Apparently, Your Figure is Everyone’s Moral Issue: 5 Ways Pushing the Fitness Ideal is More About Hate then Health
[Preface: Before I can unleash the floodgates to a barrage of criticism, I want to make clear that this is NOT saying that fitness is bad, that people who work on their figure are bad, that fitness shouldn't be encouraged, or that there is no good way to encourage people to be fit/healthy. I merely hope to point out some of the ways we justify harassing people for not fitting into the mold that we want them to. There, now, floodgates open]
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that the majority of Americans don’t lead the healthiest of lifestyles. We drink, we stress, and we don’t sleep enough. Somehow, though, the health issues that seem to strongly illicit a moral outrage and condemnation towards those who suffer from them, are those believed to be most strongly tied to obesity. When reading Beauty Redefined’s article, “Why ‘Fitspiration’ isn’t so Inspirational”, which addresses how fitness images often focus too much on appearance rather than health and can inspire body shame and unhealthy methods to reach the “fit” looking goal, I came across comments such as these:
“As long it is inspiring people to get off their lazy butts and start working out I see nothing wrong with those Fitsperation photos and messages. Obesity is continuing to increase and I am not saying we shouldn’t all love our bodies, but we shouldn’t promote self acceptance when a change needs to be made to get healthy.”
“… these images “inspire body shame”, and maybe they do, but if that is something that gets people motivated to loose the weight than it has accomplished its goal. As far as girls dying from being too skinny, I guarantee you that there are a lot more people in the US who died from being too fat than from too skinny. Not to mention the burden that is put on the healthcare system from treating obesity related illnesses.”
“If these advertisements are the tipping point that convince 10 Americans to get off their duff and work out and eat well, that’s a start.”
“I wouldn’t look at obese people negativity if it wasn’t unhealthy and if I didn’t have to pay for their healthcare. But we have tons of proof that it is very unhealthy and we have a system where the most fit and healthy person if forced to pay for all of the medical care that goes along with being obese.”
Now, I know the comments section on just about every website is usually filled with the nastiest and troll-iest of people, but the sentiment here about people who don’t fit the “fit” image is quite common. So, lets go over a few reasons these attitudes have little ground to stand on for justification.
1. The animosity is mostly directed to overweight and obese people, instead of out-of-shape people as a whole: Fortunately, it seems that most people are starting to feel like flat-out fat-bashing is not really justified, given the numerous studies that show you can be “overweight” and healthy, or be within the “healthy” weight range and still suffer from conditions normally attributed to obesity. Due to this, some of the criticism gone towards criticizing eating and exercise habits instead. However, the “obesity crisis” is almost always brought up (something that can only be applied to “overweight” people, due to the very definition of the word). And let’s be honest, which of these phrases do you hear more often directed towards thin people?:
“You shouldn’t eat that, and why don’t you go to the gym? It would be good for you.”
“I don’t see why you care about what you eat, you can eat whatever you want, and you don’t even need to go to the gym!
2. We only criticize people for their eating and exercise habits, but not for other factors linked to unhealthy weight gain. True, simple eating and exercise habits have the largest impact on health and weight, but factors such as too much stress and too little sleep have also been shown to lead to unhealthy weight gain. So while we criticize the (usually overweight) person for not adhering to a healthy diet and exercise regimen, we praise the habits of people who work 60+ hours and sleep 5 hours a night, despite the fact it makes it far more difficult for them to be healthy.
3. “Overweight” or “unfit” people are told it is all their fault and are demonized as being lazy slobs, when a variety of other factors, such as income level, workplace conditions, and mental conditions share a huge part of the responsibility. In the Western world, people who are poorer are more likely to be overweight due to unhealthiness, and it’s not a huge surprise. Organic food, fruits, and vegetables are usually more expensive and do less to satisfy hunger, while unhealthy foods high in fats, carbs, and sugar are cheaper and are more likely to keep you fuller for longer if you don’t have the ability to buy food as much as you need. Gym memberships can be expensive, as can daycare if your gym doesn’t offer it for free.
On the other side of the coin, the majority of middle class workers spend 40+ hours a week being sedentary. Not only does this make it difficult to find enough time in the day to be active enough to maintain a fit physique, but that much time being still can make you lethargic and tired while also lowering your metabolism.
And finally, there are people who overeat due to mental conditions such as depression (I have known a few personally myself). Eating disorders, whether they make you emaciated or obese, are nothing to harass someone for, but to instead have a genuine concern for them to get better, which leads to…
4. We don’t actually care about their health or well-being. If this were about health, we wouldn’t socially stigmatize those who don’t fit into the “fit” ideal and say they need to change no matter what. We wouldn’t support tactics that are mentally UNHEALTHY by instilling shame, anxiety, and depression in people who don’t fit the mold.
But most of all…
5. It’s no one’s business how another human being treats their own body. This isn’t even a pro-life/pro-choice debate where we can try to argue that another human being is involved. It’s the individual’s body, no one else’s, and there isn’t even a zygote present. Now, I already know the first defense against this:
“But there’s an obesity epidemic! These people are becoming a burden on our healthcare system, costing me money!”
First off, the healthcare debate and policy over the last couple of years show that we’re a country pretty adamant on not helping anyone else with their healthcare costs, and we do a pretty good job at not helping them. Furthermore, many health insurance companies charge their customers higher premiums if they are considered “overweight”, so it’s unlikely that the obesity epidemic is really costing the average citizen significantly. Finally, if we’re so outraged about the healthcare costs other people are inducing, then where’s the outrage towards those who suffer sports injuries? Those who suffer from organ failure due to anorexia or bulemia? Those who have wrecked their liver from a lifetime of drinking? What about all of us who chose the cheaper and more convenient route of eating genetically modified foods over organic and local foods, putting ourselves at risk for extremely detrimental long-term (and expensive) effects, such as cancer? All of these conditions can be argued to have been brought on by the person themselves, and yet the people who fall into these categories are not chastised and shamed for their choices.
If we really care about health, lets actually talk about health. Let’s look at lifestyles and conditions, rather than jumping to blame the individual. Let’s look at overall health, instead of just someone’s appearance. And let’s actually CARE about health rather than using it as an excuse to feel superior to others and better about ourselves.
If not any of that, then how about we be the individualistic country we seem to fight so hard to be, and stay out of other people’s business and lives.