At Work, I Was Judged For My Body, But I Also Found My Voice
As young as nine years old, I remember having aspirations of being a writer moonlighting as a fashion designer living in a large, noisy, and populated city. Not the usual daydream of your average suburban third-grader. I grew up in a traditional midwestern home and community—family dinners, fighting siblings, competitive sports, and quality education. However, I was different because I was fat.
My weight was pretty average until about five, and then I started to “fill out.” My pediatrician advised my parents to get me into sports. My poor parents did everything they could, from enrolling me into countless activities (dance, soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball, and swimming) to regulating my diet to trying supplements. As you can imagine, my weight caused many mental health issues for me, depression and anxiety to be specific. By seventh grade, I knew I wasn’t happy in school, and lucky for me, I had parents who trusted my intuition and let me attend a different school.
The night before starting at my new middle school, I remember having pep talks in the mirror saying, “walk in like you own the place” and “don’t give a shit about anything.” Girl, did I nail it. There were tough times, but at the end of that year, I came out with a 4.0, which gave a massive boost to my self-esteem, and I ended up with a great group of friends, some of which I still know today.
At some point, that fake confidence I built in my head as I glided down that middle aisle in a yellow school bus on that warm August morning became actual confidence. I took more calculated risks—during university I studied abroad in London—and after graduation I moved to a bustling city just as I wished when I was a little girl. I wound up using my lit degree as a content and project professional.
A year into my job, I started to lose myself in the way a senior viewed me. At times this person planted self-doubt in me. I started thinking that I was not smart enough or working hard enough to be in this role. After talking to my mentors about what I was experiencing at work, I realized the only difference between my colleagues and me was my weight. The fact this person perceived me as overweight led him/her to stereotype me as being lazy.
Nothing I did seemed to change his/her opinion of me. It became a vicious cycle where I’d work 12-14-hour days to keep up with my regular work while taking on additional tasks just to impress him/her, only to find that it wasn’t enough. I began to suffer mentally, physically, and emotionally.
So, I started evaluating my choices. The first and obvious choice was to drop that job like it was a hot cake burning my hand, but the second, and what seemed more difficult, was to stay. However, I could not just stay in the role. If I remained, I had to disprove whatever notions this person had about me. If I left without proving this person wrong, he/she was just going to do this to someone else, and that did not sit well.
I knew I needed to bring back that confidence I had when dealing with my weight all those years ago, and makeup, specifically dark lipstick, helped me channel that confidence. Soon, I started standing up for my ideas, opinions, and myself in general. As things progressed, I started racking up successful projects under my belt. My confidence grew more with each success, and at the same time, this person came to realize my value.
What started as merely proving my work ethic to an individual who doubted me based on my appearance became more about proving to myself what I can do. It also showed me what I bring to the table while boosting my confidence in who I am as a person and who I knew I was all those years ago as a little girl daydreaming.