As my byline expanded, so did my waistline. Remarkably enough, I didn’t care. Not even when, at a community picnic, one of my neighbors ruefully remarked, “Honey, I used to see you walking all the time.” She didn’t see me alone in my apartment, writing until dawn, before heading off to an office, so I could finish that chapter, fulfill that assignment. She didn’t see me come to the quiet conclusion that I could make a go of full-time freelancing (at least for a while). For Ragen Chastain, a fat activist, athlete, and health coach, one of the more troublesome parts of the good fatty dynamic is the kind of moral prerogative it can represent: “Participating in fitness/athletics is no more or less virtuous than knitting a tea cozy. Running a marathon is no better or worse than watching a Netflix marathon.” Being the good fatty, the woman who makes a conspicuous consumption of baby carrots when she really wants Nutella, is like putting on the same straightjacket I wore when I was breaking myself in fruitless pursuit of some immaculate thinness that was going to make me happier, healthier, more whole.
Our culture’s fixation on a very particular type of health and wellness — the metrics of which can only be gauged by BMI or blood pressure or the number of steps and miles — isn’t just reductive, it excludes broad swathes of people, particularly disabled and low-income people from the moral worthiness that health supposedly confers. A recent New York Times piece laments the volume of sugary drinks and sodas purchased by food stamp program participants, but this hand-wringing never touches on the hard grind of poverty, where those sugary drinks are a pick-me-up between long shifts, or Heaven forbid, simply a sip of something that tastes good. The all-abiding need to be healthy overrides personal choice.