83

Yesterday in vocational school I (mostly inadvertently) hurt someone's feelings very badly.

In our IT class in vocational school, there is just one girl. She's pretty overweight. I don't know her well at all, essentially only from school, which is only once a week, and even then only in passing.

I have an injury on my left foot. It's not really visible from the outside - the bandage is under my socks and I was wearing normal shoes.

She stepped on my foot. Not on purpose, but it hurt like hell (you can imagine, with an injury on that foot).

So of course I reacted by doubling over in pain. She asked why I was making such a big deal (in hindsight I realize this may have very well looked like I exaggerated it for comedic effect, even though I didn't. I'm not in the habit of announcing my medical problems to my entire class).

In my anger I said something to the effect of:

If you would weigh like 50kgs less, this wouldn't have been such a big deal

I know this was an unacceptable thing to say, and I immediately saw what a grave mistake that was. The rest of the (all male) IT class erupted in laughter, while she sobbed for the rest of the lesson on her seat. When the class was dismissed, she left very quickly without looking at anyone.

I'm looking to make amends. I didn't want to hurt her feelings badly for what was probably a mistake and not intentional.

How do I go about doing this? I have a feeling she's probably unwilling to talk to me at all at this point.

  • 3
    The title of this question just went "click" with me, although I have read it several times before. This girl is a classmate; do you really think of her as a stranger? Do you think of your other classmates as strangers? – user1760 Nov 21 '17 at 2:23
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    @ab2 In that context, yes. I have class once a week, and I've never interacted with this girl in class until this happened. I'd never been part of group projects with her, either, and the class is quite big (28 people). I'm not sure in what context we're not complete strangers. – mag Nov 21 '17 at 8:33

10 Answers 10

55

I'm late to this question, but I'd like to take a stab at it.

What you said and did was so painful that I don't think a simple apology and explanation will "make amends".

I am an apology freak, if you want to label it. I think that when you've done real harm, apologies, a request for forgiveness, a promise that you'll try to mend your errant ways, and an offer of restitution should be made.

If you injured her dog by accident, would a simple apology and excuse ("I was talking on my cellphone and didn't see him") do it? Maybe. But an offer to pay the vet bills would be better.

She may not want to talk to you for a while, so I would send her some really nice flowers (not roses) and a long letter of sincere apology. She deserves it.

Explain that you had an injury on that foot already. Explain that you know this came off in front of the whole class as fat-shaming, and that you're horrified that you stooped to that in your pain. Tell her you know that an apology and some flowers can't make up for what you did, and end the letter by saying that you want to make amends, then ask her what you would need to do to make amends.

She's the one you humiliated in front of the class; she's the one who can tell you how to really make amends.

Then, if it's not an anatomically impossible task, do it.

  • 7
    "If it's not an anatomically impossible task, do it". I am still wondering whether or not I would like to know where this has come from and what it has led to :) – bytepusher Nov 19 '17 at 10:00
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    I generally agree with your answers but I must say I'm a little surprised a this one. Why is this such a huge deal? Personally I'm fat. Maybe not 50kg overweight but enough that it is shameful at my age. If someone pointed it out to me after I stepped on their foot I would be contrite and apologetic. Now it might be she has a medical condition that prevents her from losing weight (though that would be a good retort), but in general being overweight is mostly a choice. It's hard to lose weight (I know that well), but I don't quite see why the rest of the world should be walking around on tiptoe – DRF Nov 20 '17 at 7:55
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    I mean what the OP said wasn't nice, and deserves an apology, but I don't see why flowers and making amends are called for. – DRF Nov 20 '17 at 7:57
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    @anongoodnurse See I don't see this as him making fun of her. He was annoyed at the pain and was sincere in how he felt, (i.e. she could stand to lose some weight). He didn't go "Oh my god look at her she's sooo fat." If anything the other men in the classroom should apologize IMO for laughing at it. I don't see anything funny in it really, as someone who battles with obesity (though of my own fault) it's more sad then funny. – DRF Nov 20 '17 at 14:03
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    @DRF - The OP wants to make amends. He asked how to do it. This is my opinion. As an obese person, maybe you can answer the question with your perspective, but please remember: the OP wants to make amends. He asked how to do it. That was his question. – anongoodnurse Nov 20 '17 at 14:37
104

