Ugh. Healthy. A word I have grown to despise.
Too often, it gets brandished as a weapon of absolutism. People who seek to put others down and lift themselves up by comparison attempt to mask their intentions by wielding the word euphemistically, or by dressing up their criticism as concern: “Is that candy bar really good for you?” or “Oh, no sugar in mine, please. I’m trying to be healthy.” (These are pretty benign examples, though). Usually having to do with weight, food, and exercise, the idea of what’s “healthy” has become a convenient shorthand for summing up a person’s worth. Let’s imagine some scenarios:
- On Instagram, or Facebook, etc., images of doing something that requires physical exertion, such as hiking, biking, running, or home improvement, possibly accompanied by a caption that emphasizes how healthful the activity is: a classic digital identity marker that screams, “LOOK AT ME! I IS SO HEALTHY DON’T YOU WISH YOU WERE AS VIRTUOUS??” Now, granted, some of us hike or bike or run and just want to occasionally share that part of ourselves digitally. Fine. But usually you can tell when someone’s playing it up to emphasize how HEALTHY they are.
- You’ve lost a bit of weight, and people start telling you how “healthy” you look. Mmhmm, it’s obvious what’s going on here, no *wink, wink, nudge nudge* needed. When weight is equated with health, we have a problem. Perhaps you have lost weight because you’ve gone on a starvation diet: is that healthy? The truth is, there is no absolute idea of “health” as represented by body shape and size, and therefore no one has a right to use this as a judgment of someone’s health.
- A food product is advertised as “healthy.” Different people have different metabolisms, engage in different activities, and have different nutrition needs. Also, just as people engage in sex for pleasure, as well as procreation, people eat for pleasure, and not just sustenance. The overwhelming (and misleading) emphasis on defining food as absolutely “healthy” or “not healthy” creates and reinforces a food morality that does nothing to promote actual health.
When used as a relative term, in specific situations, “healthy” is a fine word. But I firmly believe that it’s a personal word. NO ONE other than you, and those you have explicitly authorized (such as your doctor when it comes to strictly medical health, or your close friends and loved ones to whom you have opened up), has the right to tell you what is or is not “healthy.” We should not be intimidated by this judgmental concept of health, we should not give in to health absolutism, and we should be mindful not to perpetuate this toxic form of “morality.”
Edit: came across this article and thought I’d append it here; basically a much-more researched and thought-out discussion of this topic and totally worth the read.