Morality and Techie Aesthetics are Not “Health”

Whenever someone launches into some diatribe about how terrible it is that there are all these fat people in the world, eventually, when called on it, he or she answers, “but being fat is unhealthy.” As if it’s a walk in the mental health park to hear people go on about how terrible you are and frame it as if it’s for your own good that they should say such shitty things to you.

But it’s almost always something else, hidden in the concern about health.

According to some liberals, being fat is immoral, right up there with racism, porn, teen pregnancy, and divorce. And, not only is it evidence of my immorality, it’s a sign of my hypocrisy. I think this is a version of slut-shaming, actually, since my actual morality (or lack-there-of) doesn’t matter and my actual state of hypocrisy doesn’t matter, but what matters is that I appear to be an immoral hypocrite due to the body I have, just like I’m open to any charges of being a “slut” regardless of my actual state of sexual activity or prowess due to my body. In both cases, this body marks me as having appetites that are out of control, and, of course, it is always someone’s job–church, state, assholes–to try to bring me back into right behavior (never mind the underlying assumption that “fat” and “lives in a red state” and “is your ally” are apparently mutually exclusive in this set-up). And, you know, any time you complain about that assumption–that it’s anybody’s business to try to force someone else to not be fat–you get the “but it’s not healthy.” Like I said, as if it’s really healthy to be shamed about your immorality and used as an example of all that’s wrong with your region.

And I can’t help but feel like this discussion about how to attract more techies to our area also butts right up against how my body is a marker of what’s wrong with our region. One of my favorite things about Nashville is how easy it is to be outside. I love our bike lanes and how being at the park often feels like a community event. The weather makes this a wonderful place to garden. The online community makes it easy to arrange pick-up ball games or runs or what-have-you. And I am all for making it even easier to be active around town.

I’m still going to be fat. So, you know, there’s not a techie who’s going to look at me and ever say “there’s a fit and healthy person.” I don’t believe this should be a problem. After all, this techie is not my doctor and not me. His opinions on my body, only informed by his aesthetic judgment of me, are tough shit for him. If he’s got the thing he needs in town to take care of himself how he’d like, then whether I have “properly” availed myself of those things is not his business.

And I’ve known Rex a long time and find him a genuinely thoughtful and caring person. And still he says,

But, to get back to my point, we are moving into an era where being healthy and fit as individuals and as a community and region is not a “nice to be;” they are “have to be.”

And there are certain eating and lifestyle patterns in our region that make it an even greater challenge that require us to place a very high emphasis on making it easy to get outside and walk, bike and play.

Apparently, it’s not just good for our personal health, it’s good for business, also.

So, if I fail to be “fit” I’m now fucking it up for the business community? It’s now my fault if the right kind of people, the people we really want and need in Tennessee catch a glimpse of me and decide that I’m too ugly for them to want to live here? I’m ruining the whole fucking state now?

This idea that some people’s aesthetic preferences for other people’s bodies should be catered to in order to woo those people here is alarming to me. Why would we want to encourage people who think that their aesthetic preferences are so important that other people should change how they look to please them to move here? If we knew techies had a hankering for big titted blondes, would we be saying that everyone in Nashville had to get a boob-job and a wig?

Or would we be saying that their personal aesthetic preferences don’t get to run the world? I’ve been following a lot of the ongoing talk about gender in the tech community, and as difficult and painful as it is, it seems to me that the idea that the whims and preferences of some that are alienating to others don’t go unchallenged is passing.

I would encourage the tech community, then, to take those lessons about how to treat women and to apply them more broadly to the notion that, while you can craft a landscape that meets your desires, you cannot insist on it being peopled only with those who meet the aesthetic standards you hold for yourself.

At some point, this isn’t about attracting the “right” kind of people to Nashville. It’s about treating all people, regardless of what we look like, as belonging here and not as problems that have to be solved.

7 thoughts on “Morality and Techie Aesthetics are Not “Health”

  1. Not to mention that, according to that “discussion,” the “attractive, healthy” lifestyle that pulls in the techies is also 50% about carousing in bars, one of America’s greatest national health-focused pastimes. I think the underlying dubious proposition was that Nashville would need to be “like” West Coast techie towns–which, all thoughtless, insulting, scolding momentarily aside, would be difficult to prove. Ask them in Austin, which strikes me as not particularly Silicon Valley-, Portland- or Seattle-like. (Incidentally, the daily direct flight from Austin to San Jose is referred to as “The Nerd Bird;” I don’t suspect they only offer sprouts and spring water on that plane.)

  2. Aunt B.,

    For years advocates of nationalized health care {a Canadian or British or French or Cuban or wherever style} and nanny-staters like Mayor Bloomberg have been making a range of arguments that boil down to exactly this. An individual’s lifestyle choices will inevitably impact the cost and availability of health care for all. Therefore, the logic follows, it is important to coerce people into healthy lifestyles.

    Bloomberg’s assaults on large sodas {even diet sodas}, trans fats and whatever else are only the start just like the Facebook post and the blog you cite. More corporations and governments will begin including health checks with carrots and sticks for employees.

    Once your health became inseparable from the public good, it was inescapable that those of us who do not measure up will become targets of active and passive coercion. It is unfair and very scary in a ‘Winston Smith exercising in front of the telescreen’ sort of way.

