Sing the Body Electric: Healthism

What’s up, what’s up, what’s up. Been awhile. At the start of the year, I said that I wanted to renew my commitment to my blog and–guess what–didn’t happen. I have a couple of reasons/excuses. For one thing, I’m working full-time while trying to squeeze in some freelance writing on the side. Therefore, any writing I manage to get done is gonna be stuff I’m tying to publish, not stuff I wanna give away for free blogging. On top of this, my personal life has been insane the past year. But shit is finally starting to ease up, leaving me with free time that I don’t even know what to do with.

Also, I was conflicted about what direction I wanted to take this blog. The internet is so inundated with think pieces, hot takes, and reactions to the latest Game of Thrones episode. I don’t necessarily have an issue with any of those things, but I didn’t see myself fitting in there anywhere.

Lately, I’ve been into fitness. Due to the aforementioned personal issues, I’ve let my body go to shit and I’m trying to get back into shape. There’s a lot being written on fitness tips, etc. but there isn’t much in the long form style, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

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A good place to start would be the concept of “healthism.” I suppose the simplest definition of healthism is the heavily moralistic discourse surrounding health. If you’re fit and active, you’re a good person, whereas if you’re fat, you’re sinful. Here is an interesting post from imgur, which is meant to lampoon healthism as a concept but actually proves the point. (Oh, imgur I remember the good old days before you were overtaken by angry dude bros.) People find the idea that fat person (usually a woman) can be happy being fat so appalling. It’s OK to be fat and self-loathing, but to be fat and body positive is out of the question. Never mind the fact that a fat person can often be healthier than a skinny person.

The concept of health is too often yielded as a tool to bully people. People rationalize fat shaming by appealing to a self-righteous mission of healthy living. That ridiculing fat people will motivate them to hit the gym and put down the donut. “Tough medicine” and all that bullshit. Trust me, fat people know they’re fat. They don’t need you to remind them. They’re likely fat because they’re ashamed of their bodies and fall into a pattern of self-loathing and comfort food. Chances are, if they felt positive about their bodies, they’d take better care of it. Your thinly veiled bullying isn’t helping.

But here’s the thing, what difference is that to you? Sure preventable diseases are a burden on health care and society, but there’s a lot of self-destructive behaviours we fetishize. The anorexic type imagery women are bombarded with, for one. There’s also smoking, dangerous driving, and the cult of being over-worked. Stress causes so many health problems, but we hardly shame people for working long hours in difficult circumstances.

Then there’s the health and fitness industry. Bodybuilders all the way back to Arnold have used steroids. Now we have the HGH era of mass fanatics. None of this has to do with “health.” There’s also this macho/moralistic view that you should work through injuries and anyone taking it easy is a pussy. You see this especially in crossfit. People blowing their joints and even working so hard they almost die. Hell, crossfit’s mascot is Uncle Rhabdo, a clown making fun of people who have nearly died from rhabdomyolysis, which is when disintegrated muscle fibers get into your blood stream.

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Like so many puritanical crusades, healthism is aesthetics masquerading as ethics. We don’t hate people because they’re immoral; we hate them because they’re aesthetically offensive according to our present discourse. To me it seems like there’s a lot of class and racism at play here. People susceptible to things like obesity and diabetes are generally poor minorities. This is true for several reasons. Firstly,  cheap, affordable food is generally processed shit. Secondly, many minorities’s bodies aren’t able to handle our shitty western diets. Healthism is a convenient tool to further marginalize these people.

Healthism is also a great tool for capitalism. See how quickly advertisers get behind the latest diet and/or exercise fad. “Eat whole food and do compound exercises” isn’t a very sexy add campaign.

So much of this is a hangover from ascetic puritanism. The religious zealots who came to the New World loathed and feared the body. This has survived and mutated into all kinds of strange cycles of repression and exploitation in our culture. Health and fitness should be about experimenting with your body and seeing what it can do, what it can become. Living well should be an act of joy not repentance. Put down the cilice and pick up the singlet!

Cheers,

-b

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~ by braddunne on June 6, 2016.

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