Readers, Help Me (and a Fellow Reader) out

Reader Jules writes:

Hi Kate,

I ‘ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now, and it’s helped me tremendously. I was wondering, however, if I could get some advice from you or your readers about how to deal with fat hatred at work. I’ve been out of the workforce for awhile, but I started at Bloomingdale’s last week. Some people at work are very nice and welcoming; some people are not. There is a particular lady at work who is supposed to train me, and she hasn’t really bothered. She has gone so far as to change her schedule and tell me I don’t need to change mine to coincide with hers–who’s left to train me?–she’s always talking about how she’s lost weight at this job without even trying, etc. She only deals with me when she absolutely HAS to, and I can see the disdain on her face. She’s also repeatedly told me how hard this job is, and seems interested in talking me into quiting. She said yesterday, “I’m not scaring you, am I?” I looked her dead in the eye and said, “I don’t scare easily.” But it dawned on me that she’s been trying to scare me all along. She even commented in front of a customer about my lack of retail experience.

I can’t talk to my manager about this because the lady I’m talking about and the manager are extremely close. I’m just wondering if you or your readers could give advice, share horror stories, or give examples about how they handled fat ignorance at work. This woman acts like I disgust her–I just want to be treated with the same respect I give everyone else. Is that too much to ask? Could you help me, Kate?

It’s been a loooong time since I worked retail, and I never worked in a department store, so I’m really not sure how best to handle this kind of question.

I have three instincts:

1) Talk to the manager about the fact that this woman has neglected to train you and changed her schedule so it would in fact be impossible. Leave fat prejudice out of it for now. Knowing that the manager is friends with this woman, maybe broach it as, “I’m just wondering who’s going to train me, since Stupidhead changed her schedule. As a new employee, I obviously need training to do this job to the full extent of my abilities. Can you assign someone else to train me?”

That’s unsatisfying, since fat prejudice is clearly the underlying cause, and we want to fight that. But we also (presumably) want you to keep your job, do well at it, solve the immediate problem of not getting the training you need, and make sure your manager understands that Stupidhead has deliberately created this problem. I think the above suggestion goes toward all those goals — though readers with more retail experience might disagree, and I would defer to them.

2) Speak directly to Stupidhead. Tell her A) You need training, and if she’s not willing to do her job, she needs to talk to the manager about assigning someone else to train you, and B) you have no desire to discuss weight loss at work, and would prefer to keep your conversations professional. You might throw in something about how you were hired because you’re more than capable of doing this job well, and you’re eager to get the proper training so you can function more independently. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, it’s wonderful if you two have separate schedules and you rarely have to see her — but she needs to know you won’t be bullied. And you need to be trained.

3) Document everything Stupidhead says about your fat, and everything she does to leave you hamstrung in terms of doing your job. It’s unlikely that you live somewhere where fat discrimination is illegal, sadly, but there have to be other people with power there besides the manager who’s friends with Stupidhead, and some of them might be more sympathetic. So it will be good to have a record of it, especially if they try to fire you. Also, if it’s possible to quietly let some of the nice and welcoming people know you’re having a problem with this woman, they could potentially be useful as witnesses to the harassment and discrimination.

That’s all I got. Readers, over to you — and again, if people with more retail experience explain why I’m wrong, you can feel free to disregard these suggestions.

Good luck, Jules. This sucks, and it shouldn’t be happening to you.

Posted in Fat

12 thoughts on “Readers, Help Me (and a Fellow Reader) out

  1. Kate, I have nothing to add to your advice which is great, except to reassure Jules that retail everywhere is replete with douchehounds (my thin mom could tell you stories that would make your armpit hairs spike) and that, as my ex-BF was fond of saying, “People love to complain.” That is, Stupidhead (love that!) would probably find something else to get her thigh-highs bunched about no matter what your weight was.

  2. It sounds to me like she may be threatened by you. (This may be instead of or in addition to your weight.) Undermining you in front of customers and trying to break down your confidence may be her way of dealing with what she sees as competition.Has she trained anyone else that you know so you can see if this is her normal attitude? Perhaps there was a promotion of some kind that she missed out on or something? (If you are already up on all the gossip and know that none of this is part of the issue then I apologize.)

    I guess it doesn’t really matter why, Kate gave some excellent advice. The only real difference is if I knew it were some kind of personal issue I might confront her about it. (I’m very confrontational though, so, if that’s not your style, don’t do it.)

    IIn the long term will you be able to transfer to a different area/department that will let you avoid this woman? My concern is that if she is senior to you she will do things to derail your career. I would be extra sure to cover my ass and make sure you get credit for what you do.

