Fighting back against Wellness Culture
In the words of my favorite weight-inclusive coach Shohreh Davoodi (look her up, she is amazing), “Health and wellness are not moral obligations”. Read that again and let it sink in. Health and wellness are not synonymous with goodness. You are not a better person because you are more fit, well, or healthy than the person next to you.
Unfortunately, today “wellness” and “health” are just *very* thinly veiled fat-phobia. The wellness industry in Austin, in particular, is huge. Establishments carry juice cleanses and restrictive meal plans; all manner of gyms and studios live on virtually every corner of the city. And yet, 1 in every 4 households in Austin report feeling food insecure. And Texas ranks 7 in top states with the highest amount of food deserts.
So, in a city that boasts being the 14th fittest city in the U.S, we are leaving a lot of folx behind in terms of health, while maintaining the belief that health and wellness are the standards, and falling short of that mark makes you “less than.”
The folx being criticized for their “poor food choices” or “unhealthy behaviors” are often people of color, marginalized folx, people living with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community. You cannot talk about the health and wellness industry without talking about its classist and racist roots.
The truth of it is, health is not determined largely by health behaviors. Eating a well-rounded, intuitive diet (without restriction, or food rules), and exercising joyfully influences self-care and health but social differences account for most health differences. Working a high-stress job, long hours, lack of access to a variety of foods, lack of access to good medical care, and genes all play a larger role than people give credit for.
This is all to say you cannot determine someone’s health by the size of their body. I will be screaming that to the heavens until I die. You cannot tell if someone is healthy by how they look, and you have no idea of their health behaviors by the size of their body. And guess what- if someone is not living up to an individual definition of “health” that’s okay. Everyone has a different definition of what health and wellness look like for them. Just because it doesn’t align with yours does not mean they are less worthy of respect or kindness.
These thoughts all come from an uncomfortable conversation I was roped into recently. Someone asked me if I felt a certain celebrity (who is in a larger body) was a bad role model for “promoting obesity.”
Whoa. I had to remind myself to breathe for a moment because my voice caught in my throat. I am unsure why I, at that moment became a spokesperson for what is deemed “good” and “bad” role modeling for fat folx, but I did. And it’s important to note here that I live in a straight-sized body. Meaning, while larger, I can shop in just about any store and my accessibility is not generally affected daily. This celebrity, on the other hand, lives in a larger body than mine, is more marginalized and her access to the world is more limited. It isn’t fair that I was asked to weigh in. But I was. So, I did.
What I made clear to my thin friends asking this outrageous question was that we would not be asking this question if the celebrity was participating in the same “unhealthy” behaviors and was thin. Plain and simple this was fatphobia rearing its ugly head. The comment that followed was, “but she’s obese! That’s not okay!” Whew! Slow down, honey! I can only fume for so long before I blow up. I took another deep breath and launched into my tried-and-true “BMI and the ‘obesity epidemic’ are false and drenched in fatphobia.” BMI has been proven to be an ineffective measure of health and weight. You can read up on that elsewhere and I will definitely be back to address that.
And again, whether someone is living a lifestyle you deem “unhealthy,” it is none of your business. I also talked about different factors that affect health, as I mentioned earlier. And I tried to stress that we would not be discussing this person’s health behaviors if they were thin. Also, newsflash! People in the BMI “overweight” category also have longer life expectancies than those in the “normal” weight. Tell me again how weight is the only determinant of health?
This conversation was very uncomfortable for me. It was frustrating. And I don’t know if I changed minds but I am grateful for the opportunity to spark a little dissent in the conversation and hopefully, they will think a bit harder when these fatphobic thoughts come up for them. And maybe not.
Unfortunately, we cannot change the world in a day. And we cannot show everyone the error of their fatphobic, diet culture, thin-privilege ways. What we do have control over is how we educate ourselves and how we call out this kind of sh** when we see it. Be mindful of yourself, and your needs, and if these conversations come up for you and they are too triggering, know you are allowed to walk away and take care of yourself.
Health and wellness culture is probably here to stay for a hot minute, but through feminist, soul-shaking work, we can scream into the void and attempt to break through the noise.
If you want more information on how to shake up diet culture, change your relationship with yourself and your body, let’s connect!