AA: Questions on Health/Healthism

Em wrote in:

[cw: brief discussion of abuse, with specific examples]

Hello, the following are actually more multiple questions related to the same topic of Healthism, as I feel I don’t understand the subject yet adequately enough, I will number them to make it less confusing:

I will preface that I agree that we shouldn’t treat “health” as some good everyone ought to pursue and demand of others to pursue or some measure of people’s moral worth, etc.

1. Though I found myself asking how this related to matters detracting from people’s ‘health’ e.g. say people are exposed to smog in an environment they are mandated to work in and are getting sick, a child being malnourished cause the guardian-figure doesn’t care about their ‘health’ (For a lack of a better word), a brother of someone takes their sibling with severe social anxiety to a crowded locale without taking that factor into consideration, or just general circumstances where people are responsible for an unwanted negative impact on other people’s ‘health’.

2. Also this is more asking for advice, but I recall you mentioned the term ‘healthy relationships’ as being connected to Healthism, so I wondered what would be a good alternative for the term when trying to describe a relationship that’s the opposite of being toxic/abusive/corrosive, etc.

Thanks in advance! -Em

Well, I’ll see what I can do here.

1. I think the concept of consensuality is a key factor here, as well as whether or not the person(s) making the choice is the same as the person(s) being affected by the results.  A person making an “unhealthy” choice that has negative (or “negative”) outcomes for themselves isn’t the same as someone hurting someone else.  When I criticize healthism as moral metric, I’m criticizing the idea that an individual’s “healthiness” = an individual’s moral worth (ex. if you don’t exercise you’re “lazy,” if you don’t “eat right” you’re undisciplined, if you don’t prioritize your health at every waking moment you’re in error and need to be corrected, etc.).  I’m not saying that hurting people, knowingly/intentionally making people sick, etc. is okay as long as the harm takes the form of harm to their “health.”

In fact, when taken in combination with the idea that no, sometimes an individual is not totally in control of their own health, healthism starts to look a lot like liberal victim-blaming.

2. I don’t remember mentioning that, but it is something that bothers me a little bit.  As far as alternatives go… well, it depends.  It actually seems a bit odd to me to try and create a blanket category for that (even though I’ve used the term “healthy relationship” myself before) because, well…  For one thing, “healthy vs. unhealthy” implies a binary of Good and Bad, i.e. all relationships that aren’t unhealthy are by default healthy, with “healthy” having a positive (read: non-neutral) value to it, but see, I have plenty of relationships — my relationships with my cousins, for example — that, while they aren’t overtly abusive or anything, are just too distant for me to think of them as “good” and “healthy.”  They’re relationships that are just kind of… there.  I rarely see any of my cousins.  I don’t interact with them much.  Those relationships are “healthy” in that they’re not hurting me, but classing them like they’re Good and Nurturing (and like they do the opposite of the thing that abusive relationships do) seems… melodramatic, at best, and inaccurate.

So I think it’s worth examining closely what we typically mean by “healthy relationships,” if we consider it to mean something more specific than non-abusive.  I think I tend to conceptualize the term as something close to “ideal relationships” — relationships that are close and supportive, involve strong emotional bonds, and have a net positive effect on both/all lives.  So you might isolate the specific trait you have in mind, like one of those (ex. nurturing, supportive, beneficial).  Or, if you’re feeling blunt, you might outright call them “good relationships,” since “good” is often what people mean by “healthy” anyway.  But if you’re anything like me, at times you might also decide it’s more productive to ditch adjectives and instead talk in terms of cause and effect instead of definitions, ex. instead of “In a healthy realtionship, the people do [X],” you could phrase the idea as, “When people do [X], then [positive outcome Y].”  Or you can talk in “should” statements, when a lot of times that’s what descriptions of what’s “healthy” are anyway.  There’s lots of options.  But I don’t know that there’s any exact adjective I’d advocate for in place of the “healthy” in “healthy relationships.”

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3 responses to “AA: Questions on Health/Healthism

  • luvtheheaven

    You both raised a lot of interesting points! I never thought about ditching the term “healthy relationship” before but now I’m thinking maybe you could just say “non-abusive relationship” and sometimes realize that some relationships are neither toxic nor really “healthy” and maybe no relationships are “healthy”, maybe the idea is nonsensical…

  • Aqua

    Very interesting! I wasn’t aware of the problems with the term “healthy relationship” before either, nor did I know of any alternatives beforehand, but the false dichotomy between “healthy” and “unhealthy” relationships has bothered me. Perhaps it might be better to categorize them as positive, neutral and negative relationships?

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