It takes a man to get away with this
Of all the many wellness gurus to have emerged in recent weeks, the spectral figure of Jack Dorsey, better known as the 42-year-old CEO of Twitter and founder of mobile payments company Square, has been by far the most disturbing.
First, there’s the strange affectation of the beard. A salt-and-pepper thatch of chin fluff, of a length more commonly associated with eastern mystics or cult leaders, it lends him the appearance of Gandalf the Grey, though Dorsey seems slightly more haunted in demeanour.
Then there’s the new rig-out. He has cast out the loafers, unbuttoned white shirt and roadie’s Perfecto jacket to don a black hoodie, beanie and black trousers. It’s the sort of garb adopted by action heroes in that section of the film where they train under the auspices of a “master” mentor while awaiting some sign of transcendental enlightenment — or weaponry — that will see them on their journey.
But Dorsey’s role as Silicon Valley soothsayer has only been fully realised via an 11-point credo of “wellness” that has accompanied his transformation. Publicised on Twitter and in various interviews, the health practices Dorsey uses to optimise his day have seen him elevated to revered status among his community on the west coast. He drinks “salt juice” every morning, a mix of water, Himalayan salts and lemon, which is also dispensed among his colleagues at Twitter offices around the world. He walks 8km to work on those days he goes to the office, and does high-intensity interval training on those he doesn’t. He starts each day with an ice-cold bath and swears by infrared-lit saunas. He tries to do two hours of daily meditation and consumes barely any food.
Dorsey only eats one meal a day. “During the day, I feel so much more focused,” he has said of his abstentions (though he does, for the record, like to drink a glass of wine). “You have this very focused point of mind in terms of this drive. And certainly, the time back from breakfast and lunch allowed me to focus more on what my day is.”
He also fasts, from Friday evening until Sunday night. His first experience of fasting brought on hallucinations, but now he finds the time useful to think about how much time he used to waste thinking about meals.
Sounds like fun, huh? As habits go, Dorsey’s are monkishly ascetic. And restrictive. And very quickly he has amassed a tribe of devotees. Such is his power, a profile in The New York Times last week described him as “Silicon Valley’s answer to the mega-influencer Gwyneth Paltrow”. Which perhaps isn’t saying much, considering many readers of this paper think Paltrow is completely off her game. But in certain circles — the kind full of people able to identify an infrared light bulb and with the wherewithal to build a sauna in which to fit them, for example — Dorsey is a sage.
To my mind, Dorsey’s status as some sort of wellness expert is a neat example of how discussions about our bodies, and eating habits, still follow a basic gender bias. Dorsey’s punitively restrictive, rigorously articulated, largely medically bogus regime (there is no evidence, for example, that drinking salt water might be good for you) echoes the same behaviours of the average adolescent anorexic, albeit one with slightly better means. Both are going to the same extraordinary lengths to deny themselves food. Both require record levels of willpower. Both believe in fasting. But where Dorsey is being held up as manly and heroic, the teenage anorexic is taken into care.
Much of Dorsey’s thinking even follows the familiar rationale of an eating disorder: all that hokum about better focus and an unwillingness to be cowed by the distractions of breakfast, not to mention the “clarity of mind” that starvation often brings. And while I’m certainly not qualified to diagnose Dorsey with an eating disorder, his observations bring to mind those studies of anorexia in which the “high” produced by fasting is attributed to overwhelming adrenal activity. Not eating produces vast amounts of adrenaline, which, if you’re a highly productive, goal-orientated individual, can be really quite seductive: the emptier you are, the higher you feel.
Dorsey is considered a guru; a leader of men. He’s the embodiment of a radical new way. And yet were he a young woman, or a teenage daughter, we would almost certainly be worried. If a female colleague dropped down to a single meal a day, or started walking unreasonable distances to and from the office, we would say she was being obsessive. If she were a woman in the public eye, her “lithe” figure would be described as “dangerously frail” or “worryingly thin”. There would be concerns about her mental health, and no doubt some narrative would unfold about her ability to cope with the pressures of the job. Someone would probably point to social media as being a key arbiter in adding to the pressure.
But Dorsey is a bloke. And he’s the king of social media, not one of its hapless pawns. He’s in control, of his mind, of his body, of his breakfast. And so he’s being hailed as a super influencer. To me, Dorsey looks like a man who wants to disappear. With each new Twitter pronouncement, and admonishment, he looks not like a guru but like a man in retreat. He’s barely recognisable behind that horrible beard. He’s vanishing into his clothes. His face has the look of not wisdom but of anxiety and woe. Do I want his wellness tips? Hell no.
Maybe I’ve spent too much time around eating disorders. But where you might see a wellness guru, I see a cry for help.
© The Financial Times Limited 2019