Healthy Living

I realised that I hadn’t explained myself very well in my Body Shop thread. Or rather I’d paraphrased an argument without actually making that argument.

I hate The Body Shop, have a for very long time. I’ve never had a use for the dumb soaps and gels and whatever they make (although I did go through a stage when I was 14 of buying them as presents for friends, if I didn’t know what else to get them). They’re such a huge part of the idea that it’s alternative and a moral good to be healthy, and what it means to be healthy is to fit a traditional idea of beautiful that I’d happily watch as every single one of their stores burnt to the ground.

I wanted to explore the link between health and beauty, and the idea that health is a moral good, a little bit more to explain.

The equation of ‘beauty’ and ‘health’ is really common and really insidious. The most obvious example is weight, and (despite rather a lot of evidence to the contrary) the conflation of thin and healthy. In circles (usually middle class and slightly politically aware circles) where it’s not acceptable to talk about weight loss straight up, generally exactly the same conversations take place, but people are talking about ‘health’. If someone is nervous of complimenting a woman for losing weight, they’ll talk about ‘healthy’ she looks.

But it’s much more common than that. Most of the examples are just laughable. Beauty sections in magazines are now called ‘health’ sections. Hair products claim they will promote ‘healthy looking hair’ (because ensuring that your dead-cells are healthy should be the priority of everyone). The state of your skin is seen as indicative of your overall health. Performing beauty routinues, like moisturising or body scrubbing, are portrayed as part of maintaining your health.

Some are more scary:

The American Cancer Society offers the “Look Good…Feel Better” program, “dedicated to teaching women cancer patients beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during cancer treatment.”

Of course this is bullshit, you can’t tell someone’s health by looking at them, and a lot of so called health routinues won’t increase your longevity, or your quality of life at all.

Now this is partly just a marketing technique, the more women challenge beauty standards, the more useful it is to have different justification for selling exactly the same products. But I think it’s become a lot more significant than that, because health is portrayed as a moral good. This particular conflation is a very powerful one for fucking with people’s minds, and very useful for ensuring certain sorts of behaviour (mostly buying stuff, but also not challenging the way our society is organised).

The first step to believing being ‘healthy’ is moral is to show that ‘health’ is something that is under your control. Now personally, I reject this idea as deeply offensive, as well as being wrong. Wile there are some things that you can do that will promote the length of your life, and increase the ways you can use your body, most of it is just luck. Either it’s your genetics, or it’s a result of environmental factors you can’t control (like poverty, or being exposed to depleted uranium). It’s very tempting to believe we can control our body, how long we live, how far it holds out, but most of us won’t be able to.

To give a rather silly example of this I have had a number of people tell me about the quality of their teeth, how they don’t have fillings, and they each give a different reason for this (they brush every day, or they eat a lot of cheese). Now it seems to me that it’s far more likely that fluoridated water, and improvements in detal practice are the reason my generation’s teeth are better than our parents.

That’s why I think it’s wrong, the reason I think it’s offensive is it promotes an idea that everyone could get better if only they tried hard enough. It turns illness into a form of personal failing. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a fantastic article about this in relation to the breast cancer industry (and yes unfortunately it is an industry):

My friend introduces me to a knot of other women in survivor gear, breast-cancer victims all, I learn, though of course I would not use the V-word here. “Does anyone else have trouble with the term ‘survivor’?’ I ask, and, surprisingly, two or three speak up. It could be “unlucky,” one tells me; it “tempts fate,” says another, shuddering slightly. After all, the cancer can recur at any time, either in the breast or in some more strategic site. No one brings up my own objection to the term, though: that the mindless triumphalism of “survivorhood” denigrates the dead and the dying. Did we who live “fight” harder than those who’ve died? Can we claim to be “braver,” better, people than the dead? And why is there no room in this cult for some gracious acceptance of death, when the time comes, which it surely will, through cancer or some other misfortune?

The idea that ‘health’ is a result of our individual actions is now dangerously firmly placed. We can beat heart-attacks, breast-cancer, alzheimer’s, arthritis, dementia and everything else if we try hard enough.

As well as being awful in its own right, this idea turns anything that is promoted as improving health as a moral good, even if it doesn’t actually improve your longevity or use of your body.

This idea is so insidious that it has often been adopted by the left, where being ‘healthy’ can be portrayed as not just morally good, but alternative – or even radical. So we end up reinforcing our own version of the mainstream ideology. Constantly things that are supported for political reasons (say veganism) are promoted for their supposed health benefits, as if good politics and good health, automatically go together (I have a much, much, much longer rant about this particular topic, but it’ll have to wait for another day).

I started writing this whole post because mythago asked me “why is buying soap kowtowing to patriarchal, capitalistic ideals about beauty?” I want to make it really clear that I don’t think the solution to the problems that I raised is to stop eating in a particular way, or buying a particular product, or trying to live in a way that you find nourishes and sustains you.

What I do think is important is we challenge the ideology which equates beauty, health and morality, and promotes health as something we can control. We can stop praising people for being healthy, we can stop telling people they look healthy, we can stop assuming that just because we agree with something politically it’ll be good for our bodies, and we can stop using moralistic language to describe food.

And that’s why I hate the Body Shop.

Also posted on My blog.

This entry posted in Economics and the like, Fat, fat and more fat, Feminism, sexism, etc, Whatever. Bookmark the permalink. 

86 Responses to Healthy Living

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  5. 5
    Demosthenes says:

    While I have some sympathy to the idea that health shouldn’t be equated with the state of your skin, do you really want to make the argument that the vaunted “healthy lifestyle” has little-to-no effect?

    The plague of obesity (not being “overweight”, but actual obesity) affecting North America isn’t due to genetic mutation, and it’s going to take more than bald assertion to convince anybody that depleted uranium (of all things) has more of an effect on people’s health than their inability to get off the couch. Yes, one shouldn’t simply treat illness as personal failing, but the evidence seems stacked on the side saying that the preconditions of many illnesses are based on behavior.

    The central question is unanswered: what’s actually wrong with the old truism of “eating right and getting exercise”?

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  7. 6
    Angiportus says:

    Eating right and getting exercise isn’t going to work if you can’t afford to eat right and don’t have enough energy left over from your crappy (non-aerobic, repetitive-stressful) job to exercise. And I’m not a chemist, but it looks like depleted uranium, as well as the intact kind, is not something you want to breathe any of the dust from.
    Amp, you got it so right. I am reminded of a cartoon I saw some time back, can’t recall where, that showed a woman reading the ingredients on a shampoo bottle and remarking that her hair was better nourished than she herself was.
    Some cases of obesity might be related to lifestyle…others are not…and it’s awful damned presumptuous for anyone to assume which is which for anyone else.
    As one who has faced the big C, I find “survivor” and “victim” both unsatisfactory. Anybody got a better word?

  8. 7
    Josh Jasper says:

    OK, so this isn’t a feminist friendly thread, so I’m going to unload a bit here. Nothing personaly insulting, but I do find your argument lacking in facts or usefull content.

    You need to get some perspective and find some realistic targets for your anger. Out of all of the shops selling body and bath products, picking The Body Shop to rant about seems to be anti-establishment iconoclastic behavior for it’s own sake.

    There are about 10,000 real issues you could be dealing with. At least The Body Shop makes an effort to promote environmentalism and women’t rights. They’re certainly not perfect, but your snarky attitude dismisses anyone who isn’t perfect in your eyes, which as far as I can tell, is pretty much no one.

    As far as keeping one’s life expanded by modern technology, diet, etc… if you ahve anything you want to say about that, read up on mortality rates for the last century. People live longer these days overall.

    This is not caused by genetics. If you want to fight the fact activism cause, more power to you, but you’re heading in a direction that goes beyond that. You are railing at anyone who dosen’t match your concept of Poplitically Correct body image talk.

  9. 8
    Barbara says:

    I won’t be as snarky as Josh Jasper, but I have found that women are rarely receptive to arguments that begin with the idea that they shouldn’t care about how they look, or that rest on the idea that they don’t know how to evaluate claims about health and beauty. Even if it’s true, it’s better to knock specific claims down one by one than it is to rail against the “beauty” industry as a whole. Your arguments are extremely unfocused and appear to be the result of persona pique as much as they are of any concrete problems.

    And as for being “responsible” for one’s health, it is and isn’t true in ways that are incredibly complicated and hard to understand, but I’ve always thought that the “empowerment” crowd is more about encuraging positive thinking than claiming control over illness. Telling someone who is ill that there is nothing they can do about it can lead to hopelessness and despair. The “it” isn’t necessarily the illness itself, but the impact of the illness on your feelings of well-being. It’s a fine line to walk, to be sure, but it’s certainly more nuanced than you let on.

  10. 9
    silverside says:

    This is a very mucky area. On the one hand, it is important for people to be educated about healthy diets and healthy practices in general (the need for regular exercise, not smoke, etc.). It’s another to fixate on this, and ignore how income, race, parental status, gender, employment status, may significantly effect one’s ability to achieve these these things. It’s extremely challenging to exercise right, when one has a long commute, a sendentary job, and children at home. Not impossible per se, but very difficult. Eating right can be very difficult when you are running constantly, trying to get to school, work, daycare. And then there’s the lecture on watching your stress. Yea, I can stop myself from eating a whole pizza, but “managing” my stress is who ‘nother ball of wax.
    I think when you see “individual” decisions reach critical masses, you are really seeing a social phenomenon. And ballooning weight is not just the sum of individual decisions, but an indication of certain social practices that actively discourage opimal health, while completing ignoring the other public health concerns that are well beyond my individual decisionmaking (lead paint in my neighborhood, a lousy Air Quality Index (AQI) in my particular area of the country, etc.)

    Conflating “beauty” ( or physical appearance) and “health” are potentially dangerous, but sometimes useful. I tend to ignore matters of personal beauty, but if I had paid more attention, I would have realized that my drying brittle hair and coarsening skin were actually symptoms of hypothyroidism. In fact, there are some illnesses you CAN pretty much diagnose by really looking at people’s appearance.

  11. 10
    Crys T says:

    Firstly, what Angiportus said. I’m tired of people blithely parroting the idea that health is within the grasp of all, if only we’d learn to ditch the crisps and get our lardy arses of the sofa. 5-7 serving of veg and fruit daily? No problem–of you can afford it. Plenty of quinoa, millet, barley and brown rice, accompanying all those lovely legumes you’ve soaked and boiled yourself? Fantastic–if you’ve got several hours extra each day just to go to the specialist shops you need to in order to find most of this stuff, plus, y’know, actually COOK it. And never mind that the “experts” rarely tell you about that kind of food anyway: they’re too interested in telling you what NOT to eat to bother going into in-depth detail about what you should eat. You do realise that for most people, this sort of information, plus the lifestyle that allows you to put it to use, is way out of their reach? And we haven’t even touched on the issue of exercise. Who’s going to pay for my gym membership? Hell, even going to the local leisure centre with its crappy, insufficient facilities a couple of times of week is more than I can currently afford.

    Getting all self-righteous about health is just another way for the well-to-do to wallow in their privilege and call it “good sense.”

    Secondly, I don’t know where you live, Josh Jasper, but I’ve had the distinct impression that in the UK The Body Shop stopped even pretending to care about women’s rights around 6 years ago or so. All the images I’ve seen since around that time when I pass any local shops have been strictly mainstream beauty industry ones.

  12. 11
    NancyP says:

    Yes, it costs something to eat “healthy” food, but it need not be as trendy as all that. Avoiding large amounts of table sugar or sugar-containing soda/ baked goods would help. That’s just a matter of training your taste buds to drink your tea straight. Or drink water. Greens need not be all that expensive – mustard and collard greens are consistently pretty cheap, and good for you. Carrots are fairly reasonable. Bagged Jonathan apples are fairly reasonable. What the h… is quinoa?

    Walking is cheap to free (you need shoes, but chances are you have shoes already). I’d say that the problem is perfectionism and obnoxious one-up-manship about “healthy habits”. You don’t need to eat organic and run marathons – just walk around the block or up the stairs a bit more often, and skip the jellied donuts in favor of oatmeal and milk.

    As for the Cancer Society program, I imagine it probably provides grooming tips on what to do when your hair falls out (wig, and how to buy one? hats and scarves? stylishly bald?), or options after mastectomy (reconstruction? special bra? nothing?). I would guess that a fair number of patients would appreciate this.

