One of the greatest taboos in our society is a blatant disregard for one’s own health. Smokers, drug users and the overweight are all shamed to varying degrees for making choices that might keep them from living to be five hundred million-billion, or whatever unnatural age those creepy “calorie restrictor” people think they can attain by giving up all sensory pleasure. We are constantly bombarded with messages that fat is unhealthy, sugar will kill us, and dudes will only like us if our bodies fall somewhere on the continuum between Keira Knightley and Beyoncé. We listen, and often, we pass those messages along. After all, what’s more American than telling other people what they should and shouldn’t do with their own bodies?
It’s this very shame that has often caused me to keep quiet when my friends start talking about yoga, step aerobics or the noises this one lady makes when using the thigh machine. But, fuck it, this is a safe space to confess: I don’t “work out.” I’ve tried it before, but I didn’t much care for it, so I quit and never looked back.
This does not necessarily mean I don’t get any exercise. Like most New Yorkers, I often have the occasion to walk, bike, or even run (away from the odd mugger) as part of my day-to-day routine. As a freelancer who lives about a ten-minute bike ride from the nearest gentrified commercial strip, I ride my bike for at least twenty minutes a day. Those delicious sandwiches aren’t going to magically fly into my mouth by themselves (seriously, no good restaurants deliver to my house). But the idea of jogging on an endless journey to nowhere like a spandex-clad hamster in a wheel is not my idea of a good time. Nor is being in close proximity to numerous sweaty strangers, all grunting and groaning in an uncomfortably intimate fashion as they strive to fit some unattainable body ideal. Maybe it’s just that I’m from Connecticut, but the only person I want to have see my grunty o-face is the person I am currently having sex with, and even then, it takes some getting used to.
There’s also the terrifying issue of germs. Other people’s sweat is gross. I don’t care how good folks are about wiping down their machines after use; as my even-more-germophobic tattoo artist friend pointed out to me recently, gyms are one of the top spots for contracting MRSA, a.k.a. methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a.k.a. “modern antibiotics can’t cure your supergerms, holy shit you are fucked!” I feel it’s best to avoid them altogether.
I realize I speak from a position of relative privilege. Modern life dictates that many people don’t have the occasion to expend much physical energy in their daily activities, so they must turn to those fluorescently lit boxes of sweat, germs and muzak. I’m also not genetically prone to obesity, although I should note that I’ve worked pretty hard to like my body the way it is, tummy and all, rather than perfect it, two tasks that I think are equally difficult in their own ways. For reasons that have nothing to do with health and everything to do with the way my heart melts when petting baby animals, I don’t consume any meat, eggs or dairy, although being a vegan doesn’t necessarily make you skinny (God bless you, Daiya cheese nachos).
I should also make it clear that I don’t hate anyone for going to the gym; that would mean I’d hate most of my friends, and I love my friends like a non-exerciser loves not exercising. I’m just tired of the way society judges anyone who doesn’t submit herself fully to its “health” standards, which are often really just beauty standards in disguise. Would Kate Moss still be admired as an icon of cool if we truly cared about “health”? Regardless, she can do all the blow and smoke all the “ciggies” she likes and I won’t look down on her one bit, because guess what? Health is not a moral imperative, no matter what The Biggest Loser or Skinny Bitch would have you believe.