Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Healthy Never?

I want to talk about health as a concept and construct the way it tends to be discussed in America.

If we pay attention to American media, the health industry (please note I purposefully am not using the phrase health care), etc the message is often as follows:

  1. You are healthy or not. 
  2. If you are not trying to fit an idea of ultimate health there's something wrong with you/you are immoral.
  3. Heath is not a choice it is a moral imperative.
  4. If you don't look healthy you aren't.
  5. You must be willing to sacrifice any and everything to get both the appearance of health and actual health.
Let's stop there and talk about  it.

All too often when we hear people talk about health, there is only Health capital H. In our ableist heavy culture, the image of health is for women (as women are seen by media etc) is White, slim hipped, large but not too large perky breasts, long legs, firm round (but not too round) bottom, long hair, very thin.

If we listen to any of the celebrity trainers, tv "fitness" personalities it is an absolute possibility for everyone to have this body if they only work hard enough.

Let's pause here and really think about that. Let's talk about the language that is used.

In any fitness/diet/health industry magazine, commercial or even during a talk with your doctor it always comes down to this person who is in a presumed position of knowledge and power over you, tells you that if you're not getting the six pack abs, or your butt isn't lifting, or if you're not chiseling inches off of your waist then you must not be trying.

You are not motivated enough. You are eating the wrong things. You are a slacker. You are a loser. You are inferior to people who are achieving those results while doing about the same thing you are.

It has been a rare thing in my experience to find a trainer, doctor etc who acknowledges the fact that there are shapes and states of being that are just not going to happen with my body no matter what.

How can it be possible logically speaking for so many of us to be varying heights, have varying sized fingers, toes and necks, to have different types of skin, to have say weak ankles or super strong arms and yet we are all supposed to be able to and of course want to have essentially the same body?

Really, think about the thousands of people you have encountered in your life. How many of them were exactly like you?

Next let's talk about the inherent ableism in the view of health in America.

Our images of health are always able bodied, White and seen running/walking. There is never any discussion of health for people who use wheelchairs, or people who have limited mobility, who have any one of numerous issues that could in fact impact how and to what degree they are able to be "healthy".

That said, what is health really?

We are to believe that health is this single thing. We are supposed to all be able to run marathons, bike ten miles, etc etc etc.

Let's be rational and really think about how accurate that could ever be?

Let's look at it in the context of sports. A lot of people love to play sports. Not everyone is good at sports. Where you might be amazing on the basketball court, I am just not. I never have been.

Where I can shake my ass to the backbeat of some weird song, maybe you can't shake your ass to a solid downbeat.

Does that make either of us morally better than the other?

How can we on one hand acknowledge that not everyone is good at everyone but then expect that everyone can and should aspire to this single image of health?

It makes no sense.

There are so many things that can happen in the human body. There are things that we have no control over and have just happened. I'll use myself as an example.

I was born very premature. I had severe jaundice, I was in an Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the first precious bits of my life.

As a child I did not grow fast. I was in the lowest percentile for growth for a long time. I was often the smallest child in my class. I had a weak immune system. I was very prone to bronchial problems, asthma, I had bad allergies, etc etc etc. I went to the ER a lot. I had ear problems. I was a sickly child.

As I got older, I got a bit stronger. And then I took my first Presidential fitness test.

At that time I was on about 5 medications for allergies and allergy/stress induced asthma. 

While I did very well at push ups, sit ups, pull ups and jumping robe I did terribly at running.

I was not and never was a good runner. As an adult I tried to be a runner during my soul crushing fitness days. I went to a podiatrist and I have a weird gait and other things.

Does that make me awful?

Is it immoral that I am not good at running and never have been? And furthermore I don't enjoy running for any reason?

A lot of people would say of course it doesn't make you a bad person Shannon. But, over the years I have been treated as if my dislike of running automatically makes me the unhealthiest most awful person.

That kind of attitude is where there's a huge disconnect between the reality of being a human being perambulating around the earth and the concept and discussion of health as a monolithic state of being.

My point here is that being that no two human bodies function in the exact same way, we should not expect them to be healthy or be able to get healthy in the exact same ways.

Beyond the basics of nutrition as to what a body needs to survive, we all have different needs.

And you know?

That's okay.

I've talked recently about when I was thinner and my current state of fatness.

One of the things that proves beyond proof how people really feel about health and fitness is this phenomenon.

When I was thin, no one ever questioned why I was out of breath if I was. No one ever made comments about what I was eating even if it was The Ever Evil Fast Food. Not at all.

These days as I've talked about a lot, that does not happen.

If one appears to be healthy (as in is acceptably thin or even vastly underweight) no one says boo about it often aside from the catty skinnyfat bullshit.

For instance recently I was trying to get to work on time and was running/dodging people on the sidewalk. I made my bus and was a little winded but not heaving or coughing. Someone remarks about "big girls" and getting more exercise.

Someone a lot thinner than me runs half the distance I did, gets on the bus coughing and gasping the same people who commented at me, said nothing.

For those who think this is all bullshit do some observation.

Fat or thin, watch some diet/fitness/health industry ads.

Check yourself when you look at someone who is thin vs someone who is fat and be honest about your own biases and how you immediately view them. Think about how many times you've had a disgusted thought when you saw a fat person having a soda or other "bad food" vs how many times you've had that very same level of disgusted thought about a thin person eating the same things.

I really want you to do that.

That's all for today.

We'll get more into this tomorrow.

Homo Out.

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