Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lenten Challenge, Day 4

Check out Days 1 & 2 and Day 3 here!

People have been asking me if I'm doing this project for improved health, and the answer is “not really, but that would probably be a nice side effect."

It’s true that cooking for oneself yields greater control over one’s nutritional intake. Yet it’s also true that when people refer to “health,” they usually mean “weight.”

I usually avoid conversations about weight because I don’t think they’re useful beyond legitimizing the false connection between a person’s physicality and self-worth. This is a totally bogus framework to understand health and wellness.

For similar reasons, I also make sure to avoid dieting. I think it’s more physically and emotionally valuable to concentrate on overall lifestyle health. So if one day I want to eat an entire bag of Zapp’s pickle chips without sharing, I feel okay about that because there are other days when I am an exercise badass. It all balances out if you’re mindful of what your body needs.

This is not to say that I'm immune to the societal imposition of beauty and health standards on our bodies. To be sure, I find the conflation of health and weight to be not only misleading but damaging. Plenty of skinny people are unhealthy, and plenty of fat people are pinnacles of health. Everyone’s body is different. And such reductive logic tends to obscure the social determinants of health, such as access to healthful foods and medical care. Yet if we try to visualize “healthy” or “fit” bodies, we are likely to conjure up very specific images that are intended to make us feel inadequate, especially as women.

I recently came across this article on "Fitspiration," or how various industries collude to "inspire" us to achieve our fitness goals:

Pay attention to the advertising so often being done in these “fitness inspiration” messages and you will see what is really being sold here. Is it a message of real health and fitness or a message asking you to commodify yourself by buying sports bras, yoga pants, the latest fitness DVD, etc. to appear a certain way. Advertisers are VERY GOOD at framing their messages as an empowering “You Go Girl!” message with their fists in the air cheering you on. But pay attention to their swift move from using that pumping fist to cheer you on, to punching you in the face for not being enough. If you do not have rock hard chiseled abs, the right workout outfit, etc., you are not good enough until you do. These advertisers will make sure you know that, because their profit depends on your wallet and your beliefs about yourself.

Such messaging is empowering only when it can be read for what it is: profit-driven nonsense.

I think it’s important to try to be healthy, even though it is hard a lot of the time. It’s also important to recognize that a colossal amount of imagery and other media exist to make us feel like we need to change ourselves to fit a narrow mold of fitness and health. I think a great wellness exercise is to call bullshit on those who tell us we are inadequate.

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