By Jennie Sekanicks
To say that life is composed of choices is terribly simplistic but nevertheless true. We as humans make choices every day—to brush our teeth, to wake up early, to do our homework, to eat that pint of ice cream sitting in the freezer. We feel pressure in all the decisions we make—to excel, to grow, to be effortless and brilliant, and better than who we were yesterday. But as women, as functioning female bodies there is a different set of pressures we must face, as we are often forced to choose and expected to make specific decisions that will have severe social consequences and political implications following us throughout the course of our lives.
And sometimes, we are forced to make choices we don’t want to make.
My mother chose supporting her family over her education. Her children over her career. And these were decisions she made from the pressures she felt as a woman, as a wife, as a sister, as a daughter. But my mother has worked hard and continues to do so, so that I don’t have to make these same choices. Every day her goal is to eliminate the likelihood of my being in a position where I must relinquish a part of myself or even, my whole self simply because of my existence and identity as a woman.
But what happens when we are in a place where our health and our gender are intertwined? When our health choices and our gender fulfillment are one in the same? When these two entities coexist in such a symbiotic relationship that they can never be wholly mutually exclusive? This place makes us wonder why my mother had to choose her assumed social duties as a woman over her career, why we must relinquish a part of ourselves to fulfill a role we are supposed to perform. We ask where this notion that womanly duties, femininity and strict performances of gender must prevail came from and it starts with the larger choices my mother and many mothers have had and continue to have to make, and its legacy is continued, its roots are released every day in my mundane choice to take a vitamin. To maintain my health.
The general purpose of vitamins is to bolster your health, ensure that you receive the proper dosage of necessary vitamins. Although this may serve as the mission of vitamins on the surface, there is an underlying exchange taking place between the consumer and none other than the surface itself.
My vitamins are pink. They are pink and contain Blue Lake 2, Red 40 Lake and Yellow 6 Lake to make this hue visible.
When the very first vitamin fell onto my palm and my expectance for it to be the bland color created when an item is stripped of fructose and dye was rejected, I wondered how I didn’t see this coming.
It brought me back to when I was 13 and my mother purchased One-A-Day Teen vitamins. They were bright pink and the plastic container had a pink outline of what a “healthy” (extremely thin, long & straight haired, faceless) female is supposed to look like. It made me realize that within my life, I had only consumed pink-coated vitamins. Pink.
Why, when I open my bottle of Centrum Women’s Vitamins, am I told that I must choose my femininity over my health? That I must consume food coloring and dyes to be healthy? That I must reaffirm my love for pink, be reminded of the strict confines I am limited to and must abide by, and confirm my submission, relinquish the part of me that truly loves blue so that I can receive my daily dosage of vitamin A, potassium and calcium? Why must choosing my health mean choosing to reaffirm my femininity?
This moment, although perhaps just a simple, capitalistic reap-off-the-binary marketing tool, was very powerful for me as a female who had just demonstrated a commitment (for hopefully, the last time) to her health and putting herself first by ensuring her body’s basic needs were met. But here, in the palm of my hand, was a vitamin that told me my gender was more important than my health. That my health depended on my submission to femininity. My role as constantly striving to be an exemplary, archetypal female takes priority and succeeds over my simple efforts to maintain my health.
Pfizer and Bayer are telling me that it is better for my system to have Blue Lake, Red Lake and Yellow Lake in it than forget, for a moment, that my everyday life choices depend upon my gender.
My mother cannot change this for me. She cannot alter the fact that my femininity and health are knotted together or change the fact that my vitamins are telling me that to be healthy means to be feminine, to be feminine is to be healthy.
The set of choices my mother and I are presented with through our functioning within society, the decisions we have made and continue to make are connected in the mere fact that we are female bodied. A man is not expected to choose between his career and his role as a father, his masculinity and his health are not one entity. Our health and our health decisions are our gender and our gender decisions—they are one and the same. My mother’s diligence, her story cannot solve this societal dilemma but even if its only function is to help us understand, better comprehend the world we live in and the standards we must live by, then perhaps it is much more than just my saving grace.
But yours. Ours.