Friday, October 12, 2012

What do Mean Girls and Good Girls Have in Common?

When I interviewed for my job at Jenny Craig back in 2007, I asked what the most difficult aspect of the work was. The answer was that it was the competitive environment. Since we all worked on commission and the majority of the staff were women, I was told there was a tendency for things to get "catty."

I hate to say it, but this was true.

Over the course of my three years there, I experienced more "mean girl" behavior than I ever had in high school. I remember going into my supervisor's office one day and just breaking down in tears after finding out another coworker had been spreading lies about me. On another occasion, I called in sick - something I never did - because I couldn't stand the thought of facing the women that day. There was a cruelty towards each other that seemed rooted in desperation, and it wasn't something I knew how to handle. 

But I can't say I was blameless. With my silence, I allowed the problem to continue, complaining to other coworkers rather than talking with the women causing the problem. I grew up, as most of us women do, wanting to be a "good girl." Wanting to be liked. I have never had a strong voice, never been one to speak out against a crowd or bring up a problem if I can avoid it. In all my years at Jenny Craig, I only once confronted a coworker, and only then because the situation was so uncomfortable I had no choice. Most of the time, I did as so many of us do. I smiled and faked kindness while inwardly wincing and wanting to run away - or worse, bash the woman on the head. I think perhaps we would all have done much better if we had been given rubber bats and been told to go at each other. At least then, our feelings could have been out in the open.

So what did those women and I have in common? The mean girls and the good girls? We were both desperate. Desperate to be seen a certain way, to be liked or envied, to uphold an image of who we thought we were supposed to be. And we were both silenced. Silenced by our belief that we could only act a certain way. Silenced by our inability to talk with each other, to deal with confrontation, to speak our own truth. To stand up as women and not be afraid to be seen as we really were.

The woman who had been cruelest to me at Jenny Craig was someone who had always struggled with her weight and overeating. I understood her because I was like her. Smaller perhaps, but equally overcome by my obsession with food. Sometimes, when I have the desire to overeat or binge, I notice it's almost like a physical pain in my throat. A conflict between my need to speak my truth and the fear that propels me to force that truth down. As if by stuffing food down my throat, I can stuff down any desire to speak louder, stronger and with more confidence. I can stuff my own truth back down.

Why do I bring this up? This isn't a recipe or tip on how to eat healthier. Perhaps it doesn't belong on The Daily Dietribe. But somehow it seems important. It's been on my mind for a long time, something I've felt the urge to talk with you all about.

It seems like it has something to do with my relationship with food. And perhaps with yours?

It seems like it has something to do with women and blogging, with friendships, with relationships of all kinds. And it seems like I have so much more to say and I'm not done. But the clock is ticking and I have to go.


To be continued...


fartygirl said...

I agree completely with everything you say here - and I admire you for telling your story! If our issues with food and health relate to our insecurities, then this topic definitely relates.

I can see a place like Jenny Craig being the perfect habitat for competition between women. And this was in New York City, yes? I don't mean to make generalizations about city folk, but in my experience, generally-speaking, the work environment in a city is much more competitive than in the bumblef$cks where I live! :-)

I've been thinking about a topic along these lines recently. (Not surprising, our brains always seem to be synapsing similar routes). For me, the issue is bullies. In my case, I feel like I've always been the target of bully boys (as a kid) and (as a grownup) bully men.

Why do people bully other people? What drives the bully to act out?

80's family sitcoms showed bullies as coming from bad homes or scared to be themselves. But those answers are cliche and simple. Bullies don't bully everybody. They bully on a case by case basis.

I started to think about people who make me lash out and act like an asshole. Like - do I bully people? When? In what context?

What I came up with is this - women are catty and men are bullies when they feel threatened.

For example - the woman who was spreading lies about you. Perhaps she was jealous at your progress in working with your eating issues? Perhaps she was jealous because you were smaller?

Either way - I think those of us who stay quiet and take the BS are actually the ones with the power in these situations.

And you are so right - the best thing to do with that power is to TALK ABOUT IT! MAKE FRIENDS! :-)

Sorry I wrote so much! Ha! Thanks again for your wonderful thoughts and musings!


Iris said...

Thank you for writing so much! I love comments and I love hearing your perspective.



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