How many times have you used that word in the past week? Sometimes it feels as central to our vocabulary as words like “and”. (“And” is another important word, but more on that later.)
Several weeks ago, we heard a snippet of a radio talk with the author of a book called Against Everything. As he spoke about the first essay, “Against Exercise”, we frantically wrote ourselves a note to find that book. Talk about radical!
Here is an excerpt:
“Unlike the health model, which claims to make a continuous gain on mortality, thinness and muscle expansion operate in a cruel economy of accelerated loss...Every exerciser knows that the body’s propensity to put on weight is the physical expression of a moral fail. Every exerciser knows that the tendency of the body to become soft when it is comfortable or at rest, instead of staying perpetually hard, is a failure of discipline. This is the taste of our new Tree of Knowledge. In our era of abundance, we find that nutrition makes one fat rather than well fed, pleasures make one flabby rather than content…”
And here is an excerpt from the essay called “Against Food”:
“Lower-class people get hungry, and ‘we’ get hypoglycemic. The redevelopment of biologically necessary hunger is considered morally superior to its widespread alternative, the lazy hunger of an addiction to abundance.”
Moral fail. Morally superior.
News stories are peppered with fat-shaming, the shame behind fat-shaming, and the harmful consequences of weight-related stigma. The idea that "fat is bad" is so ingrained in our collective conscious that, unfortunately, the discussion often focuses on the moralization of weight and fitness rather than on the importance of health, vitality, and living a meaningful life, no matter what it looks like.
While books like Younger Next Year emphasize exercise and nutrition as essential to living a life with more energy and less disease, the whole “feel good” factor is too often submerged by the subliminal “should” that slithers subconsciously, and not so subconsciously, like an invisible leash that we just can’t seem to break free from.
That might sound a bit melodramatic. But, in all honesty, back to the initial question:
How many times have you used the word “should” in the past week?
Every time we hear women use that word, which is multiple times every day--from friends to random strangers passing me on the street--we want to shout out, “But why?! Why should you?!”
In places where food is abundant and you can order a meal with a tap on your phone, people limit themselves to “good” and “bad”.
In places where “Netflix and chill” is a common pasttime not only after a long day of work, but throughout the day and for hours on end, people berate themselves for not getting to the gym that day.
In a world with so many options and so many mixed messages, people grab onto buzz words and carry them like precious cargo:
Gluten-free. Intermittent fasting. Paleo. Muscle tone. Long and lean. Fat-burning zone.
Fitness clubs and classes that could inspire health-promoting habits somehow imbue exercise with discouraging competition, an undercurrent of angry energy, and a level of eliteness that shames those who cannot handle it or who do not fit the mold in one way or another.
Instead of listening to your body and enjoying habits that make you feel good and add to your quality of life, exercise and food selection becomes an internal battle of self-worth. Pleasure has no place.
Let’s turn to Amy Poehler and her book Yes, Please for a moment:
“Well, the first thing we do is take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out. You may still hear the brain and all the shitty things it is saying to you, but it will be muffled, and just the fact that it is not in your head anymore will make things seem clearer. And then you just do it.”
You just do it.
- You learn to listen to your body and brain and what makes them both feel good.
- You learn to positively challenge yourself.
- You exercise and eat nutritious foods in ways that bring you pleasure and add physical quality to your life.
- You learn to stop yourself every time you “should" yourself--and you learn to speak out when you hear other women do it.
- You try on other words and phrases for size: Could. Maybe I'll try that instead. I am not a bad person because I didn't make it to the gym today. I will commit to running three days a week for the next month and see if I feel better as a result.
- You adopt an anti-morality approach to health-promoting habits and ways of living.
This year was a big election year. And, though it might sound like a quote on a high school guidance counselor's wall, I'm going for it anyway:
Every year is an election year when it comes to the life you want to live. You decide which boxes to check, you decide who wins. What do you stand for?