What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
So my job's been a little rough lately.
Not like, brain-leaking-out-the-ears rough, but leaving-my-friends-high-pitched-voicemails-on-lunch-breaks rough. The kind of rough that makes me sharp-edged and sensitive, more prone to snap at people for wanting basic things like spreadsheet links and human conversation before 10 am. The kind of rough that makes me cry in my friend's car for half an hour on the way home, laugh at my own tears, and then cry harder because I know how ridiculous I'm being.
I like my job, and I know this is just a packed few weeks and it'll pass eventually. In the meantime, though, I keep catching myself thinking Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic in an effort to avoid, I don't know, exploding all over my keyboard.
I tend to thrive under pressure, but this is edging into mama-needs-a-vacation territory. And now, in addition to all that, I'm being told that my high-pressure job is making me somehow less attractive? How is that supposed to make me feel better?
As anyone who read Women's World at her grandma's feet from the age of 7 through 14 knows, prolonged stress releases cortisol, which can result in anything from excessive belly fat to impaired cognitive performance to slowed wound healing. It also, apparently, makes one's face less attractive to men somehow, according to scientists in Finland.
The researchers' prevailing theory as to the reasoning behind this relative unattractiveness is that high-stress women appear to be "less fertile." Oh. OK.
On the one hand, this is kind of alarming from a purely physiological standpoint, I guess. Like I said, cortisol can have a fuckton of negative effects on the body, and the fact that those effects are additionally somehow smacking me with the ugly stick isn't exactly reassuring.
I mean, the undereye bags and coffee shakes are bad enough, but it's not like I can control whether I've got Cortisol Face. When I'm feeling vulnerable, it doesn't take much to tip me over into a weird body-image spiral, and I'd hate to add stress-cheeks to the list of Things Literally No One Else Thinks About But I Do Constantly.
And I think that's what frustrates me about this study, and all the others like them. They're just yet another way for the media spin-cycle to crunch down on something else women can obsess over, appearance-wise.
It's not enough that we're supposed to look like Beyonce (whom, I bet, has extraordinarily high cortisol levels); now, we're supposed to aggressively relax, lest our dedication to something other than our appearance drive all our menfolk from our loins.
I can just see it now the next time I wind up watching a self-negging cycle at a party or something:
Person 1: Ugh, I wish I had the thigh gap.Person 2: And I have weird arms.Person 3: You think that's bad? My cortisol levels are showing up in my cheek-meats. *pokes at jaw disconsolately*
It's also fascinating that the media covering this story jumped to the "high-pressure job" as the number-one source for possible stress in women's lives. I mean, as far as veiled sexism goes, I guess it's nice they weren't chalking it up to something like "They can't be funny!" or "They're bad drivers!"
But this interpretation still smacks, to me, of an infantilization of women in general. If we make women work for a living, it seems to say, they'll get all freaked out and lose the only thing that makes them worth paying attention to! The consequences could be dire!
It's not, after all, as if jobs are the only possible root cause of cortisol production. Global warming is stressful, but nobody's going around reporting on major news outlets that "Being concerned about the environment is making you less likely to find a date."
Instead, it all comes down to women's desires to achieve financial independence and success, which are apparently enough to doom them to unattractiveness (and therefore, it's implied, singledom) for life.
This comes off as particularly gross with the "higher stress = less fertile" framing, like making babies and pursuing success are mutually exclusive and the majority of today's modern women are coming down on the wrong side.
It's as if these findings are just another stupid reason women supposedly "can't have it all." If we just spent all our time caring for our families and cultivating relationships (because those things are really relaxing, right), apparently, we'd never lose that cortisol-free face-charm.
Instead, those pesky careers we insist on are going to make us into spinsters. When we should have been lying around on yoga mats preparing our uteruses for inhabitants, we were off writing on Post-it notes or dealing with irate customers. And now we're going to pay the price.
Whether the researchers of this study intended it or not, much of the interpretation of their work is coming across as a dire warning to women to put a lid on their stress Or Else.
The thing is, I'm not sure it'll act as much of a threat to all those overworked jerkwads in question. Frankly, when I first read this study, I wondered, "God, I have been stressed lately. Have I been even less dateable than usual?" It honestly took me a few minutes, because I haven't had time to even worry about that shit.
My workload may be making me less dateable, but I think that's mostly because I'm lurching back and forth between my office and my mattress and not doing a whole lot else. When I'm super-busy, the last thing on my mind is how cute dudes think my face is.
So I'm a little miffed, honestly, that busy women like me are apparently expected to take that into consideration in addition to all the other shit currently clogging up our To-Do lists. I mean, I'm really swamped this week. Can't random insecurity wait until next Tuesday?
Kate has stress-laden cheek-meats: @katchatters