Arwyn from Raising My Boychick has a post up now about whether or not people have a moral obligation to strive for health.
It has occurred to me that when someone is in the firing line of hate-for-your-own-good, it can be really difficult to know what to say or how to make it stop.
I thought I’d offer a response that you may feel free to use any time someone you love, or a perfect stranger, starts talking about what they see as your moral obligation to health.
To Whom My Health May Concern:
You may believe that we both have moral obligations when it comes to my body. Mine, to upgrade to some health level that can only come with thinness and yours, to let me know that I’m not healthy (whether or not I actually am) and on the edge of death.
Respectfully, you are wrong on both counts. My health and my body are my business, which I can be trusted to manage without unsolicited input from you.
When you treat what you consider another person’s lack of health as a moral failing, you contribute to any health problems they may have. Always. Without exception. Spend some time asking yourself whether or not you have a moral obligation to avoid damaging another person with your tough love.
If you are truly concerned about someone’s health, then it is counterproductive to that concern for you to place a moral judgment on their bodies, on their health or on their lives. This causes stress and anxiety, a feeling of isolation and possibly self-loathing. None of these things ever made anyone healthier.
There is a theory that there are two kinds of love: demonstrative and verbal. People need both and, interestingly, one leads to the other in both directions.
If you verbalize your love and appreciation for someone, you’re likely to get demonstrations of their love for you in return. For instance, if you tell someone you love that you are proud of them, you can expect a hug in return.
If you demonstrate your love for someone, you’re likely to hear verbal declarations of their love for you in return. If you offer someone you care about a hug, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear the words “I love you” shortly thereafter.
This theory works when it comes to moralizing health as well. If you want someone to demonstrate that they love themselves and you (or someone else) enough to care about their health, tell them you love them. Be unconditional about it: I love you, or I love spending time with you, or I think you’re pretty awesome. Not: I love you, but I’m worried that you’re going to die from all the fat. And really not: I love you, but your fat ass is a burden on society.
If you want to help another person find the capacity to love themselves, start by demonstrating how much you love them. Spend time with them. Let them know that their presence in your life is precious to you by enjoying it without judgment. Again, be unconditional. Don’t slip them disapproving looks or make hurtful little comments that you sugarcoat in a helpful tone.
Before you open your mouth to suggest that someone has a moral obligation to health, realize that you don’t know that A) they are in ill health, B) they aren’t already doing what they can to build health and C) they are in a place where focusing on health issues takes priority for them.
Being a big fat fatty does not always mean that someone is unhealthy. Conversely, being thin doesn’t mean that someone else (you?) are automatically healthy. Trust that whoever you’re looking at will ask your opinion about their health if they need or want it.
If you don’t know the person you find yourself judging, then work on not assuming that they are unhealthy on appearance alone. You may be wrong. Trust that their doctors or someone to whom their health actually matters will look after them if they need and want it.
If you do know the person, offer unconditional love and support. If you are concerned that they don’t care about their own health, give them a reason to want health for themselves, rather than trying to force it down their throats for their own good.
If someone you care about really is unhealthy and you’re sure that your concern isn’t based solely on a prejudice, ask honest questions and be prepared to accept that you might be shut down. No one has an obligation to discuss their health with you. Not even for their own good.
No matter whose health you find yourself concerned about, remember the Golden Rule. Treat them the way you would want to be treated. Respect their privacy when it comes to their bodies, offer support only if it is requested and be kind. When in doubt, always be kind.
In any case, realize that you don’t have all of the information and that the person you are sitting in judgment of probably does. Telling them that they have a moral obligation to health doesn’t tell them anything they don’t already know. You’re causing pain, without gaining any benefit.
Chances are good that the fat person in your life doesn’t live under a rock. There are no diet tips or exercise motivations, no books or pamphlets for programs you could offer that will tell them anything they haven’t heard in many different ways already.
If you’ve heard of a way to lose weight, they probably have, too.
One reason that putting a high priority on health may be difficult for some people is because they feel hopeless after being told repeatedly that they will die if they don’t lose weight, followed by multiple earnest yet unsuccessful attempts to get healthy (read: lose weight.)
Maybe other priorities have to come first at the moment. Work obligations, family obligations, lack of access to a wide variety of foods and lack of access to medical care all come to mind.
Judgment almost always comes from a self-centric place. If you find yourself in a place of judgment, you may be assuming that because slenderness comes easy to you, anyone who has the moral fortitude to stop being so lazy/stupid/gluttonous/slackerish/poor/whatever could have your magnificent health, too.
It’s time for you to stop that now.
The fat person in your life; or the fat stranger who happened to cross your path
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Shaunta Grimes blogs about body acceptance and athleticism at every size at Live Once, Juicy.