Health and Morality

- POSTED ON: Nov 18, 2015


Health is not an obligation.  Nobody owes anybody else “health” or “healthy” behaviors by any definition.

Health is not a barometer of worthiness. Everyone deserves basic human respect. 

Health is not completely within our control. Health is multifaceted and includes genetics, environment, stress level, access to healthcare, behaviors such as food, movement, sleep, etc. Nobody is completely in control of all of these factors, and we overestimate the amount of control we have over our health outcomes.

Health is not guaranteed under any circumstances.  No behaviors guarantee a specific health outcome.  People get all kinds of illnesses regardless of their behaviors or body size.  Thin people get all the same diseases that are correlated with being fat, so being thin is not a sure preventative or a sure cure.

Here in 2015, much of our culture assumes that "Health" is a monolithic, universal good.  As Anna Kirkland says in her book: Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality (2010):

"You see someone smoking a cigarette and say: "Smoking is bad for your health", when what you mean is, "You are a bad person because you smoke."  You encounter someone whose body size you deem excessive, and say "Obesity is bad for your health," when what you mean is "You are lazy, unsightly, or weak of will."  You see a woman bottle-feeding an infant and say, "Breastfeeding is better for that child's health", when what you mean is that the woman must be a bad parent.

You see the smokers, the overeaters, the bottle-feeders, and affirm your own health in the process.  In these and countless other instances, the perception of your own health depends in part on your value judgments about others, and appealing to health allows for a set of moral assumptions to fly stealthily under the radar."

The following article also addresses this issue.

Important note on
“healthy is the new skinny…”

                by Isabel Foxen Duke

In many ways, healthy IS the new skinny — in the sense that, for some, it has become a new, politically correct way for women to shame, judge and fear themselves (…and others).

Unfortunately, this is to the detriment of a growing list of women I hear from regularly saying things like “I don’t hate the way my body looks, but I hate myself for eating the wrong foods — I hate that I can’t ‘treat my body right’.”

Moralizing “health”,
that is,
allowing our health choices to dictate our self-esteem,
or attaching our worthiness as humans to our ability to make “healthful” choices,
is not really all that different from allowing our weight to dictate our self-esteem,
or any other material circumstance, for that matter.

What we allow to prove or disprove our “failure” or “success” in this life,
will inevitably drive us into obsession.

How could I not become obsessed with what dictates my self-esteem?
How could I not become obsessed with what I believe makes me a worthy, lovable, and righteous human-being?

Like with body image,
the only way to stop feeling “crazy around health,”
is to remove the morality from our heath choices.

To learn to see our health choices as true choices,
rather than as tests of our righteousness as human beings.

Isabel Foxen Duke blogs at How To Not Eat Cake... Really Fast, Standing Up, When Nobody's Looking.  Isabel is a young, normal-weight, internet-based, positive-body-image, “Life Coach”.  She has a BA in sociology from Tufts University, and a health coaching certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. 

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