  13. 12
    Elena says:

    As with some other repliers to the post, I react very uneasily to the idea that there is something classist, sexist, conspiratorial about promoting a healthy lifestyle. I think there is also something human and natural about having a little vanity- men AND women should be able to groom themselves without being traitors to equality.

    And I don’t buy it that there is no connection between weight and health. I never understand the argument that there is not- I mean how overweight does a person have to be before it becomes obvious even to the non-scientificly minded that this affects ther mobility, their joints, etc.? Reasonable people can reject both the Nicole Richie and the fat -is- always- beautiful- just- look- at- it- differently points of view without any contradiction.

    I do buy that modern life has made it hard to exercise and cheap to eat junk, so a low income person definitely has more hurdles to jump over. But are we going to shrug and say that exercise and healthy food don’t then matter for low-income people? Even if you leave low-income people out of it, I can tell you that I live 6 blocks from my daughter’s school, and almost none of my middle class neighbors let their kids walk.

  14. 13
    Samantha says:

    While I agree that there are unnatural standards of beauty these days that barely anyone is going to stand up to, health is in a way partly our responsibility.

    “Eating right and getting exercise isn’t going to work if you can’t afford to eat right”

    I just read all these people saying that eating healthy is an expensive exercise, and I have to wonder where these people get their information from. I just had to change the way I eat completely, to follow the standard healthy eating practices that are always flaunted because my unhealthy eating has lead to me getting sick. And eating healthy is so much cheaper! I have money left over at the end of the week where as before I was stretching the budget really thin to get everything in. And keep in mind that I am a single mother, on the dole and studying.
    You don’t need all these health shop products to eat well. Nancy P Said it best:

    I’d say that the problem is perfectionism and obnoxious one-up-manship about “healthy habits”.

  15. 14
    Crys T says:

    “it need not be as trendy as all that”

    Grains and legumes are “trendy”? I thought they were basic foods that most cultures have been eating for millenia, and have only relatively recently been pushed off our plates in favour of pre-prepared rubbish.

    And I really do feel you’re missing the point of what I’m saying. I personally know dozens of cheap, tasty recipes for affordable, healthy food….but that’s because I’m part of the fucking privileged middle class that gets access to all this Top Secret Information. Tell a single mother living on benefits on a council estate that she should be serving her kids collard greens and, unless she happens to come from a background where that information has been handed down, she’ll look at you like you’re out of your mind. And with good reason: firstly, the only greens available at her local shops (remember, if you expect her to cough up the bus fare to get to the nearest megamart, she’s not going to have whole lot left to spend on food) are likely to be old, nasty and completely unappetising. (And let’s not even get into the fact that she’s got to buy the cheapest veg, meaning that that is grown in soil that has been so depleted of nutrients that it really isn’t even as healthy as all that, anyway.) Plus, it’s very likely no one has ever bothered teaching her how to prepare this stuff, much less how to make it nice and appealing. I’m really losing my patience with those who go on about how everyone knows what we’re supposed to eat, but totally miss out on the fact that zero has been done on getting people to know how to cook. You’re assuming that this woman has access either to people or information who will help her learn how to prepare good food. It’s like saying, “Hey, why buy that high-fat, chemical-laced hummus when you can whip some up at home in less than 5 minutes that’s much healthier!” Yes, you can….IF you know what goes into hummus in the first place, IF your local shops carry the ingredients, and IF you have the money to buy a food processor.

    Everything about “healthy living” is like a secret code between clued-in middle-class types. And if you don’t believe me, just listen to the astonishingly ignorant crap that gets spouted all throughout the media. Unless you’re in the special little group that knows how to find alternative sources for your information, you are well and truly fucked.

    Give me one good reason why the mother in the above scenario *shouldn’t* give the kids a pound and send them to the nearest chippy for chips and gravy?

  16. 15
    Crys T says:

    Oh, and Nancy: yeah, walking is cheap. But when you live in a climate where it is constantly fucking raining and/or windy, it’s not always very nice. Not to mention that a lot of people would be forced to walk through areas that are neither aesthetically uplifting nor indeed very safe.

    I’m all for making health within everyone’s reach. But in order to do that, people’s privilege when it comes to these issues MUST be exposed. The fact that posters here are oblivious to their own uncommonly privileged positions shows just how far we have to go in this. To all of you who think it’s all just so easy and within anyone’s reach: most people do not live like you.

  17. 16
    Robert says:

    Crys, people who are as resourceless and helpless as you lay out are not capable of independent living. Perhaps you should form a commune for them, so you can guide them with your wisdom.

  18. 17
    NancyP says:

    I am aware that getting to the food can be more expensive if you are poor, and lugging it home is no fun. But, once you are at the food store, there is a choice available, at least in most US markets. If the greens look dreadful, look at the carrots or yams. Ignore jelly donuts and overpriced sodas. Tap water or cheap tea will do. And, being mugged in the neighborhood, or stumbling over drunks and hookers and used needles, is a reasonable inhibitor to walking, but light rain? Most people in rainy climates have an umbrella, hooded slicker, or plastic old-lady scarf. And not knowing how to cook? That means there are no contacts with neighbors – everyone used to have opinions on how to cook this that and the other. If you don’t talk to ANY neighbors, I daresay that’s probably more of a health hazard than any diet/exercise issues. Ditto if you smoke, or drink more than once in a while, both expensive habits.

    I am certainly aware that there is class privilege in health. However, studies seem to indicate that one doesn’t need a perfect diet or need to be a marathoner to derive some benefit from improved diet or exercise. So it is within the power, now, of many poor people to help their health, and the mere act of doing something positive for oneself does wonders for morale and confidence. I don’t see it as a blame game – just, here are a few small adjustments to try that might make you feel better.

    Legumes and rice and greens are all part of traditional US Southern cooking. Any granny can tell you how to cook them. It’s the quinoa and millet and other stuff which is not too familiar in the US.

  19. 18
    alsis39.75 says:

    Perhaps you should patronize less, Robert.

  20. 19
    Maia says:

    Barbara I made it very explicit that I wasn’t telling women not to care about how they look. I was talking examining one way that the beauty industry had tried to make women care more about how they look, and what I thought the implications of that were.

    My point about health wasn’t that you can have no influence on your health, ever. But that the idea that you can take ‘responsibility’ for your health ignores the fact that most factors that are going to affect your life and longevity are out of your control.

  21. I’d like to rephrase the health=beauty equation that Maia was critiquing to say that the equating of health and beauty medicalizes beauty, makes it something that can be arrived at through proper treatment, whether that treatment occurs in consultation with one’s doctor or through the purchase and use of over-the-counter prodcuts designed to make us healthy and, therefore, beautiful. More to the point, it is this medicalization that defines health–and, therefore, beauty–as moral goods, and I think Maia’s emphasis on the moralizing nature of the health=beauty equation is something that is being missed in these comments. Because once health becomes a moral imperative, and I think this was part of the point Maia was trying to make, it is then possible to blame those people who are less privileged, etc. for their inability to meet the moral standard that the equation sets up.

    I don’t know if this is a good example, but it is what comes to mind: the routing preventive circumcision of infant males did not become routine medical practice in the United States until the early 20th century (or perhaps the late the 19th). Understanding precisely what it was that this operation was intended to prevent is an interesting exercise in the intellectual history of the medical profession in the United States, but it’s not really germane to this discussion; what is germane is that two of the primary factors that led to its instutionalization not only in terms of medicine, but also in the aesthetics of the male body, was that having the operation performed on one’s son aligned one with the cutting edge medicine (no pun intended) of the time, and this alignment differentiated one and one’s sons from the “dirty,” overwhelmingly uncircumcised immigrants that were entering the US at the time. The circumcised penis came to be identified with modenity, progress, cleanliness and health, all of which were defined as moral imperatives, which meant that those who did not meet the moral standard were obviously and wilfully inferior.

    I’m not sure that the example of medical circumcision parallels precisely the phenomenon that Maia is critiquing–and I am assuming, of course, that I have understood Maia correctly–but just as their is, essentially, in non-religious terms, no moral difference between a circumcised penis and an uncircumcised one, there is no moral difference between getting one’s exercise from working with a personal trainer or getting it from walking around the block where one lives or from working daily in the fields of one’s employer or not exercising at all. (There may be other kinds of differences between and among the lives these people live–as many of the posts in this thread have pointed out–but that difference does not inhere in the way they get their exercise; it is from the context in which that exercise does or does not take place.) I would be willing to bet, however, that not a few of the people who work with a personal trainer or who make it to the gym three and four and five times a week, and who do so because of what I am calling the medicalization of beauty, see themselves, consciously or not, as morally superior to those who do not.

  22. 21
    Crys T says:

    You know, I don’t even care if this will get me banned from here forever: fuck off Robert. I’m sick to death of your patronising, sneering bullshit and the fact that you hide behind your personal relationship with Amp to get away with appallingly hateful behaviour.

    Nancy: everyone doesn’t live in the USA. And even many of those people who do don’t live where YOU are. It’s a big place, and I’m sure that choice and availability of items vary widely. And yes, you can believe it or not, but there is an entire culture of people who haven’t really got the fainest idea of how to cook. Ask the neighbours? What on earth makes you assume that people necessarily have the sort of relationship with their neighbours that would permit them to pop next door to ask for ideas? And pointing out that they should avoid “jelly doughnuts”? That is also patronising. As I said, people are told what they *shouldn’t* eat, but given precious little advice on what they can.

    And nice way to disregard being forced to get your only exercise walking in the rain. The fact that you can blow it off so lightly shows that it’s not something that could ever affect you. I’d really love to see those of you who are so smug and complacent actually having to be the ones to get out and trudge through the shit every day. Especially after working one or more crap, high-stress jobs that aren’t bringing in enough to make ends meet, or living on benefits with kids to take care of and no money to do it. You don’t know what other people’s lives are like. How about a little less judgement and laughably impractical advice and a little more understanding and work towards changing the system that’s created the epidemic of poor health in the first place?

    And anyway, why are you giving all this information to me? I’ve known it all for years. Again, because I belong to the club of the privileged middle class. What the hell is it with privilege issues?: whenever any are brought up, those who possess said privilege immediately spring into denial mode and try to make out that they’re really just like everyone else. No, I’m sorry, you’re not. The very fact that you’re posting on this blog means you belong to a certain PRIVILEGED class.

    Come on, please accept the fact that IT ISN’T AS OBVIOUS OR EASY AS YOU’RE MAKING IT OUT TO BE. Full stop. No matter how much you don’t like the idea or don’t accept it, that doesn’t change the fact that that is what life is like for millions of people. Have you ever looked at the nutritional or exercise information that people get handed out by the medical profession? It’s completely misleading, incomplete bullshit.

    For god’s sake, I can remember reading articles back in the 80s about how good health was rapidly becoming the preserve of the well-to-do. If the disparities were notice then, with the drastic increases in the gaps between different income groups, how bad must it be now?

  23. 22
    mangala says:

    So, CrysT, how do we middle-class privileged folks share our privilege? What are the solutions to the health disparity?

  24. 23
    Robert says:

    Crys, I am not intending to be patronizing. My statement was serious.

    The level of cognitive and informational dysfunction you are positing for the people you are referencing is such that it goes far beyond simple health issues. People who can’t find a way to buy and eat rice and beans instead of Big Macs, if that’s what they really want to do, are in seriously deep shit. If you believe that your knowledge is so much greater than theirs, and you believe that they are genuinely incapable of eating and exercising in a basically healthful way, then it seems like you really ought to step in and help them live their lives in the proper fashion.

    Of course, there is an alternative hypothesis: these people are perfectly competent to buy rice and tomatoes at Safeway or the bodega instead of Mac ‘n Cheese. They just don’t want to. They are perfectly competent of stacking two cinderblocks in their domicile and doing step exercises for an hour a day instead of watching Montel. They just don’t want to. They are perfectly capable of taking the bus to the Safeway across town (and if the $1 bus pass is going to empty out their food budget for the week, then their problems are a lot more fundamental than good nutrition), instead of walking to the McDonald’s across the block. They just don’t want to.

    I can live with the fact that they just don’t want to. YMMV.

  25. 24
    Elena says:

    Crys, nobody here is denying that poverty and ignorance make healthy living more difficult. Before the present overabundance of food, probably people’s bodies wore down in other ways, maybe from lack of food instead of too much of it. The question is what to do about it.

