[Never be uninteresting. Read the most thought-provoking, funny, delightful and raw stories from The New York Times Opinion section. Sign up for our Sunday Best newsletter.]
Occasionally, when I’m stressed, I comfort myself with food, and my dietitian assures me that’s an acceptable kind of hunger too. Emotional eating is a coping mechanism. We’re told it is an unhealthy habit, one we must break, but that’s another wellness lie. It is not vodka in our morning coffee. My binges stopped once I stopped judging myself for wanting to eat the foods “wellness” vilified, sometimes for reasons other than physical hunger.
I no longer define food as whole or clean or sinful or a cheat. It has no moral value. Neither should my weight, though I’m still trying to separate my worth from my appearance. They are two necklaces that have gotten tangled over the course of my 35 years, their thin metal chains tied up in thin metal knots. Eventually, I will pry them apart.
Most days, I feel good in my skin. That said, I am probably never going to love my body, and that’s O.K. I think loving our bodies is not only an unrealistic goal in our appearance-obsessed society but also a limiting one. No one is telling men that they need to love their bodies to live full and meaningful lives. We don’t need to love our bodies to respect them.
according to a recent preliminary study presented to the American Heart Association. They might also promote behaviors that increase community and connection, like going out to a meal with a friend or joining a book club. These activities are sustainable and have been scientifically linked to improved health, yet are often at odds with the solitary, draining work of trying to micromanage every bite of food that goes into your mouth.
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.
Finally, wellness also contributes to the insulting cultural subtext that women cannot be trusted to make decisions when it comes to our own bodies, even when it comes to nourishing them. We must adhere to some sort of “program” or we will go off the rails.
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.
And yet that is exactly what we are doing when we sit around the lunch table and call our stomachs horror shows.
There is something called the Bechdel test for film. Developed by Alison Bechdel in 1985, an American cartoonist, the idea is that the film must satisfy three requirements to pass: (1) feature at least two women who (2) talk to each other about (3) something other than a man. Sounds simple, but a shocking number of films have failed to pass.
Jessica Knoll is the author of the novels “Luckiest Girl Alive” and “The Favorite Sister.”