A brief comment conversation with Katja over at Family Feeding Dynamics (Thanks for the shout-out, by the way) got me thinking about something that’s not exactly fat-related, but involves similar natural variation among people and shame for not conforming to some arbitrary ideal, and that’s sleep patterns.
We’re all supposed to be able to slot into a 9-5 workday, up somewhere between 6 and 8 and presumably back in bed by 11 or 12 to get about 8 hours per night. That’s the framework, and everyone (at least, everyone I knew growing up) was supposed to be able to fit themselves into it. Sleeping in on the weekends was grudgingly allowed, but sleeping past noon was too far, and Mom would come in and wake me up. In later years, if she didn’t still wake me, she’d just make jokes about my waking up at “the crack of noon” and remind me that when I got a job, I’d have to stop that.
But, of course, we all know that some people are morning people, and some people are night owls. Since I was a baby I preferred sleeping late and going to bed late. I seem to function best when I sleep about 2-11am, with 9 hours late into the night and late into the morning. I can get up if I have to – this past school semester I was taking a 9:30 class, and was up at 8:45 every morning. But I still found it very difficult to fall asleep before 1am. If I stayed up a little later to 2 or 2:30 on a weekend, then my sleep cycle would re-set itself to “normal” and not want to go to bed on Sunday night until 2 or 2:30. If I wound up with 7.5 hours sleeping, I’d be sluggish during the day and have to nap when and if I found the chance.
Napping, by the way, also comes easier to my family than to me. When I finally learned to nap this year, it meant a good hour and a half in bed to fall asleep and rest. Both of my parents know how to take ten minute naps that refresh them – I can’t be asleep ten minutes after lying down. Somehow, it just doesn’t work that way. But when I nap in my childhood home, I still feel like someone will wonder why I’ve gone all the way to sleep instead of “napping” like they do.
When I mentioned all the sleep trouble my 8:45 wakeup was causing when I visited for thanksgiving, she told me I’d have to learn to like coffee when I got a job, or get a “vampire job” that would let me sleep in. Now, I’ve learned since going off to school that actually, not every job in the world is 9-5. Retail needs people to be there 12-8 or 2-10 or any other range of late-start shifts, and it’s in fact one of the reasons I don’t so much mind the thought of getting a retail job when I do graduate college. But the term “vampire job” is so obviously pejorative, like people who don’t work 9-5 are lesser than people who do, and their jobs are lesser.
It struck me as an odd coincidence in the way that peoples personal health habits and natural variation can be rigidly confined and people made to feel lesser for them. We have some of the same stereotypes – if you sleep late then you must be a lazy person, even if you’re not getting any more sleep than anyone else. And if you do happen to need 9 or 10 hours instead of 8, you must really be lazy. Why can’t you get up like everyone else and get a normal job?
Well, why can’t I just drop 80 pounds and be a normal weight like everyone else? Because people are different.