Disorders and Digressions

I work in an office full of women. There are 21 women, to be precise, and 3 and a half men (he’s not a dwarf, he’s part-time. Oh, I crack myself up). I have, in fact, always worked in female-dominated offices – which is undoubtedly what comes of attending an all-girls boarding school and then making a career in the Charity sector followed by Publishing. I like it.

Perhaps I have subconsciously sought out such working environments because I am better able to cope with the dynamic. For instance, if a woman criticizes me – even a woman in authority – I do not automatically assume either a) that she has my best interests at heart nor b) that she must be correct. Whereas when a man criticizes me I immediately launch into an apologetic ‘mea culpa’ and attempt to address the flaw, without questioning whether the more appropriate response might actually be “Fuck off”.

I suspect this is a learned behaviour, begun in response to my over-critical father. He loved us in his way, but saw his role as being the ‘strong’ figure who would correct our faults so his interaction with us was – according to my admittedly subjective memories – almost exclusively limited to not particularly gentle criticism with a distinct touch of mockery.

It was then reinforced by relationships in my twenties and early thirties with men who seemed to consider me a work in progress; something to be improved. One used to say things like “We have to destroy you in order to rebuild you”.

I can’t believe I accepted that; believed that he was trying to help me (rather than projecting his own issues on to me) and that he loved me. He didn’t even really know me. At this point I’d like to add that if anyone tried that now I’d punch them, promise.

Anyway, I’m digressing – my point was that I find working with women much simpler. I can fairly accurately guess a woman’s feelings and thoughts and roughly predict her behaviour even when it varies wildly from my own – which it tends to.

Which brings me to my point: pregnancy and eating disorders.

In an office full of women in their late twenties through to their early forties, its pretty obvious that many of them will be trying to get pregnant. And many of them will be on diets. Less obvious perhaps is that some will have serious food issues. Currently, there are 5 women trying to get pregnant working here, 7 on diets and 2 with well-concealed eating problems. I am not in any of the above categories.

The connection? Well, both anorexia and bulimia are psychological illnesses which affect disproportionately more women than men and which have notable physiological effects which relate to fertility, including but not limited to: stopping (or not starting) menstruation, low or non-existant fertility, higher risk of miscarriage and premature or low-birth weight babies, loss of libido, inability to concentrate, irritability and mood swings, insomnia, abdominal pains and digestive problems, fine hair growth on face, arms and body, feeling cold all the time etc etc.

Here’s a list of eating disorder ‘indicators’, several of which I recognise in people I know (most sufferers will have 2 or more of these, but not all, as each case is different):

Follows a severely restricted diet. Bans ‘bad’ foods. Pretends to eat or lies about eating. Eats very little, but constantly thinks about food. May cook for others, collect recipes, read food magazines, or make meal plans. Strange or secretive food rituals. Feels fat, despite being underweight. Harshly critical of appearance, self-conscious, focuses on specific ‘bad’ areas. Uses drugs as appetite suppressants, laxatives or diuretics. Throws up after eating. Follows a punishing exercise regimen. Will exercise through injuries, illness, and bad weather.

I’m not sure where I was going with this… oh, wait, now I remember. it amazes me that we manage to get any work done sometimes, when one considers the distracting health undercurrents in this office.


As an aside – it is interesting (to me) to note some of the wider effects of my non-competitive personality. (Apart from an avoidance of card and board games which remind me of my hyper-competitive father and middle sister. Who are NO FUN to play with).

Ferrinstance: as soon as a guy I’m interested in shows any interest in another woman or if another woman shows an interest in him – I go right off him. I take such a huge step back I practically fall off the edge of the planet. Do I really just not want to compete with a ‘sister’? Or do I not want to lose??

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8 Responses to Disorders and Digressions

  1. modestypress says:

    I wonder about my granddaughter. She is only five years old, but food has always been a very difficult issue for her. I don’t know this is something she is just working through as a development issue as she grows up, or a sign she will have life long difficulties with food that may spill over into some of the other types of issues you mention and describe.

    Humans sure are messed up creatures.

  2. azahar says:

    Compete? For a man? What a ridiculous notion…

  3. piereth says:

    If you think about the energy invested in and expended by worrying about food to this level, you wonder why people bother.

