I had the pleasure of speaking with a young woman today who asked my opinion on how she looked after having worked hard in the gym to lose some baby weight that had been lingering long after her child was a baby. And while I thought she looked great and couldn’t figure out why the hell she would even need to ask for my thoughts, she told me that she was considering gaining a few pounds back just to satisfy the jealous women in her work office who insisted that she “must be trying to leave her husband,” or others who insisted that she “must be going through a crisis and not eating.” Nobody thought that the young mother might have just been tired of carrying that spare tire and finally took her ass to the gym on her lunch break.
After congratulating her on her accomplishment, I invited her out for a drink and shared with her the list of must-be bullshit that misogynistic women (and if that is not an oxymoron then I don’t know what is) sometimes tell each other. Maybe it’s misguided well-intentions or maternal instincts on drugs? Shaking my head. Must be.
Here’s what I was able to remember while nursing my cognac (and perhaps more will come to me as it wears off):
If we straighten our hair, we must be trying to deny our heritage.
If we wear afros and coils, then we must be rebels and tree-huggers.
If we laugh too much, then we must be immature, loose, or fly-by-night.
If we never smile or laugh, then we must be a bitch.
If we spend our money on things we like, then we must be irresponsible.
If we don’t spend our money on anything we want, then we must be cheap.
If we gain weight, then we must be depressed. Or pregnant.
If we lose a few pounds, then we must be worried. Or sick.
If we’re single, then we must be lonely and can’t get a man.
If we have a man, then we must be anxious to get married.
Once we marry, we must be trying to have children.
If we have children, we must be trying to find ourselves again and keep ourselves together for our husbands. If we don’t have children, we must be infertile.
(If we get ourselves “back together” after the babies, then we must be cheating on him. If we don’t, then he must be cheating on us).
When our children grow up, we must be bored.
If we go back to school, move to a new city, learn a new trade, or take up a new hobby to develop new interests, then we must be trying to run from our responsibilities.
If we stay in the same place we’ve been all our lives, then we must be too dumb and close-minded to seek out anything new.
If we get older and are still enjoying our lives, then we must be still trying to be young.
If we die tragically and unexpectedly, then we must not have been living right.
If we die peacefully and quietly, then we must not have been ready to go.
And once we’re in the ground, we’re dead. That’s it. I don’t know anybody who has ever died and came back to tell me about the experience. And if some of my people could, I’m sure they would. I figure that they must be gone.
At the end of my speech, I told her that the only thing she must be is happy.
We had so much fun laughing at my list of must-be’s and the idiots that spend their time perpetuating them that I wanted to share the laugh—and the caution—with all of you.
You must be the one person in your life whose opinion you value the most. And you must be the best damn you that ever lived.
Pour me one more.