Reader Jules writes:
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.