Health is Not a #Aesthetic: BMI Requirements for Class?

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If someone were to ask me my number one tip for staying updated on campus life, it would be to look up. From bulletins boards outside classrooms to the walls in the dorms, it’s likely there will be fliers advertising all kinds of events, from cool speakers and seminars to improv shows and more. Within my first few days on campus, I made it a habit to keep my eyes peeled, and since then some of my best experiences have come from events I learned about on posters. When I was in the health office the other day, I couldn’t help but notice a neon yellow poster advertising a spring semester class titled “Get Healthy.” From what I remember, the course entailed several weeks of personal appointments with a primary care physician and the campus nutritionist. Sounds innocent enough, right? So I thought, until I saw the 11-point-font fine print that read “For students with a BMI of 27+.” *Cue sound of a car screeching a halt*

Talk about the mother of all red flags. BMI stands for Body Mass Index; it is the measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height. Individuals are considered normal or “healthy” weight if their BMI is between 18.5 and 25, overweight if between 25 and 30, and obese if over 30. There are countless reasons why promoting a course called “Get Healthy” specifically for students with a BMI of 27-plus is problematic, not least of which includes recent studies which question the BMI as an accurate measure of physical health. But even without diving into the science, the issues behind “Get Healthy” stem from the mindset of “health as #aesthetic,” or the idea that the definition of health can be boiled down to a single perfect body, perfect workout, perfect meal, and overall perfect image.  

The past few years witnessed the rise of healthy-lifestyle bloggers and social media stars riding the crest of demand for kale, the Vitamix, and a slew of boutique workouts with names as “The Class.” As a result of the craze for all things lean, green, and mean, the compare-and-despair game is not only about achieving a slim physique, but also entails displaying an entire lifestyle with a well-lit flat-lay of Nike sneakers and an açai bowl on the side. As someone who once drank the health craze green juice, I’m all too aware of the dangers that arise in the quest to achieve a flawless #healthstyle. When I was at my most dedicated to (read: obsessed with) living “clean,” I actually became the least-healthy version of myself: too thin, eating too little, moving too much, and making up for what I lacked in body fat with a hearty dose of self-loathing. What kept me going? The mouthfuls of free compliments I got everyday— people telling me how great I looked, how thin I was, marveling at my self-control. Forget recipes for kale salad, think recipe for disaster.     

When I look back on the period of my life I just described, I cringe at how much time I spent judging my body, workout habits and diet based on images I saw both online and off. Whether it was an issue of not being able to drop serious cash or really wanting that slice of pizza, I was constantly battling to be healthy “enough.” What I wish I could tell that version of myself— and what I still need to remember everyday— is that health is not an aesthetic. The definition of health looks different on everyone, both inside and out. In our 24/7 cycle of articles, captions, and pictures trying to dictate what health is, it’s important to find the resources you can trust, to help you figure out what health looks and feels like for you.

For this reason, I am disappointed in the faculty and administrators who were involved in creating the “Get Healthy” course and the health professionals who agreed to advertise it in their office. For myself and my fellow classmates, I expected better. I expected more.  

My roommate and I have a little joke where we look up at each other and say “Health is a lifestyle.” We laugh, but we’re also kind of right. And because a lot of the conversation around health in the media usually involves a list of “don’ts,” I want to leave you with a couple “dos,” or my idea of what definition health really is:

 

Health is being at peace physically, mentally, and spiritually.

 

Health is surrounding yourself with people and experiences that welcome positivity.

 

Health is going for a run when you need to, and skipping out when you’re not feeling it.

 

Health is laughing over kale salad one day and pizza the next.

 

Healthy is feeling connected to your actions, and feeling as if what you spend your time doing is what truly nourishes your soul.

 

And last but not least: Health is cultivating more joy than can ever be squeezed into a pair of workout leggings — or an Instagram frame.

 

About The Author

A self-proclaimed dark chocolate hoarder living and learning in Manhattan. A book-lover at heart, Olivia can most often be found reading, doing yoga, or destressing on the swings in Riverside Park.