The weight of the word “fat” is almost unbearable. It is as much a curse as it is a burden, placed upon the broad, heaving shoulders of anyone who has ever stepped on a weighing scale alone in their room, half-naked and praying for God to take them away.
To call someone “fat” is to expose wounds that have not yet fully healed, to rub one’s skin until all that is left is tender flesh, aching and raw. “Fat” no longer means “plump” or “large in bulk.” Now, to be fat is idleness; to be fat is pain; to be fat is weakness.
While I struggle with my body image, it is no secret to those close to me that my love of food knows no bounds. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by the unique alchemy of cooking and the way that good food can fill people with such joy.
Such an intimate understanding of food is rare, though. More often than not, people who enjoy food, fat or not, do so with guilt hanging heavily over them. There is a fear of not eating “well,” of turning undesirable as soon as one lets the crisp, greasy joy of biting into a fast food French fry wash over them.
It doesn’t help that we are immersed in a culture possessed with the pursuit of perfection. The otherworldly superstars who dominate the social media landscape are objects of peerless beauty; their rippling muscles and well-defined cheekbones giving them license to dictate how lowly mortals such as us should live our lives.
It is this that has transformed the way that we see food. Unless what you eat brings you closer to achieving your ideal body, it is labeled unfit to eat, sorely lacking things such as “wholesomeness” and “virtue.”
What wellness peddlers fail to mention is how actual health and wellness are very nuanced issues that cannot simply be solved by throwing a handful of buzzwords and a recipe for smoothie bowls at them. The real problem with wellness is just how blatantly it ignores factors such as mental health and cultural context, all for the sake of maintaining an image and making a little extra cash.
Wellness culture, which we can define as the business of selling a lifestyle focused on trendy health and fitness, is willing to drive out deeply rooted and well-established food cultures (take, for instance, East Asia’s culture of eating rice), in order to push an agenda centered on Western ideals of beauty and fitness. Instead of being adapted to the specific cultural and economic quirks of a place, the trappings of wellness are instead sold at a premium as luxury goods.
This is particularly dangerous, given how persistent and dogmatic many influencers are regarding “healthy” lifestyles. While it is perfectly fine for them to eat whatever they want, it becomes problematic when they begin to use strong language such as #NoExcuses in order to push their lifestyle on others.
What about the professionals who tirelessly work 9-to-5 jobs and barely have enough energy to survive the MRT ride home? What about the young people who can’t afford personal trainers and can’t tell the difference between kale and arugula? What about the call center agents who sleep as soon as the sun comes up after a long day of being yelled at by some random white guy and just want a cup of extra rice?
Pushing this version of wellness on them would not only be irresponsible, it would be downright destructive. In a climate where millions of impressionable young people, both men and women, suffer from social anxiety, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders, the last thing we need is someone telling us that we should know exactly how to replace kale in a recipe.
Real wellness should be about the moment you eat something you love and remember that it is good.
That should be enough.