Health. That’s a loaded word.
With it comes flooding images of fitspo and thinspo, magazine covers and YouTube ads, gym membership posters and what your grandma seemed to think you should look like. Pinterest workouts, pink and perfect with magically muscular, yet not “bulky,” bodies pictured around it to promise you that if you just do this routine, you will have that healthy body you want and it should look just like this.
This concept of having the perfect body is not a new idea, and has taken a huge amount of tweaking over the course of the last century. First it was the skinny little flapper girl, then the voluptuous girl from the Golden Era of Hollywood, then we wanted to slim down again by the 60s and 70s, 80s brought an era of muscles, 90s came with androgyny, and now, well, now we don’t know what we want. We are told to be thin, but not too skinny, because then we look bad, and we want to be strong and muscular but not bulky, because too much muscle is apparently unattractive, and we want to lose just 5 more pounds and then we’ll be happy… but we’re not.
These images of health are not real health, they’re advertisements, trying to sell you a product. They aren’t trying to help you out, give a solution, or inspire you to do anything more than click this link, buy this product, try this workout regimen or diet and all your problems will be solved. This is one of the most common marketing tactics out there — identify or create a problem, provide a solution — and it is also one of the most damaging. We are told from our preteens onward that we should want to have legs like her, arms like her, a waistline like that model, a chest like this celebrity, and it leaves us chasing after the wind as we try to become the ideal that doesn’t exist, all in the name of being “healthy.”
Real health is having a body that carries you through the day, making you feel capable and confident, rather than trapped in a cage. Real health is eating food that you know is good for you, that leaves you feeling satisfied, refreshed, and better off than you were before eating it. Real health is understanding that healthy is not only for your body, it is for all of you — mind, body, and soul. Real health is not all about a product, a gym membership, or a specific set of dietary rules. It is not about putting yourself in a box of rules until you fear crossing a line, all in the name of looking a certain way. I’m not going to pretend that all bodies are healthy bodies, because there are definite risk factors that come with any extreme (too much or too little fat, too much or too little muscle, too much exercise or not enough). What I will say is that the healthiness of your body, or lack thereof, is between you, your doctor, and whoever else you choose to involve. Anyone else’s opinion is not worth stressing over.
It’s not easy to just tune out those voices. From recommended pins about dieting after I searched for wheat-free recipes, to ads on Facebook, there are a thousand ways to get sucked into hating pieces of your body that society says is unhealthy, instead of listening to your body about what it does or does not like, and your doctor about what you need to do to take care of it. This week, a woman I had never talked to before messaged me asking me to “join a 90 day cleanse challenge- discounted EXTREMELY!” It’s hard to remember that these random voices don’t matter, and generally, don’t know what healthy looks like any more than I do. I was proud of the way I replied, simply explaining that I have no complaints about my body, but would love to get to know her better. I try to do the same whenever someone makes comments criticizing their own or someone else’s body, or trying to make a sell based on getting a “perfect body” or something similar. Instead of letting their comments get to me, I try to get to know them as a person and figure out what made them that way. If nothing else, I showed them a different way, and best-case scenario, I made a new friend.
I don’t know everything about health for myself or anyone else, and I’m still learning more every day. A month ago, I found out that I’m allergic to wheat, and it turns out that has been causing migraines, along with some other not-fun stuff. I’m still finding a balanced workout routine for myself, and figuring out what works best for me. I have not researched every single diet on planet earth to gather the good from each, I don’t have a magical cure for mental health problems, and I can’t tell you the magical three steps to a perfect, healthy life. What I do know is that I’m figuring out what works for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To follow my journey, check out my blog at signedsarah.wordpress.com