    Education campaigns can seem like useless feelgood measures, but I think actually that hopeless bleak attitude is more patronizing then trying to give people info. Like: they’ll never be smart enough to get it. I mean, water is the cheapest and healthiest beverage around ( and I don’t mean that bullshit bottled water, either). From what I have read, it took Peace Corp activists to tell the poorest inhabitants of Manta, Ecuador in the 60’s that plentiful and cheap bananas can be given to babies. And let’s not forget that us middleclass people need reminding that pop is not a good source of hydration, and that walking to your car doesn’t constitute exercise.

  26. 25
    alsis39.75 says:

    On a note related to Crys T’s, both NW Rage and have recently been covering the probable demise of L.A.’s most successful community garden. It’s a classic example of (the allegedly stupid poor working) folks to grow healthy, affordable foods for themselves, only to have their successful project scuttled by wealthy developers in cahoots with local officials who want the land for other projects more profitable to themselves.

  27. 26
    Robert says:

    And let’s not forget that us middleclass people need reminding that pop is not a good source of hydration, and that walking to your car doesn’t constitute exercise.

    I’m not listening I’m not listening la la la la la la la la la.

  28. 27
    Ampersand says:

    Crys T, unless you were to radically alter the content of your posts, I can’t imagine that I’d ever ban you. If anything, I wish you’d post more often.

    Robert, only someone with a tin ear for English could fail to realize that this sentence:

    Perhaps you should form a commune for them, so you can guide them with your wisdom.

    Has a patronizing, sneering tone, just as Crys T said.

    As far as I’m concerned, Crys T broke the moderation policy, but only in response to Robert doing the same. Call it a draw.

  29. 28
    piny says:

    Amp, you got it so right. I am reminded of a cartoon I saw some time back, can’t recall where, that showed a woman reading the ingredients on a shampoo bottle and remarking that her hair was better nourished than she herself was.

    There was an article in Bitch about this–how it was kind of a meta-bulimia, lavishing the most care and nourishment your body, but only on the most superficial level.

  30. 29
    piny says:

    Legumes and rice and greens are all part of traditional US Southern cooking. Any granny can tell you how to cook them. It’s the quinoa and millet and other stuff which is not too familiar in the US.

    Oh, God, this made my day! Um, do you have any idea how a great many traditional Southern folks cook their food? You do not talk to your Grandma from Missouri if you want to get heart smart. Trust me.

  31. 30
    slynne says:

    Maia does bring up a very interesting point though. People often blame others for their poor health. I sometimes think is due to the same psychological reasons that people often blame victims of crime. It scares them to see people get sick and they like to think that the illness was caused directly by the persons behavior. Sure, certain behaviors are healthier than others, but the blaming seems out of proportion with that. When a fat person has a heart attack, people seem to give a big a sigh of relief and say “That wont happen to me because I am not fat” Never mind that thin people get heart attacks all the time. It is the same thing as when people read in the paper about someone being attacked and robbed or raped or whatever. They think, “That wont happen to me because I dont walk around by myself at night.” It makes people think that the bad things cant happen to them.

  32. 31
    Ed says:

    I haven’t posted in a long while but this thread pricked a nerve with me a bit. I love food. I don’t see how being too lazy or incompetent to figure out what is healthy and what isn’t is a reasonable excuse to live on burgers and soda pop. As for not being able to cook, that seems lame to me. If you cant figure out how to bake a potato, or grill some chicken on a hot pan, like I think was posted earlier, you have bigger issues than nutrition. At what point did eating and health or quality of life(not leisure) become a sidenote in existance? I don’t understand that. As for poor quality food in the markets, they stock what people buy. If people start buying them out of squash…guess what, they will stock more and more often.

  33. 32
    Lanoire says:

    Oh, God. I always find myself on both sides of this debate.

    1) Maia, it can be possible to make a pretty good guess about how healthy someone is by looking at them, especially if one has some medical knowledge. The trouble with the “you look healthy” statement is, as you note, that it’s usually just a synonym for “you fit into a kind of beauty standard that has little or nothing to do with health.”

    2) Yes, the healthnuts can get moralistic and conflate physical fitness with morality. Many people enjoy being physically fit, but it has nothing to do with how good or valuable or worthy a person they are.

    However, I’ve seen moralistic self-righteousness from anti-healthnuts as well, who are convinced that working out or pampering yourself is just preening vanity or submission to corporate/patriarchal hegemony. There are people who make a virtue out of physical fitness, but there’s also a counter-zeitgeist that makes a virtue out of not giving a shit.

    As Richard pointed out up thread, the problem isn’t good health. The problem is conflating good health with moral virtue (which ends up blaming poor health on the individual’s laziness/greed rather than on limited access to healthy food and healthcare or just plain bad luck) or with fitting into conventional beauty standards, which are often bad for your health.

    Like Elena, I worry that stressing the class angle too much might result in promoting the idea that good health is just not worth it or that there aren’t some easy ways to maintain good health.

    I’m still not sure what this has to do with the Body Shop, mind you. I’ll have to do some further research about the store, I guess.

  34. 33
    Shannon says:

    In the real world, some people live in unsafe neighborhoods. When we go to grandma’s we do not walk around at night- it’s not safe. Not to mention the fact that fattening foods are filling and emotionally satisfying unlike salad or grilled chicken. Some folks are exhausted after working all day and don’t want to drive to the gym, which costs money, to do boring as hell exercise. Of course, safe neighborhoods, planning that allows people to walk from place to place, more community gardens and better food stocked everywhere would help, but hey, that might take time away from moralizing about people’s weight.

    The people talking about how easy it is to convert from normal american food and fun to sprouts and the gym are an example of what Maia is talking about. If only you work hard enough,blah blah,blah. But we have to think ‘is this life style sustainable?” Middle class people can sustain the ‘healthy’ lifestyle for longer- they have more resources. When the car breaks down,the lights are turned off,etc, do you think a woman is going to say “you know what I need? some rice and beans and a turn at the gym!”?

  35. 34
    Cala says:

    The people talking about how easy it is to convert from normal american food and fun to sprouts and the gym are an example of what Maia is talking about.

    But no one here’s said that. Look, it’s obviously a sign of being middle-class that one knows about nutrition and fitness & how to prepare healthy, cheap food. But that just means there’s an ignorance problem to be solved, not that eating healthier can’t be affordable. You can’t blame someone for stopping at McD’s rather than preparing a quick dinner of rice and beans if they don’t know how to cook rice and beans. But that doesn’t make rice and beans a more expensive meal, nor a bad option, nor an impossible option only comprehensible by the Upper Middle Class.

    But I live in a poor neighborhood, and the local grocery store is an embarassment.

    Tell me, why are the limp, wilting veggies more expensive than the pretty ones at the organic grocery store? Why is cheap corn syrup pretend juice a quarter of the cost of milk? Why is the crappy beef & chicken for sale at the local ghettomart of poorer quality and higher price than the beef & chicken at the nice suburban supermarket? If you have $100 for the month for food, it will be cheaper to stock up on chicken nuggets and fruit drink unless you know how to cook.

    People can eat nutritriously and cheaply with rice, some meats, and frozen veggies (if you’re in a shitty grocery store, forget the fresh produce, it’s long gone). But just as it’s foolish to pretend it’s not more healthy to cook for yourself, it’s also foolish to pretend the information is just out there on leaflets in the poor neighborhoods and people are walking by with their jelly donuts, noses in the air.

    Community education programs help, like community gardens and home ec classes for little kids. Gym class, too. I’d like to see a Crockpot give-away for every home.

  36. 35
    mangala says:

    I’d like to see a Crockpot give-away for every home.

    Yes. The single most useful solution to the problem of having enough time to cook healthy foods like beans and whole grains.

  37. 36
    Emmetropia says:

    Maia – I agree with you that health is not always under our control, and that illness is sometimes equated with personal failure. Much of my work is with hospice, and I can tell you that this kind of thinking infects a lot of thinking. Doctors who refuse to refer a patient to hospice until a day or two before they die, when they can derive little benefit, because the physician insists that yet another agressive form of therapy can extend a patient’s life or even cure them. Or religious fundies who associate disease with sin. Or worse, new age practioners who insist that a patient can only cure their cancer if they release their negative thinking, or take endless coffee enemas.

    Death is a part of life, and this insistence that people have complete control over their physical destinies, means that many people aren’t given the opportunity to talk about their feelings regarding their coming death.

    But you lose me when you suggest that we don’t have any control over our health, or that we can’t hold people responsible for the life style decisions they make, especially if they are poor. True, genetics and environmental factors may trump any good efforts I make toward maintaining my health. Although we are living longer than ever before, we are also living with more chronic disease that is the result of lifestyle choices. Medical care for chronic disease like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and
    high cholestral is causing our healthcare costs to skyrocket. Everyone pays for these costs, whether in the form of tax-subsidized Medicaid, or employer-subsidized health insurance premiums.

  38. 37
    Josh Jasper says:

    Secondly, I don’t know where you live, Josh Jasper, but I’ve had the distinct impression that in the UK The Body Shop stopped even pretending to care about women’s rights around 6 years ago or so. All the images I’ve seen since around that time when I pass any local shops have been strictly mainstream beauty industry ones.

    Crys – The Body Shop web site indicates that thery’re active in womens issues up to last year. The home page for the UK site has a link for a program to for helping stop violence against women.

    I’m not going to get into body issue, except to mention that The Body Shop actually campaigned for fat aceptance at one point. They had a model, or a figure who’s name was Ruby, I think. I have no idea what they’re doing of late.

    But all in all, my point was that they’re a piss-poor target, and going on a rant against them souds to me like a way to get attention by poking at something that’s more deserving of at least some small measure respect than hatred.

  39. 38
    Shannon says:

    Yea, time is a problem. McDonalds is quick, filling and satisying. Rice and beans takes time, which apparently it is hard for people to understand that some people don’t have all the time in the world to cook something(sometimes people are *gasp* tired) while the kids are complaining ‘ick! beans and rice again?!” Gym class is usually useless- it’s some sweaty guy yelling at kids that they don’t run fast enough or stupid competitive games- not something that would actually make anyone want to exercise. Basically, the ‘healthy’ lifestyle is a luxury item- and that is why it is prized. If this lifestyle was sustainable for everybody(even the middle class don’t live this way), would we be so obssessed with it? (why do I say sustainable? Yea, I could live on a lettuce leaf a day for well, two days. And yea, a poor family could live on beans and rice for a while, but how long would they want to? If you don’t take that into account- you’ll fail every time)

    It’s not ignorance so much as our entire society, as well as human bodies, is against this lifestyle. Our whole society has tasty fast food(even though it’s high in calories), work with long hours which doesn’t allow for hours of exercise a day(when the you should get an hour of exercise a day guidelines came out, I whooped) , a car bound culture, etc. Not to mention, enticing looking food is being advertised to the kids and is in the lunchboxes of their peers. Of course, kids have test prep wall to wall in school, so how they are getting time to have some fat guy yell at them I don’t know. A few pamphlets, that’s nice and all, but that’s not a very realistic or sensible approach at all.

    Our bodies are against it too. Having to eat more often may not be exactly what someone might want, but it’s healthier. Not to mention, under stress, your body holds on to fat. But I realize that that’s not the actual reason for the conversation, so I’ll let you go back to your illusions.

  40. 39
    Robert says:

    And yea, a poor family could live on beans and rice for a while, but how long would they want to?

    So the problem, as I suspected, is that people are making “wrong choices” – IE, not the choice that health-minded third parties would make – not that they aren’t able to make a choice.

    Crys, Amp’s right. That was a snotty thing for me to say, and I apologize.

  41. 40
    sophonisba says:

    I don’t see how being too lazy or incompetent to figure out what is healthy and what isn’t is a reasonable excuse to live on burgers and soda pop.

    You also don’t see that nobody requires an “excuse” to eat food.

    If you cant figure out how to bake a potato, or grill some chicken on a hot pan, like I think was posted earlier, you have bigger issues than nutrition.

    You mean like if you can’t figure out how to “grill” or “bake” things in a microwave or a coffee maker when that’s all you’ve got in your “kitchen”? Truly, poverty is a bigger issue than nutrition. Hey, didn’t somebody say that already? It sounds oddly familiar.

  42. 41
    sophonisba says:

    “And yea, a poor family could live on beans and rice for a while, but how long would they want to?”

