/tumblrs/etc. which have discussions about nipping conversations like this in the bud, and are just generally nice for supporting body/fat positivity goals. The Rotund and Two Whole Cakes are two that I can think of off the top of my head.

I work (as an inbetween fattie) in the beauty industry, which is notoriously rife with body shaming/policing, and it is tough, I totally hear you. Please don't feel badly about your 'outsider' status here - I think it's commendable that you're striving to be as body positive as possible and that you don't actually want to take part in this kind of thing.

I think xingcat has a good, neutral way of opting out of these convos. Whenever I've had clients, colleagues or friends try to rope me into a body pity party, I generally try to say something along the lines of, "I'm happy with my body the way it is." It doesn't necessarily stop them from talking about their own issues, but I'm a firm believer that modeling a body positive outlook is important for setting boundaries, and often makes people understand that I'm not interested in hearing about their diets/exercise regimes/etc, so they'll change the subject anyway.
posted by catch as catch can at 5:42 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

What I try to keep in mind is that It Is Not About Me. When my friend who probably weighs 40% less than I do complains that she has put on weight, that is genuinely how she feels about herself and hasn't anything to do with me.

This a hundred times. I can almost guarantee they're not thinking about you or comparing themselves to you when they talk about this stuff.

I'm not sure if these people are talking about weight and dieting to you, or around you, or both. If it's just in your general vicinity, I was going to say earplugs, which you mentioned, and any other form of tuning out, walking away, etc. you can come up with. Try to think of it, and react to it, as you would if they started talking abut anything really boring or gross or offensive.

If they're actively trying to include you in the conversation, just say in a slightly bored, world-weary (but not unfriendly) tone, something like "Oh, I don't even worry about that stuff anymore. I'm going back to my spreadsheets!" and then smile and walk away. I think the topic feels (quite understandably) very intense to you, but they don't know that. To them, you will seem just like anyone who opts out of an office conversation once it takes a turn toward something (sex, gossip, whatever) that they don't like to talk about. I always admire those people who can assert their desire to not talk about something, without putting down those who are talking about it. It's a very mature kind of "Oh, not for me, thanks!" attitude that most people will totally respect.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:02 AM on March 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

A combination of xingcat's strategy should they try to draw you into their vortex, occasional bathroom or water cooler breaks if the yapping is getting on your nerves, and noise-cancelling headphones should do the trick.

In general, I wouldn't comment negatively on their topics of conversation; your instinct not to do so is correct. However, if they start getting really insulting toward people of size in general (namecalling, use of pejorative language comes to mind), or toward you in particular, and you're trying to do your job, you might want to turn around and say, "EXCUSE ME, but I I find that kind of comment rude. I'm trying to work here." Easier said than done, of course.

I had one youngster make a rude comment about women over 30 being "old" and one "Watch it!" growl from me caused him to back off. Didn't hurt that he was surrounded by women over 30. :-) You're in the minority on the weight/diet topic, sadly.

And just wait until the "successful" dieters put it all back on again and be glad you're not them.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:03 AM on March 26, 2012

I honestly do not think it can be effectively dealt with unless you are willing to make yourself a bit vulnerable. There are many ways of attempting to rationalize it, avoid it, change the subject, depersonalize the conversations but the bottom line is that it is a part of much conversation and is culturally ubiquitous. If one one make a commitment to accepting oneself the way they are (which is a perfectly legitimate strategy) then neutralizing negative feelings about your self, in upsetting social contexts, will require you to be clear about your self acceptance and the upsetting nature of these conversations. I think you have to either make a full commitment to "fat acceptance" or a full commitment to "weight management". What is almost impossible to do is make peace with this issue by hoping it goes away or vacillating day to day--it will not get better on its own. Either way requires significant work , and self exposure, on your part.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:03 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

...or friends start talking enthusiastically about dieting, how great So-and-so looks now that they've lost weight, how "bad" they felt after eating that one cookie...

Sometimes I'm that co-worker. People talk about what they're thinking about, you know? I'm struggling (again) to lose ten pounds and the only way I make any progress is if I think *constantly* about what I'm eating. I talk about what I'm thinking about. I don't always think about how the people listening to me are affected by my idiotic blather.

It you were sitting next to me, I would be very appreciative if you would say something to make me shut up and think. Maybe something like, "Yeah, body image is a tricky thing, isn't it?"

