Ask a counsellor: How can I get my colleagues to stop teasing me about my height?

The problem…

“I’m 23 and only 4ft 10. I got teased and bullied badly at school and, although I did well academically, I was really glad to leave. University was better, mainly because I had a bunch of great supportive friends – however, I am now working and the teasing has started up again.

“I work in a large, open-plan and sometimes noisy office, and while most of my colleagues are OK, a few have got into the habit of calling me “titch”, “tiny” or “shorty”. I know it’s probably not meant to be hurtful, but I am fed up with it. One older guy in the office is the worst offender and has started calling me “the midget”. I’d simply shrugged it off or ignored him before, but last week I finally lost it and called him a fat, balding bigot; I was too angry to explain why I exploded, and I simply stomped off.

“Since then, people have been a bit off with me and the older guy just glares at me, as though it’s my fault. I now feel guilty and wish there was some way I could take back what I said, but why can’t they understand how hurtful their comments are?”

Fiona says…

“I think you are right, most people do not intend to be hurtful, they may even think they are being friendly. That said, comments about a person’s physical appearance (even well-intentioned ones) are hurtful, something I suspect the older man you confronted probably now knows too.

“They should also have no place in a work environment and I think you showed remarkable restraint in not saying something sooner. Indeed, there is an argument that it’s a form of discrimination!

“However, as you now realise, losing your temper was probably not the best approach and, if you want to build some bridges here, you’ll need to find a way to have a quiet word with this man. Explain that you feel bad about what you said and apologise if you think it helps. Also point out though, that you had been constantly teased in the office and that you found his use of the term “midget” particularly hurtful.

“Hopefully, he will see this as an opportunity to also apologise, which should ease some of the tension in the office. If he doesn’t, then at least you’ve done the right thing here.

“I sense from your letter that, in the past, you’ve simply put up with teasing rather than create a fuss. But going forward, I think this may have to change. Try to recognise that height is not YOUR problem and that people who seek to draw attention to it are usually doing so to cover up their own insecurities. Then let people know immediately if they say something that you do not like. You don’t need to get angry or confrontational, calmly explain that you’d rather they didn’t comment on your height.

“You may even prefer to use humour, with something like: “The best things come in small packages”. Whatever approach you use, always try to be positive but calm. If none of this works and it’s still a problem, you could consider talking to your company’ HR department and asking for their support.

“Meanwhile, stand tall, accept who you are and flaunt your confidence. If it helps, think about taking up as much space as possible in a room, you’d be surprised how much this can add to your appearance.”

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

- Press Association


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