    So the problem, as I suspected, is that people are making “wrong choices”

    No, that is not the conclusion that the the line you quoted supports. The “problem” is that poor people eat food for pleasure and variety as well as for raw sustenance, and are just as wearied and sickened by blandness and monotony as you or me. It’s almost like they’re humans, with tongues and palates as well as bellies. How funny.

  43. 42
    VK says:

    “If you cant figure out how to bake a potato, or grill some chicken on a hot pan”

    I’m currently at university, a university full of stupidly intelligent people. And I meet those who honestly do not know how to make pasta (he tried to fry it!), or bake a potato (she didn’t pierce the skin – explody potato all over microwave). I’ve seen people who hadn’t used microwaves before refuse to use them (they don’t know how long to put things in for, and are worried about ruining food when they are on a small budget for the week).

    I’m unusual here – I have a sausepan, frying pan, wok, steamer and pressure cooker, as well as a peeler, wooden spoon etc. My mother has been teaching me to cook since I was tiny. I look at the last egg in the fridge, one potato and some beansprouts and think “spanish omlette”. I instanly know how to make it, in what order to do things, I have a range of herbs and spices to make things taste decent.

    Most people here don’t have a sausepan. They live in rooms without a decent kitchen (deliberately, you can tell the people who can cook – they proritise the rooms near a kitchen over the ensuite ones). The students live on fast food, store bought sandwiches, kebab van food and college grub. All made for them.

    Now imagine you have been bought up on pre-made food your whole life. You are told to eat more healthily, but the healthy pre-made stuff is more expensive. So you decide to make your own. You then need to buy cooking classes (or a cookbook and hope someone can explain saute to you), or have internet at your disposal. You need cooking equipment – a cooker, a hob, a microwave, tin opener, blender, sauspans, baking trays. How many pieces of equipment does one recipe assume you already own? It stacking up to be quite expensive before you have even bought the food…

  44. 43
    Ledasmom says:

    As VK points out, without seasonings a lot of those healthy foods can be pretty bland and unappetizing, and herbs and spices are considerably more costly than sugar and salt. I think the least expensive I’ve seen was about a dollar a bottle.
    Even people who were raised on from-scratch cooking, with lots of vegetables and whole grains, don’t necessarily know how to do it. My brother, who I know ate cornmeal, buttermilk and buckwheat pancakes made by my mother when he was young, called her up once he was on his own to inquire about the proper cooking method for a pancake mix he had. She walked him through it and asked exactly what problem he was having. “Well,” he said, “they cook through before I can mix them up in the pan.”

  45. 44
    Maia says:

    I’m finding it quite strange that discussion on this thread has become yet another debate about the extent that people are responsible for their own health through particular behaviours (but I do think it demonstrates the endemicness of the ideology I was talking about). I guess I should have been clearer.

    My point wasn’t that lifestyle factors that individuals have control over make no contribution to health. My point was that these contributions were minimal when compared to the things we have no control over, for example genetics and environmental factors. So we’re arguing over whether indivudal responsibility is 5 or 10, when other factors are still 50.

    For example, the fact that I’m a woman will probably have more influence over longevity than any choice I make during my life.

    By focusing on what we can control, and ignoring most health is stuff we can’t, we have created the idea that we can control things we can not, and are ignoring our own mortality. Recently the co-leader of the New Zealand Green party died suddenly in his late forties (or possibly early fifties). He biked regularly, and being a Green ate a lot of hippy food. More than a few people said they found his death scary, because if he could die early anyone could. I think that’s exactly my point. Anyone can die early, it is mostly just luck, and no amount of bargaining can change that.

    I’m not saying ignore the things we have control over, I am saying stop treating our ‘health’ as something we do have control over, because mostly we don’t. It doesn’t matter whether lifestyle factors that we can control are 2% or 20%, still the vast majority of our life and longevity are nothing that we can control.

    Some individual points. Richard I think you did grasp my meaning (and here I was worrying that the post was just going over the obvious, that everyone already knew). The medicalisation aspect of the debate is really interesting, and not one I had time to go into. Certainly I was thinking of also talk about how cosmetic surgery gets portrayed of ’empowering’ because you are taking control of your body.

    Maia, it can be possible to make a pretty good guess about how healthy someone is by looking at them, especially if one has some medical knowledge.

    I disagree with this. Sure in some cases it can be clear that someone has a health problem from their appearance (my best friend has psoriatic arthritis, and you may not know that unless you know about psoriasis and arthritis, but you would know that she has some chronic health problems). Although most of the time this is nothing to make positive or negative comment on, because it isn’t a result of anything under their control. But I don’t think you can figure out how ‘healthy’ someone is by the appearance. You can’t make a positive assessment that they’re going to live long and prosper just by looking at them. Someone who looks ‘healthy’ may have a tumour growing inside of them.

  46. 45
    dorktastic says:

    Maybe it’s an age thing (I’m 22 and a student), but many of my friends and acquaintances do not have access to adequate cooking facilities, so even if we can buy healthy food (which is not always easy) and know how to prepare it, we might not have anywhere to make it. I’m lucky because I share a house with a large and well-equipped kitchen, but eating healthy food can still be a struggle because the grocery store that is closest to me (in the downtown, accesible by walking or public transportation) carries almost no fresh produce. The fruits and vegetables they have are either wilted and unappealing (and sometimes rotten, as I’ve discovered on a few occasions, or not all that healthy to begin with (iceburg lettuce). There is a weekly farmer’s market, with really cheap, local, and often organic foods but the hours of operation are quite limited and it’s difficult to get to without a car.
    Access to foodbanks is also very limited where I live. They are always very low on food, and many of them require all sorts of documentation to prove that you are low-income (like proof that you are on welfare). There are tons of hungry people in my town who aren’t on welfare, and therefore can’t access food. The one food bank that does not require any identification or proof of income is out of food within two days of a delivary (I know because I used to volunteer there). The food that is available is unappealing, super-processed, and very heavy on the sugar. But it’s the cheapest, and the easiest to prepare when your kitchen facilities consist of a hot plate, a kettle, and a sink.
    Another random, pre-caffiene thought – judging one’s health by their appearance is also very tied to other markers of class, like teeth. North Americans are so obsessive about straight white teeth, and dental care and orthodontics cost a fortune.

  47. 46
    Lee says:

    Word, Crys T and dorkastic. I have a friend whose mother didn’t like to cook, so she didn’t – they ate take-out or fast food or at his grandmother’s or aunt’s all the time, and the food was ready when they got there. Magic!

    Consequently, when he went off on his own, he didn’t know the first thing about cooking. Fortunately for him, the Army decided to make him into a food preparation specialist, so that when he returned to civilian life he had acquired a job skill that was also a life skill. He has made sure that his children all know how to cook. Another thing he does as his own personal volunteer project is to hold etiquette and cooking classes as an after-school program at the local high school. He says that it’s heartbreaking to see how many kids don’t know how to cut their own meat with a knife and fork, because they’ve been raised on finger food.

    I’d also like to add that like students, homeless people living in subsidized housing rarely have access to adequate cooking facilities or equipment. Many hotels that serve as temporary housing just allow a coffee maker and a small microwave oven, which limits what people can prepare for themselves, with the additional impediment of not knowing where the nearest grocery store might be, and even if they did, they would probably have to shop almost every day because the fridge would only hold about a day’s worth of food. Not to mention not having time to cook because of the whole time-sucking round of dealing with social workers and other government assistance types on top of trying to hold down a regular, paying job. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but public transportation by me almost always takes 3 times as long as driving a car (which just kills me, because I have a bus stop 2 blocks from my house).

  48. 47
    Elena says:

    Maia, I’m pushing forty, and I can tell you that at my age, and especially at my parents’ age, it’s undeniable that our choices early in life can affect our health later on. Quality, not just longevity. I don’t think the theory that it’s mostly beyond our control would fly with anyone who works in health care, either- especially if they work with older people, and work in a country where infectious disease and war aren’t common causes of death. Take smoking- a silly, deliberate addiction many people not even 18 cultivate for no apparent reason other than to look cool. Are you honestly saying that this very egregious health damager is less significant then pollen or air pollutants? Are you aware that cervical cancer is almost non-existent in women who get regular pap smears? That colon cancer is highly treatable if caught early? That getting all your liquid from sugary pop makes it much more likely you’ll be overweight?

    You give good teeth as an example of things out of our control. Yet I could argue that good dental health is a prime example of how public education and public consensus (flouride in water) led to vastly improved oral health overall in developed countries. Similar efforts can reduce obesity in low income neighborhoods, even if we can call it an enviromental or cultural factor later on once it’s taken hold.

  49. 48
    Aggie says:

    Being a massage therapist, I used to hang out by default in certain New-Agey circles. I had to leave that whole community behind because I was appalled over and over again at the judgemental attitude these people had towards those who weren’t in perfect health. For example, I have severe Spring Hay Fever. I’m allergic to tree pollen, grass, ragweed, etc. Everyone in my family is has the same allergies. It’s genetic. I’ve had it since I was a very young child and there is absolutely nothing I can do to make my body NOT have it. As I would sit there, face puffy, eyes swollen almost shut, wheezing, and grasping desperately for nettles and Clartitin, guess what I get to hear? My hay fever is a symptom of being spiritually bankrupt and having no sense of self. If I had better spiritual boundaries, this wouldn’t be happening to me. If I was more in touch with The Earth, the pollen wouldn’t bother me. I need to work on these spiritual flaws, not just “medicate them away.” Thanks. That’s real helpful. That’ll make my asthma attack stop right away.

    This applied of course to many things–if you had cancer, on spiritual level you somehow “chose” to get it. If you had heart problems, it’s because you’re closed off to the world and out of touch with your emotions. If you had Irratable Bowel Syndrome, it was a reflection of you being inappropriately angry. Everything that befell someone was somehow their “choice” or due to some deep-seated spiritual imbalance. It drove me nuts.

    I guess I just bring this up to say that yes, we have SOME control over our health, but not total control over it, no matter what we do. No one lives in a vacumn and there numerous genetic and environmental influence on health that we can simply do very little about. We don’t know why some people who take good care of themselves their whole lives get cancer and some people who smoke a pack a day live to be 90. It is a dice roll to some extent. And I think there is WAY too much judgment out there about people who get sick in this society, or fat people, or anyone who doesn’t look like the cover of Self magazine. We’re obsessed about longevity and obsessed about looking good and being “healthy” and yet none of really does us any good.

    And just a final note on the fat=unhealthy and thin=healthy–total b.s. I can’t tell you many compliments I got on my “healthy look” when I was 5′ 9″ and weighed 117 pounds and was suffering from suicidal depression and anorexia. Who cares what was going on inside? I was THIN, and that’s what counts, right? We cannot judge someone’s health by making a snap assessment of whether or on they are the “right” weight, as much as we’d like to be able to feel superior.

  50. 49
    NancyP says:

    Of course people who are truly destitute are not able to afford many items that would be good for their health, like housing, adequate clothing, food that doesn’t come out of a gas station microwave.

    People with more stable lifestyles, employed, housed, maybe not rich or educated, but not hungry either, are a good target for health education. Anti-smoking, anti-excessive drinking, anti-too much processed sugar, pro-mild exercise, pro-weight reduction to BMI less than 30. Life is more pleasant if you can avoid unnecessary emphysema, addiction, diabetic foot ulcers, bad knees from early joint degeneration due to massive overweight, and the feeling that you are too tired to do much. It’s not about being smug because you are healthy and someone else isn’t, it’s about giving people tools that might make their life a little more pleasant.

    Why is it so unusual to walk a few blocks in the sort of light rain where your jacket gets wet after a block? If you live in an urban setting, you frequently walk to work, the store, the library, church, etc., or walk to the bus stop to access one of these. Why not walk up a flight of stairs when it presents itself? We aren’t talking marathons.

    In the US, unless you have the utilities turned off or unless you live in a single-room-occupancy hotel (or student dorm), generally you have some access to a stove and refrigerator. To me it seems wierd that folks don’t have a clue about cooking and that their neighbors don’t know either, but I suspect that is because I grew up BEFORE convenience food, ie, I am an OLD FART. I furnished my kitchen from yard sales and birthday presents, and did well for years on minimal equipment (3 sizes pots (1, 4, 10 qt), a fry pan, a steamer insert for a pot, 3 knives, cutting board, sieve, tea kettle, aluminum baking sheet, mixing bowl, casserole, slotted spoon, tongs, spatula). Yes, an investment, but the stuff is still around getting used, even if any yuppie worth their salt would laugh at the setup of dented stuff. This is expensive for a student, affordable for a working individual.

