How to be successful as a fat woman at work

May 3 | Guest post by Fat Mom Writing
The author, looking super-hot in hearts.
The author, looking super-hot in hearts.

I'm the bread-winner in our household. My husband stays at home with our girls, and I work full time in an office job. I work in engineering sales, and I love it!

I also love to consume articles written by female professionals with tips on how to get by in a profession that is heavily male, like mine. Where I work, women in management are a relatively recent development. I read lots of articles on how to deal with your emotions at work, how to ask for a raise, and how to communicate effectively. But one article I don't seem to see much, one that I have been dying for… How to be successful as a FAT woman at work.

You may have read that tagline and thought, what could the difference be? Women are women. I agree with you! We should all be treated the same. But as study after study shows, weight bias is a very real issue that millions of people face daily. From Weight Bias in the Workplace: A Literature Review: "Qualitative reviews have concluded that individuals who are overweight face weight bias and discrimination at every stage of the employment cycle; including selection, placement, compensation, assignments, promotions, assessments, discipline and termination."

When you are already a minority at work, being one of the few "obese" women sets you even further apart.

What I wanted, and needed when I started the road to be a female professional in my early twenties, was a more specific guide; tips for success as a Working Fat Babe. Now almost 10 years into my career, I am the one giving out the advice. Here are my three most important/basic tips for a working fat babe…

1. Dress the part — comfortably

I know it's hard. It's really hard to find appropriate, cute, work clothes that fit, and are in your budget. As a plus size gal this challenge can be frustrating, and even triggering. I suggest you find a few really basic pieces that are appropriate for your office/workplace, and then work up. With these pieces, I suggest you prioritize comfort over couture. These pieces may be boring, but you can always accessorize them up.

At some points in my career (like after a size change) I've had to do my laundry twice a week to have clean clothes every day. It's frustrating. But it was worth it to have mid-price quality, and major comfort. When I wear a shirt that is too tight, or too low, or pants that bind when I sit, I can't focus. I can't do my best. I just spend the day planning on getting home to my leggings and baggy t-shirts.

2. Make your work-space functional for you

As a person of size, you experience discomfort in ways a lot of average size people may not understand. Are the arms of your chair digging into your hips? Maybe your desk is too close to the wall? If this is the case, speak up! It may seem hard or embarrassing, but it's going to be okay. See if you have other options, or if your company will make some basic adjustments for you. It's human decency at the least, and likely the law as well.

I once asked if I could get a new chair, because mine bit into my hips. My company was awesome about it and let me choose from any they had on site. I was so glad I bit the bullet and asked. It was a great experience and I was able to work faster and better after the change. Your company wants you to succeed. You have to be your own advocate for that success.

3. Stand your ground

One of the more popular ways for companies to save money on rising healthcare costs is to ask employees to participate in "health initiatives." These can be really great, and have great support and resources for employees. These programs can include rebates at gyms or incentives to walk or bike to work.

But in the mix can also be programs that essentially put you on a diet. Programs with names that include words like "thin" "slim" and "lose" in them are usually a sign that they're focusing on pounds and inches more than the employees themselves. Luckily, these programs are usually elective. Just remember that choosing to participate, or not participate is 100% up to you. If someone is pushing you to do it, you can put your foot down. Your health and body is your business, not theirs.

What tips do you have to add?

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  1. Yes! Thank you for this. It's challenging to be a fat girl in charge sometimes. I feel like I'm constantly trying to make myself a little bit smaller to fit my workplace, when that's really not doing anything but holding me back. I've always found dressing for my job to be the hardest part; luckily I work in a casual work space, but it's still a challenge sometimes. I've started dumping a lot of money at Torrid for clothes that fit well and look semi-professional.

    If I had a tip to add, it would be to make a concerted effort to NOT try to make yourself smaller. I feel like a lot of larger people that I know try to make themselves appear smaller in social situations – if you're large and in charge, own it. Be large, be comfortable, and above all, be you!

    12 agree
    • Yes! Great tip! Thank you for the advice. You're so right about trying make yourself smaller. Sometimes it's by wearing black, by sitting in the corner of the conference room, in making sure you are the last one to eat when there is birthday cake…. It's so ingrained in us!

      5 agree
      • Serious anthropology backs you up. Human beings, and every ape in the animal kingdom, signal dominance and confidence by expansive postures and gestures, and submission/inferiority/pleas for mercy by contracting. Researchers tested this out by having job applicants mimic these strategies. The ones who, right before an interview, spread out their arms in various ways, or put their hands on their hips, or otherwise took up extra space, were most likely to get hired. The same people, applying elsewhere, but this time lowering their heads, or pulling their shoulders in, or crossing their arms, or otherwise taking up less space, were least likely to get hired. This held true even if they did these things before the interview and sat neutrally during the interview itself.

