The Canada Day long weekend is upon us here in the north, and while many will be diving off a dock into some pristine body of water (I heart Canada), my deep dive involves a first glimpse into the very nuanced world of physical activity and access to being ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’ in a North American context. It was no joke when I said that this undertaking is messy; the job of telling someone to ‘get outside,’ ‘get fit’ and ‘put down the phone’ carries a whole range of sociocultural nuances that flow through a vast network of privilege and power. It is important that I lay this foundation before digging in deeper to living a fit and healthy life through education and embodied experiences; sadly, it’s not so simple.
I will try to limit stuffy academic terms as much as possible here, but, I must share just one, and that is the concept of Healthism. Healthism, a concept introduced by Robert Crawford in the 1970’s, is the belief that health can be achieved unproblematically through individual effort and discipline (Crawford, 1970). Further to this, it represents a moral imperative to do so. Put simply, being fit and healthy depends on YOU, and its your job as a good, contributing citizen to keep it tight (or at least keep your blood pressure down and your BMI within the ‘healthy’ range – don’t get me started on BMI, people!).
Government and educational policy represent dominant forces that deliver these messages through public service announcements and school practices. Why? To keep the population healthy, out of hospital, and to take the heat off larger societal problems that may contribute to sedentary lifestyles, such as access to community resources, time, healthy food, money, and the list goes on. This is what I mean when I talk about power and how those in power can wield control over the individual in very subtle, yet powerful ways (more on Foucault later). An important study came out this week and was published in the Toronto Star that sheds light on the startling imbalances of after school opportunities for students in the poorest neighborhoods in Toronto, as an example (Students in poorer neighbourhoods may miss out on ‘vital programs,’ Toronto Star, June 25th 2018).
It starts to become clear that good health and well-being are not things one can achieve unproblematically through individual effort and discipline. I am not saying that those who have access to the best programs and schools should feel guilty, or that those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds do not have the ability to achieve good health; neither of these points prove productive for anyone. Instead, I am saying that we should try to be mindful of these social determinants of health and the privilege that comes along with achieving ‘good health.’ As someone who has taught in both the public and independent school systems, I like to engage all of my students in conversation about privilege. To be honest, as soon as we get on the topic, they often bring this up anyways because this generation is super cool and committed to social justice. I’ll do another post on this later.
So, as I embark on this journey of theorizing and actualizing good health for myself and others, considering access, privilege and one’s background will shape these conversations moving forward. Happy Canada Day to all! We are peacing out to the north for 2 weeks and living our best life – without WIFI!