Optimum health and capitalism

All the popcorn you can eat.

Something has been irritating me. The idea that the North American (white, middle class?) appetite for chasing our best selves and our optimum health is actually one of capitalism’s best disguises. Maybe this is totally unsurprising to you. Is it a legacy of protestant expressions of devotion through work and the accumulation of property? Would that be centering western European masculine traditions too much?

I thought I’d write a blog post about the relationship between optimum health and capitalism and call it a day (although it might not even be a relationship, it might just be one and the same). It’s a big idea, though, and I think it’ll take a few posts to get through all the popcorn I’m making, mentally. For now, I’ll share some of the moments (in no particular order) that have fed this need to make popcorn:

  1. An Ontario chain of gyms with succinct branding came to Victoria. It was the first time I lifted weights albeit with terrible, unsupervised form. A cultish and bizarre place.
  2. The credit I get when I run regularly, run half-marathons, and ride long distances on behalf of cancer treatment and research.
  3. The debates over crossfit, weightlifting, and triathletes that I see online. And the furor over fatness, feminine bodies, and “healthy living.”
  4. The fact that I participate in two-tier healthcare by going to a naturopath despite my ideological commitment to publicly funded healthcare.
  5. A few years ago I had a conversation with my cousin, who was raised in a pretty “health-conscious” home, ending with the comment, “There are no obese people in Boulder,” as if erasing an entire range of body sizes and shapes was a good thing (and what did “obese” mean in this context?).
  6. I live in Victoria, BC; I couldn’t escape thinking about this if I wanted to.

Where I live, and at my age (mid-thirties), discussing health is a big thing. People talk about their health a lot. It’s annoying; self-consciously sarcastic remarks are made, and then people keep talking about their health (I’m talking about mostly healthy people here; I’m not in this to shame people for whom working on their health is a full time job). They trade stories on their diets (are they vegan, paleo, locavores, whatever), their exercise regimes (yoga, pilates, tri, crossfit, lifting, boxing, whatever), and what they buy to facilitate their best health (alternative medical services, personal training, facility memberships, equipment, clothing, intensive retreats, personal chefs, whatever). One conclusion of this is that so much of pursuing health costs money.

Another important issue is that health gets conflated with body size and shape far more than it should. It is also conflated with success and achievement. Or, it is conflated with a specific size and shape and a specific kind of success and achievement. This, my friends, is a red flag: CRAPITALISM. If I am not striving to achieve my best form, best shape, best health, I am a poor worker, a lazy person, and deserving of ill health.

Capitalism is fed by dividing collective strengths and conquering individuals with embedded, regenerative, and dynamic hierarchies. It is about entrenching and modifying class, race, gender, ability, and multiple other opportunities for striation. So, I contend that the relationship between health and capitalism means that a perceived failure to openly strive for my own best health exposes me as a poor citizen: weak, lacking in work ethic, draining rather than contributing to the “system.”

This is just a toe in the water, a spitball. I want to keep thinking about this and dig a little deeper into this mess. Stay tuned. [end]

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