I would welcome the opportunity to have a serious conversation about it, if you were open to it. How even those stupid ten pounds can make me feel like a failure as a woman. How our issues affect us. How we can be strong successful women regardless. How we can be kinder to each other and ourselves.
posted by evilmomlady at 6:04 AM on March 26, 2012 [12 favorites]

I'm a fat guy, and listening to thin people bang on about how hard they have to work to get even thinner gets old pretty fast for me as well.

And I've done the yoyo diet thing as well, and copped the inevitable blowback as well, and that's one of the reasons I'm now very fat as opposed to just fat. But it took a hell of a long time (I'm 50 now) to get to a point where I could shrug off the feeling of implicit criticism in every mention of dieting by any person in my presence.

Here's the thing: dieting to lose weight, for a fat person, is a sucker's game. It works OK for a while, but if being too fat is basically your motivation for paying attention to what you eat then it's never going to result in a permanently healthy body weight. For that, a body needs to live in a way that balances the amount of exercise it gets with the amount of nutrition it absorbs, and for most of the fat people I know - myself included - that basically means figuring out sustainable ways to build more exercise into living.

Most of the fat people I know - myself included - got that way by being essentially sedentary. The only year in my life where I have not been slowly but steadily getting fatter were the ones when I was using a bicycle for almost all transport and/or swimming every day.

So my practical advice on how to deal with feeling bad about being fatter than you want is to pound into your head, again and again and again, and over and over and over, by whatever means you can, that fat is not a moral issue. For people like us who have been fat shamed all our lives, that takes quite a lot of practice. But the good parts about doing that practice are that (a) it can be done completely without requiring the cooperation of anybody else and (b) it ends up putting you in an emotional space where you can stop obsessing about looks and concentrate on the practicalities of replacing activities that sap your physical fitness with alternatives that improve it.

Fuck thin. Get strong.

My Big Dummy should arrive Thursday. I can't wait.
posted by flabdablet at 6:10 AM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

I can't emphasize enough to you how self-focused people are on this issue. I am at a technically healthy weight but working on losing ten pounds so my clothes fit right again; I have overweight friends and my own diet and exercise routine has absolutely zero to do with them in any way. I never think about their bodies. I only think about my own.

You aren't ever going to be able to avoid hearing about diet and exercise in our culture, but maybe remembering that nobody gives a shit what anyone else looks like will help you.
posted by something something at 6:18 AM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

Anon, I truly get this. Memail me if you want to commiserate.
posted by gentian at 6:33 AM on March 26, 2012

I work with two 5ft UK size 6 coworkers. I, on the other hand, am 6ft and UK 16.

I feel your pain.

After a time, I grew the attitude of 'thank god I'm not like them' purely because they just can't see how ignorant it is to lament eating a scone. A scone. Or something like a sandwich AND coleslaw for lunch.

How I deal with it is just know in my heart what I am doing to be healthy - I jog ungainly for 30 mins everyday and try not eat like a pig. Then i forget about weight/diet.

I also feel smug about not wasting my breath and energy on their idle diet talk. I may not be BFFs with these ladies, but then again I don't want to be.

When those around you are one way and you're the opposite, trust me, it is the hardest thing
posted by Chorus at 6:52 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Love flabdablet's advice. Fat is not a moral issue. Period. It's not "bad" to eat one cookie and the response shouldn't be a punishment of heavy workouts. I think you probably know this on a gut level, but it is very hard to not feel shamed when everyone around you is talking about it. The advice to get strong in your body and focus on health, not weight, is great. If you feel strong and fit, the weight starts taking on less significance.

You can try looking at their comments from a place of curiousity and think about what those comments say about them. Think about how sad it is that they are of what society considers a "normal" weight, and yet they still aren't satisfied with their looks. That's because being thin doesn't solve anything. Here's a link to an old blog post from Kate Harding on The Fantasy of Being Thin.

It's REALLY, REALLY hard to get there - but really, their comments are about them, not you. And you are not reacting in a self-centered way to know that body-shaming bothers you.
posted by Piglet at 6:57 AM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seriously, this kind of stuff is ubiquitous. Even in grad school, all the people in my program ever wanted to talk about was their diet/exercise plans, even when we were at conferences ostensibly to talk about our academic interests. I made zero friendships because I was repelled by how boring the conversations were.

