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Words have Power

Some more reminiscing…

In the long-ago summer of 1986 I was 19 years young, had just squeaked through my first year of university, and was back in what I considered to be my hometown to look for a job.

Not exactly sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go with my life, but needing an income while I figured it out, I decided that my best bet would be to follow on with my high school work experience and apply for a position in retail. I set up my somewhat sparse résumé, bought a ghastly (in retrospect) pale yellow interview suit (because even though I’d never actually dress that way for a retail position, I’d always been taught that you HAD to wear a suit for an interview), and began to pound the pavement.

jobsearch

Not too far along in my search I received a call from a woman at a major chain pharmacy, asking me if I would like to come in for an interview for a position as a cashier at her store. Would I?! The thought of the store’s above-minimum wage pay rates, bright and modern environment, discounts on drugstore products, and opportunities for advancement made it a no-brainer… and the fact that I’d actually spent my last year of high school working part-time at a pharmacy gave me an extra boost of confidence.

I could DO this job!

I donned my suit and tucked a copy of my résumé into an envelope, then excitedly headed over to the pharmacy earlier than the scheduled time for my chance at an interview. I scaled a long staircase to the offices on the second floor, above the store, and introduced myself with a smile to the woman who had the power to decide whether I was to become her newest employee.

She was slim, impeccably dressed, with straight dark hair and a pair of reading glasses through which she looked down her nose at my résumé, then over at me. I’ve always been rather shy and lacking in self-confidence, so her “togetherness” felt a little intimidating; still, I held on to the knowledge that my previous experience and abilities made me a shoe-in for the position, and gathered my courage to proceed with the interview.

I thought at first that everything was going well. She rattled off a string of standard interview questions – “Why do you want to work for our company?” “What is your greatest strength? Greatest weakness?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” – and I responded with what I believed to be confidence and competence, waiting for the moment when she would tell me that I was exactly the person she’d been looking for, and offer me the job.

Then the bomb dropped.

Slowly taking off her reading glasses, she looked me up and down with what I can only describe as distaste, then said coldly, “I’m concerned that you wouldn’t be able to do this job because you’re overweight.”

At that moment, every ounce of my scraped-together self-confidence dissolved in a hot flush of embarrassment and shame. I stammered something about how my weight had never held me back in any previous job, but quickly realized that despite her open-ended phrasing, her comment wasn’t actually a request for reassurance, but rather a firm dismissal. So I left the room, humiliated and close to tears, the interview over.

And no, I didn’t get the job.

brokenheart

In the days to come I tried to comfort myself with reminders that it was she who had lost out, not me, by missing the opportunity to hire an excellent employee… that I wouldn’t really want to work for someone that judgmental anyway… that obviously there was something far better for me out there – I just had to be patient.

But, though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, the fragile framework of identity and positive self-image that I’d begun to build as an insecure young adult had crumpled with that thoughtless blow.

Yes, according to the charts, carrying 140 pounds or so on my 5′ 4½” frame did classify me as overweight. I knew it. That bit of information dealt in the interviewer’s blunt observation wasn’t a surprise to me – I’d been fighting to get my weight under control since my early teens, in an assortment of healthy and not-so-healthy ways, with varying degrees of success. She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.

And perhaps she meant well. Perhaps she thought that by giving me a quick jolt of the harsh realities of life in a competitive world and job market, I’d realize the error of my well-padded, overeating, self-indulgent ways. Perhaps she felt she was doing me a favour.

But the fact that this stranger judged and dismissed me – my character, my abilities, everything I had to offer – based solely on an external quality, reinforced something that I had long suspected but desperately hoped wasn’t true: that in this world, all the good things I could bring to the table – loyalty, commitment, honesty, hard work, dedication – were secondary to my weight.

If you’re fat, nothing else matters.

I know that’s not actually true. I know it. And at times I can even laugh at the ridiculous notion that a person with maybe 20 pounds to lose wouldn’t have the endurance necessary to handle a job as a cashier. Yet now, more than a quarter of a century after that horrific interview, and despite hundreds of reassurances to the contrary, that woman’s snap judgment – and, more importantly, her decision to share it with me – still shores up my insecurities.

