I’m really interested in the politics of female conversation.
There’s a concept in feminist studies called the “Bechdel Test,” which subjects fictional media to the following question: can two (named) female characters talk to one another without mentioning a man? If so, the TV show/book/movie passes the test.
And while I think that is an awesome litmus test for the validity of the writing of the piece of fiction, I feel like we need a different kind of test for our blogs, our Twitter accounts, and our day to day conversations:
Can two women talk to each other without mentioning their diet or the size of their thighs?
I don’t know when this shift happened in our culture, but I feel like, these days at least, I cannot go anywhere without hearing women engage in the “I’m so bad” conversation. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then please, enjoy this clip from Inside Amy Schumer:
In fact, for the purposes of this blog post at least, let’s call it the Schumer Test.
In life, I’m pretty sure that even I fail the Schumer Test on a regular basis.
I fail this test when I’m talking to my coworkers about how we “just want to get back into shape.”
I fail this test when I apologize to my female friends for ordering French Fries when we go out to eat.
I fail this test when my mom and I talk about how I’m starting to have more muscle definition since I started pole dancing and maybe I won’t always be a size medium.
I fail this test on a weekly basis, and it’s much more insidious than a fictionalized conversation about men, marriage, and babies—because it’s real, it’s everywhere, and it’s making us crazy.
Try the test for yourself: for a week, make a note of every single time you or another female person in your life brings up their diet, their fitness, or their fatness during a conversation. See how many times you notice women apologizing to one another for indulging in their “guilty pleasures” in line at Starbucks or complain about how they need to lose a couple of pounds so they can be happy.
Listen for the number of women playing the competitive “diet guilt and shame” game with one another (I promise you won’t have to listen hard), and add extra points for each time you catch yourself joining in.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand why we do it, even if it’s completely illogical. Guilt is an emotion associated with doing something bad. “Bad” means we’re doing something that other, “good” people don’t do—which makes us abnormal or wrong. Being abnormal or wrong elicits shame. Shame keeps us ostracized from the group.
There’s a reason why guilt and shame are always brought up in conjunction with the Judeo-Christian religions: these feelings were meant to keep us in line and behaving like productive members of society. Most of the religious texts and teachings are about personal and moral governance: if everyone in your society feels guilt about behaving badly—and gets shamed for doing so—then they’re less likely to do it.
But talking about our guilty feelings out loud and hearing them mirrored back legitimizes the feelings, which, in turn, legitimizes us.
If you’re the one in the group who doesn’t want to talk about her love handles and which crash diet she wants to use to get rid of them, then you’re the weirdo.
Unfortunately, there’s no positive outcome for anyone but the people profiting off of the diet and fitness products they sell when it comes to Schumer Test conversations.
Yet we continue chatting about our muffin tops and guiltily finished meals just to make sure that we’re not really all that bad after all.
I dream of a world where women don’t have to spend their Sunday morning coffee talks competing for the least-toned arms (and the biggest promises about finding ways to tone them, starting tomorrow). I dream of a world where the break room at work is a place for discussing our weekend plans and the latest Bechdel-Test-passing TV shows and not how the office weight loss challenge is going. I dream of a world where “I’m so bad” only gets said after you’ve actually done something offensive and wrong, like kicking a puppy (and I dream of a world where no one ever has the urge to kick puppies anyway…).
I think, more than anything, we need a serious reality check. You’re not bad if you eat food. You’re not bad if you’re 5 pounds more than you think you should be. You’re not bad.
Unless you’re kicking puppies. In that case, cut that shit out.
In today’s podcast with health coach and yoga teacher Annette Sloan, we talk about how her first foray into disordered eating started with this strange female bonding ritual of talking about hating our bodies and feeling guilty about food. Annette works with teenage girls to help them instill healthy habits around their eating and body image early—which is something that I bet a whole bunch of you out there in the blogosphere wish you had had when you were at that impressionable age. (I know I do!)
This was a really great episode, and I’d like to think it passes the Schumer Test. Want to grade us?