Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What ever happened to just being healthy?

This morning I read this article in the New York Times, which addresses a somewhat ongoing conflict between thin and fat. American culture seems to have myriad obsessions, but I think that when you get to the bottom of them, they are all based on the fact that we live in a culture of extremes. This focus on thin and fat is just an extension of this. Supposedly, we work hard to play hard, we have extreme wealth and extreme poverty in the same cities (sometimes within block of each other), we need huge cars, lots of gasoline, lots of luxury, lots of food...everything has to be taken to the extreme.

That is what bothers me about this NYT article. I support the idea of fat-acceptance blogging. I think it is important that no one feel ashamed of, disgusted, or embarrassed by their body. At the same time, I sort of bristle at the idea of fat-acceptance blogging, because I don't really see the point in playing into the binary system. This, to me, doesn't seem like an effective way to combat the rail-thin images of both women and men that we see on a daily basis, whether it is on billboards or other advertisements on the street, in magazines, or on television and in movies.

I think it is important to stress one thing. Thin is not equivalent to healthy, and neither is fat. These are both descriptions of body types that have come to be associated with different meanings. To the average American, thin is, among other things, successful, in control, rich, beautiful, intelligent, a compliment. No one ever gets upset at being told they are thin. Some people even appreciate hearing that they are "too thin". This must, inevitably, mean that they are doing something right. In contrast, fat is out of control, slow, ignorant, slovenly, lazy, and insult. No one wants to be told they are fat. Neither one of these words is an objective description, it is always a loaded term, no matter who it is coming from and what their intention is. More importantly, neither one is an accurate descriptor or indicator of health.

One of the bloggers featured in the NYT article that I mentioned about has an "I-love-my-body" pledge that you can download on her website (it is a .pdf file so that you can take the pledge, print out the paper, and post it somewhere conspicuous so that it will remind you of your determination to accept yourself the way you are). This is great, but I don't think it should be advertised as being only for those who are fat or fat-accepting, which is the way it is presented in the article. I think everyone, fat, thin, or in between, should be encouraged to take a pledge like this one. I also think that in addition to working toward accepting and loving our bodies, no matter what they look or feel like, we should all be pledging to take active steps toward being healthy. Instead of concentrating on labels like fat and thin, we should be thinking about how we feel, and how we make our bodies feel. The goal should be health, and not a size two by any means possible.

After all, if we love our bodies, the next step should be to give something back--a nice walk, a healthy lunch, a yoga session, something that makes your body feel good and that makes you feel, more than anything else, healthy.

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