Since you want to apologize, it's very simple. You can go ahead and start a conversation, not loud, and say like,

I apologize for what I said. I already have an injured leg and when you stepped on my foot, it hurt a lot. So, I really didn't mean what I said at that time in pain. I hope you understand.

A simple apology won't hurt and it can set things right. When you apologize, keep it short and simple.

She might be unwilling to talk to you, but you don't know that. So, try it once. Also, make sure to not apologize in public or loudly. This might embarrass her and apologizing might not work.

As per the comment by David K, she may or may not accept the apology. So, if she accepts apology, then it's all good, but if she doesn't, then don't bother her.

As per the comment by Kevin, you can also add this instead of "I hope you understand"

It was a terrible thing to say and I'm sorry that I said it.

  • On the other hand, apologizing publicly could be more authentic, because you're admitting in front of others that this was a mistake. This makes one kind of weak. Had a manager once, that wrongly accused me in front of many colleagues, even the boss itself, and apologized in private. That did indeed did not make it any better. – Jazzschmidt Nov 21 '17 at 10:02
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    @Jazzschmidt - normally I would agree but in this situation the girl will likely already be very embarrassed given the subject matter. Better to apologize privately and follow up by being polite to her publically from now on – Lord Jebus VII Nov 21 '17 at 11:31
17

Like AJ I would also recommend making this no more complicated than it is and apologise.

I do think you didn't just hurt her feelings through what you said, but also the fact that the rest of the class clearly heard what you have said (and found it hilarious).

In addition to making an apology, clearly stating that you said what you said in the heat of the moment. I would suggest you propose that you can help her in class if she ever needs the help and actually ask her if she needs anything in class next time (if she accepts the apology). This also shows, implicitly, to your classmates that what you said was wrong. If you don't think she needs the help, it might be better to ask if you can ask for her help as you admire her skills in class.

If you want to skip the entire helping each other out part. You can make contact during class, just make some small talk (how was your weekend?).

Apologising in public will probably embarrass her more, so I wouldn't recommend that.

  • 5
    Can you explain your reasoning as to why offering help with the class is an appropriate response? I am concerned that it would cause further offense by implying she might need the help, how do you propose OP can avoid that outcome? – Em C Nov 20 '17 at 18:06
  • @EmC You are correct if she's doing well in class, it may be better to ask her for help instead. Or just skip the entire helping each other out part and just make (genuine) some small talk with her during class. – Kevin Nov 21 '17 at 6:34
10

Analyse the situation

Her initial response to your reaction was not okay. But she didn't have all the facts and it can furthermore be explained with prior negative experience with fat-shaming. Now, you could have reacted in several ways:

  1. You could have called her a(n) <'Insert German insult here'>. Requires least amount of thought. Most "basic" reaction.
  2. You could have mentioned your injury. Seems most natural and resolves the situation right away, perhaps with an apology from her. Requires maybe a bit more thought.

Instead you said:

If you would weigh like 50kgs less, this wouldn't have been such a big deal.

This requires more reflection and is directly aimed at hitting her weak(est) spot (instead of, e. g. calling her clumsy or so). You not just call her fat, you even tell her how much overweight she has. The sole problem becomes her weight - she can't control her eating habit (weak-willed) and has become so fat (unattractive) that stepping on someone's foot causes incredible pain. Her weight caused your pain (no injury mentioned to explain it). And this happened in front of the class, where everyone heard you and laughed - she became a laughing stock.

