[CN: fat hatred, healthism]
I was absent mindedly scrolling through Pinterest this morning when I saw a picture of a gorgeous fat woman doing yoga in her living room. I clicked through to the article, hoping to find a semi-decent post about body positivity, or even - GASP! - just a piece about practicing yoga at home with no mention or discussion of the fact that the photo subject happened to be a fat woman. Needless to say, I hoped for too much.
The article was effectively about healthism, or rather, fat hatred masked as pernicious health concern trolling, and may be adequately summarized by the pinner’s comment (which, heretofore, I had hoped simply misstated the crux of the argument): “If your [sic] healthy that’s all that matters!!!” This, of course, reminded me of a recent conversation with my friend M, and re-kindled my desire to write a (very brief) response to this oh-so-prevalent sentiment.
I’ve heard a lot of people state some variation of “I think it’s fine for people to be any size as long as they’re healthy.” Ostensibly, these folks think that they’re being supportive by making such statements. However, intent is not magic, and good intentions do not make said statements any less problematic.
The idea that people feel they may dictate to others what “health” means, how highly they should prioritize it, and what path they should employ to become “healthy” (however that is defined by the commenter) is deeply offensive, and arguably more so BECAUSE these folks think they’re acting as allies.
Whether intended or not, these opinions often convey a sense of the speaker’s superiority over the listener, in no small part due to their belief of entitlement over another person such that they are justified in auditing another’s size and health plan. Of course, they DO NOT, in actuality, have any authority over anyone’s body and health but their own (and legally, I suppose, over the health of their children - which may or may not have consequences for the health of others *cough*ANTI-VACC’ERS*cough* - but that is a post for another day).
Sadly, as ever appears to be the case, the *lack of authority* to say such hurtful things does not generally *stop* an individual from *actually saying* hurtful things, and consequently harming those persons they are apparently trying to “help.” Suffice it to say, that is not the behavior of an ally.
The implication contained within the “as long as you’re healthy” sentiment generally boils down to: you can be fat as long as you’re healthy, but as soon as you become not-healthy (by whatever definition of “health” they are applying) then you can no longer be fat. Which of course assumes that:
(1) fat is causing the problem;
(2) becoming thin would solve the problem;
(3) becoming thin is possible;
(4) becoming “healthy” is possible;
and, by inference,
(5) thin people are always healthy.
In other words, the statement impliedly assumes that fat persons are not, as a default, “healthy,” and ignores the fact that plenty of not-fat people are themselves not-healthy. It also simultaneously disregards the fact that not everyone can become not-fat, or that their health problem may be caused by something other than their size.
Health is never guaranteed and rarely within one’s control. Access, genetics, and past behaviors (including dieting and/or unhealthy amounts or means of exercise) all play a huge role in an individual’s measure of “health.” Access to healthcare, in particular, cannot be understated: it encompasses many different considerations, including but not limited to education, the ability to afford certain foods/lifestyles/healthcare, availability within a particular community, and even the ability to find competent healthcare providers.
Health is not a barometer of worthiness, nor is it an obligation. No person, of any size, owes anyone else “health” in order to justify their very existence. Anyone who says otherwise is not acting as an ally: they’re acting like an asshole.