I recently blogged about a truly ridiculous article that was yet another remix of the mistaken belief that fat people have some obligation to be “healthy” by whatever definition. I received the following comment:
You have said that people don’t take care of things they hate, so if someone doesn’t “take care of” their body in the sense of regular exercise, and eating the “right” foods, can they still love their body, logically-speaking?
I’m a wee bit confused.
Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you
This is a good question and, I think, a really important one.
To start, I do often say that people don’t take care of things that they hate, and that includes their bodies. But when I say that I’m talking about people and organizations that create negative messages about fat bodies. Most often I’m talking about the obligation that public health has to, at the very least, not harm the people they are supposed to help – which includes not putting them in a position to see their bodies as unworthy of care.
Messages that suggest that fat bodies are somehow bad bodies, or that have a primary or even accidental effect of making fat people hate our bodies are irresponsible and the opposite of public health. Public health should focus on creating information and access, and removing barriers to health, it should not be about making the individual’s health the public’s business.
To answer the second part of the question, each of us gets to choose what “health” means to us, each of us gets to choose how highly we prioritize health, and each of us gets to choose the path we want to get there. It’s important to note that for many people these choices are limited due to any number of factors including illness, disability, socioeconomic status, accessibility (maybe someone feels that pilates or massage would be great for their health but they can’t afford it,) and oppression (for example, when it comes to my health I would choose to live in a world where my body isn’t constantly stigmatized including by doctors, but that’s not the current situation) to name a few.
By the same token, people get to choose what “taking care of their bodies” means to them, and how/if they want to do it. There are tons of ways that we can take care of our bodies, none of them is an obligation, and nobody will ever do every one of them. And there again those choices can be limited by circumstances outside of our control, and don’t have to have anything to do with loving our bodies.
Of course nobody is obligated to love their body, and loving your body in this culture isn’t easy even if you want to, but the idea that we have to somehow earn the right to love our bodies by meeting someone (or anyone’s) criteria for “taking care of them” is bullshit that, as usual, ends up hurting people who are already dealing with marginalization (and even more for those with multiple marginalized identities) disproportionately.
Public health has an obligation to the individual, individuals do not have an obligation to public health, or to anybody else when it comes to how we feel about our bodies, or what we do with or to them.
In this world where waking up and not hating ourselves in an act of revolution, we have every right to love our bodies without justification, without “logic,” and without limits.
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