    Compete for men?? Not until people start competing for me, lol!

  4. I’m the same way re: the competition thing, though I wasn’t always smart enough to take the giant leap backward. And I do think that’s the smart thing to do … life is too short to play availability games. I like Piereth’s attitude. 🙂

    I also used to work in an office populated largely by women, and noticed many of the same types of things. One thing that really struck me is how vocal women are, compared to men, about their own self-perceived aesthetic shortcomings. It has always seemed very counterintuitive to me, just from a publicity standpoint.

    I remember in particular that there was one woman, about my age, who was maybe 30 pounds over her ideal weight; she was always beautifully dressed and nicely turned-out, and I thought of her as the most attractive woman in the office, at least partly because she never put herself down or said anything about being on a diet.

  5. Your absolutely right, David. I try to mentally check myself from tromping around the office when I make a mistake and showing it to everyone. I try to remember to cheer for myself when I do something well. I think a lot women just have a sort of addiction to self-deprecation, we want so well for other to think well of us, we bring ourselves down before anyone else can.

    All the women in my office are married with grown children, so I have nothing to worry about in those arenas. There is a rash of dieting, and one woman who eat nothing but popcorn for lunch. Most of the bosses are men, and most of the admins are women around here. It works pretty well.

    I’m much the same way that if friend of mine says she is attracted to someone, I back way off. Probably for both of those reasons.

  6. OmbudsBen says:

    Fifteen years ago I was hired as a freelancer to work in an office that had just brought in a new director of publishing. It seems she wanted a bit more gender balance, and she actually said to me once that when an office became all women it got “to be like hens clucking.”

    She did a little thing with her hands at that point, holding them close and rapidly tapping fingertips against thumbs, like birds’ beaks.

    It kind of startled me. I probably had a half-stunned smile; I know I said nothing. She was my boss, after all.

    I will say that all-male environments can get a bit … oppressive, and I think having a few women about the premises can moderate any, err, excesses.

    But I’m still puzzling over what she meant.

  7. A very long time ago I actually worked in an office full of women — back when I worked in an office. In the office full of women, all of whom were fixated on clothes, makeup and diet, I fit in so poorly that I ended up quitting when my boss (a woman) started pressuring me to become a totally different person than I am: fixated on clothes and makeup. I also worked in an office where the balance was two men and two women. In that situation, I was sexually harrassed by one of my coworkers and ended up losing my job because he told our boss he could not work with me with my poor disrespectful attitude. As far as I am concerned, it is not the balance of men or women in an office that is the problem, it is offices.

    That being said, it is sad to see how important our weight and clothes have become to us when what is really important is our job performance in case of a job and our souls and personality when it comes to relationships. If we could all just take a step back and stop watching all those ads that are telling us that we are not young enough or thin enough or wearing enough of the right brand of makeup, we might be happier. Men are not immune from the pressure, I’ve noticed that men are now being pressured to dye their hair and wear “man makeup”. And five year olds watch the same ads we do, and wind up with the same ingrained attitudes before they have any defense against them at all.

    Where will it end? When?

  8. woo says:

    Mr Random – if its any consolation, I was the world’s pickiest eater as a child (my father still brings up the 6 hour battle he and I had over a brussel sprout one Sunday) and, although I still have a list of foods I dislike, I have a healthy diet and have never had an eating disorder. 🙂

    azahar – yep. Word.

    piereth – a wonderful case of “nisi ipsi curatis, ipsi non curo” 😉

    David – that’s an excellent point. Most people won’t notice a little extra flab if you have the confidence to pass it off… pass the peanut M&Ms…

    Waxingstrange – yes, and I think possibly we also do it as a kind of ‘fishing’ for compliments and reassurance.

    Ombudsben – when women do that kind of thing about other women, its not good. Also, I am agog to hear about the er, excesses of all-male offices!

    healingmagichands – yes, I’ve had something similar – usually the women involved think they are acting from the best of motives, to help you. Although they’re not. And yes, the all-pervasive ads worry me greatly, too. Interesting that men are once again under pressure though – historically in most societies men have been just as ‘peacock-like’ as women (or some of each at least).

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