Q: I work in a large university on a team of administrators, most of whom are women. A few times a year, there are social gatherings that always involve eating copious amounts of sweets. I am a fat woman who is also very ambitious and career-oriented.

These events are brutal and fill me with anxiety. Eating together unleashes a torrent of self-hate from my colleagues and sparks everyone to talk about whatever diet they are currently on. I always feel super self-conscious because a) I am the fattest person in the room, and it’s hard not to draw the logical conclusion that my body is my colleagues’ worst nightmare; and b) it’s alienating (and triggering) to be in these conversations.

While I can sometimes take personal days or schedule medical appointments to avoid these events, I do have to attend some. How can I endure an hour’s barrage of body negativity without losing myself completely? — Elizabeth, Toronto

A: You are not the problem here. The real question is, how can your colleagues develop healthier relationships to food and their bodies and stop espousing the fat-phobic, performative rhetoric women often engage in when eating food around one another? They may be judging your body, but they are also judging themselves. They are doing what they think they must so they aren’t seen as “bad” — which is to say, so they aren’t seen as human. And who cares if you’re the fattest person in the room? You have every right to take up space and to be comfortable and confident in your body.

I know this is easier said than done. I’ve been where you are, and it is lonely and induces a whole lot of anxiety and self-loathing. It makes you hate yourself, and it’s unproductive. I want to recommend a book called “The Body Is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor. It’s a primer on learning to accept yourself as you are and to love and respect yourself without apology. It is radical to imagine such a thing because there are so many cultural messages about why, as fat people, we should apologize and be ashamed and treat our bodies as a problem to solved.

Your body is not a problem. Your body is not your co-workers’ problem. If your body is their worst nightmare, they have lived charmed lives. Don’t make their fat phobia yours. It is not your burden to carry.

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Ye olde salary bait and switch

Q: I was laid off toward the beginning of the pandemic. Shortly afterward, an old boss offered me a position I had held the year prior. The salary was $13,000 less than I had been making, but I was told we could reevaluate in six to 12 months as they couldn’t offer more based on the uncertainty at the time.

I have now been back at the job for nearly a year and am miserable. There’s little room for growth, and I’m being tasked with responsibilities I both dislike and am not good at. In a recent meeting, I told my boss that I would like to start the conversation about upping my salary, and was told that would not be possible to discuss until fall as budgets were already finalized and approved — and that I would have to work on justifications for a raise in 2022.

I want out of this job, but I agreed to stay for a while when I accepted it. At that time, nobody was hiring and I felt lucky, but now I feel depressed and anxious. I feel financially undervalued and like I could be miserable somewhere else making a lot more money. Am I a jerk for looking for a new job so soon? — Anonymous, Oregon

A: No, you are not a jerk for protecting your interests and looking for a job in which you will be valued and respected. When employers lure you or anyone else into a new job with promises of revisiting or increasing your salary within a given period of time, they are lying. They are saying whatever they need to say to get you to accept their offer. When you accept a lower salary than you need or want, you are immediately at a disadvantage that is nearly impossible to overcome. The company knows you are willing to work for less than you deserve, and they will take advantage of that as long as they can.

You took this job for very understandable reasons; any paycheck is generally better than no paycheck. And you said you wouldn’t leave this new position for a while, but your employers said they would address your salary within a year at the most. If they didn’t keep their word, I am not sure why you feel obligated to keep yours. I don’t say that lightly. People should keep their word under reasonable circumstances, but these are not reasonable circumstances.

Your employers will never love you. They will always look out for their own best interests. You do not owe them anything beyond doing your job well, for a fair wage. You’ve held up your part of the bargain, and they have not.

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Good luck on your job hunt. I hope you find work that is fulfilling and interesting and pays you what you deserve.

Climbing off the career ladder

Q: I’m a “mature” (50-plus) woman trying to get back into the workforce after five years of not having a “real job.” How do I convince a potential employer who sees solid middle-management material in my resume and experience that all I really want is an entry-level job, or maybe a step above, and I’m not trying to climb the corporate ladder anymore?

How do you convince a potential new employer or recruiter that middle management is unrewarding and unsatisfying, and you are looking for (at best) a lateral move or less work?

What’s wrong with just wanting to do a job? Why must everyone be expected to have aspirations of leadership? Anonymous, Los Angeles

A: You ask really important questions here. American culture valorizes leadership and assumes everyone wants to be a leader and no one wants to be led. And there is a lot of judgment when someone prefers the latter. But not everyone is ambitious. Not everyone wants to run the world, and there is no shame in that. If you simply want a job and a paycheck and to go home and mind your business, that’s fine and exactly what you should do.

I don’t know if you can convince anyone that you have what they might view as modest aspirations, but I would articulate clearly and firmly the kind of position you’re looking for. You might also say that you know that your resume indicates you have the capacity for a more challenging role, but that’s not what you’re looking for, or that you feel you’re best prepared to provide a supporting role right now.

I don’t know that there is a good way to tell an employer you want less work, because for most employers that would be a red flag that you’re not going to give your job the full attention and energy it demands. In this economy especially, I would not share that you’re looking for less work, because what you’ll probably get is no work. Be clear, honest and firm about your intentions, and I think you’ll be OK.

May you find the perfect position that accommodates your mild ambitions.