By Julia Gumm
How did you get interested in health? I can tell you that for me, it wasn’t on purpose. No, it came about by accident, the by-product of my insatiable need to have reading material present at all times. By the time I was in elementary school, breakfast was just as much about the mental digestion of the nutrition label as it was about the physical digestion of the malted corn puffs themselves. That habit, coupled with my natural curiosity, led me down the rabbit hole. And here I am. Ta-da!
I also need reading material on the shitter. Hey, who doesn’t. To me, there are few fates worse than finding myself seated comfortably on the bowl with nary a shampoo bottle in reach. I’ve combed the labels of toiletry bottles so thoroughly that although I am solidly monolingual, I have words like “wash,” “rinse,” and “shower” memorized in at least three languages. I will say, it took me quite awhile to figure out why the French were imploring me to “douche” with my shower gel. Yikes.
But I’ll tell you what really sticks out to me about these toiletry labels. You’d be hard pressed to find a product, any product, that truly believes in its ability to improve the actual health of its targeted body part. Oh sure, they all make bold claims like “whiter teeth” and “lustrous hair” and “radiant skin”- all good stuff, no doubt. But the word “healthy” is always qualified with a “looking.” Toothpastes, face wash, moisturizer, hair conditioner, it’ll all make for healthy LOOKING results. Whether or not your teeth, skin or hair IS healthy, well that’s a whole ‘nother matter. But do we really care?
I realize that this may in part have to do with the legality of their claims. Maybe if some company that fills its products with carcinogens responsible for the deaths of innumerable baby seals once leached into the waterways makes some great claim about their shampoo being “healthy,” someone would sue them. Or whatever. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe we’re a shallow, vain society that is perfectly satisfied with achieving the mere appearance of good health. All else matters not. Because really, what is health besides a means to look good? And if we have to do things that are in truth, not so healthy, in order to achieve the illusion of a sound constitution, won’t most folks go ahead and do it anyway? The word “healthy” becomes a shadow of its former self, an adjective hinting at the illusion of something it once meant. In turn, we coat our hair with polymers, weaken the (now blindingly white) enamel on our teeth, and dust our cheeks with chemical laden powders that deliver the glow of robust health. It’s pretty hilarious when you think about it.
What made me think of this topic was the constant onslaught of garcinia cambogia ads in my Facebook feed. The accompanying video showing Dr. Oz popping a (metaphorical?) boner over it has been my first introduction to the man, and I gotta tell you, I am less than impressed. After watching his rave reviews of various miracle weight loss cures, the good doctor appears to be little more than an enthusiastic pill pusher with a penchant for totally uncritical thinking. Maybe that’s not all he is, but frankly, I don’t have the wherewithal to watch enough of his show to make a fair assessment. After watching his mind get blown over the shrinking balloons that represent fat cells on raspberry ketones in his veritable middle school science project, followed by his “stay tuned for fat slimming fashion secrets” hawk, I had seen quite enough.
I have a point somewhere…ah right, the lengths we go to to appear healthy, at the cost of our actual health. So in all these garcinia cambogia ads, there are before and after pictures. The “before” picture generally shows a woman with a perfectly average body. Yes, there’s some visible fat, but that’s kind of the human condition, especially on this side of the gender equation. And then the “after” reveals a supremely ripped, thin woman whose bosoms have miraculously swelled in inverse proportions to the shrinkage of her now perfectly cut abs. The comments are divided. Some people are befuddled: What was wrong with her in the before picture? But those people are just lazy haters, or you would be led to believe by the comments left by those who favor the “after” picture. The defense is that she looks so much “healthier” after having used the diet pills and possibly gotten plastic surgery (or at least, a really amazing push-up bra.) Some people say what they really mean, which is just that she looks hotter. But most people can’t be that bald-faced about their shallowness.
Sometimes, people are applauded for how “healthy” they look when eating a restricted-calorie diet that can’t possibly meet the RDA’s of vitamins and minerals without resorting to supplementation.
Some folks are praised for losing weight quickly, even though we all know that fast weight loss almost always results in rebound weight gain. Sooner or later, admit it. It does.
Often, teenagers with self-esteem issues are patted on the back for losing weight without any consideration or inquiry into how they did it.
Maybe you enviously look at your coworker’s salad lunch and wish you could eat as “healthy” as she does, even though a dainty pile of roughage wouldn’t so much as shave the edge off of your genuinely healthy appetite.
I think we have a problem here.
Looking healthy and being healthy are two completely different things. But what do you expect from us, huh? We’re the kind of people who’ll judge whether or not a couple goes well together by how cute they look with each other. Or we won’t purchase knotted, blemished apples because they look gross…which drives producers to use pesticides and wax on them, which I’m sure we can all agree, is actually gross. Or hey, how about the crap they put in beef in grocery stores? You know, to make it look red and fresh? People love that shit. Until they realize it’s in there.
In recent years, consumers have become more informed about the ick in their food, toiletries and household products. When they find out that they’ve been duped into buying sundries laden with harmful chemicals and additives, they’re outraged. They want to know why a company would do such a thing, and they want natural alternatives. But if that alternative is a steak lacking the marbling you can find it’s feedlot counterpart, or a conditioner that doesn’t quite leave the hair feeling as pliably soft as their Pantene, they’re just as pissed off as before. And sometimes, when adopting a truly balanced, healthy lifestyle, people can be disappointed that their bodies don’t end up looking as perfect as the airbrushed projections of the starlets on the magazines.
So here’s the deal: What we think of as healthy looking isn’t always healthy. Sometimes healthy things come in less than aesthetically perfect packages. Sometimes what’s good for you is what you’ve been led to believe is bad for you. Perfect appearances and perfect health are not the same thing. Make your choice, but you can’t serve two masters. Good health will result in better looks than the kind you’d get from atrophying on the couch, away from all daylight and green vegetables, yes. But don’t expect the kind of visual miracles your tooth bleach and restrictive diet can deliver. Do expect a wholeness of self and a natural self-confidence. And some good ass apples, if you can handle the knots.