Feminism / Health

Weight Loss in the Workplace: This Isn’t My Job

Actual names have been changed to protect the author’s job security.

We’ve heard it 10,000 times in various ways, whether it be from questionable sources like the Dove Real Beauty ads, national coverage of fashion industry models, obnoxious high school health teachers—being thin shouldn’t be the definition of “good” or “attractive” and the desire to get thin can lead to a variety of health issues and eating disorders. Wherever you get your information about eating disorders, you know they’re bad and you know that the media is a huge player in the thin-is-better-than-your-everything game our culture has been roped into.

It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and I’ve been hearing about it a bit, but it isn’t the biggest news of the week for me. Or it wasn’t, until the property managers at my high-rise office started running a campaign called “The Beach Ready Challenge.”

The campaign comes across as really benign if you haven’t ever struggled with body image, or if you don’t take a minute to think about implications of marketing ploys by your property management office. But after days of emails, and posters popping up in the lobby, I really couldn’t ignore it. This particular event is called the “Beach Ready Challenge” and I’ll give you a clip from their cringe-worthy email blast:

Big Bux Business Center is committed to providing its tenants with community minded events that seek to educate us in a positive way. In order to provide a head start on the road to wellness, we have joined forces and invite all Big Bux Business Center tenants to challenge each other on the scale for our Beach Ready Challenge. This year, one lucky man and one lucky woman will win a trip to a Paradise Island.

It’s The Biggest Loser in my office (they even do before and after pictures!). Did you catch all the subtle body-shaming stuff in there? About how you need to lose weight in order to be “Beach Ready” and that losing weight is necessarily “positive,” “a head start on the road to wellness,” and “lucky”? You win a trip to an island paradise for losing weight! Go you for being so healthy!

Except it’s not really healthy. Even The Biggest Loser can’t justify their contestants’ rapid weight loss anymore and the most recent winner won’t deny that she developed an eating disorder to achieve the win, and her trainer seems to be working with her off screen after the fact to makes sure she is really healthy. My building’s challenge offers no actual health tips from nutritionists, personal trainers, dietitians, or doctor. They don’t even tell you to seek out a medical professional’s advice before embarking on this road to wellness. They just tell you that in order to be valuable here, you have to lose weight.

Just lose weight and they’ll put you on the front of the Center newsletter! Almost the same as People Magazine, right?

There are about a hundred reasons I could name that would make it generally unhealthy to lose weight in this way, but this is practically thinspiration for people with eating disorders or people with ED-tending thoughts and actions. They’re giving people an excuse to lose weight rapidly in an unsupervised way and then offering a prize for it. I wonder if the person who organized this knows that the National Eating Disorder Association research shows that 20 million women alone will suffer from eating disorders in their lifetime and that it is the most fatal mental health issue? Did they know that eating disorders are on the rise in children? Is ‘losing weight’ so ubiquitous a value that it can infiltrate every corner of our lives? How can a child watch their parent’s unhealthy relationship with food, body image, and exercise, and NOT think that weight has something to do with a person’s value?

Notice all the statistics about children. The media, fashion, and diet industries need to tone it down or we’re going to hear that some toddler’s first sentence was “Am I too fat, Mommy?”

And the result of my first two emails bringing up the issues with this campaign? A short note from the Marketing Department on Monday, the first day of Eating Disorder Awareness Week:

My apologies that I didn’t get back to you earlier.  In your original email, I erroneously assumed you wanted to state your feelings and were not looking for a response.  We do take your comments into consideration and when evaluating programs for next year, we will consider this and all other feedback we receive. Our goal at the Center is to create fun, interactive programming for all tenants, and have no intention of offending anyone.

I caught your lack of an apology and your defense of the program, marketing employee. I also caught that you just thought I didn’t merit a response, despite the fact that I was told to contact you with questions or comments about the program. Thanks for that political, meaningless email that only tries to placate me and defend your actions.

It’s one thing to go into a gym, turn on the TV, or read a magazine that glorifies thinness and losing weight, but it is a completely different one to do it in the workplace. In an episode of The Office, “Weight Loss,” Dunder Mifflin does an office-wide weight loss challenge to get extra vacation days (sound ironically familiar?). Kelly stops eating, eventually causing her to pass out, in order to win.

The Office may be a funny mockumentary, but the episode highlights why the incentivization of weight loss in the workplace isn’t funny or productive. Kelly is clearly tired and unfocused, which are real physical and mental reactions your body can have to sudden extreme dieting and exercise programs. And then, there’s the added fact that Kelly is so motivated to win extra vacation that she actually passes out. People could just pass out at work from over-exercising and under-eating, but they could also die from a desire to be thin and subsequent rapid weight loss. It sounds melodramatic, but for people with eating disorders, dying isn’t far off the mark. Does my property manager know if anyone here is working with an advanced eating disorder? Nope—there aren’t any medical professionals involved! The management would like to reward those who survive, I guess.

The nasty penchant for thinness has infiltrated the rest of our offices, but in more subtle ways. You might be selling paper, working at a tech start up, or be at the front desk of a finance firm like me, but “fitness” and “health” has entered into the realm of appropriate office conversation. Juice cleanse craze anyone? Calling it healthy rather than skinny makes it okay to talk about—you say it’s a “detox” and no one asks any questions. Health is so trendy, it gets integrated into programs like the one at my building to engage the spectrum of workers from overpaid yuppies, to wealthy CEOs, to lowly administrative staff who dream of glamorous (read: skinny) lives.