  3. Yes, because Texas, one of the fatter states in the union, wasn’t able to attract techies to Austin…oh wait. Also, wasn’t the “fat dude in his mom’s basement” stereotype how we used to think of tech types? (it was wrong then too, but it did exist). And while Austin does have Skinny Pretty People, it has a pretty good population of ordinary fat Texans as well. And somebody needs to tell all the rib joints, craft breweries, taco trucks and muffin shops if Austin is supposed to be a health-food-only place, cause clearly they don’t know. TN and TX have plenty of problems that could affect their economy and drive off new companies, but I would not include fatness as any kind of a real factor.

  4. Since this is an observation about folks projecting their morality onto others, it’s interesting to me that the “robust bar scene” remark in the initial NBJ blog post, along with R’s “In a nutshell, ‘bars’ represent after-work social and fun opportunities and ‘bike lanes’ project a healthy lifestyle” comment, hasn’t pricked up anybody’s ears except Barry’s (hat tip). Because a “robust bar scene,” to folks raised in the fundamentalist one-drink-and-you’ll-immediately-become-an-alcoholic-tramp-and-go-to-hell homes of this region, still translates into “den of iniquity” and “places only trashy drunks go,” rather than an “after-work social and fun opportunity.”

    We know that’s not true, of course. But the same discriminatory points can be argued re the “bar scene”: Drinking alcohol to excess is unhealthy and dangerous, not just for the drinker. Alcohol abuse is a great expense to the community in the areas of health care, insurance (both personal health and vehicle), emergency services, the judicial system, lost work time and productivity, damage to the family unit and risk of inappropriate and/or dangerous behavior not limited to sexual activity. “A robust bar scene” can, has and does contribute to a negative perception of an entire community.

    Yet you didn’t hear that argument when trying to draw tech startups here. Nope. They seem to want to put up a sign that says “NO FATTIES” — which, in light of some of the recent publicity about discrimination, assault, etc., at various cons and the gender issues in tech that you mention, is more than slightly boorish and pandering. The ones who have this mindset won’t address the real issues: Tennessee’s antiquated tax structure utterly dependent on sales and property taxes that underemployed residents increasingly can’t pay; the ongoing lack of leadership willing to go out and SEEK research-based industry instead of claiming it’s “economic development” to keep brown-nosing the also antiquated (and pretty much dying) manufacturers who want cheap, compliant labor; and the ongoing perception that Tennessee is populated and led by a bunch of inbred hicks who got too old for sixth grade and therefore aren’t suitable for anything more tech-savvy than putting computer keyboards in a box. (The fact that the state continues to wind up in the national spotlight for everything but good sense also plays a role. Can you imagine the conversations tech, or any!, CEOs have about expansion options in Tennessee? “I like that business park down there by Certain Town. The people are nice, the business taxes are nonexistent and the food is great, but I can’t stand the thought of everybody saying ‘Tennessee? Don’t they all drive naked with their dicks out the window and won’t let anybody say gay? Why are you putting your R&D down there with *those* idiots?”)

    I completely agree with your observations, B, because I’ve lived them. A publisher wanted me pulled off a news beat and stuck on the copy desk (although I loved the copy desk!) because I “didn’t fit the image of the (paper)” and he didn’t want me out in the community representing it. My work was not unsatisfactory — I won awards, had great sources (and still do) within multiple communities, was breaking great stories and getting reader responses that were always positive and thoughtful. I had people across the state tell me, many times, that the only reason they read our paper was my and the other writers’ work, because they HATED the publisher and would never buy his product otherwise and were glad he was too busy farting around elsewhere to affect our coverage much. What made his comment as ironic as it was insulting was that that publisher was described as a pussel-gutted son of a bitch, to my and others’ faces and sometimes even his own, more times than I can bother to count. He was Boss Hogg without the white suit. That “image” he claimed *I* “didn’t fit” — well, he led with his gut everywhere he went, and my gut wasn’t even as big then as it is now (and was certainly smaller than his). So in whose image was I supposed to follow — his, or the women whose advanced degrees he paid for because he had crushes on them, or perhaps the drunken lout whose DUIs, child support arrears and prostitution arrests he also paid for? Or the stereotypical drunken-fish journalist with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, cursing and shouting on deadline while taking swigs from a bottle in the bottom drawer? It was a toss-up. I chose to keep doing my job, and a good supervisor stood up for me, but it has colored my entire perception of the workplace. No matter how hard I work, how much I enjoy that work, how I am perceived in the community as a professional, how much recognition I get from peers and others, how dedicated I am to my employer, I could lose my living because I don’t “fit the image.” Guess I can’t be a techie, either (although I am a tangential techie), because I don’t fit the … wait. What’s the techie image again? This? ? They don’t mention the pasty programmer with cheesy-poofed fingers — huh.

    I’ve taken up a huge amount of your bandwidth to say this: I would love to understand why people increasingly take any opportunity to try to tear down one group, unnecessarily, while attempting to build up another. If you want to improve the job climate for Nashville and middle Tennessee, talk about education, safety, clean air and water, cultural opportunities, kind neighbors … all the things that make a community great. Pitching Nashville as a mecca for people who want to get drunk and not have to look at fatties is … lame.

  5. Grandfille, no, I think you’re making a very valid point. Don’t apologize for taking the room to make it. If “health” is so important that we have to force everyone into it for the sake of the techies, why do the techies get a free pass on wanting to be unhealthy? It’s as if “health” isn’t actually at the center of it.

    Thesacrastro, don’t worry. I think you’ll make a beautiful blonde.

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