Before I go on, I must insist that you read the disclaimer and/or understand that this entry and the one that inspired it are not promoting unhealthy lifestyles just because we advocate loving all sizes and shapes of bodies, both for adults and children. I get weary of having to defend myself with things I’ve said a million times when a new commenter stumbles in and makes assumptions. Got it? Good. Then let’s begin.
Ragen wrote this over at Dances with Fat, about what she considers to be the most important change in public health. I could not agree more. I want, in particular to explore the idea that healthy choices require money and that there are people suffering for lack of access to nutrition and/or exercise.
Having been varying stages of low income for pretty much all of my life, I can attest to the fact that it’s really difficult to be as healthy as I want to be without having money. I can’t afford much organic meat so I settle for hormone-free where possible (hormonal issues in my family make this a necessity). I break the bank buying lunch meat without nitrates (while trying to convince my kids to decide to like cheaper options for lunches away from home). We can’t tolerate gluten so we must spend the money to buy the more expensive flours, and of course the ones that are more nutritious (almond, for instance) are always more expensive than, say, rice flour (with diabetes rampant in my family, I try to avoid refined carbs from grains). Almost two years ago, my city finally got a drop for a local CSA which makes eating organic veggies more affordable. Our CSA runs about $13/week for nearly more veggies than we can eat, but generally with CSA’s you have to pay quarterly and coming up with a large chunk of money is impossible at times (for many people, it’s impossible all the time). I love to hike and would do it daily if it were easy, but it’s not. While there are lots of trails close to my house, they tend to be pretty deserted and desolate and I just don’t feel safe hiking alone like that. The trails that are well-enough populated for safety purposes are about 30-40 minutes away and that kind of gas adds up quickly. I love weight lifting machines, but can’t afford a gym. I love swimming but not only can I not afford the local pool (or the childcare involved in swimming laps) but my city also cannot afford the pool and has spent the last few years on the brink of having to close it. This isn’t to say I don’t try to exercise anyway – I absolutely do. But Ragen’s got a point about feeling motivated. If hiking or swimming were easy and accessible, I’d probably exercise a lot more and I certainly wouldn’t struggle with not wanting to do it.
I don’t get hung up on money. I actually only care about money to the extent that I desire adequate housing, clothing, food, and the other things needed to live at the level that society around me lives. (Actually, I often dream about living in an ancient tribal society, I think I’d be relieved to not have the hassle of modern society. I mean, except the internet. So an ancient tribal society that has the internet. That’s not too much to ask, is it?) Generally in my life I’m happy with what I have, and I constantly remind myself that I’m not poor – not even close. I have two TVs, a car, enough clothes to keep me warm and have not been without access to some sort of food or clean water in my life. Compared to much of the world, I’m rich. So when I worry about money I make a point to not use the word “poor” and instead I choose to say “broke” because it’s more accurate and helps me remember to be grateful for what I do have. But, in looking at western society, I’m on the lower end of the money spectrum and I’m mostly OK with that.
I do, however, get very frustrated when money stands as a brick wall in the way of my desire to live as healthfully as possible. I feel bitter that organic, whole food choices, are so difficult for folks who are low income. I feel frustrated that nutritional supplements are hard or impossible to afford when they fix so many health issues so easily.
Our food is becoming depleted, and even the best quality still doesn’t provide what it once did, making supplements more vital than ever to health. And so on top of trying to eat well, it becomes necessary to also afford to fill in those vitamins that are sorely lacking. My whole family (despite living in San Diego and being in the sun for hours most days of the week) were pretty sorely Vitamin D deficient. My daughter started having new cavities each dental visit and requiring more fillings and caps every six months. After half a year’s supplementing with Vitamin D (which we had to afford to benefit from it) she had zero new cavities. So a family that can’t afford Vitamin D must keep putting their child in the dentist’s chair (at the expense of the tax payers) to suffer the discomfort of the dental work, the discomfort of having fillings, and the shame that comes along with the whole office assuming you just don’t brush. Last visit my son was offered a shirt for not ever having had cavities and I asked how it was fair that they reward him and punish my daughter when her cavities were beyond her control. My children both received shirts that day. Heh.
So I love Ragen’s proposal to stop shaming fat and start using that money towards making healthy choices an option for everyone. Providing less toxic food, more opportunities for exercise, the ability to buy quality supplements where needed will really benefit all of society by making us all healthier, stronger, and spending less in hospital or dental bills where healthy opportunities could have solved the problem before it ever became a problem. Shaming people for being one size or another, or for having cavities, or for whatever else isn’t the answer. Making health more accessible is.
I write this here because I know how hard it is to love your body when it doesn’t feel good or work properly. By eliminating some of the causes of health problems, or even simply by being able to recognize them and name them as something other then “your own fault” can make all the change in terms of loving yourself no matter where you are on the body size and shape spectrum. And it becomes so much easier to make healthy choices when you love yourself, inside and out. It’s all connected, every bit. Make it an upward spiral.