Hot take: You deserve the best
By Rachel Katz
A while back, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made the news again, but not because of a controversial Twitter decision. A number of tabloid-style online news outlets began publishing pieces on Dorsey’s strange, frankly straight-up unhealthy lifestyle habits, which consist of minimal food intake coupled with long walks to work, frequent and alternating saunas and ice baths, and short but high-intensity workouts. Dorsey also shared that he practices meditation and journalling, and that he tracks his sleep habits.
Much of what Dorsey touts as his personal “wellness” — eating one meal a day, fasting for the entire weekend — can be framed not only as dangerous, but self-punitive. Dorsey’s food habits and exercise regimen seem like an eating disorder under a different name, and from reading the articles about his “wellness” routine, it seems as though Dorsey has a vested interest in his own suffering almost as much as in his quest for wellness.
This idea of suffering for self-betterment isn’t new. According to Buddhist teaching, the Buddha lived on a single grain of rice per day, sacrificing material comfort for his meditation. The historical significance and modern resurgence of stoicism, an ancient Greek school of philosophy dedicated to the rejection of earthly pleasures, is another way in which people have restricted their own pleasures for the purpose of a better life.
The notion of virtue as the antithesis of indulgence is an ancient theme in human history, and what we often see with today’s wellness trends is a more secular iteration of these ideals. We continually buy into sales pitches about the latest ass-kicking workout that leaves you feeling like jelly for days after or the newest “superfood” that is touted as being packed with benefits, despite its horrible or bland taste or premium price tag. We are clearly not strangers to the idea of hurting ourselves or restricting ourselves from things we enjoy in our quest for self-improvement.
Indeed, in Freudian theory, we become adults – become ourselves – through suborning our primal desires or “id”. That wild, untameable id that wants to eat all the ice cream in the box RIGHT NOW, that wants unlimited and unrestrained pleasure, and to fight and hurt to get what it wants, can only be contained by an internalized father-figure, or super-ego. By internalizing what was once an external control, we cease to be animals controlled by our drives and become human beings capable of reason and choice.
As problematic and contested as this theory is, it’s hard not to see everywhere. Remember that post on Instagram workouts? Or home/life organization? Or going very far back, a post Kristin wrote years ago on New Years’ Resolutions and auto-insubordination? The idea that there’s a “real” you who wants to be self-indulgent and a “scolding” you that tries to keep the self-indulgent you in line is not only a very common one, it’s a very real experience we live out every day.
Externalizing this feeling, there is a constant, recurring drive in society to make children – the representatives and symbols of the id – suffer in order to make them into better people. This is a mindset used by the provincial government in Ontario to justify larger class sizes in high schools. Education Minister Lisa McLeod famously argued that larger classes will make students “more resilient”, on the theory that difficulties now will lead to success later on. Perhaps this is an extreme example – after all, for an education minister to say “hey kid, your working life is probably going to be really unpleasant, so we thought we’d get you used to it by making school really unpleasant too” is pretty Orwellian – but in our own lifetimes we’ve seen Ontario schools swing from “no homework, learn at your own pace, the child’s needs come first” to “standardized tests, cut all the extracurriculars, sit down and shut up” and everywhere in between multiple times. The impulse to nurture our children seems to co-exist with a desire to make them suffer, both towards the same end.
In fact, we are inundated with stories, news, and advertising that tells us that we have to suffer in order to succeed. But it doesn’t have to be this way. What if we took care of ourselves in a more nurturing way? One that allows for you to invest in yourself in a more positive manner. You deserve to be able to take care of yourself in a way that does not make you feel guilty, or that forces you to skip meals, lose sleep, or endure grueling workouts. Treating yourself well is not indulgence — and nor does treating yourself more generally.
Indeed, what if you thought of all the things you do to improve yourself not as a punishment, but as a reward? You work out not because your body deserves to be punished, but because moving your body can be fun and make you feel good. You eat healthy not because you don’t deserve to eat things that are tasty, but because healthy food IS delicious (if you cook it right). You take care of your home and manage your time, not because you should cram every moment of the day with productive activity, but because you deserve the kind of lifestyle where you accomplish what you want to accomplish in an environment you want to live in. You be your best self, because you deserve the best.
This is a difficult mindset to keep, especially when everything around you tells you that you need to be better, push yourself, try harder at every turn. But it is important to hold onto that positive attitude towards yourself. Grant yourself permission to relax, eat something you really love, and maybe tune out the Jack Dorseys and self-punishment. After all, you deserve it. We all do.