Health as Shame Generator


Lots of shame comes out of the Health Industrial Complex. Whether it’s a physician measuring your failure in pounds or a fitness guru manipulating your desire to “look fit and attractive,” shame plays a HUGE role in keeping most people miserable with their self-image.

Aubrey Gordon has produced an excellent new text that helps understand the role of false-guilt in our journey toward health. As I often tell youth in my courses, fitness focuses on particular kinds of activity. You are fit for certain sports. Or you are fit for some kinds of manual or office labor. Or you are fit for certain aesthetic competitions.

Fitness concerns the PARTIAL person. And while this can be synergized with total health in body/mind, it is subordinate to health. The term HEALTH comes to us today from a Germanic root it shares with WHOLE and HOLY. I consider this “trinity” one of my go-to etymologies for teaching about Ancient and Traditional notions of the harmonized self.

To be healthy involves your whole being and therefore elevates you by a kind of holiness.

To be whole brings together all of what you can do/be, providing you the power to recognize your life as holy and enjoy it thru good health.

Finally, to see ourselves as holy activates a desire for the best health so we can thrive in a whole life.

Don’t make the Health Industrial Complex drag you down thru it’s abuse of shame and false-guilt.

If a marginalized identity or experience can be established to be a choice, then solving the problems that marginalized individuals face falls to those individuals themselves rather than a broader collective. If marginalized people are choosing to deviate from the norm, the thinking goes, then any negative experience they face is a natural consequence of their poor decision-making. And the aggressors who create those negative experiences don’t have to reflect on their own complicity and accountability. The trauma of and accountability for oppression always run in one direction: toward marginalized com-munities. When we assume marginalized identities and experiences are a “choice,” we aren’t doing so out of concern for the people living those experiences. We do so instead to set people with relative power and privilege at ease with their own biases. And it works.Those biases start to seem like natural consequences of others’ deviant choices, not our own callousness to their needs and experiences.

Gordon, A. (2023). “You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People. United Kingdom: Beacon Press, 9.

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