It’s been a day of frustration with the way that health is peddled to the masses on social media. So, it’s been a day.
Almost every day, I get follows on Instagram from health and fitness Instagrammers and bloggers. A glance at our social media profiles might not actually look that different—while my Instagram might have a few more cupcakes, many of my posts carry the sheen of health. I think deeply every time I post something on social media, as I am aware of my position as someone who is openly recovered from an eating disorder and critical of diet culture. I know that having a thin, white, able body leads to my body being read in certain ways.
It can be oddly taboo to talk about health and fitness in recovery. Navigating the contradictions of having an interest in movement and having a history of disordered eating is far from straightforward. There is a double surveillance that can occur: on the one hand, your behaviours may be glorified by those who do not know about your eating disorder; on the other, those who know that you’ve experienced an eating disorder might give your salad the side eye.
Add to the thin privilege that allows me to bake strawberry basil balsamic cupcakes because I want a cupcake—and to eat that cupcake publicly and have it be seen as “cute” rather than gluttonous.
I navigate these tensions in a number of ways, and probably imperfectly. As I mentioned, I’m inevitably misread, interpreted as someone who wholeheartedly buys into gym cultures, someone who is so recovered that she doesn’t have to think twice about her exercise practices, or, conversely, as someone who isn’t as recovered as she thinks she is. I care about these misinterpretations not because of how they impact me personally—I know how solid my own recovery is, and I am happy to correct anyone who presumes that I think everybody should exercise or even that I personally spend time in gyms—but because of what they say about health, bodies, and eating disorder recovery.
In all honesty, I could not care less about what you choose to do with your body in terms of fitness and eating practices. This is somewhat of a controversial statement from someone who researches and writes about eating disorder recovery. Earlier on in my own journey and my work, I was quick to snap at those who drank diet coke, went vegan, ate Paleo, decided on gluten free, or any similar practice. I thought that these behaviours represented continued disordered eating, and I was vocal about it.
As my recovery has continued, and as I’ve spoken with many people in recovery through my research and advocacy work, I’ve started to change my tune. I’ve grown discontented with the idea that in order to be recovered you need to eat cute, stylized cupcakes. I’m tired of seeing lists that binarize disordered and non-disordered behaviours as if these uniformly applied to all people. I started being more generous toward others in recovery who are living in variously marginalized bodies and who inevitably face different pressures than I do. I can no longer pretend that eating a cupcake will be read the same way when a person in a large body does it, even when we’ve had similar eating disorder experiences.
This does not mean, though, that I can endorse fitness prescriptions that peddle certain types of lifestyles to all as if there were not differences in the types of exercise and eating that work for all. I cringe when I see someone write that they think everyone should wake up and hit the gym because they’ll be proud of themselves and no pain means no gain. I can’t stand the suggestion that we should ALL be eating gluten free, or that sugar is rotting our brains, or that “sitting is the new smoking.” These imperatives, and the overarching frame that a person who does not do these things is lazy, immoral, and unwanted, is untenable for me.
There is no one perfect route to health—and, further, health is not everyone’s aim. Frankly, we can’t know what will work for anyone else, we can’t judge someone’s health status by looking at them, and assuming that we can prescribe fitness in a uniform way is not only problematic but actually harmful. I have no problem with people enacting the ways of moving and eating that work for them—but we need to acknowledge that these practices exist in a political and social setting in which morals and bodies are configured as deeply entwining.