Stop the Snark
July 5, 2012 9:11 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine recently started working at a gym. This gym offers "coaching" where employees/volunteers advise you on what to eat and your exercise habits. The issue with my friend is that she is constantly gossiping to me about clients and their weight/eating issues/laziness.

My friend is a Former Fat Person and the level of body snark that she engages makes me really uncomfortable (As A Person Who Has Lost A Few Pounds But Could Lose A Few More But Is Also Kind of Happy The Way She Is). I've already learned not to engage her in this topic of conversation. If she brings it up, I change the subject or ignore her gossip. Her boyfriend has mentioned the inappropriateness of her remarks to her face.

What to do when she launches into a body snark rant or starts being crazy about food? Should I say something? Ignore her? Is this a common phenomenon among personal trainers/jock-types? I have a feeling she also snarks about me and my Life Choices behind my back. I also go to this gym so I know several of the people that she snarks about.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"You know, Sally, I've gotten a little uneasy about how you talk about other people at Beatiful Butt Gym when they're not around - because it's made me wonder if you talk about me when I'm not around too. So that's why I'm changing gyms."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:14 AM on July 5, 2012 [12 favorites]

"Look, it's great that you're so fit, but I am just really over this topic. Really. Really over it." While you're saying this you should be making a mildly WTF, EW face at her horrendous behavior. Then change the subject.

Alternatively, you could go with "Wow, I would hate to hear what you say about me behind my back" and then silence. If she says "Oh, you're different blah blah" say "Really?" and more silence. This should all be said with an expression and tone of voice that indicate that you're not fishing for compliments; rather, you think she is being a jerk.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:15 AM on July 5, 2012 [22 favorites]

I think you need to take this to her bosses, as she sounds like she is violating client confidentiality here.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:17 AM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Say, "Please don't tell me about your clients' diet or exercise habits or criticize other women's bodies to me. I don't like hearing it."

If she doesn't stop after that, you may want to rethink the friendship and/or think about joining another gym. I've had a couple of female friends who made nasty comments about other women's figures to me, and I eventually had to let both friendships drop because they just weren't the kind of people I respected or enjoyed being around.
posted by orange swan at 9:19 AM on July 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

This is an employee of the gym where pay money and have a membership? And this employee who is your friend is blabbering about other gym customer's eating habits, weight, exercise regimes? Tell your friend once what others have suggested "Friend, it makes me uncomfortable when you share details of other gym patron's diet, weight and exercise regimes. If you bring it up again, I'm going to have to tell to the management because I would not want one of the gym staff talking that way about me." and then do precisely that.

Personally, I would just say "Friend, you should not gossip about your gym clients. I'm uncomfortable now to think that they are gossiping about me and I will complain to the management." and then I'd complain to the management.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:26 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I lost weight and accept myself the way I am and am happy. However, I'm currently working on changing my attitude to not talk about others if they are not present. Do you think you could help me with this?"
posted by floweredfish at 9:29 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would reply every time she says anything like this with something short but slightly sad/outraged. "Oh my god, you shouldn't say stuff like that!" "Dude, if your boss found out you said that you'd be so fired." "Aaww, poor [client], you're making me feel so bad for her now." "Wow, way to be a supportive trainer." Etc. I would not give her a Big Speech about how wrong this is, because while that's true, she seems (from this short question) like the type of person who'd just tell you to lighten up or go into "Well I didn't really mean it" or something. And yeah, if she keeps doing it after repeated expressions of dismay from you, I'd wonder about how good a friend she really is.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:35 AM on July 5, 2012 [10 favorites]

Yeah, it's really important to let your friend know that this isn't just run-of-the-mill snarking, as it would be if one gym member were talking about other gym members. That would be bad and annoying and possibly offend you personally. But this is unprofessional, unethical behaviour that could well get her fired. You need to make it clear that this isn't just about your personal feelings.
posted by Acheman at 9:37 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Frankly, as to the dumping on other people, I'd be very direct. I'd say, "I hate it when you do this. I absolutely hate it; it's hurtful and mean and I cannot understand why you think it's okay." I actually said to someone once -- about something less malicious/persistent and more thoughtless/dumb -- "This is beneath you. Do not be this person." And it worked.

I wouldn't worry about hurting her feelings too much. This is a pretty fundamental issue of compassion toward other people, and if she's going to persist in it, my guess is that you're going to want to see less of her for a while anyway. Seriously, I'd tell her it's an awful thing to do to people who have come to her for help. Pull no punches with this one. I find the idea of dumping on people who are specifically seeking your help just ... extremely gross, and if she doesn't come around pretty quickly, find a new friend, because yuck. And while I'm not inclined to go to her bosses about it, it doesn't necessarily offend me either, because it's incredibly unprofessional and those people aren't going to benefit from her "coaching" if her heart isn't in it because she goes off and insults them the minute they turn their backs.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:42 AM on July 5, 2012 [15 favorites]

I agree with you, this is totally uncool. What's so ugly about it is the judgmental attitude.

"Gosh, you should really be proud of yourself, I know it was hard to lose weight and get in shape. You're very blessed that you were able to turn your bad habits around and get as fit as you are. I'm really uncomfortable when you snark on your clients and other people at the gym. I'm especially uncomfortable because you make me feel self-conscious about my efforts and now I wonder if you say these kinds of things about me. It's really unprofessional and frankly it's mean and unattractive. I lose respect for you when you slag these folks behind their back. I don't want to hear it, and perhaps you ought to think about why you have such powerful feelings about people who are doing the best they can with what they have."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:47 AM on July 5, 2012

"Look, it's great that you're so fit, but I am just really over this topic. Really. Really over it."