The only way I've found of dealing with it is to tune it out. I just started reading or listening to podcasts or music if the conversation started to go that way.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:00 AM on March 26, 2012

Also, it's very important to note that nobody here is "body-shaming", the OPs coworkers aren't saying anything to her about her body, they're having conversations in front of her.
posted by downing street memo at 7:06 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I work in the health and fitness industry. I'm on a computer in an office all day doing programming and not on-site with clients, but sometimes my completely normal size 6 body and lack of hard-core diet/workout habits threatens to make me feel like the fat kid who gets picked last in gym class.

When I hear people talking about how they ran 5 miles in the morning, and are teaching a cross-fit class later and therefore absolutely CANNOT eat half one of the muffins in the break room, and they could NEVER finish a whole candy bar or bag of popcorn, that has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME AT ALL.

It might seem like people are implicitly criticizing you or your habits, but they are really really really not. I would suggest trying to modify your reaction to the behavior rather than the behavior itself, unless you want to isolate yourself from your friends/coworkers and create more distance than you already feel is there. It doesn't sound like these people are actually criticizing your food choices or your body. You feeling like that is what's happening is about your reactions and not their actions, if that makes sense. If it's the only thing these people want to talk about, then you have every right to disengage completely, but if it's just one of the topics that comes up and you happen to not be able to relate in the same ways that they do, well, that's life...

Just remember that people see themselves in a way completely separate from how they see the rest of the world, and people that are focused on health and fitness generally don't compare others or judge them because they are too busy focusing on themselves.

You work on you, and let them work on them.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 7:20 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unless someone is discussing your body in particular, you'll have to tune out the conversation or excuse yourself from it completely. Perhaps you have a unique view to share or want people to know that you don't approve of discussing the topic, but it's tough to tactfully inject all that into the conversation without invitation, which is what you're seeking to avoid. We're all fighting our own unique battles. Remember that someone discussing their battle does not reflect upon the state of yours.
posted by theraflu at 7:24 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I could have written this post, when I was at my last job. God, it was the worst. So boring and such a grind to listen to allll the time. The one thing I can say, OP, is that having changed jobs, to an environment where there is a much wider variety of people with a variety of interests, has been a huge improvement.

All you can really do is try to feel compassion for these folks. They are talking about this stuff because it's constantly on their minds. Even when they're not looking in the mirror, they're thinking about how they wish their bodies were different. It drowns out all the other thoughts they could be having. It's no fun to listen to from the outside; it's even less fun to listen to from the inside.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:52 AM on March 26, 2012

I found it helpful to point out how someone like me (fat) might take it when someone like them (thin) talked about how huge they were. It shocked me that the two women in question, both of whom had struggled with anorexia, Didn't Get It at first when I said, "yep, you guys are Huuuge" and rolled my eyes. I could see the seconds tick by as they tried to figure out why I was being Mean before they figured out that I was being Sarcastic; that both of them could fit into one of my pant legs. They honestly were so wrapped up in their own personal hell that they didn't realize it might be painful for others to hear them.

So, yes, it's not about you. But you shouldn't have to be triggered, either. So you are welcome to say something like, "weight and body talk makes me anxious - I'm just going to pop out of the room" or something like that. That's probably the grown-up thing to do. But my snarky sarcastic response above was also pretty effective at getting the women in my office to be a little more sensitive in their remarks.
posted by ldthomps at 8:23 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is it possible to change jobs or even towns? I'm really surprised to hear all the people say that this is a common conversation where they are. I'm not saying it doesn't happen where I am, but it's recognized as a very boorish topic, and boring, too- up there with endlessly discussing your investments or medication regimens and health problems.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:29 AM on March 26, 2012

Try to take satisfaction in the fact that these people seem to be much less happy with their bodies and themselves than you are. They can't even go a day without freaking out over a muffin, and god forbid someone has a birthday with cake. They've got so much of their self-worth tied up in something that takes so much of their thoughts and energy and time, that they just don't have enough else to talk about. When some lady is talking about how important it is to be thin, she's saying how important it is to her for her to be thinner than she is now; let that be her problem, and an entirely separate issue from how important it is to you for your body to be a source of contentment rather than anxiety.

