25
Mar
09

Does our body dictate what kind of person we are?

Tonight, I was walking out of my cultural theory class and I had a conversation with one of my classmates that went something like this:

Classmate: My legs hurt.

Me: Why?

Classmate: I’ve been working with this personal trainer. I’m trying to become a better person.

Me: Through working out?

Classmate: Well, I can’t treat other people right before I learn how to treat myself. 

My first thought, as I suppose you can tell from my immediate reaction, was that going to the gym is not the way that I would love my body. This is because gyms contain 2 things that I dislike most in life: (1) exercise machinery and (2) large groups of women in spandex. 

Secondly, I don’t think there is anything wrong with working out or attaching a certain level of pleasure to it (although I don’t understand it). But, it seems to me that there is something very dangerous about employing it in this context. If we gauge our own ethics by the way we “treat” our bodies, do we then make external judgments about the bodies of others?

Being a vegetarian I feel like I walk that fine line. Although, my commitment to vegetarianism has more to do with my impact on the world than that of my own body I have to be very careful about not making judgment about what other people choose to put into their bodies. 

My classmate, who is also my friend, derives her belief about exercise from a distinctly religious context. She, too, is a vegetarian, because her religion equates diet with the way she treats her body as well as the way she treats the world. She extends this tenet into a belief that working out has some sort of attachment to morality based on this relationship. 

Did I mention that I just got out of cultural theory class? Sorry if my academic brain took over there. The point it that this is certainly not the first time we have all heard this logic before. That looking good by this narrow, exclusionary standard of beauty makes one a better person. And when it is explicit in that way it is very easy to critique because it seems so transparent. But the subtle ways that these ideas permeate our culture at so many levels…That really scares me.I really believe that it is this subtlety that allows violence against people who don’t fit these arbitrary standards to not warrant the sort of reaction that those of use in the fatosphere would expect. 

And because I was not able to share my thoughts with my friend during our short goodbye, I am so grateful to be able to flesh out my thoughts here. So, with that I am going to attempt to recover from the worst flu and get some rest.

Advertisements

11 Responses to “Does our body dictate what kind of person we are?”


  1. 1 meerkat
    March 25, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    I have a huge objection to the idea that you can’t treat other people well if you don’t already treat yourself well first. I hear that a lot about love. The first step toward anything is being madly in love with yourself, because apparently if you don’t love yourself no one will ever love you and you cannot love anyone else. Why should I love someone who is 1. utterly unlovable and 2. completely selfish? I hate everything about this idea. The logical conclusion is that since I have the depression and the low self-esteem, when my Mom and I exchange “I love you”s over Skype we are both lying. Or maybe just delusional and detached from reality. Not that loving yourself is bad, but if I can’t do it by flipping a switch I certainly can’t do it by being blackmailed with this idea that if I don’t do it I don’t deserve anything good in life. It seems to me an excuse to write off people’s unhappiness as their own fault (obviously there could never be external factors in how much people love themselves) or even justify greed (I have to be nice to myself first, and unfortunately that took up all my resources and I didn’t get around to being nice to other people). Not to say that it is necessarily always wrong, but… it seems like a dangerous position to me.

    Although, I don’t think this belief would lead directly to “beautiful people are better people” without going through “treating your body right is guaranteed to make it beautiful, so ugly people UR DOIN IT RONG.” Sadly that belief is plenty believed.

  2. March 26, 2009 at 12:46 am

    This question:

    If we gauge our own ethics by the way we “treat” our bodies, do we then make external judgments about the bodies of others?

    Is right at the heart of it, I think.

    I was thinking about what I choose to buy and eat and how when I choose or avoid certain things, it’s because of what I associate with them. Like, when I read about the exploitation of agricultural workers who pick tomatoes, I decided to buy the hydroponically grown ones when local tomatoes are out of season (that’s most of the year), even if they are more expensive (and we eat a couple of pounds of tomatoes each week).

    Do I judge the people who are buying the $.99 per pound tomatoes when I’m buying the $2.99 per pound ones? No. They might not know what I do about the ethics of tomatoes. There are certainly people who would criticize me for purchasing the out of season tomatoes at all, or for shopping where I do instead of the local co-op or purchasing directly from a farmer. There’s always going to be someone “more ethical” out there.

    I do agree with the idea that if I’m going to advocate a certain standard, such as that it’s a good thing for women in particular to do strength training two or more times per week to stay strong and maintain bone mass, what does that mean if I am unable to do it myself?

    I hope you are able to recover from the awful flu rapidly!

  3. 3 Annitspurple
    March 26, 2009 at 10:27 am

    “Do I judge the people who are buying the $.99 per pound tomatoes when I’m buying the $2.99 per pound ones? No. They might not know what I do about the ethics of tomatoes. There are certainly people who would criticize me for purchasing the out of season tomatoes at all, or for shopping where I do instead of the local co-op or purchasing directly from a farmer. There’s always going to be someone “more ethical” out there.”

    You’ve probably already thought about this, or just forgot to mention it, wellroundedtype2, that the people buying 99 cent tomatoes may be perfectly aware of the ethnics of tomatoes, but simply cannot affort the $2.99/lb ones that you are fortunate enough to be able to buy. These folks may be just as ethical as you, or perhaps even more ethical, but also more constrained in their “food choices.”

