We live in a world that is trying to turn the word “healthy” into a synonym for “pretty.” Watch for it. Maybe it will chap your fanny as much as it does mine. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being pretty. Pretty is nice. But. There is a pretty big but coming. Pretty is also inextricably bound up with the approval of other people, frequently to the exclusion of bettering oneself and actual growth. It’s hard to spend time on being a better person when you are so busy trying to make sure you don’t fail at being pretty. Pretty is a lot of pressure to live in a fairly small box, because we define it so narrowly.
I want to be “healthy,” like everyone else. But frankly, we live in a world where “healthy” is something different for every person. Also, we can’t even begin to agree on what that is for any one individual, let alone all of them. Given those two facts, there is a certain amount of “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all” which has come due.
“Healthy” has become an emperor who has no clothes. He rules on a platform of anorexia and orthorexia, under the guise of “working out” and “clean eating.” Let’s get back to defining the phrase “clean eating” as originally intended, to mean that we seek out healthy foods that nourish our bodies. The people who want to co-opt it as a dividing line between people who “behave” and people who don’t can please exit the bus through the rear door.
Let’s work out to get strong, to protect our bones, to alleviate stress, and to elevate our moods. Let’s celebrate that! Let’s use exercise as part of a balanced plan to maintain our health. That’s a fantastic goal. And then we can finally quit measuring our self worth by whether we miss a workout or let a bite of dessert pass our lips. Isn’t it about time?
I want to find, in this glorious year 2014, the city on a hill where we are allowed to have goals that don’t mean “I want to be pretty so I can have the approval of others.” I want to consider “be healthy” on an equal footing with “be a good mom” and “be a better writer.” In other words, as a continuum. As a journey. As something we can seek out in ways that are rewarding to us. US. Because we are important. We are allowed to be important. We are allowed to want to live our best lives, at every level. Even when that doesn’t make us more appealing to others. Even when it doesn’t make us “pretty” by some narrow little confining definition of the word. Even when it means eating straight to the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s on certain days and then not hating ourselves afterwards. Because not hating ourselves is healthy.
Regarding things like health (or being a “good mom”) as something you either are or are not is dangerous. Much like you don’t conclude, after a rough Monday morning, that the fact you couldn’t find your kid’s favorite pair of underpants today means you might as well just lock him in the closet for the rest of the day, you don’t suddenly become a horrible person because you like cake. “Good mother” is not a binary condition, and neither is “healthy.”
I think it’s urgently important that we find that place. Because if I, as a woman who is nearing one of those BIG “0” birthdays, have trouble navigating it, how can our darling girls? How can all the little girls whom I love as much as I love my own sons possibly stand under the crushing weight of society’s expectation that they will never be more than decorative, if I cannot?
I want, this year, to count on all of you to like yourselves as much as I like you. I don’t ever want another friend who is so beautiful a person that she leaves a path of almost visible love behind her everywhere she goes to reveal to me that she cannot and does not love herself. I do not want your daughters and my future granddaughters to carry this burden. Let’s put it down. Let’s get the emperor some clothes. And a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
Hey, join me over on my Healthy Eating Healthy Life Pinterest board, where I pin things that encourage me to stay on the continuum. I seek out people who won’t bow down to a naked emperor to inspire me, and I’d love it if you’d join me. See you there!