I recently had a huge dust-up on my Facebook led by someone who took exception to my Health at Every Size message because they were able to lose weight and so, they argued, anybody can. This is an oft-repeated argument but it doesn’t make it any less wrong. I explained that losing weight and keeping it off makes you a statistical anomaly, not proof of weight loss efficacy. Unfortunately at that point I got on a plane. He started “accusing” people he doesn’t know of being sedentary. As the conversation continued he mentioned that he “respected” me because I exercise.
This exchange represents a massive problem.
First of all, you can’t accuse someone of being sedentary because that’s a valid life choice – there’s nothing to “accuse” them of. Being sedentary may not prioritize someone’s health but neither do being a professional bull rider, or jumping out of a helicopter with skis, or not getting enough sleep, or having a stressful job. People have the right to prioritize their health however they want, and choose whatever path that they want.
We also need to stop acting like people’s health is entirely within their control and that it is completely changeable through their actions. Health has a number of components including past behaviors that can’t be changed, genetics that are out of our control, access to the foods that we would choose, safe movement options that we enjoy, and appropriate healthcare which is a massive issue for many, and fat people in particular. It includes our past environment which we cannot change, and our current environment ( including things like being under constant stigma) which we may not be able to change. We can obviously influence our health by our current behaviors, but acting like it’s appropriate to judge people based on their health because it’s entirely within their control is just plain wrong. Also, if people are dealing with health problems that are their fault it’s still not your business. (And if you’re thinking of making a “but my tax dollars pay for…” argument then head over here.)
People who follow whatever you think is the correct path to health do not deserve any more respect than those who don’t. Basic human respect is not reserved for humans who do what you think that they should. Health, and any measures thereof, are not a barometer by which we should judge respectability or worth. The idea that we are all required to do whatever someone else thinks is the most healthy for us is deeply flawed. The idea of the longest life being the most important thing is flawed. We in the US have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We do NOT have the obligation to pursue those things by someone else’s definition, and then be judged based on someone else’s scale.
This type of reasoning is doing nothing to increase our health or the quality of the discourse about it. What if we took all of the time and energy we spend judging people and instead we put that into making sure that everyone has access to healthy food choices, safe movement options that they enjoy, and robust healthcare. Then we can sit back and respect the decisions that they make just like we want our decisions to be respected.
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