Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ally McBeal wasn't anorexic, was she?

Being a women lawyer has its pressures. It's very competitive and you give up a lot of things like your social life, time with your boyfriend or husband, everyday errands, not having grey hair, sleep. For me, one thing I stopped doing regularly was exercising, which is proof of the terrible, terrible world I live in. Going to the gym becomes something you talk about but deep down inside you know you never do ("3 times a week" you say when you really mean "3 times in the last 3 months") and you really start to feel terrible, especially when there's nothing you can do about it. I think I'm an active person: I will always walk if I have the choice rather than take transport and I like going to the gym, but lately that hasn't been the case and I've really been feeling it. Working in a city law firm isn't helping this ill feeling either, especially as I realised quite early on that there are only a few overweight female lawyers: Everyone looks fabulous and frankly, I just don't see how everyone can stay in such great shape.

When I first started, I was constantly in awe of the waif like creatures that floated around the office in their Dolce and Gabbanna silk shirts and Dior pumps. They would all turn their heads elegantly towards me to smile while I loitered nervously outside their offices for the horrors of more work. I would stand there, self conscious in my boxy suit while they crossed their pencil skirted pencil legs or lifted heavy boxes with their (deceptively strong) twig-like arms. How did they look so good? Fair enough, most of these model-like female lawyers were not junior lawyers (therefore have gotten used to the type of work and frazzle of it all), but if they were in the office with me at half past nine in the evening, when did they have time to take care of themselves, i.e. work out? They were always so perfectly presented, and moreover, they were were all "skinny".

Bar two of the junior staff who were edging on the curvy side, there are no "fat" female lawyers in my firm. These observations took months to reach a conclusion and I believe that after looking at a large number of successful, young, female lawyers, I can concur that almost all of them are slim. Most of the young female solicitors in my firm of a certain rank and above are even quite "skinny"; no matter how drab their suit jacket may be, tiny waists and prominent collar bones are abundant in the office. They all look extremely busy, too, running around, getting things done (what I would consider "corporate cardio"). Perhaps it's the stress, I thought to myself, that makes the weight drop off. Everyone was fairly busy, there were very stressful times, so perhaps with all the madness your metabolism goes up a few notches and you start burning fat like an Iranian kebab shop. This puzzled me, since most of the men seemed to be well fed, so why were most of the the women "skinny"? Surely no matter how stressful it got, you would still break for lunch and dinner, or give into that mind-block-chocolate-craving that everyone gets just before 4 o'clock...

I saw these Skinnies step into lifts during lunchtime or leave the canteen, but soon I realised I never saw them eat. You see, there were times where I spent many a late night in my office building with my only real companions being the other junior lawyers who were slaving away and the canteen staff. Come a certain time of night, I would ring the other young 'uns to see who was up for some grub: If I was still at work at 8 p.m. and it wasn't looking like I was going to be going to a homecooked supper anytime soon, I wanted to make sure I got a square meal in me right away. This was my logic, if I was still working at this time, I was entitled to take a break with some food and have all the high trans-fats cheesy trimmings I wanted. I would pile my tray high with whatever hot dinner was at offer (Lancashire hotpots and pasta bakes of the sorts) and sit down to wolf if all down in less than 20 minutes. In the mean time, I would watch the Emma's and Chloe's float in, pick up some fruit and float out. There were exceptions, some did pick up trays of hot food like me (the roast potatoes, oh the horror of carbs past 6 p.m.!) and even though I would smugly watch them sit down and pick up their forks and knives, I never saw more than a few bites go into their delicate little mouths. The rest of their 16 minutes would be spent poking and prodding at their plates until it was time to go back up to their desks, and with a knowing smile sent my way, I would wipe my plate clean of any traces of my canteen dinner and wonder how they do it.

Soon enough, I found myself inspecting my side profile in the bathroom mirrors far too many times in the day and becoming very body conscious. I too wanted to become a hard working, female lawyer climbing the ranks in a City firm, I too wanted to become "skinny." This was not good, considering I have average BMI and was never one to scrutinise my body. Suddenly, I was always digging for skirts in the morning to show my defined calves and erase the illusion of plank legs I was sure the other lawyers all had of me. I wanted to look the part, walk the walk, talk the assertive talk. I, too, wanted to skip meals when working around the clock for Client X's refinancing model or when Client Hippo's demands were my main priority, not my afternoon snacks of sugary treats.

I tried, I really did, but my stummy would cry out infront of my supervisers. "Maltesers, they're only 190 calories per pack" I would say, sneaking down to the tuck shop to pick up 3 packets of the said treats, a Diet Coke and a Geobar (I hear they're good for you). Along with your usual array of KitKats and Yorkies, our tuck shop is also equipped with all the right treats to keep you trim, with calorie indexes on everything and plenty of shiny apples to make your eyes sparkle like a horse at the Derby. Being a City firm, we also have your usual corporate coffee stand for your obligatory morning paper cup coffee: I would gallantly march my way in the queue to place my louder than usual order of "One 'Skinny' Latte, please", only to have my barrista answer back "All our lattes are "Skinny", Miss". You could not even be served full fat milk if you wanted it, you all had to aim to be "Skinny". All of you. Every, single, one of you.

My current supervisor, an exposed chocoholic, has been a great help by stealing any chocolate I leave at my desk, albeit not very sneakily as I always manage to catch him in the act of scoffing the end of whatever sad soldier I've left behind. If it's going to help me get to that high powered job in my size 0 pencil skirt, I won't say a peep, after all, being skinny and successful go hand it hand it seems in big city firms. Also, golden rule number 1 of working in a law firm is never deny your supervisor of anything on your desk, especially if you want to keep your job.

Perhaps I am looking too far into it and that it is just by coincidence that my firm hires pretty, "skinny" lawyers and sees potential in the younger, "chunky" ones. Already I have noticed a few baggy shirts and loose trousers amongst some of the girls from my intake, even though I do not witness it in myself. I can only pray that I do not remain as the exception to the rule as one of the few "chunky" ones that sticks out like a sore thumb in our group photos.

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