Are you obligated to be healthy? Do you owe health to yourself, your family, your loved ones?
We’re often taught that healthy is the most important thing we could possibly strive for, but what does this standard do for the worth of someone born with a disease, fighting cancer, or using a wheelchair? Are they less valuable?
As an advocate for accepting all body types, I’m constantly bombarded with the critique that I am promoting obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle. Let’s put aside the fact that this is a total misrepresentation and misreading of what the body-positive movement is about for awhile, and focus instead of this idea that “healthy” is something everyone can and should strive for.
While I believe it is important for us each to thrive in our own way, there are consequences to putting such a massive focus on the subjective term “healthy” (check out this post on other words to use instead).
Here are three reasons you don’t owe anyone your health – including yourself.
When we as a society deem “healthy” bodies as right and worthy, and “unhealthy” bodies as gross and wrong, we set us all up for failure. Because like it or not, all health is temporary. Not only is all health temporary, but most people cannot and will not ever attain these subjective standards of health that society tries to put on all of us.
Instead of striving to be healthy, I suggest people ask themselves “how can I best thrive in my body as it is today?” This allows you to meet your body and yourself where you are, instead of aiming to be where some doctor or society member says you should be.
2. What doctors and society deems “healthy” is extremely biased.
My third interview on the Bawdy Love Podcast with Dr. Martina Shabram sheds a bit more light on this subject. Shabrum got her PhD in English Literature with a special expertise in disability studies, cultural studies, and science fiction. Her work focuses on pain, embodiment, and kinship, which means that she has done in-depth research on how bodies come to belong in society and the world at large.
In our conversation, she explained that every society has a normate body – the body that is put up on a pedestal and deemed right and worthy. That normate body is not the normal body in that society – norms are determined using statistics and averages – instead it is an ideal, most often one attained by the elite few.
In America, that normate is a straight, white, tall, lean, muscular, athletic, able-bodied, financially successful, cis-gendered male. Anything outside of that normate is deemed a freak and encouraged to try, try, and try again to be more like the normate.
Doctors are taught the normate as the base of health, so anything that differs from that is often deemed unhealthy. Throughout history, medicine has used this thinking to dehumanize non-normate bodies, including doing horrific testing on women, people of color, and people with different abilities. Western medicine in particular treats “freaks” like subjects that need fixing, instead of seeing them as whole humans with varied body types, all of which are worthy.
Instead of trying to “fix” freak bodies, we need to recognize that freaks are actually a good thing. They provide diversity culturally, socially, and genetically. Freaks should be lauded and appreciated for the value they bring to society. Instead, freaks are often seen as subversives (which we are – and that is a good thing!) who needs to be eradicated to help keep the status quo. They are asked to changed, forced to conform, and silenced in every way. (For more on why freaks are great and you should let your freak flag fly, listen to our interview.)
3. Obsessing over health is actually making us all sick.
So much of our conversations around health and body-size center around scarcity mentality principles and shaming tactics, both of which are counter-productive when seeking to thrive both mentally and physically.
In Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight – and What We Can Do About It, author Harriet Brown cites statistics that show over 45 million Americans will go on a diet at some point each year. All but 5% of them will gain the weight back in a year, and all but 3% of them will gain the weight back plus some extra in three years.
Let me say that again so it really sinks in: all but 3% of people in the United States will end up carrying more weight than they had before they started a diet. That means over 43 million people in the U.S. alone will suffer the psychological and physical effects of a “failed” diet, which wreaks complete havoc on your mental and physical state. So even if losing weight is something you deem important for your body to thrive, the ways in which we traditionally go about this change in our body are often highly counter-productive to that goal.
Constantly being told our bodies are not good enough, that happiness, love and worth are all attainable only if we eat less and exercise more, that our value can be judged by our size, that our worth resides in the ableness of our bodies, all of this has a catastrophic effect on our psyche.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders, the body type “typically portrayed in advertising as the ‘ideal’ is possessed by only 5% of American females” (naturally by a lot less), yet 69% of young women reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect shape for their body. That means over 150 million women in the United States alone will never look like the women portrayed in the media, yet millions of us still find ourselves striving for that unattainable goal.
There are financial, cultural, social, and political reasons to keep people reaching for the unattainable, ever-
changing goal of “healthy.” Trillions of dollars are made each year off of our insecurities and fears. It is time we break free from that cycle.
It is time we teach our children to move their bodies because playing is fun, not because fat on their body is bad.
It is time we treat ourselves to a little more ice cream and a little less judgment.
It is time to recognize that health is about finding what makes you thrive, not trying to fit into a narrow numerical standard set by a stranger.
If you want to truly thrive, the only number you need to worry about is 1: the amount of time you get to live this life. If you spend your one wild and precious life worrying about fitting into a box created by someone else, you’re going to be miserable, and misery is the opposite of healthy.
(Want to read more about why you don’t owe your health to anyone? Check out Step Four in my book Bawdy Love: 10 Steps to Profoundly Loving Your Body.)
This post is a part of my countdown to the release of Bawdy Love: 10 Steps to Profoundly Loving Your Body, which comes out in just three days!
Part workbook, part coloring book, and all kinds of inspiring, Bawdy Love is your friendly guide along the path of radical self-love.
Join Bawdy Lovelies all around the world on December 1 for the big release party!
In the morning, we’ll pop some champagne, turn on dance tunes, and have a virtual brunch dance party. I may even make pancakes. In the afternoon, I’ll give away some exciting party favors, including a spot at my Bawdy Love retreat. And that evening, we’ll eat cake and drink delicious cocktails at the Barnlight in downtown Eugene, Oregon. More details here.
Preorder your copy of Bawdy Love by November 30 and get:
- Entered in the Bawdy Love giveaway to win over $1500 in prizes, including a spot at my Bawdy Love retreat! More on the giveaway – including all the ways you can get extra entries – here.
- Free enrollment in my Silencing Your Inner Critic Course, complete with newly recorded guided meditations – a great companion to the book.
- My Bawdy Breakfast and Daily Decadence special blended teas.
- Inspirational postcards to send your friends – only available to people who preorder the book!
- Special edition inspirational quotes from the book, hand-lettered by Liza Mana Burns for you to print out, color in, and post around your house.
These offers are only available if you preorder by November 30, so order today!