In a comment you said "I didn't really think in that moment at all, I think." which may well be true, but as noted above, there were better "initial reactions" available. So either you thought more about it than you are aware of now, or you have some more deep-rooted problem with overweight people.

How to approach her

I disagree with those answers that say, that a simple apology is enough. I also do not think that a public explanation on how bad fat-shaming is, is in order - this would just single her out again and probably feel like a second humiliation. But I do feel that she deserves a public apology.

  • Approach her while telling her that you want to apologize and then observe her reaction to you - if she is ready, proceed, if not, leave her alone.
  • I like anongoodnurse's idea of a present very much and flowers look fine, probably not something to eat. And if she signals, that she doesn't want to talk to you, you could also follow her advice to send a letter - she can read that when she feels ready to.
  • Mention your injury - this explains your initial reaction to her stepping on your foot.
  • Apologize for your actual offense. Your pain is not an excuse! You still have some soul-searching to do, because only you can find out why you said what you said. Do that and explain it to her. You may well lower your voice here, so that only you two can hear it (maybe uncomfortable for her, also).
  • Say that you also feel sorry for making her a laughing stock in front of the class (I don't agree with apologizing for them, since only they can apologize for their behaviour).
  • She is still the focus of the class and may well think that everybody is still laughing about her - so here comes the new suggestion: Make yourself the new laughing stock! It needn't be too humiliating, but share a funny and (at least somewhat) embarrassing story - perhaps how you were injured - and tell it in a way, that everyone can hear it and laugh about it. When the others, and her too, laugh about you, this will ertainly ease her pain somewhat. At least she knows, that there is a rivalring funny story out there for them to tell and giggle about.
8

It seems like you realize that you likely hurt her more than she hurt you... If you haven't given that much thought it's worth thinking about before trying to apologize. Given her reaction that probably wasn't the first time someone said something cruel about her weight, and the public embarrassment of the incident coupled with being trapped in a classroom crying afterwards compounds the issue.

I'm not trying to make you feel worse about what you said, but if you're going to apologize for something it helps to grasp and sympathize with the way the other party is likely feeling. It's also important to keep in mind that you apologize to make the other person feel better, not to make yourself feel better.

When you're ready to apologize and you think she's ready to hear your apology, try to be as honest and sincere as you can. It may help to relate a similar situation where you've felt what she was feeling. Being bullied or publicly shamed is a pretty common experience and knowing that you've experienced it too may add some depth to your apology.

I'm not going to give you a script, because you probably shouldn't practice what you're going to say. A practiced scripted apology will probably sound and be received as insincere. It's better to speak from the heart in these situations.

8

Apologize and move on.

Some others suggest that you should offer extra help, or that you've done something that required a quadruple version of an apology. I disagree with that. Correct your mistake and continue. It is not your fault that she is overweight. It is not your fault that it's a very sensitive subject. It was not your fault that the whole class heard.

You did say something hurtful, accidental or not, in response to an accident on her part. You did something that requires an apology, apologize and move on.

Via this same logic, I expect her to apologize for an error on her side. It is not her fault that you have a injury, but she did step on it.

  • 1
    There are a couple typos I suggest you fix (it's giving me an error when I try): "not your fault of she is overweight" -> "not your fault if she's overweight" (or drop the "of" entirely) and "in response to a accident" -> "in response to an accident" – Kat Nov 18 '17 at 17:06
  • I'm curious. Whose fault is it that the whole class heard? – anongoodnurse Nov 19 '17 at 5:32
  • Why does that have to be someone's fault? IMO it's a situation thing. It happened in class, where other people were. Nobody made those people be there for this event, they just happened to be there. (if TS said something bad because there are other people, then it is his fault, but for now I'm assuming a 'heat of the moment' type reaction). – Martijn Nov 19 '17 at 14:38
6

You should apologize in a way that is just as public as the insult was, because it went beyond just you and her. [I am in the USA, but I believe these suggestions would work for you.]

