A weighty issue ...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The summer before my senior year of college, I worked at a radio station in my hometown. I mostly answered phones and interacted with customers at the front desk, though I did get to write some ads for the radio.

While I enjoyed the work and got along well with my boss and a few other employees, I felt slightly out of place probably by the second day of work. It was because of a woman who worked sales in the office.

The woman was blonde, tall and thin with curves seemingly in all the right places. For the purposes of this column, let's call this coworker "Nancy."

At the time, I was 265 pounds and had so little self-confidence that I didn't even care about dressing for work anymore. I wore work-appropriate skirts, slacks and tops, usually with a mismatched cardigan thrown on to hide my arms, which I've lovingly nicknamed "Bat Wings."

My mom thought -- or at least appeared to think -- that I wore the same cardigan almost daily whether it matched or not because of my zany fashion sense. That was fair; I did wear a lot of weird outfits in high school and sometimes still do. But the reason I wore this cardigan, in all honesty, was that I felt too much shame to shop for more.

So just by being thin and beautiful, Nancy probably would have intimidated me. Well, I know she did. She made me feel inferior before she even spoke to me. I saw her toned arms and perfect make-up and all I could think was, "A person like that would never consider me her equal." Fortunately for my sanity, she quickly gave me reason to believe this was true.

After my first day, I saw her at my gym. She smiled awkwardly at me in that way you do when you know you should acknowledge someone and there's no life-size cardboard cutout to hide behind. We didn't speak at the gym and I thought she'd have the good sense to avoid speaking about it at all.

I was wrong.

My second day of work, she approached me at my desk and flashed an extraordinarily fake smile at me. "Hey," she said. "I saw you at the gym. If you want, I can help find you a trainer. It's really hard for people like you who are just starting out."

But I wasn't just starting out. By all accounts, I had been athletic before college. I had never been thin but had always tried to work out at least three times a week. I sat there, staring up at this beautiful, thin woman and realized that she, too, thought I was inferior to her.

I told her I'd been going to the gym for a long time and she raised her eyebrows, said "Really?!?" and walked away. It was the most pleasant conversation we had. In the following weeks, she got jabs in at me as often as she could.

"What are you eating that smells so good?" she asked one day when I was eating Chinese food. I told her and said it cost only five bucks. She responded, "Yeah, but that's like five thousand calories! I'd feel so disgusting if I ate that."

"It's really impressive that you try to pull off stripes," she remarked casually when I dropped off a message for her one morning.

Then there was the classic -- the most successful of her attempts to hurt me -- that came on my last day there.

"Sad to see you go, but it'll be nice to have someone who takes pride in their appearance at the front desk now," she told me.

I left that job feeling worse than ever about my body image, which says a lot for someone as hypercritical and pessimistic as me. I have to thank her, though. Because of her insults, I decided to lose some revenge weight. By Christmas break that year, I was down about 20 pounds; I have continued slowly losing weight since.

Now, I don't want to spin body discrimination in a positive light. Had Nancy been my supervisor, we would have had a legitimate problem. But as it is, she was simply an amalgamation of a society that judges people on appearances. While that still sucks and no one should be made to feel bad about his or her body, I did learn that I need to have more strength in the face of adversity.

During that summer, I didn't fight back or insult her once. I just took it as I was expected to; often, I agreed with her and mentally piled on more insults.

I won't do that anymore. Though I'm thinner now, I know my self-worth is not determined by my appearance. My only goal is to be healthy enough to stick around for a long time.

So ladies, gentlemen, humans who prefer not to say -- don't let others bash you and get away with it. And don't bash yourself either, because then it's not so big of a deal when other people do.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com