Whenever I return home from dinner with my oldest and dearest friend, Donald, Dr. SJ asks me how his kids are doing. I tell her they’re doing great, whereupon Dr. SJ gives me the stink eye. She knows me too well. She then says, “You didn’t even ask, did you?” It’s not true. I ask.
How are the kids?
They’re doing great. How about yours?
They’re doing great too.
And then we talk about other things, like work and current events, or perhaps a humorous reminiscence about our old high school buddy, Spencer. You know what we never talk about?
Had there been any sort of businesswomen’s special that day, our group probably couldn’t have ordered it. Someone was slogging through the Whole30 program, someone had eliminated dairy, and someone else was simply trying to be “good” after a “bad” weekend. The producer said it didn’t matter how “good” she was. She had lost the baby weight and though she may look tolerable in clothes, under the Spanx her stomach was a horror show. The writer said she had so much cellulite on her thighs she looked diseased. I gazed around the restaurant, longingly, wondering what the men eating cheeseburgers were talking about.
To be fair, if Jessica Knoll didn’t feel compelled to write these words, I wouldn’t be aware of this conversation at the other table where women were eating Tuscan kale. And if I hadn’t read these words, I would be absolutely fine not knowing this discussion of Spanx and cellulite ever happened. Indeed, I would prefer it. It’s not that they shouldn’t be allowed to talk about any darn thing they wanted, but that I don’t need to know about it.
The other day, someone wrote a post about women’s periods, and how it’s something we need to discuss. Do we? As a married man and father of a daughter, I’m aware. I paid enough attention in biology to have been aware before entering the blissful state. What is there to discuss?
The post was about women’s empowerment, or so the twit that promoted the post said. Another woman (I could take the time to go back and find this exchange, but it’s really not important enough to me, or this post, to be worthy of the search) responded that female bodily secretions do not empower women; does she think men discuss their bodily secretions when they sit down to talk?
I know I don’t. I know that in my many years of sitting down for a steak with Donald, never once have we discussed bodily secretions. We once briefly discussed flatulence at Smith & Wollensky’s many years ago, but only because of an unfortunate occurrence. There was no secretion, as far as I’m aware, and it was never discussed again.
I thought Jessica Knoll was on course for a similar epiphany about men eating cheeseburgers and talking about important world events, but quickly learned otherwise.
The wellness industry is the diet industry, and the diet industry is a function of the patriarchal beauty standard under which women either punish themselves to become smaller or are punished for failing to comply, and the stress of this hurts our health too. I am a thin white woman, and the shame and derision I have experienced for failing to be even thinner is nothing compared with what women in less compliant bodies bear. Wellness is a largely white, privileged enterprise catering to largely white, privileged, already thin and able-bodied women, promoting exercise only they have the time to do and Tuscan kale only they have the resources to buy.
If this was what ran through her mind, then it struck me that the industry causing her such shame and derision might be poorly named. Neither Donald nor I, both long-term members of the patriarchy, have ever discussed punishing women for not being small enough. It’s unclear to me how we would punish them even if we did. Neither of us would ever comment on a woman’s size. It would be rude and inappropriate, but more importantly, it’s none of our business.
In fairness, we might point out to each other that we’re a belt notch or two further into our dotage ourselves, and then we would laugh about it and take another bite of our cheeseburger. Neither of us are in quite the same shape we were in junior high, or at college graduation. Or on our tenth wedding anniversaries, for that matter. But that happens.
Since Jessica Knoll was kind enough to allow me to learn of the things she talks about with her friends and colleagues when it comes to wellness, it seems only right that I return the favor. To the very limited extent we talk about ourselves, it’s mostly to make a joke and have a laugh. Other than that, we talk about things, some serious, some frivolous, and never bodily secretions. We’ve never given a second thought to what the other person orders to eat, whether it’s a cheeseburger or a steak, or even kale if it ever happened, although it’s never happened.
We cannot push to eradicate the harassment, abuse and oppression of women while continuing to serve a system that demands we hurt ourselves to be more attractive and less threatening to men.
Don’t blame the patriarchy for your mealtime conversations over your physical obsessions. We don’t care. We never talk about you, your body or your secretions. There is no system that demands you “hurt” yourselves for men’s sake. Not to be more attractive. Not to be less threatening, one of the more peculiar fantasies that drives women. We just don’t care all that much either way, and we don’t discuss you when we eat our cheeseburgers. We laugh a lot. We talk about things of interest. We don’t find our bodies, ourselves, sufficiently interesting to discuss, and we have no interest in talking about anyone else’s personal hygiene issues.
Be well. Stop obsessing about yourselves. We wish you well. No charge for our wellness advice.