The Connection Between Health, Our Bodies, and Our Morals

Juliet gets up at 5:15am. She throws on some gym clothes, takes a few sips of orange juice, and fills up her water bottle. She opens the storm door ever-so-softly (as not to wake her still-sleeping husband and two children), and begins her warmup. Five minutes later she’s pounding the pavement; forty-five minutes later, she’s stretching in front of her house.

She wakes the children when she gets in at 6:00am, and jumps in the shower. She gets out in time to help the children pour their low-fat, low-sugar whole-grain cereal and skim milk. Her husband gets up and takes a leisurely shower, and wanders down to find the children finishing their breakfast, and wife chewing on a low-fat energy bar, drinking black half-caf. The children’s lunches and afternoon snack (to be eaten before their afternoon sports) — apple, turkey-on-wheat, veggie sticks for lunch, and peanut butter on wheat crackers for snack — have been packed by mom.

Mom loads the kids on the bus to school, making sure to tell little Alexis that maybe she should try out for junior cross country, because she’s worried about her unhealthily-expanding waistline which the pediatrician made sure to mention at their last visit. She suggests that perhaps Alexis should try to only eat half of her afternoon snack, and drink as much water as she could (and no juice).

Juliet arrives at work right on time, taking the stairs up to her fifth-floor office. At 10:00am she retrieves a non-fat, sugar-free yogurt from the breakroom fridge, and savors it at her desk for the next half-hour, drinking plenty of water. From time to time she stretches her legs under her desk, using a small rubber exercise ball purchased just for that purpose.

At lunch time she is asked to go out to lunch with her boss and a few colleagues, and she agrees. She orders a side salad and cup of low-sodium minestrone soup, then splurges on a half-piece of cake ordered by a male coworker. She thinks about how she will need to do an extra half-hour during her afternoon workout.

She skips her afternoon low-fat, low-sugar energy bar, and instead drinks a cup of black coffee. She picks up the kids from after-school activities, congratulating her daughter when she discovers half the peanut butter crackers remain uneaten. She gets them settled on their homework, and when her husband comes home she takes the opportunity to go for another run. She runs harder than usual, thinking of the cake during lunch.

She showers again, and starts to prepare boneless, skinless chicken breasts for dinner. She takes a few calls from her family, trying to convince her sister that her diabetes is curable if she loses enough weight. “I’m from the same family as you, sis, and I don’t have diabetes — or the extra weight you have, for that matter.” By the time she’s done talking, the vegetables have been steamed and seasoned with a low-sodium all-purpose seasoning. She mashes cauliflower and seasons it, then calls in the family.

Juliet savors every bite of her dinner slowly, fighting back her gnawing hunger. She suggests that Alexis do the same, “You might find you stop being hungry sooner, sweetie!” Her husband adds a few slices of cheese to his vegetables, and some canned gravy to his meat. She disallows this for the children.

There is no dessert in the house, so everyone is eventually tucked into bed with a glass of water. When Alexis says she’s still hungry, Juliet replies, “You only think you’re hungry, sweetie. Just keep sipping on that water, you’ll be fine.” Juliet shuts their lights and leaves their doors open a crack, pleased as she imagines the praise she and her daughter’s reduced waistline will receive at their next visit to the pediatrician.

She joins her husband for their evening movie, cuddling close. Her husband remarks that the lead starlet’s butt can’t hold a candle to hers, and they joke about how the starlet’s behind jiggles in particular scenes. They make separate bowls of popcorn: his regular butter and salt, hers plain with pepper. They fool around before bed, and fall asleep sated.

_____

Now, based on the short description above, choose one of the following. First pick on your gut, your base perceptions that may be greatly influenced by what you were taught growing up, and the current media-saturated culture in which we live. Then pick your real answer, and let me know in the comments what you chose.

Juliet is:

A: Admirable and hard-working, a diligent mother, wife, and sister.

B: Healthy, but could stand to spend more time with her family. But at least she’s trying to make it work for her, and is probably reasonably afraid of diabetes if it runs in her family.

C: Only admirable in the current context of our culture, but is actually morally neutral based on the description.

D: Seems to impose on her daughter way too much. What’s up with that? She shouldn’t be so self-absorbed, projecting her body paranoia on her child.

E: None of the above (enlighten us!)