That said, it IS offensive to hear someone go on about how important it is to be thin. They almost certainly don't realize it's offensive. It is almost impossible to explain to somone else why the thing they're going is offensive and have their takeaway thought be "wow, that sure was insensitive of me, I'll have to do better" instead of "wow, X sure is hair-trigger sensitive, avoiding her is going to be so awkward". There are ways that are more likely to work with some personalities and less likely with others. It's up to you whether you want to say anything or not.
posted by aimedwander at 8:47 AM on March 26, 2012

I am recovering from an eating disorder and I completely understand where you are coming from. I find this kind of conversation very upsetting and difficult to listen to, even if it has nothing to do with me at all. Here are some of the strategies I use to deal with it:

- Talk to your close friends (and any close friends at work) honestly, so they understand what's going on. They can then help redirect the conversation when it turns to food / diet, so the burden isn't always on you to redirect. This will help a lot - even if the conversation doesn't change, just being able to make eye contact over a conversation can be really reassuring.

- Redirect, redirect, redirect. If someone starts talking about say, making up for eating a cookie by running, ask them about their running shoes, or whether they feel safe as a woman running at night, or something that's not value-y but not an abrupt conversation change.

- Leave conversations when you can. Go to the bathroom, remember that you have to get work done, or call the bank, etc. It's okay to take care of yourself and leave triggering environments.

- Have friends who you can talk over this kind of thing with. "At work today, Jane said blah blah blah. Can you believe it???" This will help you remember and internalize the message that Jane is the one with distorted ideas about dieting, not you. Feel free to memail or email me anytime as well - again, I have been in a place where this was super super triggering for me, and I still really hate it.

Good luck - this is a really tough this to be dealing with.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:35 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

First of all, you're not alone. I'm actually very into cooking(and I try to keep healthy habits) and exercising, but I hate talking about it - unless talking about it is exchanging recipes or talking about what we cooked for dinner - but I hate talking about dieting.

I think people try to bond over the battle for a perfect body and make jokes about "I can't eat that scone or I'll have to run 10 miles" - they are most likely not going to actually run 10 miles just because they ate the scone.

I don't think there is much you can do about people making these comments around you, but one thing you might think about is what is prompting these comments? It's likely that your coworkers don't feel very good about their own bodies and that is why they pay so much attention to others.

They likely are only thinking about their own body issues - looking at someone else makes them think about their own body. The thought that their comments might bother you probably hasn't even entered their minds.

If you feel comfortable, mentioning that the topic makes you uncomfortable would be good. If I were making someone feel uncomfortable with comments I make without thinking, I would want to know so I could change my behavior.
posted by fromageball at 9:37 AM on March 26, 2012

I live with someone who talks a lot about this - how she shouldn't eat this, shouldn't eat that. And she has very good health reasons to be concerned: she's an epidemiologist who has written about the bad health effects of being even slightly overweight.

But at the same time, I often feel sad for her because she often does not allow herself to enjoy little things like a cookie, and while it's partly about her health, it's also a lot about her image of herself. I'm younger and heavier, but I feel like I'm less concerned with what I look like than she is.

Women in particular have a very unhealthy relationship with their appearance. Another roommate I had hated her thighs - her beautiful, muscular thighs which she developed as a varsity athlete - because they were wider than the thighs of another friend who was naturally tiny. This obsession with being smaller and smaller feels like a terrible conspiracy that women have wrought upon each other. (Meanwhile, naturally thin women feel bad that they can't fill out a bodice like a more Rubenesque woman).

As a woman, I feel like we need to help each other stop doing this to ourselves. It's not men who are the body police - it's us. We need to celebrate being healthy, not being thin.
posted by jb at 10:01 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's something about some of the comments in this thread that I find, I don't know, less than helpful. I completely support the philosophy of HAES and I believe that also has to include people (like me) who it turns out are most healthy at a weight that's relatively thin. It feels odd to argue on the "side" of thin people, since I'm not one, but I don't think it will help the OP's negative feelings to think negative things about her co-workers. It may well be rude to discuss your health or eating habits regularly, and it may well be triggering to someone who has had issues with weight or eating in the past. But I don't see how it makes anyone feel better in the long run to think of them as lame or shallow or deluded or in need of pity. (They might be those things, but it's not apparent from the question. They seem like people who are discussing a common problem or interest they have, with the unfortunate and unintended consequence of making someone else feel excluded.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:19 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Her coworkers are not shaming her or policing her behavior. It doesn't even sound like they're telling these things to her directly. They are having these conversations and she happens to be in the vicinity. I think it is also pretty unfair to characterize the people having these conversations as being self-hating and joyless and living terrible deprived lives. I have no doubt everyone responding is aware of the very terrible stereotypical ways to characterize overweight people and how wrong they can be, so why turn that same thinking on thinner people?

