I’ve been having a hard time managing my relationship with Ana lately. Some things in my personal and professional life are changing rapidly. They are all good changes, but they are unexpected and beyond my control, and that is difficult for me to handle. I don’t deal well with uncertainty, even when everything seems to be moving in such a positive direction. I’ve also moved into an employment situation where I’m supervising others, and the pressure to be the perfect mentor and role-model is a bit overwhelming.
I had been making quite a bit of progress in my relationship with Ana before these changes hit. I had an open, honest discussion with my husband about my issues of self hatred and how I needed to get the scale he’d been using to monitor his weight gain out of our bathroom. (Husband is in an allied health field where it’s in his best interest to be physically fit to be of the most assistance to his clients) He doesn’t understand, but he’s trying to be understanding. I’ve also been reading When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, which is kind of cheesy and ridiculous in some aspects, but also helps me to reflect on the fact that I have options aside from Ana to help me manage my life and be in control. There are some guided imaging exercises that I’ve found particularly useful before I started this most recent backslide.
Since I started mentoring a group of amazing, young, predominately female researchers, I’ve started to feel like I don’t really have any other viable option besides Ana for maintaining my sense of power and control. The fact that I have less time to eat definitely contributes, but over-hearing my employees talk about me with admiration makes me want to live up to their image of me, which right now is so very close to perfect. Comments on my knowledge and qualifications aren’t said with anywhere near the same admiration as comments on my fashion sense and figure.
Of course, I know that by trying to maintain the image of the woman who has it all and can do it all primarily through maintaining my outward appearance, I’m contributing to some of the worst aspects of our institutionalized system of patriarchy. But I feel lost when I try to think of myself as a role-model without Ana. In so many ways, she is what makes me great, or at least what pushes me to be great. And so, over this past month, I’ve been backsliding further and further back into the comfort of her routines. I’m making my “special drink” that I sip all day to keep my sugar levels up enough to maintain my ability to function and to keep a taste in the back of my throat so that I don’t crave food. I haven’t done this for years. I eat dinner with my husband most nights and keep carrot sticks in my purse, but I can’t bring myself to swallow more than a few mouthfuls. I’m back to my old tricks of hiding just how little I’m eating because I don’t want him to worry. I’m beyond the stage where I find comfort in calculating Weight Watchers points, because eating any food at all has started to feel like failure. Of course, I’ve had 2 serious binges. I’m NOT perfect, even with Ana’s help, but I’m not self punishing. Even though I feel terrible and guilty, I am still able to remind myself that food is fuel and that sometimes it’s ok to make mistakes. I know I can’t live up to Ana’s expectations, and on some level I’m ok with that, so long as no one else sees my weak moments.
I need to be perfect for my career and I need to be perfect for the young women who look up to me. I wish I could be perfect without her. I would be a better role model to these women if I could indirectly advocate the Health at Every Size movement and work in the idea that their looks don’t matter so long as they are smart, hardworking and innovative. But I don’t honestly believe that’s true. Fat will always feel like failure, because it is viewed as failure, whether we like it or not. It’s not right on any level, but it’s what I believe to be true because it’s what I’ve seen. I don’t take lunch breaks, and I’m praised for my work ethic. I maintain a slim figure and am praised for not being one of the “frumpy” women in science who has “let herself go.” Thin privilege is a very, very real thing and I know it helps my career. And it will help my employee’s careers. I hate that I am teaching them something so degrading and superficial, but the way women look influences the opportunities we are given. It’s not right, but it’s the cold, hard truth. I just need to get back to my place of balance, where I’m able to work with Ana instead of depending on her so completely.