12 comments on “The Connection Between Health, Our Bodies, and Our Morals

  1. vesta44 says:

    I’m waffling between C and D. All I can say is that if she was my mother, I would be hoarding food and sneaking into the cabinets to eat everything in sight (been there done that when my mom hid the applets/cotlets from us kids, they were her special treat and no one else ever got to have any unless we happened to find where she hid them). I was also one of those kids that, if I was told I couldn’t do/have something, I was bound and determined I would do/have it, or else (stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe me, sometimes).
    She sounds like the type of mother who passes her body dysmorphia on to her kids, and expects more of them than they are capable of giving. Not a good thing, but all too common in today’s society.

  2. cicadasinmay says:

    D. Morally neutral is out when she is screwing up her one daughter so much.

  3. Lindsay says:

    Juliet wants to be seen as A.
    Juliet possibly sees herself more like B.
    The casual (yet deep-thinking) observer thinks it’s most likely C.
    Alexis will grow up and think it’s D.

    I think she is simultaneously all and none of the above.
    - She does what she thinks is necessary for her to be A.
    - She may be healthy, but “reasonable fears” do not always result in “reasonable reactions”.
    - I can barely imagine what people would have thought about Juliet if she was doing these exact same things in the 1950s.
    - Don’t all parents impose on their children in some fashion? When it’s seen as being “for their own good”, it is approved and condoned. Going back to C, “for their own good” is something that varies greatly, depending on time, culture, circumstance and beliefs.

    All in all, i want to believe that Juliet is 100% fictitious, because the idea of someone putting PEPPER on their popcorn just makes me cringe. Then again, i don’t like pepper. So again: it’s all relative.

  4. deeleigh says:

    I think that she’s most likely headed for a physical and mental breakdown. You can’t starve yourself and keep up that level of activity forever. When you’re not getting enough to eat, then your mind suffers. You have trouble concentrating, you have trouble staying awake, and you become obsessed with food and with other’s eating habits. In fact, there’s evidence of that in that in her exaggerated interest in what her daughter and her sister eat and how much they weigh. I imagine that she’s always hungry and exhausted, and that she’s in danger of messing something up badly at work and/or of injuring herself running. If she does keep up that level of “discipline,” she’s likely to end up (or remain) bitter, self righteous, and obsessed, and wreck havoc on her children’s mental health as well as her own.

  5. defiantcreatrix says:

    I think she sounds seriously disordered already, and I’ll second Vesta’s comment that I’d have been in the cupboards all night with the kind of treatment she’s giving her daughter. That, sans children, is the kind of routine I had when I was really bad back in the end of HS; the only thing she’s missing that I had is throwing up everything she actually eats.

  6. fouriiii says:

    None of the above. She’s a practicing adherent of the Reformed Cult of Hygiene, trying to raise her children according to the tenets of her faith.

  7. trabbsboy says:

    The answer is E: None of the above because the answer is “none of my business”. She is making choices as an adult human being and raising her family in the way she sees fit. As an advocate of fat acceptance, I get furious when I see fat people being told that their decisions about food for themselves or their children are moral issues, and I don’t have double standards.

    Now, if there was uncontrovertible evidence that something she was doing was likely to cause her daughter significant harm (like, Christian Scientists refusing to let their children get treatment for life-threatening disease), I might say she was immoral. And I don’t have any problem with people advocating a particular point of view in a nonpersonal way, like saying that a lot of focus on limiting a child’s food intake can increase risks of eating disorders, but that’s different.

    I don’t mean to judge anyone who views your hypothetical situation differently. It is a hypothetical situation and you asked for our opinions. I just wanted to lay out this one as how I try to handle this kind of thing in real life.

    BTW, new to this blog and very glad to have found it!

  8. Edible Anarchy says:

    First instinct: D. The way she’s imposing her issues on her daughter frightens me. How old is “little Alexis?” Eleven? Twelve? The long term effects of her mother’s issues are likely to be devastating.

    On further reflection, though, I have to choose E: none of the above. Juliet’s behavior is obviously the product of serious personal issues. If Juliet continues as she is acting, most likely she will experience either a mental or physical breakdown. Neither of which will be healthy, and either one would create the social stigma she seems to be trying so hard to avoid.