  3. As a manager who is responsible to see that new employees receive adequate training, here’s my suggestion:

    1. talk to your immediate supervisor first. I’d go with the approach suggested, something like “I want to do well here, and am concerned that the current scheduling issues may prevent me from getting the training I need.” Keep it neutral. If you don’t get a response or if your immediate supervisor brushes off your concerns, make a WRITTEN note of it (if you have a work e-mail account, send yourself an e-mail for the date/time stamp).

    2. After a couple of weeks if nothing has changed, talk to your immediate supervisor again and be specific about which areas you feel you need additional training to achieve proficiency. Again, send yourself an e-mail documenting the conversation.

    3. If this still does not achieve any results, then find out who the HR or employee relations contact is. Again, leave the fat predjudice angle out of it for now, and keep your wording neutral (“I’m concerned that I need more training in areas x and y in order to represent the company to the best of my ability and would like to see what steps I can take to be sure I’m getting the training I need.” ) Don’t mention the documentation yet, just say you’ve raised this issue twice with your supervisor. Don’t ascribe any motivations to anyone at this point. (again, document any conversations)

    If you at some point receive negative reviews or any kind of performance disciplinary action, then you have the documentation that you requested additional training numerous times. It really sucks when people can’t behave professionally no matter what their personal feelings.

    Good luck!

  4. Some large retailers offer a worker hotline for employees to call for help if they are having problems of any kind. If Bloomingdale’s offers their employees such a resource it may be possible to report the situation or at least get some company approved advice on how to handle the situation. They might have anything useful to say about the weight aspect, but that kind of harassment isn’t ok anywhere for any reason.

    Some large retailers also have a human resources manager who is there to take care of personnel issues of any kind. If there is an HR person of any kind at your store, find out who it is and how to get in touch with that person. Again, they may not be have anything useful to say about fat prejudice, but they should be very serious about helping you deal with the harassment and get the training you need.

    Best of luck with this situation.

  5. deja pseu and Kate already covered the main practical points, but I wanted to echo shinobi – my mother left a retail job 7 days into it, on her 41st birthday, because her boss had been acting in the exact same way. My mom’s not heavy, but she would have been the only one over 20 other than her boss at the store. In talking with her about it, the only explanations we came up with were 1) severe personality disorder and 2) feeling threatened. (and I am *totally* biased, since it was my mom, but still.)

    Anyway, if this woman feels like you might be encroaching on her territory for any reason, especially if your salaries are comission based, she may be using the fat hatred as a weay to dissasociate herself and try to put you down. Or, she might have had a friend who got turned down for the position.

    Knowing that Bloomie’s is a big place, with lots of departments to switch into is always a good thing to keep in mind! As for getting treated as respectfully as you treat others – there are some folks who won’t do that, ever. Once you’re trained, work like hell to get the good coworkers and managers who don’t suck, and try to just forget about those folks who can’t bring themselves to be decent.

  6. The only advice I can add to this is to always look her straight in the eye. If you look down or look away, she will think she’s successfully intimidated you. Straight in the eye. It’ll drive her nuts!

  7. I appreciate the comments people have made in addressing my situation. We all know when someone doesn’t like us, right? I mean we can feel it in our gut. The constant comments about weight, exercise, and her own weight loss, not to mention a few looks of disgust on her face when she looks at me gives me a good clue as to what is going on. There is another new person there (1 month), and she does not seem to have any problem with that person, or anyone else for that matter. I will make a list of any problems that may arise, and I will do my damnedest to get the training I need. I want to keep this job–Stupidhead should not win!!! I have met the HR manager and will get the help I need if required. I was wondering if anyone else has encountered fat hatred at their jobs?

  8. Stupidhead sounds like a classic bully who also happens to have a hate-on for fat. She probably also perceives you as an easy target compared to the other new employee.

    I agree with what Kate said as far as talking to the manager and documenting everything, but I personally would not confront Stupidhead. That’s kind of a personal thing, but I’ve had situations with people at work before, and I find that if you confront them it kind of feeds them and lets them know that they’re getting to you. The way I deal with people I don’t like at work now is to be genuinely pleasant but not overly nice, the way you are with people you don’t know too well. I do that with one girl at work who hates me and it totally freaks her out because then she doesn’t know where she stands with me. On the other hand, because I’m pleasant, accomodating, and professional, no one could ever accuse me of anything if she complained about me for some reason.

