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Dear Melody: My Boss Won’t Stop Making Body-Shaming Comments. Help!

“Dear Melody” is a monthly advice column by Dr. Melody Moore, a clinical psychologist, yoga instructor and the founder of the Embody Love Movement Foundation. Her foundation is a non-profit whose mission is to empower girls and women to celebrate their inner beauty, commit to kindness, and contribute to meaningful change in the world. Dr. Moore is a social entrepreneur who trains facilitators on how to teach programs to prevent negative body image and remind girls and women of their inherent worth. Her work has been featured in the books Yoga and Body Image and Yoga and Eating Disorders: Ancient Healing for Modern Illness, as well as in Yoga Journal, Yoga International, and Origin Magazine.

I just started a new job last week and my boss comments on what employees eat. As someone who used to struggle with an ED, it makes me very uncomfortable. Should I say something?

Hi reader. Congratulations on your new job, even if it is coming with some unanticipated challenges. I’m hopeful I can help you in navigating this one. Let’s be gracious and give your boss the benefit of the doubt: she or he does not recognize the power and the potential for harm being caused by these comments. If that is true, then you are in a position to offer education and resources for your boss. Of course, I understand that this puts you in an awkward position, but it will likely be not only awkward, but unbearable and potentially triggering, if you don’t say anything. Nothing is worth giving away your hard-won recovery. Not even a job. 

So, gather up your courage and consider that you have the opportunity to protect not only yourself, but your coworkers and your boss, too, from her/his detrimental comments. 

One filter I try using at all times is 1) is it kind, 2) is it necessary and 3) is it true? This system has been attributed to many different sources and authors, and I think that’s because it’s stood the test of time and is hardly ever harmful. I like to add a fourth filter: 4) is this the right time? Your saying something to your boss about commenting on what others are eating passes all of these requirements, especially if you choose the right time. I would suggest that you find a time when you are alone with your boss, so that your conversation can be held in private, and at a time when you are not emotionally charged about something that was just said.  

Once you and your boss are face to face, it will be best to start with an inquiry, rather than an accusation. This is often the case in opening a dialogue that’s potentially confrontational. Following the methodology of non-violent communication, you might ask your boss what it is that they need or hope from commenting on others’ eating. Yes, this is confrontational, so your tone will be important. Ask like you are interested, not like you are blaming them. When you receive the answer, it will help guide you as to where to go next. 

What you are hoping to get your boss to understand is that you have a need, too: for what is eaten to be simply eaten, not commented on, judged, or compared. You are also, likely, hoping your boss can understand that although their comments were intended to be ________ (it’s hard for me to guess why someone would comment on food), that the comments are actually harmful or shaming. This is where intention and impact can be extremely different. Your boss may have no idea that comments such as these are harmful. I am certain that even though your boss is the one making the comments, they are also being negatively impacted by them. Although you won’t directly point this out to your boss, they are speaking from their own insecurities, and you can rest assured that your speaking up about it will benefit everyone, including your boss. 

My hope is that your boss is simply unconscious and uninformed, and that with some clarification, education, and consciousness raising, they will be able to speak in a way that is encouraging and uplifting, or not at all. If you find that after this conversation, your boss will not drop the commentary, it may be time for you to move away from this environment and find one that is less toxic for you.