OP, is leaving or changing the conversation during these times possible? If not, are you able to start side-conversations with any group members who are less enthusiastic in their participation? Those are practical tactics to use.

For the psychological side, you gotta remember that your coworkers are not judging or insulting you. They are talking about themselves and their own lives only, and likely have no awareness of your feelings. I have plenty of friends who will feel they need to drop 10lbs while weighing 130, but think that I look just fine and don't need to drop any weight despite me weighing 180. When it comes to bodies, most people hold themselves to way higher standards than anyone else.

As for the possibilities of asking them to stop, I dunno if that would be kosher if you guys aren't friends. I don't know, would it be considered socially acceptable for someone who doesn't want or can't have kids ask their coworkers to not talk about their own children?
posted by schroedinger at 12:14 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

OP, I know what you mean about feeling like a failure as a woman, and I want to give you a big hug.

It's all very well and good to say that, "Oh, they're not trying to shame you personally, and they think even worse about themselves. It's not about you." But I don't think that's good enough. I think part of our role as humans in a social setting is to fight the kinds of attitudes and behaviors that lead to people being shamed for who they are. It's pretty much a fact that certain bodies are valued over others in our western society. It can be crazy-making to hear someone talk badly about and expressing hatred toward their own body, and then they turn around and say, "Oh, I would never think that of you you!" to someone whose own body is even less socially acceptable. It's a jarring juxtaposition.

I see this as a feminist issue - not to exclude men (because this does happen to men too), but because women are socialized to see their bodies as communal property. And this means building social networks around self-criticism and guilt regarding our bodies. I didn't even realize how much I took part in this until I made myself really pay attention. It becomes second nature to do the female-bonding thing by lamenting what we ate or talking about how we need to exercise or how bad we've been for eating XYZ.

I had to make the decision for myself that I just wasn't going to do this. And I'm not perfect at it, but I've made myself much more aware of how easy to slip into this kind of talk unless I'm vigilant. And let me tell you, it is so freeing not to participate in it. I just don't give myself permission to indulge in that kind of self-critical one-up-man-ship where we're all wallowing in our guilt, because it's way more unhealthy for me than a donut would ever be. And not just for me, but for the people around me. (To be a dork: I'm trying to be the change I wish to see.)

OP, part of accepting your body and wanting it to be as healthy as it can be is to include your mental and spiritual health as well. You can't stop other people from talking, but you can do a little bit of mental training to stop what you're hearing from messing too much with your equilibrium. It's okay to give yourself permission to step out of the room if you're overhearing it and it's too much. If people are talking directly to you, I find a cheerful redirect to be best - a shrug and a smile, maybe something like, "Ehh, I don't do diet talk. Hey, did anyone watch Fringe last week?"

Being a woman is not about engaging in that kind of talk. Weight/food/exercise obsession is not the hallmark of being a "real woman", although it can feel like that at times. It's time for us (time for YOU) to redefine what being a woman really means - for yourself. Take the plunge! I promise you, the water is just fine.

Take care of yourself, and feel free to memail me.
posted by Salieri at 12:56 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think it's narcissistic to feel bad when people talk about the lengths they go to not to look like I do, and all the 'it's not about me' self-talk in the world makes me feel better about that. When society teaches you that your body is bad and wrong and you should feel bad about it - to the point where seven year old children have their food restricted - it's pretty hard not to take this shit personally.

The thing is, everybody is swimming in this shit stream together whether they see it or not. Too fat, too thin, too light or dark - even models photoshopped into perfection aren't 'good enough'. Fuck that noise.

You've already done tremendous work fighting to be positive about yourself, but I think taking the next step might help. It's unfortunate, because it requires a degree of vulnerability that's not comfortable at work, but you need to allow yourself to speak up when something makes you feel bad. It sucks and it's awkward to have to point out to someone that they unwittingly hurt you but it's better than suffering in silence. Just because they accidentally stepped on your toes it doesn't mean you can't say OW.

Good luck with this, and congrats on all your hard work!
posted by Space Kitty at 1:27 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
OP here. To clarify a couple of things
- These are conversations addressed both TO me, and just taking place in the general vicinity;
- I have no desire to malign my co-workers. I don't think they're bad people, or in any way lesser, for caring about their health. I hope I made that clear in the question.

Also, just wanted to best answer everybody! Some really thoughtful and kind answers here. Thanks for the different viewpoints and the general support.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:42 AM on March 27, 2012

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