Stories

The Things That Really Matter

Sometimes, it’s all too easy for us to compare ourselves with others, and feel like we come up short. Everyone else seems to be richer, smarter, funnier, younger, more beautiful, more successful etc etc… than our little old selves. Their lives are more interesting, they’ve travelled more, seen more, eaten more, lived more, everything more than us, and pretty soon, we wonder why anybody even loves us, and we’re probably going to finish up spending our twilight years on a front porch rocking chair, polishing a rifle and scaring off any visitors, eventually dying alone and completely forgotten until about three weeks later when the neighbour’s dog finally dares to venture close enough…

OK, so maybe most people aren’t quite so dramatic when it comes to their self-esteem. Or are they? Consider how we’re a culture of self-obsessed narcissists while simultaneously suffering from the plague of self-loathing. Like many teenage females of her species, the Ninja Turtle used to spend way too much time worrying that she failed to measure up to certain ideals and standards. In retrospect, it’s very shameful to admit it now, how shallow and superficial her obsessions were, but truth be told, it’s the norm. Her concerns mirrored those of everyone else’s, as she’d fit right in to conversations as long as she spoke the same language of self-criticism.

It was all thanks to running that she’s finally learnt to perceive her body differently – not what it looks like, but what it can do. Her once too-big thighs are now strong and muscular. Her cursed lack of height is now seen as a gift, for it’s a shorter way to go if she trips and falls. A million tiny flaws all dissolve to oblivion as she learns how inconsequential they all are. It’s not that running has given her a perfect body (if anything, she can no longer zip up a very expensive pair of leather boots because her calves are now disproportionally big). It’s just that running has given her a whooping dose of perspective about what truly matters.

So much in the media today is about health, but none of it makes any real sense because it’s all conflicting information. Like this article in the Guardian points out, it’s hard for people to make healthy choices or engage in healthy behaviours if they’re so full of self-hatred. Perhaps it’s a bit of stretch to point fingers as the skinny for the current poor state of health, but for a long time now, we have been confounding thinness with good health, and come on now, admit it, we’ve all been guilty at some point of judging another person based on their physical appearances.

The truth is, there are some thin folks who live off hamburgers and chain-smoke, and some bigger-sized people whose blood work will put the rest of us to shame. We don’t know anything about people just by looking at them. Of course, a fat person is a fat person, and it’s impossible to argue one’s way out of this fact without a good dose of unawareness or self-deception, but it’s very cruel to make a moral judgement simply based on general assumptions. A fat person is simply that, a fat person. Just like a skinny person is simply a skinny person. Nothing more, nothing less.

By programming children to attach negative connotations to the word fat – and by extension, positive ones with being thin, we have all done ourselves a huge disservice. We’re taking a lazy mental shortcut, and one which, given the number of “overweight” in our world today, essentially lumps the majority of people in the not-good-enough basket. Where do we draw the line? Worse, it’s exactly this kind of reasoning that teaches young girls (and boys) to say “I feel fat” instead of “I fear I won’t be getting an A for biology after all”. Cue: all sorts of eating disorders, stage left.

The ongoing debate of personal responsibility in health further reinforces the notion that people get themselves to a certain state because they’re too lazy/stupid/(insert judgement here). Too easy is it to say “nobody held a gun to your head to eat the pizza”. Time-pressed working parents who pull 12-hour-days struggling to earn enough to survive cannot skip down to the local markets at 10am like the privileged among us, to select organic peaches and broccoli with a cost per kilo of their hourly wage. When the kids want a hot meal at the end of the night, and another 30 minutes on their feet in front of a hot stove is out of the question, a family pizza deal for the price of one kilo of said peaches and broccoli doesn’t look half bad after all.

Perhaps we are better off saving our judgement then, for those who are in charge of creating this entirely perverse and arguably criminal situation where fresh food is left to rot, instead of being redirected to where it’s needed most.

We need to start creating a culture and an environment where girls and women do not bond over overt self-loathing (remember Mean Girls?).

We need to start empowering girls by directing their identities towards what they can do, not what they look like.

We need to start encouraging people to love and respect themselves, if we want to see evidence of this in their food and lifestyle choices.

We need to stop making moral judgements on people, based solely on their appearances.

We need to stop making choices that permit the exploitation of the Earth, the people who work on it, the predatory pricing that nudges us towards picking up the less-healthy choices and a complete disconnection between ourselves, the planet, and our food.

We need to stop worrying about the inconsequential rubbish of what’s on TV, who’s pregnant/divorced/gained weight, or the pimple on our chin.

We need to stop comparing ourselves to others, understand that we are all unique and have something to offer to the world, and start taking action to fix the very real problems of a food crisis, a health crisis, and an economic crisis that is all around us.

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