The Health Inquisition – Proselytism

I have decided to start a series of blogs on what I call the Health Inquisition, this new religious-like movement that has come, under its most aggressive form, from America. I will treat of various aspects of its beliefs and its relationship to everyday people and I am starting with an aspect of its proselytism: The “Why aren’t you there yet?”

Everywhere in my town are posters and placards made by Keepcool, the gym I joined about a year ago and whither I tried to go as much as possible.

The posters show a smiling hunk or hunkess and always read either “Stop finding excuses” or “Enough with the excuses”. There is no mention of “bad” or “false” but the words are cleverly implied: if you haven’t joined yet, you must have wrongly convinced yourself that it wasn’t worth doing it through a myriad of some kind of bad excuses. And thou hast to stop, open your eyes and accept Keepcool’s help…You poor soul.

“Look, we have six-packs! The key to happiness…That proves we’re right, ain’t it?”

Like the Catholic Church claiming a Godly mission to save every souls, the Health Inquisition also claims it does what it does only because it cares about us, about me: the fat one, about the hardworking parents with kids and a bad back because they are bowing under the strain of modern life, about the broke young people who cannot afford the luxury of healthy fruits and vegs rather the cheap food offered by McDonalds and Subways, about the insecure teenager who has not yet grown to realise there is more to life than external appearance.

Like the bells of the church nostalgically beckoning you to a mass that will save you, the posters are beckoning you to a place that will do just that as well. Like the Pope overlooking the saving of us all, my gym and its healthy-looking, perfect people are also working for the benefit of the world.

This emphasis on health is not new but until recently, it has gone from sensible advice and trying to teach people (usually from state institutions) to self-righteous and fallacious preaching from companies. Indeed, mixed with capitalist imperatives, healthy living has morphed into the same kind of monster that is the new Evangelical church and its born again Christians. We now have a new type of born-again health missionaries with a new message for the lost and fattening masses: a message of good health and happiness only them can provide, should you be enlightened enough to accept it.

When I joined, the message they were giving was merely about getting the motivation to just do it or go the extra mile once you were there but how quick it has become an Inquisition-style concern for the said masses. Barely a year, it took. How quick they were to go beyond the lovely piece of advice, right down to the finger-pointing and patronising damnation of anyone who is not a member. A behaviour that isn’t without resemblance to the treatment reserved to supposed heretics by the Inquisition.

It’s not about “could” and “would” anymore, it’s about “should” and “ought to”. We ought to stop finding excuses not to follow and accept their selfless help even if it is comes in the means of a monthly payment.

“Enlightenment will cost €30/ month, by the way.”

So little for a life-saving opportunity, isn’t it? It is really the new church: you don’t give to the priest for a chance of happiness in the after-life, you pay the gym that will help you conform, and therefore finally be happy, here on Earth.

Not only is the message presumptuous and patronising but it is first and foremost phony. Stop pretending you care about us: me, the busy parents and poor people when you are nothing but a company who needs the money to pay back the loans you took with the banks. Your priority is not to make us all healthy but to ensure that if people do want to go to a gym, they come to you and that you can keep up with the ever-increasing targets you set yourself in your business plan when it comes to monthly subscriptions

This message of “Stop finding excuses” is harmful because it presumes to know people’s life. It presumes that people are actually wilfully ignoring the light and the truth these people have supposedly found and are now selling. It presumes that every single reason not to go to the gym and be healthier is just automatically bad, false and ludicrous because it should be at the centre of your very existence.

In my gym, they have a huge board and post-its on which people can write down these excuses with a “funny” example reading “I twisted a hair lock”. I was trying to find some excuses I could have come up with in the past but for me even the fact that I wanted to stay in bed longer or play video games is a good excuse. I work all week, day in day out and having a lie-in or enjoying some me-time with some music playing creative games is are not bad things for my health: it’s relaxing and I feel better afterwards. I don’t look like Chris Hemsworth but I do feel rested for Monday morning.

Do people who do that rather than going to the gym really deserve to be put in the same box of immature, lazy brats? Is anyone who doesn’t conform to your views really childish, should be ashamed and needs to get their act together by giving you some money?

Because that’s exactly what these posters are doing They are telling me and everyone else that the gym should become our free time, our me-time and that it is always worth, if not a moral obligation to ourselves and others, to get out of bed, even if we think we deserve to stay under the covers. Having a good work-out should be always come before anything else (branded “excuses”) because at the end of the day, the gym is something you are doing for you.

This message is patronising because adults are not tantrum-throwing kids and if they decide not to go to the gym, they do not have “excuses”, they have reasons. Whether Keepcool and the Health Inquisition consider them valid or not is, I am afraid, irrelevant. They needn’t apologise for what they choose to do with their lives and whatever reason they have certainly do not deserve to be exposed for everyone to laugh at.

The bottom line to everyone with their perfect bodies, their good-health-for-all agenda, the companies that employ them and make money out of it, is that you don’t know people’s life, stories, struggles and wishes. Not everyone wants to be like you or be part of the same world as yours and that doesn’t give you the right to look down on them. Not everyone who is not paying to go to the gym is of bad faith or is trying to find excuses.

If you want to help people being healthier, please do spare us your judgemental, self-righteous shaming and try to appeal to our intelligence in you think that you are indeed in the right.

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