Ask Ijeoma: How Can I Help A Depressed Colleague?

Ijeoma Oluo — renowned activist, writer, and Establishment editor-at-large — answers readers’ questions about body image, race, feminism, and more. Have your own question to ask? Email getestablished@theestablishment.co with “Ask Ijeoma” in the subject line.

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Someone at work who I’m not close to has obviously gone through periods of depression, and though we are all friendly to each other, no one seems to know how to offer him support. We all genuinely care, but are not sure it’s our place/appropriate. How can we help in a non-self-righteous way?

Depression is so hard — because it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to the person who’s depressed, and it doesn’t make sense to those witnessing it. I would say that from a work standpoint, one thing that is important for coworkers to understand, is how very exhausting depression is. Basic tasks can feel almost impossible. Often at work, one of the most exhausting things about depression is trying to pretend like everything is okay and trying to be social when it’s the last thing you want to do. At the same time, it’s easy to feel invisible and unloved when you are depressed. So don’t try to force cheerfulness or activity out of your coworker. If your coworker seems down, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, “You seem down today — if you need to talk, let me know.” But sometimes, just saying “hi” is enough to let someone know that they matter, without putting extra pressure on them.

Do celebrities owe it to us to fess up about the cosmetic surgery they’ve had? Kylie Jenner, Iggy Azalea, and a host of others obviously all have fake thighs and butts but keep mum about it.

I think that it’s important to look at the root causes of these issues — and the root cause of these pushes for perfection in women comes from a lack of bodily autonomy. We are told time and time again that women’s bodies are for external consumption, and that we owe society a certain look. Our bodies are not our own.

If we decide that we believe in bodily autonomy, then we must believe in it 100%, which means that celebrities don’t owe us any explanation for what they do with their bodies. Yes, it sucks that some celebrities choose to help perpetuate lies about the female body image by pretending that their look is naturally attainable, but that’s their choice. Furthermore, it’s not the decision women make to alter their bodies that creates this environment; it’s our decision to value those bodies over other bodies (or value any bodies more than others) that does.

I recently put up a profile pic of myself on my Facebook that, while sexy, is really not overtly so. While my upper back is showing, I’m wearing a long dress. Even my mum likes it! I’ve received some comments and inbox messages which I find to be inappropriate. Was I asking for it? :-/

No, you weren’t asking for it at all. You are allowed to celebrate your body and you are allowed to display your body. People can choose to look or not if you make it available, but unless you’re emailing this pic out to random people saying, “What do you think about my sexy bod?” people have no right to send you comments on your body. We are humans who sometimes look at pictures of people and it makes our nether-regions feel funny. That’s a completely human response; it’s not special or comment-worthy, and it’s nobody’s business. If a dude sent you a message saying, “I’ve been farting all morning,” that would be fucked up — because that’s in no way your problem. Same goes for boners. Nobody has any right to impose their bodily functions on you.

Photo: Joana Roja/Flickr

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