February 11, 2010

Giving Birth to Myself

Posted in Academia, birthing, feminism, feminist journey, Patriarchy, school and academics, Self Image tagged , , , , , at 6:36 pm by Gina Messina

As a woman in graduate school I have had very little confidence in my abilities.  Every time I entered a classroom I immediately began to judge myself as the least intelligent person in the room.  I was certainly a victim of the “imposter” syndrome, believing that I just did not belong and that eventually someone would realize they made a mistake in admitting me to the program.  As time went on I noticed that in smaller classes that were largely female I was more open to feeling part of the class and willing to participate in discussions.  However in classes that had large male populations my feelings of inferiority would quickly take me over and it was painful for me to offer any comment whatsoever.  Unfortunately, I was half way through my first year of my doctoral program before I realized that I was allowing myself to be intimidated by men and feel inferior to them as a result of being raised in a patriarchal culture. 

Within my own family, as a girl, I was encouraged to just “pass” my classes and move on because my role in life was to be a wife and a mother.  My grades were not important and finishing high school seemed to be just a formality.  My mom often told me “I hope you find a nice man to marry to take care of you, smarts just isn’t your thing.”  I know, it sounds horrible, and it is, but she meant it in the nicest way possible, especially since she was given the same message her entire life.

That being said, my brother was always encouraged in his academic pursuits, he was a straight “A” student and the family was overjoyed when he was accepted to UCLA.  As a male his role was to achieve great things and his goals were valued.  He was the one that would have an important role in our society.  While there were great expectations for my brother, there was very little expected of me.

It astonishes me that I was in a doctoral program and in my 30’s by the time I made this connection.  It was so embedded in me that I was second rate that even as I was achieving great things in graduate school I could never recognize myself as being on par with my male as well as some of my female classmates.  Once I made this realization, I was able to pay attention to it and work on my overall confidence.

Early on in my graduate career I often thought I would never make a good scholar.  I felt overwhelmed and incapable of achieving anything that would be noteworthy in a world of brilliance.  However, now that I have realized where my confidence issues have come from and that it is not my work that is inferior I have been able to encourage myself if many ways and grow as a person, woman, and academic.  Instead of hiding in the background I have started stepping forward.  I am motivated to demonstrate my true abilities and so I am putting myself out there.  I will be presenting at my first conference in March, submitted an article for publication (which I am still waiting for an answer on), and I have created files of ideas I intend to pursue that I believe will impact the academic and greater community.  It is exciting to finally have confidence and know that I am capable of those things I thought were impossible for so long.

I have stopped allowing myself to feel inadequate and have started encouraging my creative and scholarly abilities.  Making the realization that my confidence issues were imposed and not warranted changed so much for me; I have grown into an entirely different person.  Through my own hard work and dedication to moving past the limits that have been forced upon me all my life, I have given birth to myself, and I love her.

January 29, 2010

I’d Rather be Smoking and Skinny

Posted in Body Image, Dieting, feminism, Health, Self Esteem tagged , , , , , at 5:20 am by Gina Messina

In the last seven years my weight has become a major issue for me.  Before this I was a heavy smoker and weighed 115lbs.  I loved to shop, I loved my clothes, and I loved to go to the beach.  I always took care of myself, never wore tennis shoes unless heading to the gym and never left the house without wearing makeup.  And then came the day when I decided that I must quit smoking.   I had been diagnosed with a chronic illness and my doctor was clear that I had to break off my relationship with my best friend…Marlboro Lights.  It was the most challenging thing I had ever done.  I quit cold turkey and admittedly was very difficult to be around for a good thirty days.  But it got easier a little at a time.  I still have smoking dreams and I still miss cigarettes as my constant companion, but for my health it was the best thing I could do.

All that being said, once I did quit smoking, my body reacted.  I had smoked since I was a teenager, for more than half my life, a total of 16 years.  The lack of that constant stimulant in my body was traumatic and I started to gain weight.  It seemed like overnight I went from a size 2 to a size 10 and then I just kept climbing steadily until my current size…dare I say…a 16.  Now I usually wear sweats, I almost never wear makeup and I am always embarrassed of my appearance.  Shopping feels like a total waste of time because nothing looks good on my rotund figure.  I feel so unattractive that I think no matter what I do…clothing, makeup, hairdo…it won’t really make a difference. 

While I had used to live off of caffeine and nicotine, after quitting smoking and ending my love affair with coffee, I didn’t know how to suppress my appetite…and still do not.  While I am healthier for not smoking, I am unhealthy because of my weight.  My chronic illness has kept me from exercising on a regular basis and a grad student schedule and budget has kept me from eating a healthy diet (at least that is my excuse for now).   I wonder if I should just try to accept myself as different from what I used to be or if I should continue to berate myself over my unattractive appearance.  I have failed with diet after diet.  I have claimed that I am simply fighting a losing battle and going to just accept myself as “fat,” I have written myself horribly malicious letters and posted them around the house as a way to encourage me to quit eating, I have hung my size 2 clothing around as an incentive to lose weight, I have told myself that I have a sacred within that I am abusing by continuing my unhealthy lifestyle, and still that number on my scale continues to climb. 

Every night I go to bed thinking about how much I hate my body and every morning I wake up thinking about how much I hate my body.  I constantly look at other women and compare myself to them and wonder what others think when they look at me.  I have had so many blessings in my life and I notice so much tragedy in the world around me, and yet this is what I obsess about. 

Although I thought quitting smoking was the worst thing I had ever gone through, this battle with my weight, self confidence, and body image far exceeds it.    I struggle with myself daily making excuses about my appearance and trying to convince myself that my woes are shallow and unfeminist and then I remind myself that I am just making another excuse for my inability to be self disciplined and my disappointing appearance.  It truly is a never ending battle.  I really would rather be smoking and skinny.