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My co-worker called me fat - and I'm pregnant


The question

I'm six months pregnant and a junior lawyer in a small law office. The office is amazing, but there's one déclassé assistant who always has something nasty to say. Yesterday, I had trouble fitting into my court robes, which provided some amusement for the office - myself included. Today, someone brought in doughnuts, and this individual said, loudly: "We need to keep her away from the doughnuts because she's too fat to fit into her robes." I was so shocked that I didn't say anything. I've been seething ever since, and I know the issue is going to arise again because a) I've got three months to go and b) I saw how rude she was to another pregnant lawyer at work. Should I say something to her after the fact? P.S. I don't actually like doughnuts.

The answer

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Is it my imagination, or are people getting ruder?

The other night I was at a charity thing, and this couple approached: "Hey, Dave Eddie!"

Me: very friendly: "Hi, how's it going?"

"You don't remember me, do you?" the female half of the couple asked, instantly up in my grill. Truthfully, I remembered her but not her name.

"What makes you say that?"

"'Cuz you're all like, 'Hey, how's it going?'" Here, to imitate me, she crossed her eyes, and adopted a baritone, big-doofus voice.

"I remember you," I said, evenly.

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"Oh, yeah? Who am I?"

"You're, uh, Rick's wife."

"What's my name?"

"Your name is Rudia McWhyshouldIcarenik," I wanted to say. "Now please take a big step back, stop bothering me, and leave me alone."

But instead, like you, I was too flabbergasted and tongue-tied. So I just stared at her, stunned, while she forced me to try to guess her name.

And like you, I seethed and stewed afterward, trying to think of Churchillian counter-zingers: "I may not be able to remember your name tonight, madam, but in the morning I shall be sober, and, uh…"

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The French call this after-the-fact, what-you-wish-you'd-said feeling l'esprit de l'escalier ("the spirit of the staircase") - the zinger that occurs descending the stairs after the party.

And I can tell you're feeling a touch of it. But you know what? I have come to the conclusion that that shock, that tongue-tied stunned-ness you feel when someone insults you is actually a gift - God's way of preventing conflict escalation.

Suppose it happens again. Suppose she says something like "I hope they make Spanx for pregnant women: You're gonna need 'em to get into your robes soon."

And suppose you counter-zing her - something like, "What would you know about it? A man has to want to have sex with you for you to get pregnant."

(And here I picture you "low-fiving" your colleagues, standing around in your robes going, "Oh, snap" and "Did she go there?" "The prima facie evidence indicates she did.")

She sounds like just the type to come up with a counter-counter-zinger even more witless, if possible, than calling a pregnant woman "fat." ("Oh, yeah? Your hair's frizzy. What, did you lose your conditioner?")

And then the friction in your office would be rising, and you'd be sinking - to her level. A level which you should remain above, madam.

Plus, if you call her out, she might say: "Oh, come on, I was just joking!"

(And who knows: It might be true. Like the woman who buttonholed me at the charity event, she might just have been trying to be "funny.")

I know it's tough for you legal types to refrain from oratory for long. If you feel you must say something, you are allowed a frosty "I beg your pardon?"

It has the double benefit of a) conveying your displeasure while maintaining the high ground and b) forcing your insulting interlocutor to repeat her uncouth utterance.

Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't suggest that if the situation becomes untenable, you can report her to your superiors. Pregnant and un-pregnant women alike have a right to a being-called-fat-free environment.

Most realistically, though, I would say: Rise above, momma-to-be. As you say, three months to go. Soon you'll be spending your days (and nights) holding a little bundle who can't speak at all, let alone insult you - who only gurgles, coos, cries and barfs up onto his or her "receiving blanket."

And this persistent pest, this passive-aggressive office water bug, will recede from memory, at least for the duration of your maternity leave, like a strange, sad character in a half-forgotten dream, or a poorly reviewed, quick-closing play.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change, Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad and Damage Control , the book, now in paperback.

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