You may know from previous articles that I have been struggling with an invisible, undiagnosed illness for a few years which has greatly impacted the quality of my life. Finally frustrated with doctors and the inability to reach my goals due to this illness, I’ve decided to take my life back into my own hands and begin a journey of learning and change. Based on my formal education in psychology, my informal (though much longer and more in-depth) education in physical health and environmental impacts on that health, previous employment in an empowering, feminist atmosphere and personal revelations, I have come up with a new term to describe my situation: North American Woman Syndrome.
North American Woman Syndrome
I believe that what is going on with me may be conglomeration of things I like to call North American Woman Syndrome. No, this is not a real thing – at least not in the sense that it has been studied, a list of symptoms created and a treatment plan created. No. This is not a “real” thing in the eyes of the medical profession. Please don’t go to your doctor claiming that you have North American Woman Syndrome, unless you are hoping to find a confused reaction and possibly be labelled as something even more degrading than the many labels doctors apply to those of us with invisible, undiagnosed conditions.
“So, what is North American Woman Syndrome?” you ask. Great question. I sure am glad you asked it. It is a conglomeration of symptoms which have resulted from, more or less, years and years of self abuse.
North Americans (usually) Have Terrible Diets
Let’s be honest, here, our diets are terrible in the Western world – especially in North America.
Fast, Processed Junk Food
We fill ourselves with processed foods, canned foods, frozen foods covered in preservatives. We don’t eat nearly as many home cooked meals as much of the rest of the world. We often make our way through entire work days without stopping for a proper meal. Instead, we shove protein bars and donuts in our mouths. We “refuel” with coffee and cola and tea to get that afternoon boost we’re all after.
The Quick Fix
In a recent effort to infuse more healthy foods and nutrients into the bodies of North Americans, more and more people have begun pushing the idea of juicing and drinking smoothies. Go ahead, google “healthy juice recipes” or “smoothie recipes.” You will (at the time of writing this) find almost 12 million results for “healthy juice recipes” and over 4 million for “smoothie recipes.” While I enjoy a good juice or smoothie from time to time and think it’s a great way to pick yourself up in the middle of a difficult day, it shouldn’t be what we rely on as a “fix-it-all” for what has become a dietary crisis in our society.
A Skewed Vision of Healthy Eating
What is even sadder than the fact that we are inundated with junk food advertisements and fast food restaurants in this part of the world, is the fact that we don’t even know what “healthy eating” is anymore. I remember staring down at my plate many times as a child, thinking that what I had in front of me was a healthy meal because it touched on the major food groups.
Little did I know that canned vegetables weren’t a very nutritious option. They often contain chemical preservatives and the lining of the cans may leech unsafe chemicals (such as BPA) into the food. I was also unaware that highly processed ground beef and chicken strips weren’t even close to providing the same quality of nutritious value as real meat or meat alternatives.
I also remember that lovely food pyramid handed out in school which told us that milk was a must-have item, that we should eat more carbohydrates than vegetables and that fruits and vegetables had the same impact on our bodies, so go ahead and be a fruititarian. Of course, now I see that milk isn’t a necessity and that we can get just as much calcium (in some cases more) from vegetables! I also see that carbs are an important part of a balanced diet, but that much more of our diet should be made up of non-processed foods we can (but do not have to) find in the wild. And go figure, that it took many years of me eating 5-8 fruits a day (and skipping vegetables because they were icky) to find out that most of those 5-8 services should actually be made up of vegetables!
I won’t get into all the details behind these things, but suffice it to say that I am very disappointed about the way we, as a society, have been taught to eat for the past half a century (if not more.)
North American Society is Fast-Paced and Success-Focused
We have placed so much importance on a very specific vision of success that people often stress themselves out needlessly and drive themselves to their mental, emotional and physical breaking points over things that many other societies would view as insignificant in the grand scheme of life. How important is it that you get a raise or a promotion? Unless your family is at risk of losing safety or the ability to fulfill basic needs, it really isn’t that important.
This stress isn’t only in the workplace though. It is also in the home. The competitive nature of our society has driven many a woman to the edge (and even over) when she has felt that she can’t “keep up with the Jones’.” This is especially true for the middle and upper classes of this society. This woman would judge her personal worth on the basis of whether her children in the best school; whether she contributed enough to the bakesale; whether she manages to hold down a job, raise kids and keep a home; the quality and quantity of sports she carts her children around to on a daily basis. On far too many occasions I have literally heard women bragging about the fact that they are so busy they’ve cut sleep down to four hours a night and skip meals. It is like a badge of honor.
North American Women are Taught to be Caregivers First
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of this entire puzzle is the things women are taught when they are girls. As we grow up in this society we are inundated with images of the woman as the cook, the cleaner, the one who raises the children, the one who consoles the stressed out husband, the one who, somehow, spins multiple plates all day long. We are routinely taught, (through advertisements, movies, music, television, and in our homes) that the woman’s job is to nurture others. She nurtures by listening, consoling, teaching, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining a feminine sexual allure (for her significant other.) She does all of this without an ounce of help.
While this once was a day in and day out job (uncompensated, of course) it has now become a second job – the “second shift” as it is often called. Maintaining a household on one income has become increasingly difficult, so now women do all these things while also trying to work. There is no mid-afternoon reprieve for women to care for themselves before taking on the household duties of the evening. And yet, despite the changes in the way our society and our homes function, women are still brought up to believe that they shouldn’t need to ask for help; that they should be able to do it all without a complaint or a well-deserved break.
Men Can Have it Too
Of course it is possible for men to experience these exact same symptoms and for their causes to be the same, as well. I do, however, believe that the difference in male hormones and the difference in societal pressures faced by men lead them more toward a “type-A personality” and lifestyle ripe for heart disease more so than this type of illness. Again, though, this is all speculation and theory. If you know anyone in a professional situation who could begin researching and testing this theory, please get them into contact with me, as I would love to prove myself right or wrong.
I truly believe that the conglomeration of a poor diet, a high stress lifestyle, and an acquired belief that one must always put others first while expecting (or asking) or no help in return has led the women (and sometimes men) of North American societies to become physically unhealthy and emotionally strung out, often leading to a range of debilitating illnesses.
I encourage anyone with the ability to research this theory and see just how these societal factors, propaganda and personal choices (are they truly choices if we aren’t aware of the truth, though?) has impacted the overall health of our society and whether or not it could be related to an increase in the rates of certain illness, such as autoimmune diseases.
Most of this, I must admit, came from my own mind and my memory of things I have learned along the way. Still, I wanted to include a few resources for you to look into if you find this theory interesting.
Since this list doesn’t even come close to accounting for the tiniest portion of what I have learned and read to come to this conclusion, I encourage you to perform your own research on things like: social cues and female upbringing in western civilizations; the effects of messages we receive as children; gender socialization; psychological and physical impacts of stress; fast food versus home-cooked meals; the effects of processed foods on the body and brain – just to name a few.