It is what I have always "known," but could not say it so effectively.
EXERCISE, in general, is a privilege.Being able to be thin or fit or lithe, because you can go to the gym, and because you can afford to buy and prepare healthful foods, is a privilege.
It is a sign of privilege.
Going to Target with your kids wearing your expensive running shoes, and clothes you bought just for running, is a sign of privilege.
And this really affects me, because I am frequently seeing - especially on the internet, especially in women's communities - a lot of judgment about being "fat." That losing weight is as simple as putting down the cheeseburger and moving your lazy ass. Because the only thing involved is willpower.
It's a form of classism and snobbish elitism that is hidden behind the more PC concern of "being healthy/unhealthy."
One of the things that really inspired me to try and start running again was reading a series of blog posts by a somewhat well known scrapbooker (you probably know who I'm talking about) who, this year, joined Weight Watchers, started running, got in shape, lost weight, and looks fantastic. She has been very honest about her struggles, and very specific about the tools and processes she has used to get to where she is. I think she has been fantastic and I have appreciated all she has shared.
When I looked at all her running and weight loss posts all in a row, what struck me was how very, very expensive this simple hobby of running and this weight loss journey is in her world.
She has a treadmill that sits in a spare room of her house.
She has a spare room available just for exercising. She does not have family members crowding into her home because they are going through foreclosure, and taking up the extra space.
She did not agonize (as I did) over the cost of buying the right shoes. She bought the shoes she needed.
She bought workout clothes. Her tank tops alone were something like $68. Each.
She has a washer and dryer in her home so she can wash these clothes as often as needed. She owns the washer and dryer, and as the Mom also probably has first access to the machines, and doesn't have to wait until others are done.
She has an ipod.
And a special ipod holder for when she runs.
And earbuds. (Mine were stolen and I had to buy the special iPhone earbuds with a microphone to use when driving the car -- $80.00. So this is not insignificant.)
And digital music on her computer, for making custom playlists to motivate her.
She has a really, really expensive computer.
She pays for Weight Watchers online and doesn't go to meetings. She has a good scale.
She can afford (obviously) an internet connection in her home. She does not rely upon the public library for access.
Her children are old enough to not need her constant attention, or a sitter.
She lives in a nice enough neighborhood that simply stepping out her door and running in her neighborhood is an option.
And on and on and on.
Despite all of this, she still struggles. But the only thing she struggles with is HERSELF.
She doesn't struggle because she doesn't have the shoes. She doesn't struggle because her neighborhood is so bad she doesn't dare run down her sidewalk. She doesn't struggle because her children are so young and demanding she can't leave them for an hour a day. She doesn't struggle because she works on her feet at the drive through, or even in an office a 45 minute commute away, and has to find the time and energy to run and grocery shop and plan her eating around everything else.
I think about this a lot these days because I am in library school, because I am interested in the digital divide.
The digital divide is associated with, and leads to, a lack of economic opportunity and a sense of certain individuals or communities being “left behind” without the skills needed to succeed (Cleary et al. 2006).
Did you know that there are minority populations in this country that have higher rates of mortality specifically because they don't have access to computers and the internet, and even if they did, they don't know how to use them effectively?
According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, “life expectancy and overall health have improved in recent years for a large number of Americans, due to an increased focus on preventative medicine and dynamic new advances in medical technology. However, not all Americans are benefiting equally” (HHS 2004).
People in these populations who get cancer, or even chronic diseases like diabetes, have higher mortality rates because they do not know how to get on the internet and research their diseases and see what their treatment options are. They have treatment options they do not know about, because of the digital divide.
“The digital divide has been identified as a special problem in health care that can lead to significant disparities in care” (Kreps 2005).
“Many of the people who are most at risk of poor health outcomes from … serious health problems are members of underserved populations, populations that are generally made up of individuals who are of low socioeconomic status, possess low levels of health literacy, … are members of marginalized ethnic and minority groups …” (Kreps 2005).
Health literacy is becoming a civil rights issue in this country. It's not even about who has health insurance and who has money to pay for treatment. It's about basic access to information and resources.
“Many studies show that certain minority groups and low-income, low-education populations in the United States suffer from a disproportionate cancer burden and have limited access to electronic information about health” (Kreps 2005). Health information guides strategic behaviors including treatment options, decisions, and plans. Without access to health information, “these same vulnerable populations are also subject to serious disparities in health care and generally have much higher rates of morbidity and mortality due to serious health threats, especially from cancers, than the rest of the public” (Kreps 2005).
