That’s What She Said

Part of a righteous post by Zuzu on Feministe that pertains to a lot of the issues we talk about here:

[W]henever we start focusing on the health of the individual, we erase the systemic problems that contribute to health issues. This is a perfect example of the personal being political.

Institutions love to shift the burden onto the individual, because it means the institution doesn’t have to examine its own behavior or its own contribution to a problem. Let’s look at bullying. States and schools love to have zero-tolerance policies so they can look like they’re being tough on bullying — but then when bullying incidents happen, they just don’t define it as bullying, and suggest that the victim change his or her behavior. Problem solved!

Then we have childhood obesity prevention programs. Sure, they sound good, but ultimately, they put the burden on the kid to change while leaving intact many, many things that contribute to the problem. This may include fat-laden agricultural surplus products that find their way into the school lunches; vending machines and bake sales used for fundraising because taxpayer funds are unavailable; cutbacks in physical education and extracurricular sports; lack of safe spaces to walk or exercise; lack of sidewalks; corn subsidies that result in high-fructose corn syrup showing up in everything; high housing prices that lead to long parental commutes and thus a reliance on takeout over freshly-prepared foods; food deserts; aggressive marketing by fast-food outlets; food-assistance programs that are designed to dump agricultural surplus rather than provide good nutrition; agricultural subsidies that mean that vegetables are more expensive than cheap fatty meats; lack of access to affordable preventive health care; lack of education about nutrition; and on and on.

An awful lot for a little kid to carry on his or her shoulders, don’t you think?

And it’s not just kids that get this kind of treatment, it’s adults as well. How dare you be fat at me, Ms. Medicaid Recipient? Maybe they should cut your food stamps off if you’re going to be so fat! That the face of poverty is widely considered to be black, female and fat — today’s version of the Welfare Queen in her Cadillac — just makes the problem more intractable.

But it’s a fight worth having, and it’s a fight that feminists [and foodies—ed.] should be waging. So instead of scoffing next time you see someone criticizing the use of the BMI as an indicator of individual health, try listening, and considering. You might just see that the problem is bigger than you realize — and it might even hit home for you.