Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On Health and morality and why it is a lie.

I am sure you've seen it.

Everything from inspirational porn often featuring attractive disabled people doing anything ever to churches to ads to how people discuss it, the appearance of health and fitness has become some sort of faux moral barometer.

Now if we look at this problem from the perspective that Health* is an absolute linear thing that one can quantify and verify by looking at someone the system is flawed at best and extremely problematic and full of lies at worst.

If we assume that to look Healthy* is what makes one a good person automatically the following people would be the worst people:

  • Disabled people. Both physical visible disabilities, invisible physical disabilities, mental illness.
  • People with congenital or other genetic illnesses and issues.
  • People with chronic illness.
  • People who have compromised immune systems for whatever reasons (HIV/Auto immune diseases etc)
In the view of keeping the appearance of Health* at all costs we must assume that the only Healthy* (therefore moral) people are thin and attractive. 

If we assume that a thin person is Healthy* and thus moral how do we know?

Is it in fact not possible for someone who looks healthy because they are not perceived as being overweight or fat, to be a complete bastard and/or not be healthy in the binarist version of Health*.

When I say binarist version of Health* I'm talking about the idea that Health* is a monolithic absolute state that anyone if they try hard enough can attain. It is the idea behind shame filled Inspiration Porn images, it is the idea behind the pressures to eat only certain ways, to be thin and to look a certain way. It is the idea that Health (as viewed as either absolutely healthy or not healthy at all) is what makes us good people who deserve to be respected and treated well by society at large.

As we learn very early on, you cannot visually diagnose the state of another human beings health. 

For instance.

If you see someone coughing do you:

  1. Assume they have lung cancer.
  2. Assume they have asthma.
  3. Assume they are gross and out of shape.
  4. Assume they were just hitting a weed pipe.
  5. Assume they have post nasal drip from the fat lines of blow they just did?
Probably not.

Does anyone else remember early HIV/AIDS education classes/lectures? Do you remeber how much it was harped on that you can't look at someone and know their status.

If we accept that in terms of illnesses etc we can't see them, how then do we accept that if we can see that a person is not obviously fat that they are healthy?

Moving along.

If health even if it is not the binarist view of it, is in fact a barometer of your ethics and morality for other people to see, how does that work for those who are not healthy?

If a thin person who otherwise fits into this view of health as morality has hepatitis are they no longer a moral person?

How flexible can this idea of morality be?

I've heard from people who believe this that they tend to treat people with unpreventable diseases or problems better than those for whom they view their health problems as being "preventable".

This doesn't work either.

Let's take this story by writer Eva Moon for an example.

She has had a double mastectomy as a preventative measure.

This stands out to me:

Let me ask you. Who is the real you? The happy, focused, vital woman who made the drastic choice to "mutilate herself" and then move on? Or the physically intact, natural "as God made you" woman who lives in dread of the next round of surveillance, who, with nearly certain odds of the deadliest form of breast cancer, knows that her dread is justified?
Now if acting to prevent health problems (especially catasrophic ones as viewed by society as in being fat, having cancer etc) is in fact the good and right thing wouldn't it follow that instead of people talking using loaded words like mutilated etc people would use different language.

We wouldn't have to watch people question (and I will assume she went through this as well) or listen to people pontificate from a position of apparent "wholeness" and "naturalness" about how awful and weird it is that a woman would make that decision.

If it is of a higher moral order to do everything possible to preserve one's health, this difficult action would be hearalded.

It's not.

This is why the people who try to sell us drugs and assorted bullshit are lying.

Let's talk about some of the lies.

Lie #1.
A basic biology class or to make it even simpler just looking around at the other human beings perambulating around the earth would tell us that what is and isn't health varies as much as we ourselves vary.

If it was possible for humanity to have this linear binarist idea of health be backed up by our bodies, a lot of things would not go on.

There wouldn't be different degrees of allergies and reactions to things that vary person to person. I personally am fairly allergic (as in I will have medium to severe skin problems up to chemical burns) from certain soaps. Someone else I know only gets a little itchy.

If our health all functioned in the same manner across the board you and I could eat, drink, and exercise the same and our bodies would react the same way.

It just does not work that way.

Health as it's own complicated intersectional thing functions different for all of us. Some of us are naturally very healthy people who don't often get sick, don't have to take medications to live, etc. Some of us aren't.

If you have an immune system made of iron it does not make you morally or ethically better than me because my immune system is fragile.


If we could accurately diagnose any illness in another person just by looking, can you imagine how much cheaper health care would be?

Fat or not, what if I could walk up to you on the street and ask what's wrong with me?

What if you could look at me and say, your left ear is a bit congested, your throat is irritated and your sinus cavities look a little full. Maybe you should take some different allergy medication.

Can you do that?

I'll wait.

Can you tell me with any precision what my blood pressure is?

Go ahead I'll wait.

