Our WWAC Warriors have been doing some great and inspiring work. Desiree has been working on becoming her own superhero. Laura is morphing into a real live Batgirl, and Lela is fighting endometriosis like Wonder Woman versus Villainy Incorporated. I am thoroughly impressed with what they are doing, and how they are tying their fitness to kickass female comicbook characters. We here at WWAC proudly carry our geekdom with us at all times!
Sometimes though, especially as the lifestyle editor…I end up feeling a little uncomfortable by it all. In my personal experience, words like “fitness,” “health,” “healthy,” “wellness,” and “exercise” are so loaded with cultural shaming that if I could transform those concepts into actual weights, I would have biceps like She-Hulk. Also, as a contrarian and a foodie, having a glass of red wine (or two) and enjoying a cheese plate for dinner feels like an act of rebellion. I don’t think this really is an act of rebellion, but in a culture that conflates skinny with healthy with morality, eating that is oriented towards unapologetic pleasure sure can feel like it.
Writing about enjoying food with unapologetic pleasure is not easy because challenging the notion of health in American culture means challenging a concept that has become so thoroughly entrenched with cultural assumptions of common sense. Of course, you want to be healthy, and healthy means exercise and eating right. The two go together. And how do you validate if you are successful at “being healthy” — well, by losing weight, obviously. If you aren’t losing weight, then obviously, you not only are doing something wrong, but you are wrong. You are lazy and selfish. A poor role model to others, a bad citizen, and a drag on health insurance.
When a concept starts to become a cultural phenomenon, or a cultural obsession, you can bet it it also has ideological implications. Ideology being “the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.” See the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign or when “fighting obesity” becomes a national battle cry or when a politician has to make weight loss a part of his campaigning strategy. Notice that “fighting obesity” doesn’t mention anything about health because health is assumed. If you are not obese, you must be healthy. If you are obese, you are not healthy. If Chris Christie cannot be a more “healthy size,” he cannot be a strong political candidate because his weight indicates laziness or hedonism which we can’t have in a politician (har).
In sum, it’s all a conflation of a lot of shit: fit people are healthy and healthy people aren’t fat therefore fat people aren’t fit or healthy. Well, fuck that.
Health is a complex state resulting from genetics, sociocultural circumstances, and individuality. It’s not limited to your physical appearance, but also your mental and emotional state. Our WWAC Warriors are using positive motivation to drive their warrior development to become buffed-out superheroes participating in such high-impact sports as bodybuilding, fight training, and muay thai. But I also want to make it clear: there’s more than one way you can be a WWAC Warrior, or a person who lives a “healthy” lifestyle according to their own terms, knowledge, and experiences.
Speaking from my own personal experience, just like my fellow WWAC Warriors, my warrior motivation is rooted in not letting shame force me into exercising out at the gym to the beat of “skinny.skinny.skinny.” and approaching food like a constant battle of wills. For me being a WWAC Warrior means educating myself about the rhetorics of food. It means engaging in positive movement that feels enjoyable and listening to when to push harder and also when to ease up. It means making the perfect pie crust. It means celebrating the cultural, historical, and political importance of food. It means finding the perfect grain/bean to vegetable to dressing ratio for a hearty salad that doesn’t look like what you put out for a rabbit to nibble on. And most importantly: my warrior motivation is about refusing to feel ashamed. But it’s not like this process came out of nowhere or is fully developed, the following resources have been a tremendous help in my ongoing work towards defining my health on my terms:
- Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, Ph.D takes a lot of the myths surrounding weight and health and uses solid science to rip them apart.
- In a similar vein, Ragen Chastain’s blog Dances with Fat analyzes similar myths. She is all for health at every size and no body-shaming for anyone, but she is also straightforward about how we live in a culture that privileges skinny and equates it with moral superiority. Her promotion of positive movement as an alternative to exercise has really helped me look at what counts as exercise and what my body can do in a very different way. She’s also an amazing dancer who happens to be fat.
- Marion Nestle’s (no relation to Hershey) research explores the influence of politics on science. Her first book Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health has had a huge influence on how I approach the rhetorics of food and nutrition information.
- This book has only been sitting on my Amazon wishlist for like two years, but it’s next up on my foodie reading list: Against Health: How Health Become the New Morality.
- Published in February of this year, The Wellness Syndrome by Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer is on my list for similar reasons.
- The Militant Baker – this blog, so much body love and so much beautifully brutal honesty
Secondly and of equal importance is representation. We talk about this all the time on WWAC. Representation is important. Representation is ideological. Diverse representation is important to creating not only a more just society and world, but also creating a more compassionate one. Seek out and share representations of people who are showing that you can be athletic and healthy without having to worry about whether or not you have a six pack. For example:
Or, American professional baseball player for the Texas Rangers Prince Fielder who bared all for the 2014 body issue of ESPN Magazine:
Or in the fictional realm:
Seeing these types of bodies, whether real or fictional, is always hugely inspiring for me. When I first read Rat Queens, seeing Violet with her short torso and thicker thighs brawling and sword-fighting practically brought me to tears because I could see my own body in this fictional character, doing really cool shit, and I felt like I in turn could do really cool shit.
I want these representations of different bodies not just being presented as acceptable and worthy of desire, but doing — doing things that defy ideological norms that perpetuate the belief that certain body types cannot do certain activities. And I want information that highlights how aesthetic norms within certain sports and similar activities can act as a gatekeeping influence on who can and cannot participate. I don’t need to be an elite level athlete like these badass ladies:
But I do need less shaming and more honesty and more stories and more diverse representation.