  51. 50
    dorktastic says:

    To further clarify my point about teeth, I would never argue that fluoridated water, and regular brushing and flossing are bad things or have no effect on our health. I just happen to be someone who has “imperfect” teeth, and so am perhaps more sensitive of the way that perfectly straight white teeth are seen as an indicator of health, even though it often has more to do with class. Of course not having teeth or having gum disease is not healthy, but that is also often related to issues of class and who has access to dental care. Anyone with a lot of money can have straight white teeth – people spend fortunes on tooth-bleaching, orthodontics, caps, and so on.

  52. 51
    Cala says:

    But I realize that that’s not the actual reason for the conversation, so I’ll let you go back to your illusions.

    No, the actual reason for my conversation is pretty straightforward. The claims went like this.

    A: Eating at fast-food places is cheaper. Going to the gym is expensive.
    B: Actually you can prepare your own food for less, and it’s healthier, and in many cases, you don’t need the gym for exercise.
    A: Lunatic! The poor can’t afford sprouts and gym memberships!

    My only point: You don’t need to go as far as sprouts and gym memberships in order to eat more healthily, so rejecting the argument based on sprouts and gym memberships doesn’t work. (You also don’t need to assume that the only people who are overweight are the working-2-shifts-back-to-back poor, which is ludicrous and pretty much contradicted by picking a street in suburbia at random.)

    I’m in complete agreement with you about the convenience factor. (I disagree entirely on the gym class thing; it may not be fun, but running around at least gets the heart rate up and calms the little brats down for math class.) And that’s hard to overcome. I used rice and beans as an example, but that’s certainly not the only inexpensive food available, and no one was suggesting that the poor or anyone needed to eat only one type of food, or cook all the time. One day a week of home cooking (btw, rice and beans take about 20 minutes, about the time for me to get through McDonald’s with traffic and home.) can certainly help.

    It’s not about blaming anyone, but it is about fixing a problem.

    Not sure about the cost thing. My family would occassionally go to McDonald’s and order seven hamburgers and two large fries, which back then totalled up around $7. We didn’t do it often because it was more expensive than eating at home. If you try to eat healthily at McD’s, it’s just absurd. Very expensive iceberg drowned in dressing! wtf?

    I still think knowledge is the primary problem. It’s hard to learn to cook on your own if no one in your family cooks and you’re not used to it. It’s impossible if you can’t afford pots and pans, though I suspect this is the outlier situation. (Look, the so-called obesity epidemic seems to be hitting more than just the people in subsidized housing in neighborhoods where it’s not safe to take a walk.) It’s hard to know that ‘cooking for yourself’ might not entail a one-hour enterprise or only eating rice and beans or one lettuce leaf. Or that you don’t have to go to a cooking class to learn how to boil water. Or that just cutting soda out of your diet alone can do wonders for your health. What I do think is that middle-class people are more likely to know that, and that given the risk of diabetes, heart disease, etc, it should be information that’s more available, and I’d like to see it more in public schools, since it doesn’t seem that any of my friends, raised comfortably middle class at a minimum, know how to cook and it probably is going to cost them later on.

    I’m really not under some sort of rose-colored delusion here, where the streets are filled with happy thin people dancing in lines because they learned how to cook as they sip their water and crunch their organic free-range rice cakes.

    On the original topic:

    Healthy is beautiful.
    Beautiful is not healthy.
    The Body Shop is the store that sells ridiculously priced cosmetics, right?
    Weight is a poor indicator of health. It might be okay in the abstract, but most of us are surrounded by media with rail-thin actresses such that someone of a lower-than-average weight might think she’s fat. Whatever natural instincts we had about judging health are squelched.
    ‘Healthy’ in advertising seems to be the new ‘youthful’. All the adjectives: ‘radiant, refreshed, vibrant, new’ are all words associated with health. And we’re just talking about hair!
    I think the talk about ‘genetics’ is a red herring. Genes haven’t changed that much in a generation. What *has* changed though, is the set point where we start to judge people for being fat, which is a lot lower than it used to be. Marilyn Monroe wouldn’t stand a chance today. Do you think she’d count as overweight or obese on the new useless BMI charts?

  53. 52
    SharonC says:

    There have been some great comments (and some illustrating the judgemental nature of the soceity we live in). Some comments that I think need repeating:

    we have SOME control over our health, but not total control over it, no matter what we do

    there is WAY too much judgment out there about people who get sick in this society, or fat people, or anyone who doesn’t look like the cover of Self magazine. We’re obsessed about longevity and obsessed about looking good and being “healthy”

    I agree. There is way too much condemnation, here and society in general. People telling others that walking or other exercise is cheap (with the assumptions that there is enough time available and safety is not an issue), that getting hold of suitable food ingredients is no problem (sweeping assumptions about availability and price and time required), that cooking proper meals rather than relying on convenience foods is no problem (sweeping assumptions about time for preparation, education, equipment), training taste buds is no problem (assuming that everyone’s tastes can be trained like yours are), anyone should be able to manage their stress (more assumptions about environment and how much control the individual has). Argh!!!!

    Yes, healthy living is beneficial, to whatever extent one can manage it. but STOP IT WITH THE JUDGEMENTAL ATTITUDES already!

  54. 53
    trishka says:

    i agree so far with what cala & elena have been writing. i’d like to add one more thought, though.

    cala wrote that she thinks that information dessimination (or lack thereof) is the largest problem. i agree that part of the problem. but also i think part of the problem is that — it is, in a lot of ways, harder to make the choices to live a healthy lifestyle. it’s more work. it can take more time, more planning, and in the case of exercise, often some physical discomfort.

    and i definitely acknowledge that there are class issues at play, and that the issues listed above nearly always make it more difficult for working class folks and those living in poverty to be able to effect a healthier lifestyle. but — there are plenty of middle class people for whom those barriers are not in place who still do not make the choices that lead to better health.

    money doesn’t buy a person health. money can remove barriers, but it can’t buy the outcome. nobody can pay another person to spend an hour on the stairmaster for them in order to become more fit. i live in a rainy climate as well, and yes gym memberships are nice. an hour on the treadmill in a dry, well-lit room is a more enjoyable way to exercise then jogging in the dark & the rain — i’ve done both. but you know what? it’s still a slog. paying the membership dues is only the beginning. speaking for myself, getting my butt there after working all day when all i want to do is go home to lie on the couch & read a book is — a hard choice. it’s NOT easy.

    and food choices are similar. shannon (i think it was) mentioned how “tasty & emotionally fulfilling” fast food is for our bodies, like this is some sort of absolute. well, i find fast food to be neither. i didn’t grow up eating it, though. so there’s not a hardwired insurmountable disposition in favor of eating fatty, salty, greasy, sugary foods. there is a genetic tendency towards all of those things based on our evolution, but it’s by no means irrevocable. there are a myriad of social reasons why mcdonalds food is emotionally satisfying to so many people, starting with ronald mcdonald telling us we are his friend from the time we are small children.

    but it’s a tough choice to decide to eat something more healthy that may not be as “tasty” or “emotionally satisfying”, for whatever reason.. even though i don’t care for mcdonald’s, there are plenty of evenings when i would rather cook mac & cheese for myself than beans & rice — and i LIKE beans & rice.

    and i think that’s where part of the moralizing attitude comes from with people who do make the harder choices. i’m talking about people who don’t necessarily live a life of complete & total denial, who aren’t anorexic or unhealthily thin, but who try to practice moderation in their eating habits, who do the work of exercising even when it isnt’ fun & they aren’t in the mood to do it, who limit sweets & other fattening treats.

    and they see others who are in the position to make the similar choices — not people living in SRO’s who only have hotplates or people working the back-to-back double-shift jobs — but other middle class suburban people, who choose the more sedentary lifestyle, the more fattening diet. they also see the skyrocketing obesity rates, the increase in type II diabetes, the increase in heart disease, all of which are very expensive to treat medically & place a financial drain on our healthcare system (that we all pitch in to pay for). and they feel, well, a little judgmental.

    and yes, there are relatively easy inexpensive choices that people can make that would make a fair amount of difference in their health. like eliminating soda & instead drinking water. like taking the stairs instead of the elevator if they work in a high-rise building, if only for a few flights. but that means giving something up, and even those simple activities are met with a lot of resistance by a lot of people. they like their pop. the elevator is more convenient, &c.

    again, they don’t want to make the harder choice, even if it’s only a little harder & it’s well within their grasp.

  55. 54
    leen says:

    This is really a word-picky kind of thing, but I’m interested that Maia says “I am saying stop treating our ‘health’ as something we do have control over, because mostly we don’t.”

    I guess that depends how you define health, as “feeling good and strong/flexible/fast/whatever”, or “living a long time without medical intervention”. The latter, I think you’re correct, that there’s not alot we can do. But I think the former can be a much more useful definition. Especially because, if you really think that you have little-to-no control over your bodily health, then why not just eat candy floss all day long? That stance feels a little… victimy. As if since it’s not ALL my fault, it’s not ANY my fault.

    (As an aside: it’s kind of interesting that you chose flouridated water as an example, since there’s no real evidence that it makes any difference. It’s just another industry myth — the dental education made tons of difference, but flouride is topical and only does any good if it comes in direct long-term contact with your teeth (like toothpaste). )

  56. 55
    Josh Jasper says:

    So I walked into one of these just to see how horrible they were about body image stuff.

    There was not ONE single representation of the entire female or male human figure. There were pictures of female eyes and lips, all suitibly multiethnic. That was it.

    I can only conclude that anyone criticizing the stores in the US for promoting negative body images is building a strawman. Perhaps they’re different in NZ.

    From this, I deduce that they actually care about body image issues, at least in the US.

    Are we going to see anything like a retraction?

  57. 56
    Maia says:

    You may think that just showing eyes and lips in order to sell make-up is promoting good body-image. I don’t.

    But that’s kind of irrelevant, because you missed my argument entirely. The central point of my argument in this post wasn’t that the body shop was ‘terrible about body image stuff’ (although they certainly have been, I’ve seen them advertise fake tan with a picture of a woman whose stomach wasn’t just flat it was concave – or possibly convex, it’s been a while since I studied physics). This post wasn’t even about the Body Shop. It was about exploring the relationship between health/beauty/morality and explaining why I think the current ideology around these issues is dangerous.

    The reason it came up was that I wrote in my last post that the whole mission of the Body Shop and what they are selling, depends on the idea that beauty and health are very similar and are good things, politically and morally. My comment at the end was facetious, as it was rather a long elaboration, of an argument I had summarised very briefly in my last post.

  58. 57
    Shannon says:

    If you really wanted to fix the problem, you base things on reality, and try to encourage lifestyles that fit with humanity as it is in its present state. Anything else is simply an excuse to feel better about yourself at the expense of others. As you mention, barely anybody is living the lifestyle you reccomend. There is a reason for that- it’s not sustainable for most people in the long run. People will want to eat food that tastes good, they will want to be social with food. Why? Because they are human. Simply because someone is suffering to live up to some crazy ideal does not give them the right to become moralizing health nuts. That’s what I think the whole root of this is- people are not eating food they like or are spending time doing boring repetitive exercise because they think that they *have* to do that.

    So to make it seem like they aren’t wasting their time, they try to dictate to everybody else. That’s all very well and good, but maybe you should deal with what you eat and how you live on your own time, and not bother the rest of us, who are living our lives the best that we can. And drinking water instead of soda and walking the stairs won’t make anyone ‘healthy’. Not even me(a 100 pounds, but not thin) Maybe you should push for better health care for all, because moralizing is masturbation. For years we have been in hysterics about weight and ‘health’. What good has that done anyone?

  59. 58
    Robert says:

    it was concave – or possibly convex, it’s been a while

    Concave is when it goes in (suck in your tummy, it’s concave; push it out, convex). Handy mnemonic: caves are concave.

    For years we have been in hysterics about weight and ‘health’. What good has that done anyone?

    Well, it’s sold a fuck of a lot of diet books.

    But aside from enriching charlatans (some well-meaning, I am sure)? Squat.

