...a crossroads of personal musings, pop culture & societal dialogue.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
The H Word
As someone who has struggled with her weight on different occasions in my life, on both ends of the spectrum a little too high and conversely a little too low, i have had the opportunity to acquire a collection of observations on others' reactions to the weight struggle. I have heard comments ranging as far and wide as these examples that first come to mind:
“Honey, you're quite pretty, if you lost a little weight, you could be gorgeous!”
“She has a nice figure, save for that stomach.”
“Pretty girl, if only she cut out carbs, she could reach her potential.”
“She used to be attractive but she lost too much weight.”
“Oh, yeah, she looks a little too 'healthy' these days, she's cutting out sweets.”
These are just a few of the soundbytes that I scrounged from my memory in writing this post but trust me, there are countless more I have stored up from years of being “just a little round” and roughly the same number of years “a naturally skinny lanky thing.” If you cannot detect the rolling of my eyes through the screen at the word natural, let me make it abundantly clear now that yes, I am rolling my eyes. I am not naturally skinny nor was I ever. But I digress a bit.
Over the course of all these years, I have repeatedly stumbled upon one particular notion that has consistently both bothered and bewildered me. The notion that I am referencing is simply put: the word “healthy” has seemingly morphed into a modern-day euphemism-cloaked-in-disguise-as-compliment for “gained weight”, “round,” “not thin”… The list could go on but I will stop here, as it is not the list of adjectives that is most important here, it is the bewildering notion that the word “health,” – at its core a paradigm of that human state of physicality towards which we should all aspire – has become synonymous with just the opposite of its core. It has become synonymous with outward body shape instead of inward body state, curvy instead of functioning, soft instead of operational.
By definition, the word “health” is described by Ms. Mirriam Webster herself as such:
noun 1. the general condition of the body or mind with reference to soundness and vigor: good health; poor health. 2. soundness of body or mind; freedom from disease or ailment: to have one's health; to lose one's health. 3. a polite or complimentary wish for a person's health, happiness, etc., especially as a toast: We drank a health to our guest of honor. 4. vigor; vitality: economic health.
By all four definitions cited above, we can clearly see that the essence of the word is inextricably linked to one's bodily state of affairs, one's physical well-being and lack of disease and/or malfunction. Nowhere in any of the above four definitions do we see even a semblance of a citing of a reference to: attractiveness, shape, figure, or texture of one's body. Read the definitions over and over if you must, none of these will extricate themselves from the queen bee Ms. Webster's “health” descriptions.
Having said and cited all of the above, and as I stated earlier, having lived on both sides of the “weight range” sliding scale, I posit the following: the word “health” should not be associated with any movement, Instagram account, Twitter handle, or anything of the like, that focuses on outward appearance. If you are not following my reasoning, here is one particular lens through which I will explain, namely the current “healthy is the new skinny” movement.
“Healthy is the new skinny”. This phrase at its core does not make sense. Fromm both a grammatical and logical stance, for a movement of sorts like this to make sense, the two words included, namely “healthy” and “skinny” should be directly correlated to one another, either polar opposites, relative contradictions…you get the gist. “Healthy” and “skinny” are in no way any of these. Not only are the words not antonyms, they are actually not related in any sense. “Healthy” is the adjective form of the definition cited above, contrary to “skinny”, which is defined by Ms. Webster as such:
adjective, skinnier, skinniest. 1. very lean or thin; emaciated: a skinny little kitten. 2. of or like skin. 3. unusually low or reduced; meager; minimal: skinny profits. 4. (of an object) narrow or slender: a skinny bed.
As per above, “skinny” is directly associated with the inverse of that which health is: appearance. So, just to reiterate, “healthy” correlates to an inner physical state, whereas “skinny” correlates to an outward one. If that is not as clear as day, I am not certain what is. Now, with that stated, I can proceed with my point.
Again, “Healthy is the new skinny” does not make sense. firstly, Skinny (thin, lean, whatever synonym you would like to sub in here) does not and should not be the deciding factor as to whether a human being is indeed healthy. Just as, like all the current “body positivity movements” seem to say, a “size 14” woman can be just as healthy as a size 2, so can be the case with the inverse. Perhaps a size 2 woman can be just as healthy as a woman who is a size 8 or 10. Simply due to the mere fact that she is skinny, does not give society or any movement du jour the right to insinuate she is not healthy herself. secondly, we should not be using words that are not correlated with one another to say one is the new form of the other. To use a popular pop-culture reference to explain my thought here, I will cite of my personal favorite shows, Orange is the New Black. While the show and this post are not subject-matter-wise related to one another, they are related in their verbiage ,as you can see. Orange and black are both colors - this is fact. Given this, we are able to logically say, perhaps yes, orange is the new color substitute for black. Regardless of whether you are familiar with the show or not, you can agree that this phrase can and does make logical sense. On the contrary, since healthy and skinny are not both “colors” or “appearance descriptors” or “physical medical states” or anything of the sort sharing any relation, the phrase does not make logical sense. Neither of the words should be used to sub out the other, no matter how you slice it. No, absolutely no pun intended.
The last point I would like to posit here is that, by using this phrase as common jargon, it seems to have colloquially associated the word “healthy” with being, in some sense, “heavy” or “heavier” than that which is societally seen as “pretty”, and has, by way of analogy, made the word “healthy” a negative. Before anyone reading this jumps up out of their seats or screens, let me provide a bit further context. Given that the times we live in have created the dysfunctional portrait of female beauty as stick-thin, by associating health with being “not skinny”, the times have created the INCORRECT and DANGEROUS notion that being described as “healthy” in any way means one is not attractive and worse, that it is actually an insult disguised in the form of a compliment. This ties directly back to the beginning of my assertion in this post. I will save my thoughts on how this has contributed to the modern-day epidemic of eating disorders for a separate post.
To conclude, we should immediately stop using the word healthy as an appearance-adjective and put it back in its rightful place of serving as a descriptor of a state of physical well-being. I can only hope this makes sense and catches on before the ever-and-always correct Mirriam Webster is forced to change her definition.