“Health” and Ableism – Thoughts on Interdependences between Body and Systems of Oppression

I‘ve already mentioned the connections I see between the concept(s) of ‚beauty‘ and power structures like sexism, racism, ageism, classism and others. Except for gender, I haven‘t gone into detail regarding these interdependences between body and systems of oppression.

Recently, I began to understand some of my own experience and these interdependences through the concept of ableism. I never thought of my own body-related experience of deprivation/discrimination as ‚ableist‘ (although I already had developed most of my understandings of body-related discrimination);
I am not labeled as nor do I identify as ‚disabled‘ – indeed I regard myself luckily healthy: not experiencing serious ‚dysfunctions‘, no chronicle diseases, no allergies, rarely needing to see a doctor, good working immune system, feeling ‚well-connected‘ to my body, its needs and signals.

Yet ’society’s‘ definition of HEALTH apparently shifted from ‚not ill‘ to ‘highly functioning, highly efficient, highly exercised’. You no longer need a doctor’s diagnosis to be proven ill but to be proven healthy!
As much as I wish that my heart will beat for some more decades, as much do I oppose to the thought of needing someone else (who doesn‘t even know me and my life) to tell me how I am, if my body works properly (as if it was just a machine I happen to be attached to!) or in what way I shall lead my life.
Being healthy means being ok with how my body, my person and my life arrange to work out together. Being healthy includes taking care of myself (physically, emotionally, concerning my life) the way I decide to. Being healthy includes judging/deciding what I can and what I can‘t do and how to cope with it. Being healthy includes being ill from time to time and the need to recover, it includes doing things that can be bad for my body but that I enjoy and put first at times, it includes being happy with my (current) life or finding ways to become so (or deciding not to). Being healthy means being ok with yourself (or deciding not to). And in this sense I am really healthy! Well, in lots of regards and situations, even in a medical sense I can be considered really healthy – depending on what is talked about.
But in other regards I am not.

If we understand ableism as this ideology of ‚pure healthiness‘, as a mind-construct of highly functioning, highly efficient, highly exercised bodies as the norm – then my privilege of being able-bodied is put on trial.
And this is the part where the intersections come in.

Ableism regards the ‚normal‘ and valuable body to be strong, to be hard, muscular, tough,… Sexism regards these characteristics to be male. So female bodies are constructed (thought of, talked about, seen) as inferiour regarding ability/ableism.
And this ‚cultural pictures‘ are relevant for daily experience – men* around me have tried to stop me from carrying my own backpack, from using my own hammer, from setting up my own tent, things I could obviously do and have been doing up to their appearance, but the sheer ‚cultural picture‘ of women* being weak(er) made this obvious fact invalid. I might not be the strongest person on earth. But if I‘m not strong enough for a specific task, it is not because I am female*. And if I need help, I‘ll be strong enough to ask for it, don‘t you worry. Till then you can lay back and let me care about my shit.

Closely connected to that, ableism regards the ‚normal‘ and valuable body to be tall. Or, more specifically, to have an average height, easily readable by the architecture of public chairs, handles, steps, bus seats, bars and so on. Sexism regards small height to be a female characteristic → see above. Adultism – the thought of ‚grown-ups‘ being more intelligent, rational, wise, skilled, smart and altogether BETTER than children and young(er) people – regards small height to be a child’s* characteristic. As well the material structures (architecture) as the immaterial structures (how people think of small persons and how they are seen, addressed, valued, treated,…) deprive small persons and make it harder for them than necessary to be equal in society.
I am regarded to be rather small. Deprivation for me means not reaching things in the upper shelves of the supermarket, barely being able to climb a bar chair and needing a stool to reach the pots in my own kitchen. It means being treated as cute or be taken less serious by people who look down on me. I don’t feel small. And I don’t need to if there are stools next to the shelves and if people give up the thought that they are better or to be taken more serious than people smaller than them – no matter what age.

Ableism regards the ‘normal’ and valuable body to work perfectly all the time, to ‘produce good results’, to endure a lot and to rest/recreate few. These are some characteristics that build another connection to ageism, which values young/working adult bodies more than old/non-working bodies. Obviously, this is a crucial basis to the capitalist system as well and therefore connected to classism, too. Although there is another bias involved, because ‘mental work’ is valued more than physical work. Maybe because physical work destroys the body over time more than mental work does? Or because you need to be able to ‘afford’ not to work physically? This probably interferes with racism, which associates whiteness with intellect and promotes white supremacy. Not quite sure here, yet. Well, I am white, maybe that’s why I am lacking crucial experience to understand this. I’ll keep on trying.
Getting back to the beginning of the paragraph, my body isn’t working as perfectly as ableism asks me to, not in the best possible condition, not in the ultimate shape. And I have experienced lots of really shitty situations, especially with groups, because a common sensitivity for different needs, speeds and standards was lacking. I’m not gonna hike or play soccer with you. Partly because I don’t feel I have the physical conditions for participating. But mostly because I don’t trust you enough not to be jerks about it. I am ok with what I can and can’t do. But I don’t know if you are, or more specifically: if you are aware of different levels of ability and how to cope with it; and for me it is easier to assume you are not.

These are just some thoughts, just some assumptions on intersections between ableism and other power structures. I am not regarded to be nor do I identify as disabled and I don’t have the experience of those who are and/or do. But I do have experience regarding ableism, body, health and beauty, too.
Ableism doesn’t have impacts only on those called disabled. It is basic to and/or linked to most other constructs of oppression. It is part of everyBODYs experience.

And most of all: it is to be challenged!
And thus
I am able to.

(at least
I try)