  60. 59
    Soulhuntre says:

    You know, the most astonishing thing here is the idea that it is unfair to judge someone for not doing something that is hard.

    Here’s the thing – achievement requires effort and often discomfort / sacrafice. All the class analysis, hand wringing and outrage won’t change any of this. Is it really a shock that being healthy is harder than being unhealthy? Is it supposed to thus negate the realities that health can bring?

    * Is it harder to eat somehting you have to cook yourself instead of grabbing the 99 cent burger? Sure.

    * Is it a pain in the ass to work full time (even with a second job) and still find time to do some excersizing? Yes.

    * Is it true that many people will have higher priorites than the two things above? of course.

    But none of that changes that they COULD be healthier if they did those things. To try and promote the idea that we have little to no control over our health is very odd… it’s a lot like saying “well, since some people don’t have the time let’s pretend it doesn’t work”.

    The revisionism of the realities around us to try and fit a political / social agenday don’t work. The never will. People can go on and on that diet and excercise are not going to have a profound effect on your health and it will in the end amount to all the words that tried to deny the Eath in motion around the sun. No doubt a “class” argument could be constructed for why a round Earth is a Middle class tool of opression and thus we should deny it as well.

    As a side note – though it won;t go over well here no doubt – many of the common beauty markers actually do derive from health cues. Obviously they are no longer as useful as they were for millenia thanks to make up and surgery etc, but in basic form they are indicators of health.

  61. 60
    Soulhuntre says:

    Ack. Ok, I need to go get one of those in browser spell check things. My apologies for the letter stew :)

  62. 61
    Shannon says:

    It depends on your goal. If you really care about people’s health, be realistic. If you don’t, well, go hog wild. Basically, the idea that you supposedly care enough about people’s health to moralize uselessly at them is played out. We know you don’t care, so don’t pretend you do.

  63. 62
    Josh Jasper says:


    You may think that just showing eyes and lips in order to sell make-up is promoting good body-image. I don’t.

    Given that they offer a large variety of ethnic types, I’d say it is. I’m neutral on makeup, but some people like it. If you’re anti-makeup, just say it. Don’t dance around the issue.

    The reason it came up was that I wrote in my last post that the whole mission of the Body Shop and what they are selling, depends on the idea that beauty and health are very similar and are good things, politically and morally. My comment at the end was facetious, as it was rather a long elaboration, of an argument I had summarised very briefly in my last post.

    You’re pasting a potentially valid argument on to the least offensive target you could find.

    This is a lousy way to get your point across.

  64. 63
    Lee says:

    To the posters who keep saying, “Just drink water instead of sugary prepackaged stuff and take the stairs,” it isn’t as simple as that for many people. You assume that stairs are always accessible and safe and that water is always available and safe to drink.

    The security in my office building has been geared toward elevator access. This means I can only take the stairs going down to the ground level – the doors leading from the stairwell to the floors that are not ground level are always locked. I can enter the stairwell from any floor, but I can only leave the stairwell at the ground level. So if I have to attend a meeting on another floor, I either take the elevator to the floor, or I walk all the way down to the ground floor and then take the elevator back up to the floor I want. Walking downstairs is not significantly different than walking, and I do try to go all the way to the ground floor and take the elevator back up when I have the time. It is not as beneficial as when I could climb the stairs as well – which is what I think most people mean when they say, “take the stairs.”

    Secondly, many people work on jobsites where the employer supplies the drinkable liquids (such as construction sites). Given the choice between a plastic cup of warm water from a plastic drum that may never have been cleaned or disinfected and a cold can of Coke, I think most people would choose the Coke. At least you know that the bottler had some standards!

    My office building is pretty old and the lead content of the tap water is not at a level I feel happy about. The company supplies filters for the drinking fountains and the coffee machines, but I don’t feel very confident that they change the filters regularly, or that the filters do their jobs very well. Bottled water is available for $10 a week, soft drinks and fruit juice for $5. Fortunately, the $10 is not a big issue for me, so I pay the water subscription, but if I were in an entry-level position, I might think $10 a week was a big deal. I’m not saying it’s impossible to drink water here instead of sugary prepackaged drinks, but I am saying it requires forethought. Many of my coworkers live in buildings as old or older than my office building, so bringing tap water from home isn’t a solution, either. The big warehouse stores are all out in the suburbs, so going to a place that offers bottled water more cheaply than here in the office requires time, effort, and resources that some of them don’t have ready access to. $5 a week might not seem like a lot of money, but for some people, it can be the dividing line between making ends meet and not making ends meet.

    Many vending machines charge twice as much for bottled water as for soft drinks and juice. If I have $1 to spend for drinkable liquids, because for whatever reason I didn’t bring any with me, am I more likely to buy one bottle of water or 2 soft drinks?

    Bet you didn’t realize you were so privileged, did you?

  65. 64
    trishka says:

    the notion that a healthy lifestyle is not sustainable for anyone is, quite frankly, absurd.

    lots & lots & lots of people lead healthy lifestyles well into their old age.

    it’s not about eating food that doesn’t taste good. it’s about realizing that the initial buzz of good feeling that comes from fatty, salty, sugary foods wears off quickly, leaving a person feeling like crap & usually, if not consumed in moderation, gaining weight & having detrimental effects on health. the hard choice comes in the form of delayed gratification. eating well actually feels better, in the long run, to a lot of people, than eating crap.

    the same with exercising. yes, it’s boring, & yes it’s a slog. but there are positive benefits that come from doing it. for one there’s the endorphin buzz. that’s fairly immediate, actually. the other benefits tend to take longer to manifest themselves, but they’re there. things like stronger immune systems, resulting in fewer & shorter lived colds. having more energy to get through the day. getting better sleep.

    exercise ultimately feels really good, and that’s why people do it. not because they’ve been moralized into doing something that is unequivocally miserable for them.

    but it’s a delayed gratification, and that’s what makes it a hard choice. and we in north american society are not, generally, all that keen on delaying our gratification. call that an observation, or a judgment, or moralizing, or whatever. but that’s where the hard choice comes in; it’s not lack of sustainability, but the fact that the positives aren’t as immediately felt as with the non-healthy choices (short-lived as those are).

    none of this is about how long a person lives or whether or not they can control whether they get cancer. it’s about day-to-day quality of life, as someone else noted.

    and as for the drinking water & taking the stairs i mentioned above. first of all, nowhere did i say that someone “just” had to do those things. they were just examples of opportunities available to many, simple changes that still people are reluctant to make. of course not everyone has access to a stairwell at work. lots of people work in single-story buildings. fine.

    the drinking water issue though, i’m not buying. i simply don’t believe that the majority of people who live in industrialized western nations don’t have safe drinking water available to them. and when one considers the number of millions (billions?) of people in developing nations who really don’t have access to safe drinking water, well, i think it’s a measure of our privilege that we quibble over not liking how it tastes.

    okay, so it doesn’t taste as good as a bottle of soda. that’s really my point, actually. it’s not going to make you sick to drink tap water, but soda tastes bettter. so that’s what you drink, no matter what it does to your health. faced with a choice between something that is less appealing to your palate but, ultimately, orders of magnitude better for your health, you choose the less healthy option. that’s what people do, all the time, and it’s behaviour that knows no class barriers in our society.

  66. 65
    Lee says:

    Trishka, where was I talking about the taste of drinking water? I was talking about lead and other chemical or microbial contaminants. You might be skeptical about access to safe drinking water, but there are many people in the great, big, wonderful U.S.A. to do not have ready access to safe drinking water – and there are many others who don’t know that their drinking water is contaminated. I also seem to remember from the last few times I was in Europe that most people do not drink the tap water. There was a sign in my London hotel specifically telling me not to drink the tap water, in fact. I certainly don’t remember any of my friends in Germany, France, and the Netherlands drinking tap water without boiling it first. But maybe it’s a generational thing – maybe the college students do drink tap water and it’s just us old farts who distrust the public water supply.

    Lead in drinking water, BTW, does not have a taste to speak of (it is actually kind of sweet at high levels). I am fortunate that my company had its water tested and provides alternatives to the tap water in the building, but many people do not have alternatives provided or have limited alternatives provided by the liable company (assuming a company fulfills the requirements of its settlement agreement). Lead is not the only significant contaminant to worry about – copper, chromium, MTBE, perchlorate, and Cryptosporidium are also pretty popular in the US. However, it’s entirely possible that construction workers are thinking about taste rather than gastrointestinal infection when they choose a cold Coke over warm water from a plastic barrel. I was just trying to point out that you can’t assume that your drinking water is healthier than bottled soft drinks just because the drinking water has zero calories – there are more dimensions to healthy than what could make you fat.

    As for exercise, yes, many people spend too much time in front of the TV eating snacks when they could be exercising, but there are also many people (especially at lower income levels) who don’t have the time for formal or regular exercise unless it’s already part of what they do for a living. If you were working 16 hours a day at 2 different fairly inertial jobs, with 2 hours or more spent on travel, as quite a few people just in my city do, sleep assumes a much higher priority than exercise. Seriously, endorphins are great, but if I have to choose between getting 6 hours of sleep and being able to get through my day in halfway decent shape and getting 5.5 hours of sleep with 30 minutes of exercise squeezed in somehow and falling asleep during a meeting or while driving my car, I’ll pick 6 hours of sleep every time. Would this make me morally deficient? Or am I making bad choices because I rank sufficient sleep higher than sufficient exercise? Or maybe I’m SOL because I don’t have the skills necessary to earn a living wage at a 40-hour-a-week job and have to pass on the exercise in order to keep a roof over my head. Sheesh.

    Seriously, it is extremely difficult for certain groups of people to sustain the doctrinal healthy lifestyle, not because they lack the willpower or because they are going for short-term gratification, but because of where they live and work and what jobs they hold and other life circumstances. Yes, there are segments of the population who actively avoid sports and exercise and could probably benefit tremendously from a willpower transplant, and then there are segments of the population who are working their butts off just to break even. Lumping them together doesn’t help solve the problem. I would actually love it if more companies would offer exercise breaks to their employees and if schools would go to a longer schoolday so that the kids could have P.E. and recess every day. That would be a much better thing than telling people they’re lazy and short-sighted, don’t you think?

  67. 66
    Ampersand says:

    it’s not about eating food that doesn’t taste good. it’s about realizing that the initial buzz of good feeling that comes from fatty, salty, sugary foods wears off quickly, leaving a person feeling like crap & usually, if not consumed in moderation, gaining weight & having detrimental effects on health. the hard choice comes in the form of delayed gratification. eating well actually feels better, in the long run, to a lot of people, than eating crap.

    1) There are skinny people who eat bad diets, and fat people who eat healthy diets.

    2) Gaining weight is not always a bad thing. It’s perfectly normal for people to gain a little weight as they get older, and there’s no evidence showing that such minor weight gain is bad for your health.

  68. 67
    trishka says:

    Lee, do you have some statistics or studies that compare the deletirious health effects of drinking tap water in the U.S. (due to lead or other chemical or microbial contaminants) compared to drinking comparable quantities of soda pop?

    seriously. from a strictly health standpoint, i personally am willing to take my chances drinking tap water throughout *most of the industrialized nations* over soda pop. unless someone can show me hard concrete evidence to the contrary.

    and i also think you may have missed the part of my post where i specifically stated that i am NOT talking about people who live below the poverty line, reside only in SRO’s with only hotplates, and work back-to-back double shifts, &c, but rather:

    other middle class people who have no more barriers to making healthy choices than i do. obviously, the access to healthy choices is NOT equal in this country, and i stated as much in my post.

    i’ve said pretty much what i’ve had to say, and am not interested in putting a lot of energy into going back & refuting arguments that are either not against what i wrote or specifically ignore what i did write.

    like i never said that thin = healthy. and yes plenty of thin people have unhealthy lifestyles. what i said was that eating an immoderate amount of junk food leads many people to not only not feel very good physically afterward but also gain weight AND develop health problems. maybe i should have said AND/OR. because they are somewhat independent issues and somewhat inter-related.

    and as far as moralizing goes, the thing that bothers me isn’t so much about what choices people make, but the refusal of people to take responsibility for the choices that they do make. that’s the thing. and when people’s choices are limited by poverty or genetics, that really sucks.

    but it’s one thing to say “you can’t expect me to drink water instead of soda, because look at all the contaminants in tap water.” and entirely another to say “i’ve looked at the health risks, and it looks to me like pop is safer than the water that’s available to me, and that’s what i choose to drink, even though there are problems with pop.” or “tap water probably is better for me, but it’s not worth it for me to drink it instead of pop because i like pop that much better, and if it causes me health problems in the long run, then i’ll deal with those as they come.”

    but i don’t hear any of that in so much of the discussion about lifestyle choices. it’s all about how victimized everyone is by everyone else. it’s either by smug moralizing hyper-privileged middle-class people passing judgment, or by the socio-economic system in this country. the latter is worthy of addressing, and i have a real problem with the suggestion that talking about the choices that people can make to be more healthy is mutually exclusive to advocating or actively working towards removing the barriers that occur as a result of socio-economic inequity.