I agree with your assessment that your insult was mostly inadvertent. Unfortunately, this implies that part of your attitude was confrontational. Please don’t get me wrong, I have done something similar to this (or perhaps worse). But I have been straight enough with myself to take this as a learning experience to be a better person. Also as a side note, I felt compelled to publically apologize. I tried to do all that is possible to reduce the extent of the injury to this person.

Your apology should not include just yourself. Your insult was public in the sense that the events unfolded in a way that made everyone in the room notice – and participate in. Unfortunately, you had a role in inducing these boys to collectively insult this woman in manner that made your initial injury exponentially worse.

Suggestions that may work:

  • Ask the teacher (beforehand) to have a minute of his time to make an announcement in class. Hopefully, they will allow this.
  • In your short announcement, start with “the bottom line up front”. You want to take this opportunity to make an apology.
  • Answer her question: you are nursing a foot injury that was not apparent.
  • Your response was wrong and inappropriate, and you wish to apologize for your statement.
  • You induced others to react in a manner that was also inappropriate. Apologize to her on behalf of the entire class.
  • The only person who acted appropriately was her – the injured party. And she should be applauded for that.
  • If you deem it appropriate, publically give her a symbolic gift (whose monetary value is not the point so it should not be expensive on purpose). The goal here is to get her to smile at least for a second. It may allow her to remember that when she recalls this incident. What came to mind for me immediately (as an ex-IT guy) was one of those small kits that come in a zippered case containing standard screw drivers, tweezers, fasteners and such that are useful when working on computers.
  • At the end of class, shake her hand, one professional to another, to let her know that you respect her place in the classroom and in the profession.

As an additional benefit, this train of thought and actions on my part also allowed me the opportunity to also recall that they smiled after all this. I am almost positive the handshake I got in return was sincere.

  • 14
    Or doing something that public may just remind her of something that she just wants to forget and get the entire class going again. – Tim B Nov 16 '17 at 20:48
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    All I'm saying is that harm has already been done. Your suggestion may make that harm worse, not better. She is the wronged party so her wishes should be respected in how the OP goes about trying to make amends - and many people would only find the hurt made worse by the sort of public spectacle you are suggesting. Some people would appreciate it, others would not - and we do not know which is the case here. – Tim B Nov 16 '17 at 21:27
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    @John I would bet money that she would get MORE upset by doing it in public. I've been on the receiving end of this (not about weight, but spreading rumors about sexual preference which led to me being beaten up after school). It was horrifyingly embarrassing to have it brought up again, with everyone looking at me, in front of class. I absolutely did not want that. It puts you in a very awkward situation, and for me, it was worse than the original incident BY FAR. I'm from a US perspective as well btw. – user3316 Nov 18 '17 at 16:48
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    It might make sense to apologize in private, then ask if she wants you to make a public apology, and say you are very willing to. This gives her a say, and won't blindside her. – user3316 Nov 18 '17 at 16:55
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    I agree with asking her if she would like you to make a public apology. Do not do that without asking her, or it could be doubly mortifying. Speaking from experience here. Either talking to her in person (if she will), or sending the apology via note with a small token (doesn't have to be flowers; that mentioned nice set of PC tools would be awesome!) and the points @anongoodnurse made along with making the public apology an option would be perfect. So sort of a combination of the mostly excellent points made in answers and comments (edited for clarification). – dei gratia regina Nov 19 '17 at 7:50
5

This lady knows she is very overweight, and many people have told her that she is very overweight. The answer of @AJ and the comments following the answer give you excellent advice, and I am not going to repeat any of that (except, forget the chocolates.)

One aspect that has not been addressed is that this happened in class, in front of all her classmates. It happened in a place where her brain and how well she can do the work should be more important than how she looks.

You and all the others told her:

No matter how smart and competent you are, the most important thing about you is -- and always will be -- that you are not physically attractive.