I wish I could say that I’m totally over it. While on the one hand I would without hesitation go back in time to hug that humiliated 19-year-old and reassure her of her beauty, talent, and worth, the woman I am right now still fights a mental battle daily, struggling to believe those very same things.

words have power

Please, please know that your words have power – power to heal or hurt, to build up or tear down, to encourage or disparage.

And please, please remember it.

UBC

NaBloPoMo July 2014

(Originally posted in August, 2013.)

Laurel Regan – Writer, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, Growlita, iFan, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.

{ 40 comments… add one }

  • John Holton
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    At 5’4.5″ (1.64 m) and 140 pounds (63.5 kg), your body-mass index was 23.6. Normal is a BMI between 20 and 25. You’d have to weigh almost 150 to be at the low edge of overweight. Not only did she hurt your feelings, she was wrong. (My BMI is 51; I AM fat.) Sorry you went thru that.
    John Holton recently posted… The Thursday Ten: Ten Things you don’t see on TV anymore (#blogboost)My Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      July 4, 2014

      Thank you, John. I could understand it totally if it happened today since I AM fat now (though it still wouldn’t excuse her rudeness) but it was pretty hurtful back then.
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Photo Friday: SunlightMy Profile

  • Well said…I think your words of advice should be passed around like candy at a parade. Honestly. Thank you.
    b+ (Retire in Style Blog) recently posted… Do You Need an Emotional House Cleaning!My Profile

  • Karen
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    Thanks for sharing your story, Laurel. Words do have power indeed.

  • Alana
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    I had a job interview experience when I was in my late 20’s that wasn’t as traumatic as yours, but it was bad – and educational. I interviewed for a job at an insurance company. They asked me to take a calculator test (speed in using a calculator). I hunted and pecked my way through and was asked to go through a door. The door led to – the outside, the back of the building, where the garbage bins were. Yes, I was no better than the garbage. It wasn’t a personal attack, but, with 20 20 hindsight, looking at this as a woman in my 60’s, I can be grateful I didn’t get that job. How did they treat their employees? So, in your case, how would that woman have treated you if you did get the job? How much would you have suffered with that cruel woman as your boss? Please, do not let that woman continue to have even the smallest part of your life. In some way, deep inside, I have a feeling she does continue to twist her knife into you. You are so right – words have power. It’s also our power, we who write, to use words to help heal ourselves. I hope that, one day, that woman loses all her power over you. And wouldn’t it be ironic if she, as she aged, had her own weight issues and someone did that to her?
    Alana recently posted… Where Do You Want to Be In Ten Years?My Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      July 4, 2014

      Oh, what a horrible experience that must have been! But you’re right – both of us are better off having missed out on our respective jobs. And I like the idea of using our words to heal ourselves. I will work on that… thank you. :)
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Photo Friday: SunlightMy Profile

  • Cathy Graham July 3, 2014

    My heart goes out to you, Laurel. *hugs* That woman had no right to be so cruel, the B—–! As you said, she missed out on a great employee by being so superficial and judgmental. I know how easily words can wound us, even though we think they don’t. As someone who struggles with weight, I fully understand how it can affect our self esteem. And yet it shouldn’t. What’s wrong with this crazy world who puts so much emphasis on external beauty and slimness? They should take the time to look further at the inner beauty that is much so more important and lasting than superfluous fleeting beauty. It makes me sad. :(
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  • Carol Graham
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    This was a perfect example as to how words can hurt. Most of us have been victims of this in our lives and it is amazing how they stick with you — even more then the words that bring healing or joy.

    Thank you for your reminder that our words carry a lot of power — both negative and positive.
    Carol Graham recently posted… 10 Ways to Guarantee You Do NOT Make a SaleMy Profile

  • Susan Williams July 3, 2014

    That had to have stung!
    I’m so sorry.
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  • Kajal
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    I have been through this and I know how much it hurts. words do have power.. they sit in your subconscious and keep nudging you time and again. This post is inspiration though…I wish I can overcome some of my demons…Thanks, Laurel!
    Kajal recently posted… RevengeMy Profile

