Dear Jerkface Coworker:
(OK. That wasn’t very nice, I’ll admit. Let me try again.)
Dear Busybody Employee:
I feel the need to address you again after our brief conversation in the break room on Wednesday.
Allow me to refresh your memory: It was around noon, the day we had our quarterly employee meeting. As you may recall, refreshments were served. (This is common; if employees are stuffing their pie holes, they’re more likely to sit and listen vs. make snide remarks or check Facebook. I know this because even though I work in HR, I’m an employee too, and am probably doing the same thing when the CEO isn’t looking.)
So. Refreshments. We had coffee cake. And it appears that the Activities Committee ordered a bit too much, because they were cutting “slices” that could clearly feed a third-world country for a week. We also had fresh fruit available.
Later, the extra coffee cake was placed in the break room. (This is where all “meeting room food” goes when the meeting is done – anything you put up there with a “free” sign magically gets eaten before the day shift leaves at 3 PM.)
I wandered up to the break room at about noon to get some hot water for my decaf herbal tea. I noticed two large cake boxes on a table. I went over to have a look.
I opened one of the boxes. There were four gargantuan pieces in there, each likely adequate to choke a blue whale. I inhaled. I’ll admit, that cake smelled wonderful – warm, toasty, buttery; vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar.
Our finance dude came up next to me and took a slice. He added it to his vending machine stash of a sandwich, a candy bar, and a soda, carrying in one handful more calories than I get in two days. (Side note: Do men have ANY IDEA how good they have it? Between their metabolisms, steady hormones, no monthly “surprises”, and earning a dollar for every 78 cents I earn? It’s no wonder we’re occasionally mad at you for no discernible reason.)
I closed the lid and walked away.
Then, uninvited, you joined the conversation in my head.
“Go ahead. Have a slice.”
I paused. I said, very politely, “Yeah…no thanks.”
Let me point out that in normal, polite society, this is where the conversation would end.
But you’re not normal, polite society, are you? I’m afraid not, as you continued:
“Why not? Have some cake!”
Well, the simple answer is that I don’t eat wheat, and cake is typically a carrier.
But it’s just not that simple.
Cake is full of sugar. Sugar completely effs with my mood, my psyche, and my inner peace.
And cake has lots of calories. Fat, sugar, carbs.
So, this torrid threesome will sit in my guts, punching me from the inside as my body tries to digest it.
It will poke the sensitive sections of my brain, judging me for being weak while simultaneously begging for more, more, more – demanding candy and chocolate and cereal and donuts and cake and SUGAR SUGAR SUGAR which you might as well eat since you’re a hopeless, worthless lump of fat anyway.
This single slab of cake will alter my vision, so that when I next step in front of a reflective surface, my wide, flabby thighs and bloated, shapeless gut will be magnified, swallowing up every last bit of self-confidence I carry.
So. How do I answer your question, rude as it was?
Well, I do speak American. Specifically, I speak American Woman. So, biting my tongue (who really wants to tell you to F off, and by the way, rethink the navy tights with the white sandals, OK sweetie?) I sigh, and say,
“Do you know how far I’d have to run to burn that thing off?”
Seeing understanding nods from the other ladies at the table, I turn my back and tend to my tea. I think we’re done here.
But you’re not done.
You sneer. I hear you snort. (Legit snort. Are we twelve?) I hear you roll your eyes. And you say, “yeah, RIGHT”, dripping with so much sarcasm I’m afraid you’ll slip, fall, and make me file a worker’s comp claim.
And then you approach me, and repeat yourself.
“YEAH. RIGHT. SUUUUUUUURE.”
I’m making my tea and trying not to throat punch you. That would be, as we say in HR, a career-limiting move, even though you’ve clearly earned a right hook at this point.
I look up. You’re pretty much up in my grill now.
“And exactly how far DO you run every day?”
I can tell by your expression that you’re trying to call me on my bluff. And suddenly, I realize something.
This isn’t about me.
It’s about YOU.
This is about YOUR insecurities. This isn’t about whether I run or if I eat cake. It’s about you, and your struggles.
It’s about facing, every day, the impossible job of being an acceptable-looking female. It’s about the media-created fantasy where you desire to be able to bake the treats in Good Housekeeping, yet still look like the front cover of Vogue.
It’s knowing that this is impossible, but wanting it anyway. Because that’s what society tells us to be.
It’s about you wanting validation that it’s OK that it can’t be done.
And somehow, if you can prove that I wear the size I do while lounging on a recliner eating hunks of cake the size of a politician’s ego – if you can show that there’s no correlation between what you eat and how you look, because some people are just born that way – you’ll feel better.
But I’m still mad at you – or, more accurately, I’m frustrated and exhausted by my own demons so I don’t have time or energy to help you with yours. So I shatter your small light bulb of hope and let you know that I do, in fact, run 3 1/2 miles several days a week. And I once again decline the cake. “But, if it makes you feel any better, I did have an orange this morning. So I suppose I’ll have four Cheerios instead of six for dinner.” And with that, I leave the room.
I’m not proud of this. Hey, I’m human; sometimes painfully so.
But now that I’ve had time to think it over, I wanted to say that I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that you, like me, have your own demons to wrestle.
I’m sorry that sometimes, your own voices tell you you’re not good enough.
I’m sorry that you allow the airbrushed, exaggerated media to help define you.
And I wanted to also say thank you. Because, really, if I think about it, you gave me a tremendous compliment: You not only think I look pretty good, but apparently, you think I make it look easy. Like it comes naturally. And while that couldn’t be further from the truth, it was, at its core, complimentary. With a little more patience and social maturity, perhaps, in the future, I can respond with, “I will choose to take that comment in the spirit in which I’m sure it was intended, and say, ‘thank you.'”
We women have a tough path – trying to balance career and family, trying to nurture our husbands and children while depriving ourselves, all while attempting to live up to impossible physical expectations.
The best thing we can do is lift each other up. We can lean on each other. We can applaud our victories, share our joys, and pass out wine and tissues when we’re hurting. We can work to love our souls and sign peace treaties with our thighs.
We’re all on the same team here.
So, while I can’t eat the cake just yet, I will have just a small dish of frozen custard tonight. And instead of forgiving myself, I won’t apologize in the first place.
And I hope that the next time there’s cake, you take a piece just because you want one, and enjoy every buttery, sugary, joyful crumb.