Just a week after Julie Chen recounted how she was told that her career future hinged on getting eyelid surgery to make her eyes appear bigger, Good Morning America contributor Tory Johnson wrote a piece recalling the subtle but unmistakable way she was pressured into losing weight in order to keep her job.
In the op-ed, which was published in the NY Post, she recalls the day she was summoned to a meeting with Barbara Fedidia, the highest-ranking woman at ABC News. Says Johnson, "I feared her agenda was my weight, which I had battled forever." Filled with dread, she put on the most slimming outfit she owned and met Fedida in the ABC cafeteria, where she elected to consume only a bottle of water.
[F]or almost an hour we talked about everything but the matter at hand: our kids, New York City public schools, husbands and the “GMA” ratings.
I kept praying her BlackBerry would summon her to a meeting. It did not. I knew The Talk was coming.
“You don’t look as good as you could,” Barbara said, calmly changing the topic. “I don’t think your clothing does you any favors.”
Johnson was worried that she'd be fired on the spot. Instead, however, Fedida offered to connect her with a wardrobe stylist and then slyly added, "I feel much better when I work out."
Not once did she call me fat, say I had to lose weight, or hint that my job was in jeopardy. The words “fat,” “overweight” or “obese” never came up.
But what I did hear was, “Lose weight, or lose your job.”
As Kat Stoeffel at The Cut points out, women have so thoroughly internalized body shame that "a passing reference to clothing and exercise is enough signal to women they will get fired if they don’t lose weight." However, rather than blaming unrealistic and harmful body expectations for her feelings of dread leading up to the meeting — and her embarrassment throughout — Johnson blames herself. "I was so tired of this," she writes, "and sick of fooling myself into thinking I wasn't really so fat."
The saga ends with Johnson losing 72 pounds, writing a book about weight loss, and then dedicating it to her boss. Her (really saddening) closing words:
Barbara did for me what doctors, family and friends never could. Since then, friends have said they wish their bosses would tell them to lose weight because so far they haven’t listened to anyone else. I’m forever grateful for her gentle grace during that difficult workplace chat that changed my life — may have even saved it.
If only we all had higher-ups willing to egregiously police our bodies under the threat of implied career termination, right?