Home The Op-Eds Marriage, Weight Gain, and The Interchangeable, Replaceable Woman

Marriage, Weight Gain, and The Interchangeable, Replaceable Woman

by Erika Nicole Kendall
screenshot of lela rochon from Waiting to Exhale, with caption, quote: nicole murphy can have your sorry ass.

For weeks, I watched people across social media argue about whether a man was justified in cheating on his wife because she gained weight.

Don’t worry—I’m not interested in talking about or dissing the celebrities in particular. I’m thinking more about the implications of what we’re saying about relationships when we cede this kind of ground.

For brief—super brief—background, Lela Rochon’s husband of 20 years, Antoine Fuqua, was caught kissing burgeoning fitness personality Nicole Murphy somewhere in Italy. Part of what helps Nicole’s whole fitness thing sell is her perpetual proximity to celebrity men—let’s be honest, here—so, while this might be on-brand for her, this is potentially heartbreaking for Lela.

We don’t know for sure, because they could have any number of arrangements for their marriage, and since none of us are on the certificate, we’ll likely never know.

But much of the social media energy, so to speak, centered around whether or not it was excusable or to be expected that he was cheating, because his wife no longer looks like the Lela we remember from Waiting to Exhale. Photos of a heavier Rochon surfaced, with people then claiming it’s okay to cheat on your wife when she’s no longer attractive. It didn’t matter to anyone that she’d reportedly been dealing with a health crisis. A man has needs, they said. He just wanted the hot girl, they said, and he got that when he got with Nicole.

They asked, incredulously, What did you expect?

I’m fascinated by that question. It leaves me with questions of my own.

A marriage begins with vows—to have, to hold, to love and cherish. It lays out what one could expect pretty clearly. It’s unmistakable. Do vows all of a sudden stop meaning things because you’re no longer aroused?

What does it mean to fall in love with someone, to decide to spend the rest of your lives with one another? Does it mean this bond is so strong, so unbreakable, that you develop the respect and empathy for each other that binds you together for eternity? Does it mean that you start to see a sense of beauty in a person that extends beyond their physical appearance, a deep and rich sense of beauty that outweighs the superficial beauty that potentially fades over time?

To have, to hold, to love, to cherish. Are we saying that those vows are so meaningless that something as fleeting as physical attraction could be justification for ruining everything?

What are we spending our lives building, if it can so easily be torn down?

Are we essentially saying that we cannot expect a man to stay committed to anything other than the needs of his dick?

Does this also stand for women? Does she have needs that also justify cheating? And, when she cheats, does her cheating justify the violence that might be committed against her?

I think about what it means to be beautiful—when we’re talking about relationships, to be beautiful means to be a trophy. And trophies all look damned similar, because that’s the thing about trophies: they’re what “all men” want, therefore they’re as close to homogeneity as you can get… and this, this thing, that so many of us all see, is what leads so many women to me, asking for the “secret” that women like Nicole Murphy are keeping.

It’s not a starvation diet. It’s not a consistent diet with a cosmetic surgeon.

It’s a willingness to accept that the men we are chasing, the men who prioritize the trophy over the bond that can be formed when you choose to spend your life with someone, find us interchangeable and imminently replaceable. It’s a willingness to not bother with building the respect, empathy, and genuine love that comes with trying to spend a lifetime with someone. Why bother? I know why he’s here, I’ll make sure I maintain that, and move on. It’s not a bond—it’s a transaction. If I fight to maintain my end of the bargain and remain as conventionally attractive as possible, I’ll always have men chasing me.

And, actually, I can’t even say that about Nicole—again, we don’t know what’s happening, here, so let me not step out of bounds. This isn’t about her—but this is what we’re saying when we say marriages are only as stable as the weight of the wife.

Am I allowed to be disturbed by that? Am I allowed to be so disappointed in the kinds of relationships that people are willing to accept? That the fullness of building a life with someone you respect and admire is still less valuable than their appearance?

Or are the women who make this point all just forcing themselves to accept that their expectations of men are so low that they would rather contort themselves to please a partner, rather than expect that he see her as human? Are they afraid to ask a man to do that? Are they willing to accept the ease with which they could be discarded, simply because another younger, thinner, more “conventionally beautiful” woman comes ready to take their place?

This can’t be it, chief.

When people say it’s justifiable to cheat on a partner because they’re no longer attractive, I weep for the person they date and, ultimately, marry. I pray—pray—they realize that there is more to women than how they make a man’s dick feel. There’s more to women than how they clean your home, bear your children, look every day.

There’s a whole person in there, and they shouldn’t be discarded so easily. We shouldn’t defend cruelty, and shouldn’t argue that it is okay to treat a person cruelly because of their appearance.

There is beauty to women, to partnership, that extends beyond the superficial. May they grow up so they can experience it.


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