  69. 68
    hp says:

    The problem arises when health issues are only and directly blamed on “obvious” lifestyle choices.

    I’ll give you an example: a couple of years back, I was a 25-year-old female diagnosed with high blood pressure. What picture does that give you of me as a 25-year-old? Overweight, with poor eating habits, and poor exercise habits?

    Apparently, that’s what going on a beta-blocker indicated to MY HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANY. They spent close to a year harassing me to participate in a “health management program” to bring my high blood pressure under control “naturally.”

    At that time, I was 5foot 6inches and weighed 120 pounds. I was on a three-times weekly exercise program and a low meat/high grain&veggie content diet. I didn’t drink pop/”juice” more than once or twice a year, didn’t purchase or eat most pre-prepared foods, and drank a single glass of red wine with dinner every night. (I love garlic too, and regularly went through two or three heads of garlic a week.)

    Why was I doing that even before I was diagnosed with high blood pressure? Because I knew that both sides of my family had a tendency to develop life-long high blood pressure in the mid-to-late twenties. The diet wasn’t even really a “choice” of mine: it was the diet I’d been used to since early childhood, since I had two slender, exercise-dedicated parents with high blood pressure. Yes, I’d chosen to continue it into adulthood, but I’d been well-instructed and prepared to make healthy food choices and prepare those foods.

    There are times when you can’t overcome your genes. Unfortunately, this has proven to be one of those situations for me. Unfortunately, it’s also laden me with a stigma: the idea that a taking a beta-blocker means that I’m not making wise decisions food, exercise, and weight-wise. This is a stigma even my health insurance company believes in (and trying to convince them that I wasn’t was hell onto itself).

  70. 69
    Shannon says:

    Because the aims of ‘talking about choices’ and talking about solutions are different. The first is to feel good about yourself at the expense of others. Otherwise why would you spend time on something that doesn’t help the stated problem at all? People have been moralzing about our food for decades. It’s never worked, and will never work. Not to mention, a healthy diet isn’t unitary or static. We all remember eggs are the devil/eggs are good for you thing- what is healthy is always changing, and so making lasting judgements about people’s moral character(responsbility is a moral judgement so flimsily cloaked that a 3 year old would be like “he mean bad”) based on conflicting reports is kind of harsh,eh?

    Not to mention, some say you can’t be healthy eating all that red meat, others say a vegan diet is the devil as far as nutrition is concerned, others say the only way to be healthy is to eat all raw food. People can eat fast food one week, flexitarian the next- but they are judged on the week they eat fast food, I take it?

    The last one is to make people’s lives better so they can choose what they want, freely, without hearing the pronouncements from on high from the holier than thou crowd.

  71. 70
    BStu says:

    Being fat is not a choice. It is not the result of “poor education” as some here condesendingly contend. Oh, but you don’t want to be called out on your condesention, right? You have good and pure intentions! How outrageous for someone to object. Its calling a spade a spade. If you say “education” can fix fatness (I refuse to endorse the bigoted use of “obesity”), then what are you saying is that fat people don’t know any better. That somehow, the problem is that no one ever sat us down and told us we were fat and that is bad. Please, do join us in the real world when you have a chance. Fat is a prime example of the way our culture has confused beauty and health. There is no good proof that being fat is unhealthy OR can be changed. But there sure is a lot of proof that some folks don’t consider fat to be beautiful. But we have a great big billion dollar industry set up which is dedicated to harassing and condemning fat people in order to sell fat people a product. Also to sell people afraid of fat products. 2 birds, one stone.

    However, what I cannot agree with is laying any of that at the door of The Body Shop. I’ll agree, their efforts are not ideal. Nor were the far more tame approach of Dove which lost even more points for using a body inclusive approach to sell a fat-hate product. But it was a step forward. And in addition to a full-fledged campaign promoting unapologetic fat acceptance, they have a track record of using weight diverse models in campaigns which had nothing to do with promoting that message. The says a lot more to me than just promoting their Ruby campaign. Did they do enough? Of course not. But they did something and something is better than any of their peers.

  72. 71
    Lee says:

    Trishka, I did miss the one sentence in your first post that acknowledged that it is more difficult for the underprivileged to access healthy lifestyles. I was reacting to this quote

    Trishka: “the notion that a healthy lifestyle is not sustainable for anyone is, quite frankly, absurd.”

    and others like it. Thanks for clarifying that your comments were solely for those middle-class drones who have enough leisure to make bad choices.

    As for the drinking water issue, here is an
    EPA report
    on just one city that had significant contamination of the public water supply for an extended period of time. There are many others. Washington, D.C., for instance, has an ongoing problem with lead that they have been trying to correct chemically at the water treatment plant, so for many months residents were advised not to drink the tap water – I’d give a cite except I think you have to pay to read it – check out the Washington Post website.

    So I guess I’m trying to say that if you live or work in a place where you KNOW the tap water is unsafe, wouldn’t you cut back on or eliminate tap water and start drinking bottled whatever you can get instead? I am NOT intending to say that rampant middle-class obesity is due to panicky people choosing sugary drinks as their sole source of liquid intake (which I think you were trying to imply that I had said). What I was, and am, trying to say is that advising somebody to do something that sounds simple (such as, “drink more water and less stuff with sugar in it”) and making out that people who don’t follow that advice are somehow deficient is kinda condescending.

  73. 72
    Soulhuntre says:

    There are skinny people who eat bad diets, and fat people who eat healthy diets.

    Of course there are. The range of variation in the human animal includes all sorts of metabolisms and related effects. Anomalies will exist obviously. However it is accurate that to say by and large weight is most commonly a result of diet and activity level.

    To point to the exceptions as if it negated the reality of that correlation for the vast majority of the cases is disingenuous in my opinion. There is no evidence that the majority of the large numbers of people who are overweight suffer from any significant genetic defect that would render their metabolism incapable of losing the excess in a healthy manner if diet and activity were adjusted.

    Gaining weight is not always a bad thing. It’s perfectly normal for people to gain a little weight as they get older, and there’s no evidence showing that such minor weight gain is bad for your health.

    I haven’t really seen many people indicate that minor weight gain as one gets older is a significant health issue. If I do see them I’ll be happy to take them to task for it.

    The problem arises when health issues are only and directly blamed on “obvious” lifestyle choices.

    Whether this is a problem depends on whether or not it is true in any particular case. While there are obviously cases where a healthy diet and moderate activity is beyond someone for physical or economic reasons there are many, many cases where those choices are available.

    If someone decides that they have other priorities or simply have no desire to alter their choices in this regard that’s fine with me. I don’t think it makes them a bad human being. However refusal to accept that this lifestyle choice can lead to health problems or blaming society for the problem when the choices are available and not taken does tell me something about someone.

    There is no good proof that being fat is unhealthy OR can be changed.

    Well, when you refuse to use the term “obesity” it makes that sort of assertion hard to discuss. There is ample evidence that obesity for example has a large negative impact on health. However if you refuse to use the term or acknowledge that there is a huge range in the term “fat” then you will reject that evidence because someone who is only 15lbs overweight is not at a huge health risk.

    It almost seems like the point of trying to erase the concept of the differing amounts of weight included in the term “fat” is so that one can pick and choose their evidence. For example it makes no sense to try and refute the clear health problems of being severely overweight by saying “well, someone who is just a little heavy aren’t at risk!” and thus try and take the medical issues off the table.

    The second assertion is equally problematic as a statement of fact. What we do know is that the genetic disorders that cause significant problems in the metabolism are rare. We do ample evidence by example of many, many humans who have indeed altered their body fat levels via diet and activity both in scientific studies and by observing the world around us. In the face of such evidence, I am at a loss how someone could refuse to accept the correlations.

    This is what happens when a social or moral agenda is used to determine what physical reality someone is willing to accept. I have no problem defending someone’s right to decide their weight isn’t a priority for them. I certainly understand that economics play a role in such decisions.

    However to extrapolate from the social agenda (size acceptance) to trying to ignore the physical and medical realities is not something I understand.

    But there sure is a lot of proof that some folks don’t consider fat to be beautiful.

    The majority of the issues involved in what is or isn’t “beautiful” are probably “thread drift” dangers, so I won’t go into them here.

    However on topic is this as it relates to health. Many of the factors humans consider attractive relate in one way or another to health and fitness. This is an evolutionary adaptation that occurs in all animals, and certainly humans are not immune. Like all things that are only visible as large scale trends over populations and time there are of course many exceptions, so this is not definitive for why any single individual may or may not find fat to be attractive.

    Let’s assume that I accepted the argument that the majority of those who are significantly overweight are that way for a genetic reason. In that case then their weight would be a visible marker of a genetic condition that is an evolutionary disadvantage. It makes perfect sense that many humans would find such a marker as something that correlated negatively with attraction.

    That I do not accept the argument postulated doesn’t change this significantly. Someone who is significantly overweight would still be showing the visible marker for what *may be* a genetic condition that is an evolutionary disadvantage.. The correlations with attraction would remain.

  74. 73
    slynne says:

    Re: ” There is no evidence that the majority of the large numbers of people who are overweight suffer from any significant genetic defect that would render their metabolism incapable of losing the excess in a healthy manner if diet and activity were adjusted.”

    Actually, there is some evidence that large numbers of people who are overweight are incapable of losing the excess weight in a healthy manner. I was curiouos about that so I did some looking into studies on successful diets. The best I could find was a study of people who were over a hundred pounds overweight who were able to keep off an average of six pounds over a period of five years on a closely medically supervised very low calorie diet program. That is SIX pounds off a person who is over a hundred pounds overweight. Hardly taking off the excess is it? Seriously, almost every other statistic I could find showed that most participants either didnt lose weight or actually gained weight. Some sources said that 95-98% of diets fail.

    Re: “There is ample evidence that obesity for example has a large negative impact on health.”

    Is there? Because I have been looking for it. I have found evidence that being more than a hundred pounds overweight is a risk factor for some health issues but not an especially large one. Certainly nothing that would warrent the way some people treat obesity as if it were a terminal disease.

  75. 74
    BStu says:

    Being fat is a vastly exaggerated risk factor at most. At least, its a purely mythical one. There is no hard proof to justify the crusade against it. Even more alarming is the fact that the crusade is without a viable solution. Losing weight isn’t “hard”. It is functionally impossible for the overwhelming majority of fat people. When a treatment does not work, the solution is not to insist on it louder. We need to take weight stigmatization out of the whole health arguement. Encourage moderate and achievable lifestyle changes that ARE proven to dramatically improve one’s health and well-being. We need to demand that the medical establishment actually treat fat people instead of throwin their hands up and saying weight loss is always the only treatment for anything wrong with fat people. Fat people deserve the same health care as everyone else, but they are not receiving it thanks to doctors and surgeons who refuse to learn how to treat fat patients. This must change. Clapping louder on behalf of weight loss will do nothing.

  76. 75
    Soulhuntre says:

    Hardly taking off the excess is it? Seriously, almost every other statistic I could find showed that most participants either didnt lose weight or actually gained weight. Some sources said that 95-98% of diets fail.

    If you are using the term “diet” to mean a fad diet or sudden, temporary change in eating habits then yes, they fail with startling regularity. However many scientifically controlled clinical trials show a decrease in body fat, BMI, measurements and so on when one makes long term alterations to diet and alters the exercise regimen. Now obviously those will “fail” when the person goes back to their old habits… but that has nothing to do with it being impossible.
    Impossible would be someone who showed no change in their body fat and other indicators despite significant changes in diet and activity. Those people are statistically rare as far as I can tell from my research.

    Certainly nothing that would warrent the way some people treat obesity as if it were a terminal disease.

