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It’s time to end the concept of ‘healthy bodies’

The philosophy of Western medicine has evolved over centuries. If we were able to travel back two-hundred years, we’d find people who didn’t know that germs cause diseases. While our modern world may seem advanced in the realm of medicine, we have a long way to go to developing a system that services everybody appropriately.

If I asked you to picture a “healthy body,” you’d probably imagine someone who doesn’t have a lot of body fat, who has access to all their limbs, can see, can hear, etc. However, this idea of health excludes a large majority of the human population, and it also doesn’t pass the sniff test. While things like your weight and lifestyle can affect your overall health, there is no sweeping principle that if you have a certain percentage of body fat you are more or less healthy than anyone else. The idea of healthy and unhealthy lifestyles is a socially constructed idea.

The crux of this issue comes down to the judgement of people based on the social construct of “healthiness.” This unfair judgement is often made by people who have no background or knowledge in medicine, but also medical professionals get trapped in this idea of “healthy bodies.” Much of Western medicine has been based on treating to an ideal, i.e., an able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender male. This practice has both a societal origin and a practical one. For much of history (and some still hold these ideas today), the man was seen as dominant and therefore, healthier than women (note: for much of history, it was believed there are only two genders as well). Additionally, medical professionals didn’t have the tools they have today to look inside someone’s body, so the practical matter of treating someone had to be given a model.

 The problem comes when people with perfectly functional lives are told that they are “unhealthy” due to a characteristic they possess. This could be the amount of body fat they have. This could be a disability. This could even be a particular ethnicity they are. As you might imagine, the idea of “unhealthiness” has been used maliciously to deny rights and privileges to certain types of people. Many disabled people in the past were brutally mistreated or even killed because they were either deemed inferior to able-bodied people or they any mistreatment was seen as a kindness. Even today, the perception of disabled people as “broken” or “needing fixed” is quite prevalent.

Where does one draw the line? It sounds like a complicated question, but the fact of the matter is that if you are not a person’s doctor, and they are not asking you to make a medical judgement for them, then you need to not comment. A person’s health is between them and the physician. No one else should be commenting on another person’s health based on how they look because there’s always another side to the story. There’s always an element of that person’s life that you have no idea about. 

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