In the Blog

SA/FA Intersectionality: Class and ability

November 27th, 2009     by Julia Horel     Comments

Something that often gets lost in the “healthy fat person/unhealthy fat person” discussion (see my previous post) is a discussion about who gets to decide what “healthy” behaviours are, and who has and does not have the ability to practice those behaviours.

The cost of “healthy living” is prohibitive for a great many people. A diet rich in fresh produce, whole grains, lean meats or alternatives, etc., is quite expensive. For many, the choice between a box of white pasta or a package of brown rice isn’t based on nutrition value, but on cost. Fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly out of season, when prices skyrocket? Forget it. Cheap and filling are the important factors. For someone who can’t afford to buy “healthier” foods, I’d argue that the decision to buy what they can to feed themselves to the best of their ability is the healthy choice.

As for the recommended levels of exercise: a gym membership? Not accessible to all. But you don’t need a gym membership to work out - you can run around the block. Sure, if you don’t have to go home after working overtime in order to care for your child. You get the picture. It’s not a coincidence that obesity is often associated with poverty, and thinness with affluence. It is a privilege to have the time and money to invest in practicing “healthy” behaviours.

Another issue that is often overlooked in the “healthy living” paradigm is disability, whether visible or invisible, physical or mental. It isn’t possible for everyone to run several miles per week. While those with visible physical disabilities might sometimes (but by no means always) be given a free pass against judgment for not performing the prescribed behaviours, those with invisible disabilities like fibromyalgia, chronic diseases, or metal disabilities that mean their healthy behaviours are different are often ignored. Chronic pain might make jogging or weight lifting impossible. Depression might mean that different activities are more or less pleasurable. For those with visible physical disabilities, prescribed activities might take on a clinical angle and be boring or unsatisfying.

Why not allow everyone, regardless of ability, to choose to (or choose not to) participate in activities that are enjoyable? When particular behaviours are lauded as “good” - and who hasn’t met someone who hates going to the gym, but does it because they’re being “good”? - then other behaviours automatically lower in value, even if they’re very enjoyable, beneficial, and accessible. Personally, I think that keeping an eye on your mental health is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than paying attention to the physical. Skipping a run to push a child on a swing and then read a book together isn’t going to burn too many calories, but who says it’s worth less? If you are unable to perform high-intensity cardio at all, should that mean you are worth less? If you also happen to be fat, some people might think so.

Tags: body politics

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