    Well, some people who have an axe to grind will always take statistics and blow them way out of proportion. We see it in many issues as activism and tempers run high. NO issue that I know of doesn’t have people on every side misusing statistics to try and make a mountain out of a comparative molehill.

    Being fat is a vastly exaggerated risk factor at most. At least, its a purely mythical one.

    I’ll assume those are inverted because the statement literally doesn’t make sense the way it is written.

    The issue is, what do you mean by “fat”? If your talking 10-40lbs then sure. If your talking about 200lbs then the correlation is much, much clearer. The thing is that being “fat” isn’t one thing… it is a term that refers to a huge range of weight.

    Even more alarming is the fact that the crusade is without a viable solution. Losing weight isn’t “hard”. It is functionally impossible for the overwhelming majority of fat people.

    I will be happy for any pointers to the data for this. That isn’t a “challenge” in any way. You certainly don’t have to provide a reference if you don’t want. As an offering from my side there are lots of good studies and papers published on the topic at the National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health website examining many aspects of the problem.

    Of course any study is open to debate. Not only because the issue is complex (defining “health risk” to start is more complicated than it seems when multiple people need to agree). because the issue is so incredibly subjective. Unless you were going to lock people up like prisoners and drill them as such you can’t force compliance with a study. Also there is the issue of lifestyle to consider. Someone who is basically sedentary and obese will not really be at a huge risk as long as they continue to remain basically sedentary. If you put their body under stress (in a natural disaster for instance) they would be much more likely to suffer a cardiac event (as an example).

    As a matter of practical reality though I see counter evidence each and every day of my life in myself and a fair number of those around me. At my Dojo there are 65 adults or so, of those about 40 of them are controlling their weight nicely with diet and activity. I say controlling because almost all of us carried noticeably more body fat when we started and wanted to reduce it. The others either simply tend to fitness and as such didn’t have any extra or have chosen not to alter eating habits that will clearly keep the weight on. Their choice and as long as their fitness level isn’t a risk for others it isn’t an issue. That’s not including all those I see at the gym who are doing it, nor all those who are in the extended fitness community who are doing it.

    Now none of that speaks to a statistical issue because the sample is self selected. By definition the people you meet in someplace like a gym or a martial arts program are more interested int heir physical abilities than others. In general it seems that the truth is what our intuition tells us in this regard… those who are willing to make it a priority can succeed in controlling their weight, and those who are or cannot due to economic factors for instance not will not succeed.

    It makes perfect evolutionary sense that how our body functions will change as a result of dietary intake and activity. These factors are easily observable in animals and there is absolutely no reason to imagine that humans are somehow biologically immune to this.

    We need to demand that the medical establishment actually treat fat people instead of throwin their hands up and saying weight loss is always the only treatment for anything wrong with fat people.

    I see no such effect in the medical community. Again, personal experience is my guide here. I have many friends who are overweight and a few who are obese. With the exception of a clear case of diet induced diabetes, another case of serious dietary induced coronary risk and one who had sever back pain due to a large and sudden weight gain none of them have had their health concerns dismissed or attributed to their weight when seeing a physician.

    Now, my experience doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to others… but it does mean that the phenomena you described is not universal.

  77. 76
    Soulhuntre says:

    Sorry for the broken blockquotes. The second one (that is invisible) shoudl read…

    Certainly nothing that would warrent the way some people treat obesity as if it were a terminal disease.

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  79. 77
    Trish Lynch says:

    Since severely altering my diet to eat much healthier (I didn;t eat bad before per-se, but because I had some major health issues, such as fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, and a slew of other issues and some unidentifiable ones that caused me to gain over 150 lbs in 5 years with no signifigant alteration in lifestyle, (I was very athletic, cycling, rock climbing, etc. Within 7 years though, I was largely inactive due to extreme pain, I’m working on some relief and getting my old life back)…

    Anyway, once I started altering my diet to make extremely healthy food choices (the current diet I follow is Weight Watcher’s Core Food plan, but I do not attend meetings because almost nobody in WW follows Core, and I formed a group outside WW with a couple friends from work that we discuss our experiences on Core.), I have lost a teremendous amout of weight. With a doctor’s care for pain, and my other health issues, I am starting to become more active again, and I have lost over 85 lbs from last year at this time of year. Not all of this was on the same diet, much of this was lifestyle change.

    I believe much of what is said about these people not being able to change is an excuse. If I have so many health issues, and so much going against me, and I can change these things, then so can many of these people out there, and while some people may need surgeries and such to help them, I don’t believe that the overwhelming majority who end up having them did need them. (though I can count about 5 I know who struggled and did)

    The biggest “movement” that bugs me is the “Fat Pride” movement. my son’s mother and her current signifigant other are involved in this, and it drives both my signifigant other and I crazy, because my side of the family believes in raising my child in an environment of healthy living. It NOT ok to be proud of being Obese. Obesity is a health problem, and while its not ok to make fun of those who have health problems, its also not ok to not do anything about your health issues. Obesity is a terminal illness if not treated IMO. It leads to heart issues, asthma, emphysema, high blood pressure, stroke, etc. Most of the time, Obesity is avoidable, if its not, there are treatments.

    Do we have Cancer pride? Fibromyalgia pride? Arthritis pride?

    so why the heck do we have Fat Pride?

    Also, I’d like to say another thing about the varied “healthy” diets. People are right, what is healthy for one may not be healthy for another. Nobody knows this better than I do, being on opiate painkillers, I have no choice, I wouldn’t recommend it for the next person, but its a quality of life issue for myself. None of this, especially if one has health issues should be undertaken without a discussion with a doctor and/or a nutritionist, but the Weight Watcher’s core system is the closest thing I’ve seen to a sane, balanced diet, with no real limits on amounts you can eat (they limit certain food choices per day, like brown rice or whole grain pastas can only be eaten at one meal per day), and I certainly don;t feel deprived. If I want dessert, I can spend out of my extra 35 points a week. and I rarely use them all, believe it or not.

    There are some who are naturally on the heavy side, I like them to Clydesdale horses, genetically, they are generally heavier built, and more muscular when toned, and not obese when in shape… my SO is majestic when she’s been working out snd eatonmg right, and lately I’m very proud of her for sticking to our program of eating right together.

  80. 78
    Sharon says:

    Trish said:

    I believe much of what is said about these people not being able to change is an excuse. If I have so many health issues, and so much going against me, and I can change these things, then so can many of these people out there

    It should be obvious to you of all people why that is false! People have different bodies; you know yourself that your body is different from most other people’s bodies, so why would you assume that just because you manage to make lifestyle changes which have certain effects on your body, that other people must be able to make those choices too and the same effects will result?

    why the heck do we have Fat Pride?

    Because there are people, like you, who want to belittle us for our appearance. There are lots of people, like me, who have beautiful fat bodies. We come in all varieties, including those who are strong, fit and healthy. We take pride in our amazing capable bodies. We have fat pride events just like other oppressed groups have pride events. Why are we oppressed? Because of attitudes like yours.

    Most of the time, Obesity is avoidable, if its not, there are treatments.

    How can you possibly believe this? There are so many people absolutely desperate to lose weight, or not become fat in the first place. The anti-fat culture is deeply trenched in Western Society. A substantial majority of people agree in general with your attitude to obesity, we have all these people deeply desiring not to be fat, so HOW COME SO MANY OF THEM ARE FAT?

    its also not ok to not do anything about your health issues

    I see you’re a card-carrying member of the health police. Do you really believe that it’s not ok for people to make their own choices about their lives? What if they’d rather help out in a soup kitchen rather than work out in a gym?

  81. 79
    Shannon says:

    I agree- if you focus on what a fat body can do, instead of what it can’t, miracles can occur. I can’t run a marathon, but some people twice my weight can.

  82. 80
    BStu says:

    “I did it” is not a useful contribution to the discussion. Especially given that you are in the MIDDLE of losing weight. My favorite saying is that losing weight is as easy as holding your breath. Keeping the weight off is as easy as continuing to hold your breath. The fact remains that diets, lifestyle choices, whole new ways of eatings, or whatever garbage term is applied to a weight loss measure, they’ve no track record of success. They’ve never been proven effective at making people healthier. They’ve never even been proven effective at making people weight less! Quite the opposite. All the while, the supposed “proof” of how unhealthy fat is meant to be is shockingly non-existant for something ordained as unassailable truth.

    But that’s right. Just keep clapping louder. I’m sure that’ll work.

  83. 81
    slynne says:

    You know, the “fat pride” people have really changed my life. I used to be severely depressed all the time about my weight. I would regularly get suicidal thoughts. I hated my body and I hated myself for not being able to change it. Nothing I did changed my body. I would regularly go on hiking trips where I would walk 20 miles a day with a full pack. I rode my bike 15 miles a day to work. I did every kind of diet immaginable including diets recommended to me by doctors. I dieted my way into an eating disorder that I am still trying to control. And always, I was fat.

    The first thing the “fat pride” movement taught me was that it wasnt my fault and that was a big thing to learn. The second thing I learned was that just because other people assumed I was lazy and out of control, it didnt mean that I actually was those things. Ditto, gross and unhealthy and morally inferior. And then somewhere along the line, I learned that I am beautiful in my way and I came to appreciate my body for what it is: a fat but very healthy body. I dont have high blood pressure. I dont have bad cholesterol levels. I dont have diebetes. I dont have mobility issues. I am healthier than a lot of thin people my age (late 30’s). And FWIW, I am healthy through some effort in that I eat a pretty healthy diet and I walk around a lot. But mostly I am healthy because of factors that are outside of my control…like healthy ancestors and living in a country with really good access to health care.

    The real thing is that I have been a lot happier and much more at peace since I have decided to just accept and embrace the notion that I am fat. And stress, btw, is a big risk factor when it comes to health…especially chronic stress.

    I love the “Fat Pride” movement. I LOVE it that people feel it is ok to walk around feeling good about themselves. It doesnt matter to me if they are fat because that is just how they are or if they are fat because they sit on their ass all day eating bon-bons. I honestly cant see a problem with people thinking they are ok with who they are. I Love that the the size acceptance people have taught me to be kinder in my judgements of others too. I am a better person because of it.

    As for the “dangers” of raising children in such an environment… I dont have kids of my own but I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend. She was annoyed because people in her family often make remarks about fat people. How they are lazy. How they could lose the weight if they just tried hard enough. How they look ugly. She worries because you just never know how a kid will grow up. She is worried that if her kid ends up being overweight, he will internalize all those bad messages and learn to hate himself. I can certainly see why she might be worried.

    I know I would have liked to have had someone in my life display a little fat pride when I was younger. I sometimes think it might have made my journey away from the self-loathing a little shorter.

  84. 82
    slynne says:

    Impossible would be someone who showed no change in their body fat and other indicators despite significant changes in diet and activity.

    I think it is well known that if a person who is sedentary and has a bad diet changes their behavior they will usually lose weight. That doesnt mean they will lose enough weight to be thin. There are people for whom thin is impossible.

  85. 83
    Silverstar says:

    One of the arguments that keeps coming back is that the middle class has the time to cook right and exercise. To this I say “Bushwa”. If you are single, or childless and middle class, that may be true. However, what with the new overtime (or really “no overtime”) laws, many people are working much longer hours. I am disabled, but I frequently see office workers just heading for home at 7PM. Many of them live an hour’s bus ride away. That puts them home at 8PM, where they have to get a quick dinner, help with homework, and pop the kiddies into bed. That is if the kiddies don’t have after school activities. And then there is the housework. Laundry and dishes don’t do themselves, and even dishwashers and washer/dryers need some loading/unloading, etc. Not to mention any work they may have brought home. Much work these days doesn’t have decent stopping points for breaks, either. I found as a nurse that it was hard to get off the floor to eat because there was always something that needed to be done RIGHT NOW!!!! If you are writing code or something, you often don’t notice the time, either, so for some adults, lunch is A3. /commercial So, you really have to be in the professional middle class or upper class before these things are really available to you. And BTW, rice takes a lot longer than 20 minutes to cook if you don’t have a pressure cooker, and beans take hours, and a soaking the night before.
    I am single, disabled, don’t work, and often don’t eat right. It is a pain in the neck to cook “healthy” food for one person. And with my pain and fatigue levels, I sometimes just want a Hot Pocket and maybe salad if I have enough energy. But there are days when the salad will give me instant diarrhea. So, until we all get like Oprah, and can hire a personal chef and personal trainer…….

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