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Fitness: Not a Moral Imperative

Fitness: Not a Moral Imperative
  • On May 22, 2015

There is a weird transformation that happens when someone works hard on something like getting fit. Many of them seem to morph from the normal, chill people we once knew into know-it-all, self-important douchebags. I understand it can be hard to hold back from crowing about achievements that we paid so much for, and the benefits of self-improvement can certainly be worth bragging about. We want to share our joy with others, and that’s fine. But all too often joy changes to a weird kind of directive, “you, too, could be as happy as me if only you’d switch to an all-kale breakfast! You’re so lame with your bagels.”

Adding to this natural pride and excitement is that some behaviors are more accepted by society than others. Right now there is a cultural belief that if you are enacting “unhealthy” behaviors–smoking, eating a doughnut, Netflix binging–that you are less morally sound than someone who is being “healthy.”

As a fat person I see the moral superiority of the thin person all the time. If I suggest, for example, it might be nice to go to stores and find clothes that fit me the response is often “lose weight and they will.” As though only thin people deserve clothing and my body is simply going to have to change before it deserves to wear clothes.

Moral superiority and smugness are real but invisible barriers to fitness. Beginning anything without knowing how it will go, how to do it, and how likely you are to look stupid is hard enough. Add in that smug ponytail yoga person or that super buff braggart and it’s enough to make anyone turn tail and… not run. Each morally smug exerciser has a “One True Way” and when we find ourselves not measuring up, we may decide to quit.

Exercise should be available for anyone, in any body, at any time. If you go to the gym, lift the light weights for fifteen minutes and leave I will not judge you. If you go to yoga and find yourself dizzy and unable to do anything but child’s pose, then that’s your yoga practice for the day. We need to be careful, as a culture, not to make people feel small when what they can do seems small to us. More isn’t always better, and fit doesn’t always mean thin and/or muscular. We literally have no way of knowing what the other person’s life is. Any story we tell ourselves about someone else is simply that–a story.

Moralizing robs the joy right out of exercise. There are a lot of ways to move bodies, and a lot of reasons moving is a great thing for us. The thing is, no one owes health or well being to anyone else. Our bodies are our own business and property. Exercise doesn’t make us more deserving of worthiness and love (or basic human needs like health care and food).

Self worth can be difficult to find, but let’s not find it at the expense of others, okay? If our fitness week has encouraged you to get out and move your body then that’s awesome! No matter how that goes, I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

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