The answer (YES EVEN THOUGH I AM A FAT LITTLE PERSON) is no you can't.

If you still don't believe me because I am fat, next time you go to the doctor ask them point blank if it's possible to know just from looking at someone and without having any further background information, if you can tell what the status of their health is.

Lie #3.

That it is absolutely true that it is better to do everything you can to preserve your health or to get healthy.


Aside from Eva up there, let's talk about how people tell others to lose weight.

People without any background information, without knowledge of eating habits or other life habits people have told me personally the following in all seriousness as in they weren't being sarcastic:

  • Try eating 500 calories a day. 
  • Stop eating all together.
  • Workout plans that would/have caused me bodily injury.
  • To eat only X foods.
Now if the goal is to be thin which in this view is to be healthy, is it still moral and healthy if my method of being thin and appearing healthy is pathologically unhealthy?

It is not good for anyone to be starving. Humans have to eat to survive. Let's take it to the logical conclusion, if to lose weight I have to stop eating and to maintain that weight I can't eat or I can't eat above a starvation level what is going to happen?

I am going to hasten my own death. I may starve to death. I may die of malnutrition. I may have a heart attack. 

How is it good or moral to suggest that the road to Health* is paved with death?

Yes literal death.

Here's the problem with this whole idea about looking Healthy*.

Healthy* as I have been using it is not possible.

Health* is not a monolith. It is not a rule. It is not a law. This is not the Dystopian Gattaca.

Health* or being healthy doesn't automatically make you a better person.

Human beings are not machines. We are a deeply biodiverse species. Our bodies may have the potential to function in specific ways but we do not all function in those ways.

If you want to believe that being healthy is a good moral thing to do that's great go ahead. However instead of using that as a bludgeon to shame fat people or anyone who doesn't look the part into fitting into your world view, use that moral outrage for some good.

If you want to point your health morality self at something, consider the morality and utter depravity that is the American health care system.

Is it moral that people, especially marginalized people (Fat people, POC, Queer people, Trans* people etc etc) are often completely barred from even having basic health care. 

Is it moral that so many people have to crowdfund life saving care because they are not wealthy?

Is it moral that Fat wee Shannon has had to fight and wail on occasion just to get a mammogram? Something that could potentially save my actual life?

Is it moral that fat people for instance are never allowed to exist anywhere and are (with a high five from society) often bullied to the point of death, even if they are doing what they can to preserve, maintain or improve their health? All because they don't look the part?

Ideas and beliefs about morality have a place in discussions about health. Just watch and take care where you apply your morals.

Instead of using that power to further ideas about how being attractive and fitting into the Thin Pretty White lady Ideal is ultimately good or great. How about we use that power to make it so that nobody would ever think to tell Eva she mutilated herself. Or that nobody would think it was funny to moo at me while I am walking or exercising outside. Or that nobody would thik it was perfectly fine to bar a really really fat person from getting health care. Or we could stop medical professionals from abusing vulnerable people to the point where they are afraid to seek medical care for fear of being abused.

That's all for today.

Tomorrow darlings I have an Adulting 102 entry. A level up for one of our friends who needs help figuring out what adulthood looks like for them.

I wanna talk about my experience being a WOC who has been involved with FA for so many years and how frustrating it is that I am still fairly invisible.

And there will be fluff because I am in need of the best brains in the universe, yours.

Homo Out.



Eva Moon said...

As a weight loss measure, I can't recommend mastectomy. Mine only weighed about a pound each.

Best wishes to you and good on you to speak out!


Harry Minot said...

Excellent posting! And I appreciated the way it ties in ALL the forms of bigotry. I recently responded to an obviously-biased solicitation from CNN with an entry intended to make people think carefully about their assumptions and their judgments against others:

Rachel Aloma M said...

This all makes sense, and I'm going to keep it in mind the next time I'm walking down the street and feel acutely self conscious. I used to be a thin person, then a neurologist prescribed me Topamax for my whacky migraines, and over the past few months, I've become a very bony, underweight person despite my efforts to keep the poundage on my body. I worry that strangers look at me and think I have a serious drug problem (I did in the past, but that's not very relevent), or an eating disorder, and thus they'll judge me as vain, because motherfuckers don't know shit about EDs and are unbelievably cruel, or...just low. And although I'm not battling those particular problems, I'm NOT healthy. I'm a smoker, I binge drink to turn off my mind, I don't eat right, my body is constantly betraying me, and on those days when I'm feeling particularly unwell I can't help but to see myself as this beaten, broken, used up object; damaged goods thrown away, and this makes me thing I've internalized the health = morality fallacy.

Yikes - this was such a tangent and so self-centered, and I apologize. What I'm trying to say is thank you for this post. I've been hating myself for this profoundly wrong reason for such a long time (I've been "damaged goods" and frequently ill since before the weight loss) and you just gave me permission to let go of that hate. Thank you.

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