    Or, they COULD afford the $2.99/lb tomatoes, but buying those would limit their financial options in other ways. For example, I’m single and healthy, and make an above-average salary now that I’m (FINALLY THANK GOD OMG) out of graduate school. However, I don’t buy the $2.99/lb tomatoes because, while I make a great salary, I also have about $20,000 in medical debt, and $40,000 in student loans. I literally live paycheck to paycheck because I pour my income into getting out of this debt, and if I did spend 3 times as much on groceries, my ability to get out of that debt would be greatly constrained.

    Anyway, like I said, you’re likely already aware of these issues, but I thought I’d chime in. Maybe I’ve been reading too much of the food/privilege thread over at Shapely Prose? 🙂

  4. March 26, 2009 at 10:28 am

    I see your point, but I also see your friend’s point (although I think all too many people treat others right far before they apply those principles to themselves). Let’s remove any mention of gyms, working out, what we eat, etc… and focus solely on the theory of what she said. Her point, as I read it, is that if she doesn’t value herself, she isn’t able to fully give of herself to others. And I agree with that statement. If you don’t get enough sleep and have a lot of stress in your personal life, you probably won’t be as productive a worker at your job as, say, your coworker who does get enough sleep and has minimal stress. If you don’t feed your body the nutrients it needs and treat it kindly and you come down with a cold or other medical issue, you aren’t able to volunteer at the nursing home or your kid’s school as you usually do. And ad nauseum.

    Meerkat: For me personally, I do think I had to come to a point where I saw myself as a valuable person before I could ever enter into a relationship with anyone else. Before, when I had really poor self esteem, whenever anyone would express an interest, I’d push them away because I thought they must have ulterior motives — after all, why would anyone love me, I asked myself. There’s nothing to love. I’m not suggesting that we all have to be Dorien Grays before we can entertain the idea of a relationship, but I do think that a certain degree of recognition that we are worthy of being loved must exist for any relationship to take flight.

  5. 5 Annitspurple
    March 26, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Dang. I mean, “afford.” I CAN HAZ PHD????

  6. 6 JupiterPluvius
    March 26, 2009 at 11:21 am

    God, that woman was right out of Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s “The Body Project”. Meet the new Puritanism, same as the old Puritanism!

  7. 7 mccn
    March 26, 2009 at 11:27 am

    This post was very thought-provocative for me – thank you! My initial response to your classmate’s comment was quite different – I had more of an approving response, I think, because I read it differently. I had read it as, this is someone who enjoys exercise, or enjoys how exercise makes her body feel, and as part of a program of self-care, decided to get exercise in a more informed way. I learned a long time ago, in a very difficult way, that I needed to learn to take care of myself before I took care of others. My route wasn’t going to the personal trainer – it was learning to say “no” and do nice things for myself – but I could see the appeal. You know your classmate, and I don’t, which allowed you to bring a different context to this – but I thought my response might be interesting to you.

  8. 8 intellectualfeminist
    March 26, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    In light of many comments I do want to say that I completely agree that loving your body is important. But I think we take for granted the many interpretations can be made. This is where things get problematic. I don’t like the gym but I love riding my bike and playing sports, etc. The reality of all these things is that they do sometimes make our bodies change physically and if we use this as a gauge for whether or not our bodies are healthy that is dangerous. This is the fear I have.

    Thanks everyone for responding!

  9. 9 Claire
    May 5, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    “…That looking good by this narrow, exclusionary standard of beauty makes one a better person.”

    There are far, far more reasons for working out than just trying “look good.” For one, it can be fantastic stress relief. Also, it can be really fun. Running an early morning race, kayaking across a lake, climbing a rock face, even sprinting around a track… the body in motion, after being cramped up in a cubicle or a class room or anything else all day, can just feel really, really good. Additionally, I know that, for me, it is empowering to be able to do these things; I love being able to move, to explore, to push myself. So, good for your friend for knowing what works for her and for doing that in a safe way.

    Just read your comment response. “The reality of all these things is that they do sometimes make our bodies change physically and if we use this as a gauge for whether or not our bodies are healthy that is dangerous.” This is true. It is also dangerous to judge someone simply because she enjoys activities that also happen to change her body shape physically. Sure, there are people who want to look good, but there are also lots of people who just like to work out and have fun. What about marathon runners? They could easily run a quarter as much and stay very slim; they’re running for other reasons (though I myself don’t actually think marathon running is optimally good for the body physically). It seems to me as if, in your post, you just mentally made the leap from “this person works out in a gym” to “this person just wants to be skinny.” That is unfair.

  10. June 12, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    “I’ve been working with this personal trainer. I’m trying to become a better person.”

    I absolutely agree with the commenters above who say that we need to give ourselves love and attention before we can offer the best of ourselves to others. I absolutely agree with that sentiment. I just don’t read your classmate’s comment as being that kind of self-improvement. It absolutely feels to me like “better person” places a moral value on her exercise.

    Be more healthy? Be more active? Get stronger? Improve my muscle tone and/or cardiovascular health? Sure…

    But exercising doesn’t make me a better person. It may make me all of the above that permit me to have more energy or be more positive, that I can then turn into actions that really DO make me feel like I’m making a difference in my world, but morally speaking, exercise simply is. It is not inherently good or bad.

  11. July 29, 2009 at 7:25 am

    I can follow the line of reasoning that if you feel better you act better towards others and others may perceive you as a better person. But I don’t think a person who don’t exercise is a bad person. On the contrary some of the most interesting (better) people I know don’t exercise.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


RSS Notes From The Fatosphere

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Top Clicks

  • None
March 2009
S M T W T F S
« Feb   Oct »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

My Filthy Mouth. Let Me Showz You It.

Favorite Shops

Eshakti: We Design, You Customize!

%d bloggers like this: