My mawmaw loved her some scrambled eggs. So I felt panic one morning in 1988 as we watched a journalist explain that eggs weren’t healthy.
BAD cholesterol, you see. LDL. Triglycerides. I panicked because egg-eaters were clearly courting death. And I loved me some mawmaw.
But she just laughed. “Child,” she mused, “I’ve been alive a long time. Every year, they decide something else isn’t healthy. And the next year, they change their minds. Pass me the damn eggs.” Mawmaw did always have a healthy resistance to folks telling her what she should and shouldn’t do.
Healthy lifestyle, diet, finances, parenting style, portfolio, routine, balance, mental state, marriage …
There’s no shortage of folks telling (and selling) us what’s healthy in every category of our lives. Defining and marketing this particular word is big business because health is presented to us both as a) a social requirement, and b) something elusive, changing, and always just outside our reach.
As Mawmaw astutely observed, health is one helluva moving target. One that ultimately relies on us, the reader-consumer, to FIX in place.
When we use the word ‘healthy,’ we simultaneously invoke a cultural, historical, racial, and economic SPECTRUM while reducing it & erasing it in the same keystroke.
Use of the word ‘healthy’ in marketing relies upon its nebulous nature. What it communicates is potentially infinite, but it speaks itself nonetheless as if its meaning will be universally understood.
In other words, it shifts the responsibility of definition from the writer to the reader. From the marketer to the consumer. Because, in the absence of meaning, we will summon an array of socio-cultural norms to fill the vacuum.
Words like ‘healthy’ (and fit and wellness and well-being) are not DEFINING health. They are naming whatever is the current, dominant construct of health.
It’s why products from radium to cocaine could at one time be marketed as “healthy.” It’s why veganism and meat-only diets can make identical claims to “health.”
They invoke trust by association. The message is: ‘You know that ideal of health that is most dominant in our culture right now? This product/method will get you that.’
The Health At Every Size (HAES) and body-positive movements as a whole make this linguistic distinction crystal clear.
Their use of the word ‘health’ explicitly understands how the word functions in the minds of consumers – and turns it on its head. It’s message: ‘You know that ideal of health that is most dominant in our culture right now? It’s making a LOT of assumptions. It’s leaving out a lot of people. And damn it, it may just be wrong.
Healthy mental states.
All of the words and phrases that “healthy” is used to modify are intensely personal realms placed on uneven, dominant-cultural scales.
But if that’s not enough to prompt a re-thinking of our use of ‘healthy,’ take this on for a mind-fuck. 150 years ago, the adjective-in-use wasn’t healthy. It was ‘godly.’
That’s the word, nerd.