    My advice when she says something about weightloss or fat or anything offensive is to shrug your shoulders (in a kind of neutral “everyone’s entitled to their opinion” kind of way, but with no emotion), then see if you can get away from her. If she’s trying to create tension, just let that tension slide off of you. When she sees that it doesn’t stick, she’ll probably give up after a few tries. If you can’t stop from getting upset, try thinking of her as someone who is completely pitiful and can’t help it (crazy, immature, unstable, etc.), and think how sad it must be to be her. Then take the high ground. That works for me. Yeah, I’ve had to deal with crap like this a lot. Good luck.

  9. First, this:
    ‘Talk to the manager about the fact that this woman has neglected to train you and changed her schedule so it would in fact be impossible. Leave fat prejudice out of it for now. Knowing that the manager is friends with this woman, maybe broach it as, “I’m just wondering who’s going to train me, since Stupidhead changed her schedule. As a new employee, I obviously need training to do this job to the full extent of my abilities. Can you assign someone else to train me?” ‘

    Then this:
    ’1. talk to your immediate supervisor first. I’d go with the approach suggested, something like “I want to do well here, and am concerned that the current scheduling issues may prevent me from getting the training I need.” Keep it neutral. If you don’t get a response or if your immediate supervisor brushes off your concerns, make a WRITTEN note of it (if you have a work e-mail account, send yourself an e-mail for the date/time stamp).’

    Also, I don’t know how long you’ve lived/worked in NYC, but the uppity-er the position/employer is up the chain (and Bloomies, being one of the retail B’s, is about as “uppity” as you can get if you’re not in a snit about Bendel’s or Bergdorf’s), the more likely it is that you’re going to have a bunch of people running around breathlessly saying “I don’t have time to train her/you” so you may have to rinse and repeat about 4 or 5 times. (Yes, 4 or 5 times. Always with a smile, even if it’s killing you — if you want to keep the job and/or are interested in the field.) However — and this is JHMO – if you continue to keep it all about the job and the (lack of) training, you are on firmer ground than if you succumb to any pressure based on prejudice (which you always suspect is there, but is much harder to prove — plus they’re trying to get you to crack and lose your temper.)

    It’s just elitist hazing (I work in entertainment; big person or little person; I see it all the time). You may want to invest in a mild diazepam derivative (Valium, et al) — or its herbal equivalent and/or meditation, if so inclined — to assist in keeping your temper.

    Good luck.

    P.S. If we all come visit, will you be our personal shopper? Brings in revenue. You make us look good – adding to store bottom line makes you look good. Also a neat, sweet upper-boss-pleasing way to tick off Stupidhead. :D

  10. Just for the record, Jules isn’t in NYC — though she’s still in a fairly snooty area, and it’s still Bloomie’s.

    And I still want her to be our personal shopper.

  11. Jules, I had to deal with fat-phobia at one job I held a few years back. My supervisor would come out to the production floor from her office just to rag on me because she thought it was funny to upset me and make me cry. She ended up firing me (and my lead) over a false accusation by a temporary worker. However, I knew it was coming and had found another job. That second job, my lead was this tiny woman, about 25 years younger than me, and I never had a problem with her. She said I was one of her best workers, and when I switched departments for a position with more responsibility, she was sorry to see me leave.
    I had thought the problem at the first job was my fault, but found out later from a co-worker who had quit before I got fired, that the supervisor had taken a dislike to me because I worked harder than her pets and didn’t LOOK like I was working hard. The thing is, she never said that to me, all I ever heard was that I was fat and therefore couldn’t do the job I had been hired to do (my weight wasn’t a problem for the person who hired me, which wasn’t her). I knew I could do the job, I had been doing it well for 6 months before they hired her as supervisor and hadn’t had any problems with the previous supervisor. She was just seriously a fat hater, maybe because she was a little chunky herself (after all, we hate in others what we can’t stand in ourselves a lot of the time).
    What I have done at jobs where I needed training to do certain tasks, if there is someone around who has the knowledge I need, I ask them. If the person who is supposed to train me doesn’t have the time or isn’t willing, then I look around for someone else who has the requisite knowledge. This has usually worked for me, although the only retail I ever did was as a cashier in a drug store.

  12. Ha, ha…thanks for the offer, littlem–if I lived in NYC, I’d surely take you up on it. Thanks to everyone for sharing their advice and stories and support. You never know when you’ll have to deal with fat phobia–at the doctor’s office, work, or on the street. We’ve just got to keep our heads up high and remind ourselves that we our valuable no matter what our size.

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