I’ve written before about disabled athletes (link) and why I’ll never be one. Today I want to take an in-depth look at some unfortunate clashes between fitness culture and the reality of being disabled, especially ill. I will discuss the ways fitness culture ignores, degrades, disguises, exacerbates, and even causes disability. At the conclusion of this series I will propose suggestions and solutions to improve things.
Regular exercise is frequently more important to the well-being of disabled people. Our bodies may already be off-kilter naturally, so maintaining healthy habits can be vital to maintaining any semblance of health. Yet, despite our need for exercise, we are largely excluded from fitness discourse.
Fitness culture tends to prioritize ever increasing goals – run more miles, lift heavier weights, do more reps. As if health could be reached that way, as if extreme exertion did not carry as many risks as extreme sloth. When the goals are constantly moving, it can be hard to bother starting. What’s the point?
Disabled and ill people suffer from fatigue at higher than average rates; even Deaf people have chronic fatigue, from the constant effort of tracking hearing conversation. Exercise programs for us should prioritize building stamina and maintaining routine, not necessarily doing more and more and more.
Of course, fitness culture does make time to find inspiration in the existence of disabled athletes. This inspiration makes the disabled athlete an object, a symbol of overcoming physical weakness. It also alienates disabled non-athletes. If entry for fitness membership requires above average stamina and strength, why bother trying as a weak person?
(Continue to part 2)