I was only 19 years old, but I had been working on Capitol Hill for a year by the time it happened. My boss and I had been in a meeting and were walking back to our office. I was in front of him, and it became rather obvious where his eyes were when he remarked, “You look like you’ve lost weight.”
Lord only knows what kind of crazy diet I was probably on at the time. I’d tried everything: the Atkins diet, predigested protein, dangerous pills. I even once went to a doctor who pronounced me “obese” — I weighed about 135 lbs. at the time — and injected me with god only knows what that was supposed to cause me to magically shed the pounds.I was dating a guy at the time, a uniformed Secret Service officer, who constantly harassed me about my weight and would withhold his attention in an effort to motivate me. I responded by alternately starving myself, then binge eating, then beating myself up for it.
So, I probably had lost some weight when my boss said that day, “You look like you’ve lost weight.”
Being a polite young woman, I replied, “Thank you.”
To which my boss replied, “No, thank you.”
This happened nearly 40 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. The idea that my boss was thanking me for losing weight, presumably so I was more pleasing to look at, made me feel as objectified as I would feel when men would speak to me while staring at my boobs.I have always been an emotional eater. At the time this happened, I was living alone, which I actually liked, but I was often lonely. Food was my friend.
After my boss’ comment, I couldn’t get home fast enough to dive into a bag of chips. I felt as if the work I did in the office was seen as something that could be done by a trained monkey and that the only value I really had was in looking nice for the four men I worked with.
If I had, in fact, lost some weight, as my boss observed, I probably gained it all back in that one evening.
I have absolutely no doubt that my boss never gave his flippant comment another thought after that moment. Frankly, I doubt he would even remember who I was if I knocked on his door. But the effect for me was profound and lifelong.
He just made it very clear to me that I was an object, put in this world to please him, and in seeing that I was making an effort to do so, he thanked me for a job well done. Did he ever thank me for doing a good job in the office? He may have. But it didn’t carry nearly the significance of him thanking me for losing weight.
I didn’t report the incident to anyone at the time. I wouldn’t have known who to report it to, but frankly, the thought never occurred to me. What occurred to me was that my boss was a neanderthal and any respect I had for him evaporated the instant he said those words to me.
Do you think anyone would have believed me anyway? If they did, would they think it was worthy of having a word with the man?
Somehow I highly doubt it.