I just wrote a grant application for an IMLS National Leadership Grant in health literacy. And as I read that blog post, I thought about this woman I have used as an example (who I am not linking to, because she is a really nice person, and I don't need her thinking I am pointing some finger at her), who was able to go online, from home, and use the internet to research her options, to get support, to find out what she had to do, and to even shop for her shoes, clothes, digital music, and equipment.
One of the reasons I wrote my lost post about running was to explain in detail the process I have gone through, trying to run because I love it, and yet having these issues related to money and access.
When I started out, I lived in a deadly dull but very safe suburban housing development. Then I moved back to Chicago. I live in such a bad neighborhood I would not dare walk out the door and go running or even walk down the street. I drive to the suburbs to run. This means I can only run on days I have time to do that.
I struggled to try and run wearing my cheap $35.00 Reeboks, and failed. I tried and tried. It was not possible. I then had to make a hard decision as to whether I would invest a large (to me) sum of money to this healthful practice.
I made a series of cheap clothing purchases and mix those with old stuff I already owned.
I struggle with not being able to throw my few clothing items into the washer whenever I need to. I have had days when I could have gone running and I didn't because I had no time to do the laundry and hand washing was no longer enough.
I have an old model iPhone I bought because I am in library school and technologically, I was falling behind my younger classmates. The profession is extremely competitive and I didn't even know what a WorldCat app was. Because I was already a Mac user, I already had an iTunes account, so I can buy the occasional $1.00 song.
I bought a laptop in March, and without it, this would have been much harder. The laptop is an older Mac I bought for $450.00 off Craigslist. I was able to do this because I worked in graphics and publishing for 13 years. I knew what I needed and what would work and how much it should cost. Someone without that knowledge does not have the option of doing research and waiting for the right deal.
My original earbuds were stolen and they wouldn't stay in my ears anyway. I spent 3 months doing research online to see what other options there were and how much they were. I made purchases on ebay. I bought ear adapters to try and make them fit. It was only after 3 ebay purchases and I still didn't have earbuds that would stay in and a mike that worked that I went to a retail store and looked at new options. Even then I waited for a 50% off sale. Without the earbuds I would have a very very hard time, because the standard size earbuds would never stay in my ears while running or warming up. The frustration would be a huge barrier to trying to run.
I am just saying -- there is more to setting up an exercise program and getting in shape than just "get off the couch" and "stop eating fast food."
Yet we have this myth in our society that this is all there is to it. The only thing holding you back is YOU and how lazy, sad, pathetic and weak willed you are. That if you really wanted it, you would be "healthy" (meaning, smaller than you are right now). There is a sense of moral superiority underlying some of the commentary I've seen and heard. If you are a woman, you've heard it too.
Even though I am struggling right now due to being in school and trying to transition to a new career, the education I have and the knowledge I have puts me in the privilege category. Except I don't have the ability right now to engage in the privileged behavior of my peers.
I just get to look at it.
This is me. This is me at my mother's wedding this past weekend. This is me after three months of running. Not every day, but regularly. Running enough so that I was able to dance with my aunt and cousins and sisters and not have to stop midway through a song out of breath.
Do I look "thin" to you? Do I look "slim"? "Lithe"? "In shape"?
Do I look like a runner to you? Is this what a woman who runs looks like? Does this fit your mental image?
It doesn't fit mine.
Cleary, Paul, Glenn Pierce, and Eileen Trauth. "Closing the digital divide: understanding racial, ethnic, social class, gender and geographic disparities in Internet use among school age children in the United States." Universal Access in the Information Society 4.4 (2006): 354-373.
Department of Health and Human Services. “Eliminating Minority Health Disparities.” HHS Fact Sheet. July 12, 2004. Cited in Lorence et al., “Digital Divide,” 2006.
Kreps, Gary L. "Disseminating Relevant Health Information to Underserved Audiences: Implications of the Digital Divide Pilot Projects." Journal of the Medical Library Association 93.(2005): 68-73.
Lorence, Daniel P. and Heeyoung Park. "Measuring Dissimilarity in Online Health Search Activities." Technology & Health Care 14.2 (2006): 79-89.
Photo 1: Random lithe women running. Always on a beach -- talk about privilege. Source unknown.
Photo 2: Photo of me. Chicago, IL. 19 Nov 2010.