Thus you (and a few of your friends) should be thinking about ways in which you can show that you value what she contributes in class, and her potential to be good in her career. For example, do you split up into pairs or groups to do a project? Enlist her in your group and show you appreciate her contributions. Of course, you have probably made her self-conscious about actively participating in class.

The best thing someone can do for this young lady is not to give her flowers (or candy !) but to ask for her help on a technical problem.

Edit in response to comment by @Mandrill: This is a good point. Perhaps one of the offender's friends could approach her, say the offender is a creep and he feels badly about the reaction of the class, but he has noticed she is good at X, and what does she thing about a particular problem? The point is to draw her into the life of the class -- unless all the class does outside of class is drink beer. :)

  • 1
    I am not so sure if asking for help is a good thing if the only previous interaction was very harmful. She can add the "not being respected feeling" summed with "being taken advantage of" feeling. For everyone else sounds a good idea but for someone who has a bad first impression it is not a good idea imho. – Mandrill Nov 17 '17 at 16:42
2

You wrote,

I didn't want to hurt her feelings badly for what was probably a mistake and not intentional.

Unfortunately I guess you probably did (in the heat of anger) intend to hurt her feelings, which you now regret.

I assume what happened was:

  • You were (physically) hurt
  • You became angry
  • You wanted to hurt her

That (wanting to hurt her) is a fairly normal behavioural strategy (see Tit for tat) -- it's maybe intended to dissuade someone (an "enemy") from hurting you again, and is one of the normal outcomes of anger.

But it (anger and retaliation) is an unskillful (e.g. immature) reaction on your part (and I recommend you unlearn it a.s.a.p., before you use it in your other/intimate personal relationships).

Anyway, when you apologise I recommend you don't say, "I didn't mean it" or "I didn't want to":

  • Because it's untrue (I assume you did mean to hurt her, at the time -- that is the reason why you would "lash out")
  • Because it isn't true, there's no reason why she should find it a satisfying or helpful (reassuring) apology

Instead explain (or confess) that you were angry (because of whatever the reason was).


The next, most important part of an apology is to tell her that it won't happen (i.e. that you won't do that) again.

A reason to remember hurt is maybe to avoid being hurt again (so maybe being told it won't happen again gives her an opportunity to forget the hurt she suffered).

I don't know what to do about the the reaction of the crowd. You might (or might not) say that maybe some of the them laughed because they were embarrassed at your outburst, or that it was wrong of them too to tolerate your bullying.

And I suppose you can ask what you can do to apologise.

-2

So my stance is a pretty extreme one but I remember from when I was in school, being picked on was not fun. Even if someone apologized to me, it didn't help all that much.

Firstly, I would apologize to her. Explain that you had a previous injury and, even though she didn't know about it, she aggravated the injury and it hurt a lot more. Apologize for losing your cool and lashing out, but explain that when she said "Why are you making such a big deal" it further made you lose your temper. I think a very important point here is that she may be picked on with some regularity but she still should have also shown concern for stepping on your foot and apologized in the moment.

Secondly, and this is really dependent on the type of person you are and the type of person she is, I would offer to go in front of the class and make a public apology. This wasn't just you hurting her feelings by calling her fat, this was a public shaming based on her weight that involves several more parties. Again, if she isn't the type to allow for that and would be embarrassed, then you can't do it because it would make the situation worse. However, if she does accept the olive branch you are extending, your apology should be short and simple. Something as easy as "the other day, Girl X stepped on my foot. I had a previous injury and she just happened to step on it. I lashed out and was way out of line and want to apologize for my actions."

Very extreme opinion but that's how I would handle the situation. Hopefully you can mend the situation and everyone can move on from this event.

  • 2
    Generally, if your apology includes a reason why the other party partially deserved or caused the thing you're supposedly apologizing for, it won't go over well. Even if you feel you were wronged as well, it's best to leave that out of any apologies you plan to give. – Kat Nov 18 '17 at 17:15

protected by NVZ Nov 18 '17 at 6:21

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