  • minette
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    What a fabulous blog post. I can totally identify and while I never had anyone this overtly challenge me or call me out on my weight, the subtle messages, especially from my mom, have plagued me my whole life. I wholeheartedly agree that words do have power and my mission this past year is to talk to myself as kindly and with as much support as I talk to my clients. Thanks for sharing your story and your vulnerability with us here! (And PS. I just became a CZT, it was an amazing experience!!)
    minette recently posted… Zentangle Challenge 174My Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      July 4, 2014

      Thank you so much, Minette. I like that mission and should really take on something similar myself. And congratulations on becoming a CZT – how wonderful! I am trying desperately to save up to get to a seminar myself, but it is very slow going. One day, I hope!
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Photo Friday: SunlightMy Profile

  • Shilpa Garg
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    Oh! That lady was too harsh. True, words have the power to hurt, and sometimes the hurt lingers for a long long time. Thanks for sharing your story, Laurel and for reinforcing the learning too! :)

  • Pixie July 3, 2014

    That lady was cruel to the young you! no excuses.

    I guess then I’m over weight too!! It hasn’t stopped me from doing anything… yes, it was hard as a child sometimes and other’s words hurt.
    But, I learnt slowly that my identity, my abilities had nothing to do with weight. I was happier after that realization.
    I also try not to judge a person by their physical attributes
    I try hard to keep my words polite and try not to hurt another person. Because as you have mentioned, words have the power to destroy or heal..
    Pixie recently posted… The sound of musicMy Profile

  • Shailaja V
    Twitter:
    July 4, 2014

    I am sorry! I am just sitting here with a gobsmacked expression on my face, mouth dropped open at that dismissal! How can ANYONE say that? How can you judge a person on the basis of how they look? How is that not judgemental? Hugs to you, Laurel, for overcoming that, writing about it and sharing it with the world. And just as her words had power, so do yours. The most important thing is, she has no power over you. You are unique in your own way. Love you for writing this. Many, many many hugs!
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  • Precious Murmurs July 4, 2014

    Hello! How true… one just doesn’t wake up and decide to be self conscious about one’s looks and weight… one is somehow taught to be self conscious. Evil.

    Sorry that you had to go through the experience, but thanks for sharing.

  • Eli July 4, 2014

    Oh… Stories like that makes me so angry- or rather women like that! Awful! Seeems it in the end made you stronger though – and really – her loss!!
    Eli recently posted… An expat in disguiseMy Profile

  • Diane July 4, 2014

    I’m so sorry that shallow woman still has power to hurt you! Why do we remember the cruel things said even more than the beautiful things? And yet we all do. There was a line from the movie ‘Pretty Woman’. When asked why this beautiful woman allowed cruel remarks to affect her, she answered with “The bad things are easier to believe!” Horrifying. And yet, we all (or most of us) do it. We need to start thinking like those peoples in the world who prize the human form in every conceivable rendition. We are beautiful!
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  • Susan - ofeverymoment
    Twitter:
    July 4, 2014

    I am so sorry this happened to you. Writing about it now is as powerful as her words were back then though. By sharing your story, you are helping others to see how shallow minded and ridiculous that woman was – and how we should always be careful what we say. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Life Breath Present July 4, 2014

    Oh, Laurel, that is terrible! I’m so sorry you had that experience. :'(

    Words can hurry so much and as much as we might like, they often sick with us for a very long time (at least for me) and must especially when coming from someone who’s opinion matters…
    Life Breath Present recently posted… Gym Update #10My Profile

  • ElaineLK July 4, 2014

    Laurel, this is such a heartbreaking story. I cannot believe that woman would say such a thing to you. I can understand your pain because I’ve always felt unattractive and unfortunately a few of my fellow students in junior high and high school made me feel even worse. You are a beautiful, strong, and loving person, and that is what counts! Look at the wonderful life you have today!

  • virginia sullivan July 4, 2014

    It’s not good that words given thoughtlessly by someone so many years ago can still linger with us. Thanks for the reminder that we must be watchful of the things we say without thought. What a wonderful post!
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  • Suzy
    Twitter:
    July 5, 2014

    A powerful write Laurel and it packs an even bigger punch because it’s a true life story. So true, words can hurt or heal. I have also been the butt of many jokes and ridicule in my younger days because of my weight. They were incredibly hurtful at the time and shattered my confidence too but now at 54 they no longer trouble me. Love and hugs.
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