Why We Don't Talk About Each Other's Bodies At XoJane

Food (and alcohol) are often problematic parts of office culture, especially if you have any kind of issue with them.
Publish date:
July 24, 2012
relationships, cleanses, body talk, eating disorders, work

I know some of you guys think we talk about bodies too much on this site. What you might be surprised about is that we don't talk about them at all in the office.

Well, we try not to -- like the other day, when Julie chirped upon entering my office: "Wow, you look smaller every da---Oops, I forgot I'm not allowed to say that."

I even resisted the urge to be all, "Oh, GO ON!" because I am kind of the reason this whole thing started.

See, we used to talk about bodies sometimes. Not to a hugely troublesome degree, but I've never been in an office full of women where the conversation didn't sometimes turn to points or calories or our fucking fat disgusting thighs. There was a comment war about this a few months ago, so apparently offices exist where this is not the case, but not in my experience. Even at feminist mags -- I still remember the horrified certainty of a BUST employee delivering the phrase, "But I CAN'T have Haagen Daas."

XoJane was somewhere between, I don't know, a bunch of college lesbians hanging out after women's studies (speaking from experience; I don't think some of my classmates even had bodies) and how I imagine the Conde Nast cafeteria in my size 12 nightmares. 2 digits, bitches!

We talked about food, dieting and our bodies some, but we also had free delicious lunch on Fridays and a wonderland of kitchen snacks. (Ask me about the day there was a huge glass jar of Corn Nuts.)

Food (and alcohol) are often problematic parts of office culture, especially if you have any kind of issue with them. Like 90 percent of Weight Watcher's meetings are spent bitching about office cake. If it's not pressure to eat more, it's pressure to eat less, ala "Biggest Loser"-type corporate contests and the company-wide juice fasts that have been criticized for amounting to enforced anorexia. Or pressure to eat the "right" things -- whether it's getting the stink-eye for your McDonalds or your co-worker's endless commentary when you refuse dessert.

(I dare you to bring a bag full of McDonalds into a publishing office in Manhattan -- I guarantee people will react like you just escorted in a line of high-kicking bed bugs.)

Lest you think I'm pointing fingers, I'm as much to blame as anyone. When it comes to body thoughts, I've long battled a lack of filter that has me unthinkingly subjecting everyone in my life to exactly what self-deprecating thing just popped into my head. Which, not only is it incredibly fucking annoying to hear someone bitch about their weight, but it actually makes you notice their weight in a way you might not have before. I know women I never once thought of as fat until they told me they were.

I've been working for awhile to eliminate weight talk and food commentary from my vocabulary (aka, I've stopped saying "What an asshole" when someone has a salad).

But it's not easy. After all, we write about everything, which can make for a strange clash between site boundaries (basically nonexistent) and office boundaries (we're getting better). I may publish a piece about a contributor's eating disorder, but that doesn't mean I should have to get up close and personal with it (or any other potentially triggering personal business) in a professional environment.

As you can probably gather, the food and body talk started to get a little ugly around here a few months ago, culminating in my bulimia relapse. Nobody made me relapse -- I was under a lot of pressure at the time and being around open and joking discussions about disordered eating (I'm not going to say specifically who led these discussions, but you can connect the dots from the timeframe) were one huge trigger that factored into it. And I finally realized that not only are these kinds of discussions not healthy, but nobody should have to deal with them in the workplace.

I really just wanted to put the kibosh on eating disorder talk, but either the message got mangled or it's just easier to avoid the topic altogether, because we all started correcting ourselves when we accidentally brought up weight and body in even relatively benign contexts. So maybe this article should called something like, "I whined to Jane and now nobody's allowed to talk about their body issues in the office."

But honestly, it's nice! You really shouldn't have to deal with that kind of stuff in the office, the place in which you are forced to spend the majority of your waking life. And if your productivity or health is being affected by office body talk, diet discussions, group cleanses or people endlessly commenting on your food choices, I suggest you speak to your manager about it. Although it took me a relapse and a pretty serious talking-to from my therapist, I did eventually realize what you probably already know: You have a right to be healthy and happy at work.

(Until somebody complains, I'm going to keep talking about vaginas roughly every 10 seconds.)