There’s just so much to . . . unwrap in that “Grace from Boston” Peloton commercial, isn’t there?
I’m going to pretend I have a Fitbit and am trying to make my step quota by skipping past many, many of its issues — the commercialization of wellness, the equivalence of thinness with fitness, the blithe classism and privilege dripping like so much tinsel, the whiff of patriarchy, why “Grace,” an overcommitted manic achiever allegedly “from Boston” is never once shown with an iced Dunkies — to focus on the gift-giving aspect.
I wrote in 2012 about the difficulties of giving gifts — the Peloton ad, and the reactions to it, highlight a few more things to keep in mind as we head into 2019’s Present Moment:
The purpose of a gift should be to improve the recipient’s life, not to improve the recipient. This is why the ad made people angry. A gift, by definition, is the opposite of a demand, so it ought not to implicitly feel like one. Gifts that can be failed are not good gifts.
Gift-giving is not a good test of a relationship. Being a good gift-giver is a talent that not everyone has. It requires generosity, advanced perspective-taking, and a real interest and enjoyment in material things, which are not traits that always go together. You have to be a good picker-outer of things to be a good gift-giver. Some folks simply don’t have an eye or memory for detail, which says nothing about their character or emotional intelligence: You might as well gauge the sincerity of a lover’s affections by the magnificence of their song. We’re not birds.
Wish lists are great. Can we all agree to pretend that Grace from Boston really wanted a Peloton but just couldn’t bring herself to spend the money? Because then the commercial is fine. There is no such thing as a “no-no gift” on the wish list. If your partner wants an iron, or a nose job, or new socks, believe him or her. Folks, ignore commercials: Not all women crave diamonds deep down. All women crave being listened to. Communicate! That couple in “The Gift of the Magi” was going to stay poor for an awfully long time if they didn’t start practicing more transparency about short-term financial plans.
Thank-you notes with pictures are great! A thank-you video, compiled over the course of a year, presented to one’s husband, is kind of odd, but there’s a grain of a normal, healthy response in there. Pictures or videos of the gift in use are a welcome addition to thank-you messages. Just, you know, check beforehand to make sure the recipient wasn’t making “hostage eyes” at the camera.
Honesty is the best gift. If a gift does misfire, and the recipient is honest with you about that, thank them for their honesty in turn. It’s not a rejection on their part, it’s an attempt at connection; take it as such. Yes, you’d wanted them to like your choice — but the idea was to give them pleasure, not a particular object, right? We graciously give, we do not fractiously foist. How Peloton responded to its critics — “Our holiday spot was created to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey. While we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial . . .” — that is the opposite of how one should respond to a gift being returned. A stocking full of fail!
Finally, can we all agree “Grace” has at least one thing to rejoice over: At least she doesn’t have to ride in Boston traffic.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.