An Open Letter to Those Who Judge the Morality of Health

BlogHer Original Post

Arwyn from Raising My Boychick has a post up now about whether or not people have a moral obligation to strive for health.

It got me thinking.

I am the child and sister of addicts and the only really fat person in my large family.  I've found myself sometimes in the strange situation of being talked to about my health for my own good by people who are thinner, but obviously less physically healthy than I am.

I thought I'd write a little primer for anyone who finds themselves uncontrollably offering moral judgment on other people's health. These are things that I've often wished certain people I love understood. Feel free to pass this on to anyone in your life who feels they have a right to moralize your health.

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To Whom My Health May Concern:

You may believe that we both have moral obligations when it comes to my health. Mine, to upgrade to some health level that can only come with thinness and yours, to let me know that I'm not healthy (whether or not I actually am.)

When you treat what you consider another person's lack of health as a moral failing, you contribute to any health problems they may have. Always. Without exception. Spend some time asking yourself whether or not you have a moral obligation to avoid damaging another person with your tough love.

If you are truly concerned about someone's health, then it is counterproductive to that concern for you to place a moral judgment on their bodies, on their health or on their lives. This causes stress and anxiety, a feeling of isolation and possibly self-loathing. None of these things ever made anyone healthier.

There is a theory that there are two kinds of love: demonstrative and verbal. People need both and, interestingly, one leads to the other in both directions. If you verbalize your love and appreciation for someone, you're likely to get demonstrations of their love for you in return. If you demonstrate your love for someone, you're likely to hear verbal declarations of their love for you in return.

This theory works when it comes to moralizing health as well. If you want someone to demonstrate that they love themselves and you (or someone else) enough to care about their health, tell them you love them. Be unconditional about it: I love you, or I love spending time with you, or I think you're pretty awesome. Not: I love you, but I'm worried that you're going to die from all the fat. And really not: I love you, but I don't want to spend my tax money on your health care.

If you want to help another person find the capacity to love themselves, start by demonstrating how much you love them. Spend time with them. Let them know that their presence in your life is precious to you by enjoying it. Again, be unconditional. Don't slip them disapproving looks or make little comments that you couch in a helpful tone.

Before you open your mouth to suggest that someone has a moral obligation to health, realize that you don't know that A) they are in ill health and B) they aren't already doing what they can to build health. Being a big fat fatty does not always mean that someone is unhealthy. Conversely, being thin doesn't mean that someone else (you?) are automatically healthy. Trust that whoever you're looking at will ask your opinion about their health if they need or want it--the same as you would do to them.

If you don't know the person you find yourself judging, then work on not assuming that they are unhealthy on appearance alone. You may be wrong. Trust that their doctors or someone to whom their health actually matters will look after them if they need it.

If you do know the person, offer unconditional love and support. If you are concerned that they don't care about their own health, give them a reason to want health for themselves, rather than trying to force it down their throats for their own good.

If someone you care about really is unhealthy and you're sure that your concern isn't based solely on a prejudice, ask honest questions and be prepared to accept that you might be shut down. No one has an obligation to discuss their health with you. Not even for their own good.

In any case, realize that you don't have all of the information and that the person you are sitting in judgment of probably does. Telling them that they have a moral obligation to health doesn't tell them anything they don't already know. You're causing pain, without gaining any benefit.

Chances are good that the fat person in your life doesn't live under a rock. There are no diet tips or exercise motivations, no books or pamphlets for programs you could offer that will tell them anything they haven't heard in many different ways already.

If you've heard of a way to lose weight, they probably have, too.

Judgment almost always comes from a self-centric place. If you find yourself in a place of judgment, you may be assuming that because slenderness comes easy to you, anyone who has the moral fortitude to stop being so lazy/stupid/gluttonous/slackerish/whatever could have your magnificent health, too.

It's time for you to stop that now.

Sincerely,

The fat person in your life; or the fat stranger who happened to cross your path

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Shaunta Grimes blogs about body acceptance and athleticism for the masses at Live Once, Juicy. She can also be found on Twitter.

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