        This might explain some of the hostility that fat women get. If one unavoidably takes up more than average space, and yet couples that with shrinking gestures and postures, people might experience a disconnect on the most instinctive level–your body language claims submissive status yet your body itself takes up premium space, making you seem like a usurper of what's not yours by right. But if you pose yourself as having that right, your size might actually work in your favor!

        6 agree
    • What's really helped me feel more confident at work is subscribing to Gwynnie Bee – a plus size clothing rental site. It lets me try different styles that I'd never tried before and I've really found out what styles work for my body type through my subscription. If you like something enough you can buy it, sometimes for cheap! Half my closet is from Gwynnie Bee now, lol. I'm wearing a dress from them right now at the office!

      3 agree
      • I LOVED Gwynnie bee! I wish it was still in my budget because it was amazing for my workwear confidence!

  2. Hi,
    I am a fat woman working in a majority-female field, and I have a follow up question on the bit about workplace wellness initiatives. I am a practitioner of Health at Every Size, I eat pretty healthily, and I exercise. However, it sometimes seems like all my (mostly thin) co-workers want to talk about is their latest fad diet, how healthy their lunch salad is, calorie counting, etc. All of these are things that I really, really, don't want to talk about, since my opinion (that intentional weight loss almost never works in the long run, and that fad diets in particular can be very harmful) would not be welcome. Unfortunately, skipping the diet talk hurts my ability to connect with and network with my colleagues, and I'm not sure what to do about it besides just keep my mouth shut and come off as quiet and unfriendly.

    8 agree
    • Hm that is a tough one. At my office, whenever diet talk starts I immediately just glaze over. My theory is if I never give any feedback (positive or negative) then they won't talk to me about their 5 lbs lost etc., because I just don't give any reaction. But if you feel you're missing out on bonding time with them, that is a different situation. Personally, I would try and shift the conversations to really make it neutral. When they talk about their new diet, respond with a shift like, talk about your amazing yoga class last night, or this really cool recipe you made that has so many veggies in it you are fibered out! Ask them if they've tried meditation, or what their favorite kind of exercise is. Find areas where you can connect that are more comfortable to you. But I do think if they stick to fad diets, and lots of body-shaming talk, that excusing yourself from that conversation may be the best bet.

      10 agree
    • I often just reflect the emotion, then change the subject. "It sounds like you are really proud of the choices you made at the party last night. How was the music?" Keep it about them. If they want to lose weight or go on a fad diet, it doesn't harm me. I can be supportive of whatever their goals are. Doesn't mean I'm going to share the goals or go on the diet.

      I have been known, on occasion, when all the women are fretting about the delicious looking chocolate cake to cut a piece and say, "I am going to enjoy the heck out of every bite of this" (If I think I am). It tends to shift the conversation from "I'm so bad" to "this is so good".

      10 agree
    • Yes! I find that as one of the larger woman in a group, people want to talk to me about dieting constantly. They rush to tell me they've lost 4 pounds or just gave up carbs. I'm the nurse manager of of a bunch of CNA's. One girl suggested I start a "biggest loser" contest for my staff. Oh hell no. I did take the time to explain that those programs were harmful in the short and long term, but the feeling of ickyness wouldn't leave me. My girls are young, so I try to give them a friendly education when it's appropriate, but honestly I wish they'd stop assuming I hate my body. I love my body. And I love peanut butter cookies. Mmmmmm.

  3. All this advice is good for pregnant women as well. Changing sizes on a weekly basis is beyond frustrating, and I've definitely had to do laundry more frequently to maximize use of my "good" clothes (so I don't end up in the last clean thing that I can get on my body, which is rarely ever flattering).

    2 agree
  4. Thank you! I love this post! It is so hard to find comfortable dressy-ish clothes for work, but I'm learned to push myself and keep trying stuff on until I find something that I love instead of just buying something that kinda fits because I'm discouraged and tired of shopping. If you feel comfortable in your clothes it makes you more confident overall. I also shop at Torrid a lot, as well as Maurice's (their plus-size section seems to be growing, yay!). I got a flyer from JC Penney in them mail boasting their new plus-size section, but haven't been there yet (I think Penney's is also where Melissa McCarthy's clothing line is).

    2 agree
  5. I have a generous-sized sister-in-law, the beauty of my brother's heart. Two of you could fit in one of her dresses. Her solution, learning to sew, would not be ideal for many a busy professional, but it does bring up another point. She brokered this into becoming a tailor, specializing in fitting all shapes and sizes flatteringly. If you're in a professional-level job, chances are you could afford to allow yourself some tailored clothing by someone in your area. Men get tailored suits for work all the time and think nothing of it. Large-sized catalogues too often offer an "Excuse me for existing" selection of mondo blando, but the last thing a professional woman needs is to apologize for her presence. You deserve something made expressly to suit you! And by the way, you rock those hearts!

    8 agree

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