"Please don't tell me about your clients' diet or exercise habits or criticize other women's bodies to me. I don't like hearing it."

I think these are the best responses, but then I am a huge fan of the short and simple. When you change the topic, does she come back around to it?
posted by sm1tten at 9:56 AM on July 5, 2012

My only hesitation about these responses is that they don't really address the doing of the bad thing, just the exposure of you to it. When somebody is doing something rotten, I think you do her a favor if you go past "I don't want to hear this" (which pretty much just asks her not to do it around you) and to "I think it's wrong to do this" (which encourages her to stop doing it altogether). In most cases, that may not be necessary and just changing the topic might work, but there are times I think good old-fashioned disapproval is in order.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:03 AM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think there are two separate issues here: her inappropriate comments and with whom she's sharing them.

As for her comments, I think part of being someone's capital-F Friend is being comfortable saying that something they do is inappropriate. If your friend just had a habit of loudly belching, sooner or later you'd say something like "that's totally gross, please stop doing it around me". Think of this the same way. One of my favorite quotes applies here: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Now, as to the other issue. Because you refer to this person as "a friend of mine" and not something like "my best friend", I'm guessing you're not actually best friends. That means she's probably gossiping about this to people other than you and her boyfriend (even if it were just you two, though, it's two too many),, which is a very dangerous thing to do when your job is all about reputation. For all she knows, you may know one of the clients she's talking about. If you're at all uncomfortable confronting her about saying these things to you, put it in the context of "you can't let gossip get back to you if you don't spread it."
posted by mkultra at 10:12 AM on July 5, 2012

I had girlfriends do the same type of thing and this was my solution:
Friend: Oh did you see her, she's gained twenty pounds and is totally skipping every workout this week....blah, blah blah
Me: That sucks. Isn't it frustrating how seeing others fail at something makes you a little happy and then a whole lot more judgy about yourself. I mean, just thinking about her skipping a workout makes me feel guilty. Ugh. Let's not talk about this. What do you think of the new reality show?

I had to do it a few times, but eventually they got the hint.

Although one former friend said, "I love it when they get fat again. It just proves that I'm a better person." Annnnd, we're not friends anymore.
posted by teleri025 at 10:13 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think I'd say, "That's not my business," and maybe hold up my hand to signal, "Stop." The next time, same thing: "'s none of my business." After that, I'd step it up to, "I feel uncomfortable hearing the negative comments about your clients."
posted by wryly at 10:16 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some of the suggestions here are putting it a bit on you to pretend like it's your problem. This isn't your problem (like if she was, say, using the word "moist" a lot and you're weird about it so you ask her not to do it around you). This is a messed-up thing that she shouldn't be doing in front of anyone; she's betraying the trust of people coming to her for help, about something that can be very fraught to seek help for. You need to tell her in no uncertain terms that it's not okay. Other folks in the thread have given good examples of how to do that. Just don't pretend that it's your problem, and don't ask her to just not do it around you.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 11:35 AM on July 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

"I don't think it's appropriate for you to be talking about your clients like this," and if you do care about her despite this stuff, "I am concerned this might put your job at risk if you keep it up."

On the other hand, I literally just say "AB BAB BAB, NO DIET TALK" to my friends who forget that that's a boundary for me. With people who know me less well, I generally finesse a change of subject.

Here's the other thing: what could possibly be more boring than a discussion of the eating and exercise habits of strangers? Does this lady have any worthwhile topics of conversation?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:27 PM on July 5, 2012

Your friend is probably scared of going back to being fat again. This adds a measure of empathy for me when I think of it. By tearing other people down, she's saying, "I'm not fat anymore, look!" It's an insecurity thing.

I wouldn't say this is common among sport types, but it IS common among retail and customer service people. Telling funny stories about the customers behind their backs was how a lot of people got by. If someone was saying something about a customer that wasn't funny to me, I walked away. I wouldn't give a big speech, either. Maybe look her in the eye, say, "Hey, that's mean," and walk off.
posted by amodelcitizen at 12:34 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Oh, come on, that's not nice. You know how hard it is to lose weight". That is the hint hint statement. Use one of the others above for more directness.
posted by amicamentis at 12:59 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Isn't your work with your clients confidential? I would think you could get fired if your boss found out you were sharing this kind of information about your clients."
posted by bunderful at 1:00 PM on July 5, 2012

"Wow. I wonder if people talked about you like that when you were trying to lose weight. Do you think it would have hurt you to know that your trainer made fun of you behind your back when you weren't around?"
posted by palomar at 5:14 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Invent a fictitious law called GymHIPAA (okay, maybe call it something else) and tell her she's violating it.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 6:19 PM on July 5, 2012

I'm terrible at telling people they're being rude, so I would probably respond with something like:

Body snark: "Hey, at least they're making an effort to get healthy (by coming to the gym, getting coaching, whatever). I hope they get it figured out. Which reminds me--did you see the Bachelor last night? Talk about your poor choices..."

Crazy about food: "There's a bit of genetic variation among humans; maybe he can tolerate [that evil food] better than average." or "Humans are remarkably resilient, aren't they? It's amazing what we can survive on." or maybe just "Stop, stop, you're making me hungry!" And follow immediately with a change of subject.
posted by hishtafel at 2:31 PM on July 6, 2012

"Friend, in the past, I've tried to ignore it or change the subject when you've shared confidential information about gym members with me, and done it so meanly. But clearly that isn't working, so now I'm telling you directly that it has to stop. It's awful for your clients, personally hurtful to me and our friendship, and sure seems like both bad mojo and a potentially serious professional risk for you. Will you please stop?"
posted by argonauta at 6:25 PM on July 6, 2012

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