But what does weight have to do with how well you work? Absolutely nothing (unless you’re a fashion model and then it has everything to do with it), and yet when it is brought into your email inbox, lobby, and newsletter, it subliminally changes what it means to be an engaged and contributing member of your office workplace. If we turn around the marketing department’s own words, we find that if you don’t participate in this program, you’re boring (not fun), negative (not positive), a loner (not interactive), and willingly unhealthy. Those aren’t resume building words—they negatively impact your standing in the office community.

After numerous emails to the marketing point person for the program and one snippy reply quoted above, I got called into a meeting with the CFO at my company. She had been put into an awkward situation when she got a call from the property management office who wanted to know if my statements were our official stance on the program, since the email was written from a work affiliated email address (never mind that their newsletters came to my work inbox and I just hit reply). I hadn’t ever brought the company’s name into it or iterated anything but my personal feelings. I even gave them my cell phone number to call to speak with me about it. Instead, they saw me as such a threat that they decided to go over my head to a superior. Suddenly, my vocal resistance to the program was met with actual repercussions in my workplace. I had become a less valuable employee.

For the few who should lose weight for health purposes, my workplace sure isn’t asking for any doctor’s sign off or help along the way. For the few who suffer from eating disorders or disordered thinking about weight, it simply triggers the disease that eventually could kill them. It creates an unsafe work environment. I go to work to do my job, and I do it damn well at a size [WHO CARES BECAUSE I DO MY JOB DAMN WELL].

Some tips on how to be “beach ready” this summer…

Step 1: Go to the beach.

Step 2: Enjoy being at the beach.

That’s it. There’s nothing more to do—you don’t have to lose weight to go to a public place and enjoy some good ol’ sandcastle building, swimming, sunning, or any other beach-worthy activity. And you certainly don’t need to lose weight to do your job well, either, despite the growing incentive to do so.

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21 thoughts on “Weight Loss in the Workplace: This Isn’t My Job

  1. Even in your own, whiney article, you make it sound like its an innocent, harmless, fun community event.im also willing to bet that your quite the heavy landwhale. this whole website needs to lighten the fuck up, a little biggotry in the right places is a good thing you fat fuck

  2. Based on the scientific evidence you produce, your logical arguments, and clear tone I have been convinced that I am wrong and you are right. The blog will be shutting down later today, as I can only assume its creators will be swayed as I was by your baffling intelligence. Thanks!

    • hey, no problem, always happy to help. Maybe your not quite as retarded as the article would have us believe. Now fire up that treadmill, Jabba

        • Pretty perfect arguement if you ask me. I got my point across and called you out on being the lazy, crybaby, entitled hambeast that you are. I also dont see any rebuttals, so I win. So just go ahead and finish off that gallon of mayonnaise you started on thismorning

          • So besides your assumption that I am overweight, what were your arguments? I’m sorry, I must have missed them. I heard that you would like to participate in a weight loss challenge because it seems fun to you, and hey, if you can go talk to a nutritionist and a doctor and get on a good diet/exercise plan, I’m sure that you can have fun while losing the weight that it is healthy for you to lose. If you don’t like my tone, then I suppose that’s a matter of taste and you can simply stop reading articles and blogs that don’t suit your interests.

            Also, sidebar, I like how once I remarked about your intelligence, you started using better and better grammar, punctuation, language, and spelling. My arguments seem to be winning over yours :)

              • Fair, how can I outshine that diamond-in-the-rough quality MJF evokes when he calls me a “heavy landwhale” and a “hambeast”? Truly, I am put to shame by even attempting to engage in a discourse with such a genius.

          • Hello Eleanor!

            I really like what you said wearing whatever the fuck you want to make your self feel good!

            It clear to me that you wear a façade to make your self feel better about the massive fucking rolls of fat that you are wearing underneath.

            What MJF said about you being a landwhale and a hambeast could both be inaccurate. Obvious troll is a newfag neckbeard.

            What I think, assuming that you are in fact the blogger Eneanor Joy from UEA, is that you are actually an over-eager entitled pratt who actually knows nothing about needing to lose weight for a professional career move, due to the fact that you are a “Blogger and Re-Blogger” according to Facebook, and you never have needed to look better to sit behind a computer screen and type shit.

            If you aren’t that person, than I stand corrected, and in fact second the landwhale notion.

            Cheers!

            • Sorry, did you not read the part first sentence where I note that names have been changed? “Newfag neckbeard” sounds like right about where you land right now, based on your own analysis.

                  • This is our blanket policy. 4chan thought I was a 45 year old WASP from AZ. We were so intimidated we removed those too. Also as WordPress admin we can see your IP.

                    • I was just looking. Saw MJFs post on 4Chan. Also, why do IP addresses matter. Doxing is not illegal as long as all of the information was obtained by legal and/or public means. It seemed like he just used Google.

                      4Chan assumes everyone is a hambeast.
                      Don’t be so upset.
                      That’s all I have to say about 4Chan.

                      I personally think that workplaces should promote a healthy environment, whether by exercising, eating better, quitting smoking, or anything else.

                      But providing a vacation to a weight loser seems skewed.

                    • No one said anything is legal or illegal. (And further no one cares about 4cham insults, we’ve all been on the Internet all our lives.) Removing attempts of doxing is standard to most websites, and we’ve done it before. IP addresses matter because fools from 4chan come in all smug because they know how to Google and think they’re being intimidating when I can see their city, what phone they’re commenting from, what University they go to, etc. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

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