    But you were looking for a moral assessment of Juliet’s behavior, so I’d like to address that. I’m going to use the terms of the faith I was raised in, but I think that they apply equally well to most definitions of moral behavior. In the church where I was brought up it was accepted that there are seven “deadly” sins, so-called because any one of them could be either dangerous or fatal to the soul, and seven corresponding “cardinal” virtues. One of those sins, of course, is Gluttony, and its less well-known virtuous counterpart is Temperance. But as the writer C.S. Lewis pointed out so eloquently, those words do not have the same meaning in a moral context as they have been given in our day-to-day use.

    Temperance, as Lewis describes it, refers to all pleasures (not just drink), and it consists of “going the right length and no further.” Gluttony, on the other hand, consists of the determination to fulfill one’s own appetites (whatever they may be) until, as he says “her belly now dominates her whole life.”

    Whatever your personal moral beliefs, it is clear that Juliet goes too far in her pursuit of what she believes is healthy, because dieting and weight loss have come to control her entire life. She has become a narcissist, oblivious to the way in which she casually dismisses the health issues of her sister and the body-image issues of her daughter.

    While you only asked about Juliet’s morality, I’d like to go one step further, and comment on the moral status of the other person involved: the unnamed husband who reinforces Juliet’s issues. I can’t help but notice that he doesn’t get up at 5:15 in the morning. He takes a “leisurely” shower while Juliet works like mad to prepare everything for him and the children. He indulges in cheese and canned gravy, but doesn’t argue with the idea that children (and Juliet) shouldn’t have such things. He eats buttered popcorn when Juliet feels she cannot.

    Worst of all, he compares Juliet’s body to that of another woman, and mocks that woman’s physical appearance, thereby feeding Juliet’s insecurities and making her state of mind even worse. He may think he’s complimenting his wife, but in fact he’s telling her “I have no respect for women that don’t meet my standards of physical attractiveness.” Right now that doesn’t include Juliet, but what about in the future?

    The tale you tell doesn’t mention whether or not he’s aware of Juliet’s attitude toward their daughter’s weight, but his behavior at the dinner table shows that he knows and agrees that there is one standard of acceptable eating for him, and another for Juliet and the children. Alexis cannot possibly fail to pick up on that.

    In my opinion Juliet’s husband is morally more responsible for what is happening in this family than she is. Juliet suffers for her misguided beliefs. The children suffer. He does not. This sends two clear messages to the family: 1) a wife’s role in marriage is to suffer in order to please her husband (a lesson Alexis is certain to absorb), and 2) there are two standards of behavior, one for husbands, and one for the rest of the family. Both of these only serve to reinforce the patriarchal bias we all labor under in our “modern” society, a bias that in the long run harms all of us: men, women, and children.

    It also makes Juliet’s situation that much more tragic. What happens if, in a year or two or ten, her behind starts to “jiggle,” or she develops the diabetes her sister struggles with? Or, more likely, what happens if Juliet discovers that she can no longer maintain the pace of her current lifestyle, that she can’t take care of the kids, run the household, work full-time, and exercise twice a day while eating at near-starvation levels? In those circumstances, what kind of empathy or support is she likely to receive from the man your story describes?

    Juliet is clearly an intelligent and motivated, if misguided woman. I’m sure she knows, subconsciously at least, how her husband would react in those situations. I suspect that knowledge is part of what drives her, that and the fear of eventually being “traded in” for a younger, thinner woman. While I recognize her moral responsibility, I also recognize the shadow she lives under, the shadow of the man she loves standing in judgment over her body and, ultimately, her worth as a human being.

    His motivations for prolonging the current situation is obvious; he gains more from it than anyone. His wife is thin (and therefore desirable to him), she is attentive, she does the housework, she brings in extra income, and she takes responsibility for the children. All he has to do is sit back and reap the benefits of this one-sided dynamic.

    Juliet’s behavior is morally wrong. She is neglecting herself and hurting those around her. Eventually, she will have to answer for it. And yet, I pity Juliet. For her lazy, self-righteous “Romeo,” I feel nothing but disgust.

  9. Tiana says:

    I love Lindsay’s answer.

    I’d say it’s a mix of C and D because she obviously means well. To say that she “shouldn’t” project her body paranoia on her child is comparable to saying that a person with OCD “shouldn’t” wash her hands all the time: Nothing good can come out of that. I mean, she really shouldn’t, but I’m not blaming her for the fact that she does. Juliet seems to be in need of a lot of love and support rather than reprehension – more love from that husband, especially. Or else, a new partner.

