On self-deprication.

There’s a common mistake that overweight people sometimes make, and it drives me absolutely crazy. That mistake is being consistently self-deprecating about their weight in front of other people.

In my opinion, there are few things that are more cringe-inducing. It makes me terribly uncomfortable every time I hear it, mainly because I KNOW it makes other people just as uncomfortable.

I bring this up because there is a woman I supervise at work who does this often; in fact, I pretty much expect it to happen any time we’re out an a work-related event. For the purpose of this story, I’ll call her Tanya. Now, Tanya is a fairly large woman – in both her height (she’s about 5’11”) and her weight. I am only saying that to provide background, not because I am judging or looking down on her (because clearly, I am a large woman myself).

Anyway, a exchange will go something like this:

Random person: Tanya, I love your shirt!

Tanya: Thanks! It has been hard to find cute clothes since I gained so much weight/got so fat/etc.

Random person: Oh, stop, you look great!

Tanya: I used to be a size six, and now look at me. I finally gave away all my skinny clothes because I know I’ll never be able to fit into them again! <laughter>

Random person: <awkward smile/laughter>

I swear that this is not an exaggeration. I think Tanya thinks it’s funny to be so self-deprecating. I think she does this when she’s at a loss of what else to say.

As I said, I know it makes other people just as uncomfortable as it makes me. I can see it in their faces and hear it in their awkward laughter and strained smiles.

When you’re overweight, the fact that you overeat is out there for the world to see. Some people can hide the fact that they drink excessively, or smoke. But when you’re fat, you can’t hide it. Regardless of the reason is for why you overeat, it is written all over your body.

Please understand – I know that there are people out there who are overweight NOT because they overeat, but because they take medication that can cause weight gain. But at first glance, that doesn’t matter. People just see that you’re fat, and unfortunately, many people see it as a character flaw.

And because most people who are overweight are somewhat self-conscious about the way they look, they have several ways of dealing with it. They can choose to accept it; to love their body no matter what the size. They can ignore it completely, never mentioning it to anyone, not even a significant other – OR they can be like Tanya, talking about it to anyone who will listen, using it as everything from an ice breaker to “comic relief”.

The issue I’m facing with Tanya is that I believe this kind of behavior is unprofessional. It makes people feel weird. It makes people unsure about an appropriate response. I think that she believes that speaking in this manner makes her “approachable.” In my opinion, it makes you lose credibility because you clearly don’t understand what is appropriate to say and what isn’t. In my opinion, weight is a personal and private issue. It’s not something that should be brought up, seemingly out of nowhere, during a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, just to garner an awkward laugh.

I guess it’s just that I don’t understand self-deprecating behavior, PERIOD. It’s used by fat people and thin people alike, for a variety of reasons. I know that there are people who use it simply so people will disagree with them. People who say “Oh God, I am so ugly” just because they know someone will say “No you aren’t!” which provides that tiny boost of positive reinforcement although it is most likely insincere.

I’m not saying that every overweight person should be ashamed of their body. In fact, I wish desperately that I was one of those people who were completely comfortable with their body at any size. But I’m not that person. And maybe I’m just ultra-sensitive to the way Tanya speaks because it’s something I would NEVER even consider doing.

The fact is, though, that I don’t think Tanya is comfortable with her body. I don’t know why she does this. But I am increasingly feeling like I need to say something about it, because it makes her seem tremendously unprofessional. And in the business world, you don’t want to give anyone ammunition against you.

People don’t like to be made to feel uncomfortable, and Tanya is doing just that.

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