  10. rottweiler2 says:

    The only real choice, IMHO (YMMV) is “E”:

    Juliet, for all intents and purposes, is a mentally ill woman with an advanced eating disorder. She also shows obsessive-compulsive behavior complicated by narcissistic/sadistic tendencies.

    Now, getting past this layperson’s diagnosis of our “wacky-weed” mother…let’s see…

    Juliet is NOT intelligent, IMHO: She, in fact, is about as stupid as anyone can get. I see someone who does not think, does not research issues, but accepts the so-called “healthy lifestyle” nonsense hook, line, sinker and dolphin-sawllowing fishnet!
    Not only does she make her own life miserable, but she has no limits on where she will intervene:

    1.) She is a nanny who is trying to convince a diabetic sister that she can “fix” her INHERITED, NOT HER FAULT condition by starving to lose weight and therefore force ONE surrogate measure (blood sugar) into “submission”. This NEVER works for long with ANY form of diabetes, and could be a very dangerous move if her sister is a type 1 diabetic (the post does not state what kind of diabetic she is; type 2 seems to be presumed).

    2.) Her kids’ diet would be less-than-ideal for an adult on a weight-loss diet. To inflict that nonsense on growing kids–even one that might be a bit of a “pudge” (Alexis)–is insane (and leaves the kids open to teasing and abuse from other kids…if she thinks the other kids don’t notice what’s in HER kids’ lunches, she is mistaken).

    After all, maybe Alexis is fatter because she’s naturally bigger and maturing a bit sooner?

    And the other kids have fallen off their growth curves (and are thin for that reason) because they get little to eat?

    3.) Is our Juliet an Atkins’ fan? If she is, she still flunks the test since there is little fat in the diet and Atkins is anything but a “almost-no-fat” diet. A big clue here is the substitution of MASHED CAULIFLOWER for mashed potatoes with NO butter/added fat or even milk or cream. C’mon now, even diabetics who are following a “low-carb” diet are instructed to not avoid fats, even in their mashed cauliflower-mashed-potato-substitute.

    4.) I bet she is less-than-productive at work and is oblivious to that. After all, focusing on one’s hunger, diet and exercise program all the freaking time (what is it with that exercise ball under the desk?) does not one’s productivity improve.

    5.) Never mind that her co-workers are hardly oblivious to her “out-there” behavior: I bet Juliet is the subject of many a over-the-office-coffee-pot discussion, and those are not consisting of praise for her “discipline” (do I hear giggles?).

    6.) I don’t blame the husband for what he’s doing. I see him as tiptoeing around a wife who is a psychological “time-bomb”:

    a.) His remarks about her body as compared to some woman’s on TV/in the media is more of a “keep wifey happy so I don’t get my a** creamed” than anything else.

    b.) That may also be why he hasn’t stepped in and told that self-absorbed b*tch to stop starving and otherwise punishing the kids in the neame of “health”.

    Heck, if I were served skinless, boneless chicken breasts with dry steamed veggies and mashed-cauliflower-mashed-potato substitute topped with dry herb seasoning and no fat? I’d get out the sliced cheese and canned gravy too. After all, if the food is not edible and has too few calories in it anyway, why eat it before it’s been “doctored” with even pre-made, cheap, canned fatty toppers?

    Tasteless is tasteless and anything to improve edibility is fine with me.

    c.) That may also be why he’s not intervened for Alexis both against the wife and that so-called a*ole of a “pediatrician”: He’s afraid that wifey will go from being “Juliet” to “The Wicked Witch of the West” and make things even worse for his poor daughter than not saying anything at all.

    d.) Did you ever think his “comparison” of Juliet v. Actress may actually mean exactly the opposite of what some people thinks it does? I get the impression that his “praise” of his wife’s butt really means “Yes, her butt does not compare to yours. I doubt her butt (and the rest of her) feels like a pile of wire clotheshangers attached to a bed of nails…”

    Not “Your butt is so sexy as it is and hers is not so keep up what you are doing.”

  11. [...] The Connection Between Health, Our Bodies, and Our Morals [...]

  12. magickalrealism says:

    D AND in need of treatment. Badly. She’s starving herself and her children. I have no beef with the exercise, but the attitude towards food demands way more thought than is healthy.

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