Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I've been hugely busy with work and helping a friend who's just had a hip replacement and has absolutely no family in town, so posting has been extremely sparse recently.

However, I overhead a bit of a conversation today that I could not NOT comment on:

I was at the Pilates studio, waiting for my instructor to arrive. There was only one other client in the room--a woman in her mid-sixties--who was almost at the end of her private lesson with another instructor at the studio.

Instructor: I can see that you take care of your body.

Student (surprised): No.

Instructor: You must be doing some sort of exercise. At least walking.

Student (not sure what to say): I always tried to look good in a bathing suit. You know, fifteen years ago.

As I heard the instructor praising her new student (they were obviously just getting to know each other), it was absolutely clear why she assumed that this lady worked out and therefore "took care of herself": she was slim. So "obviously", she took care of herself.

Remember: slim = healthy. That's what they all tell us.

The funny thing is, there's another instructor at the studio who's built--pardon the expression--like a brick shithouse. If you just glanced at her in passing and applied the same assumption as the instructor I  quoted above, you would think that she should really lose weight. But if you watch her at work, you can see that she is no doubt very muscular, though those big muscles are covered with a nice layer of padding. She was not in the room while this conversation was going on but I thought of her and wondered how she would feel if she heard a comment like the one I heard. Hopefully, she wouldn't give a hoot. But I gave a hoot for her.


  1. This is a very interesting post, with more than a few layers of meaning! But the title, "Assumptions", speaks to a core issue hidden within the layers. We (including myself) tend to believe the cultural truisms surrounding individual accomplishment and personal characteristics. We tend to "assume" that people who are naturally slim, for example, demonstrate clear physical evidence that accurately informs us about the basic nature of their typical behaviors, choices and even their character traits. Thus, for instance, the individual characteristics that our cultures value highly are assumed to come at a price; for "there's no such thing as a free lunch". So, the slim woman MUST have paid a high price for her valued shape, either in careful eating or exercise. Otherwise, if her body's coveted size/shape cost her nothing, how could it be considered so valuable? And that assumption births the corresponding assumption that others can also earn (and thus deserve) a body of higher value if they too put forth the hard work, etc--in other words, if they pay a similar price.

    At the center of this mythology of course is the colonization of our lifeworlds and minds by forces of social domination, such as our capitalist worldview, which relies on a logic of tautology, i.e. that which is valuable must be earned and paid for--and that which (apparently) must be earned (and paid for) is valuable.

    Now, it is typical for us to imagine what these kinds of distorted beliefs do to people who seemingly do not display the socially valued characteristics. Many struggle and blame themselves, feel unworthy, undeserving, etc.

    But. We seldom consider what our social mythology does to people who gain access to the things that our culture values...yet who put forth no more effort than those who struggle (but still cannot attain the desired thing of "value.") The "haves" are no less impacted by the distorted cultural beliefs, and it is hard to blame them for assuming that they have some kind of "secret" or special qualities that so many others lack; they want to believe that they have EARNED their good fortune (etc) by working harder or by simply being intrinsically superior (smarter, more talented, etc) so, naturally, they don't HAVE to run in circles trying to achieve that which they desire and "deserve"...they simply apply themselves.

    It's a perfect recipe for exactly the kind of world in which we now live. A world based on a lot of unquestioned assumptions, a world in which those who "have" (material security and other privileges) tend to believe that they deserve these things of value---because, *obviously*, they have EARNED their valued things...they have paid the just and rightful price.

    The Blackfoot Indians of North America, according to a scholar named James Underhill, tells us that these people did not have a word or idea in their language that corresponds with the concept "to have". Wow. Imagine what their worldview might have shown them (or us) about "reality"...about human beings...

    Thanks for a great essay about "assumptions"--clearly a topic I could rant far too much about...and probably just did! :)

    1. Pardon this interruption in the conversation...

      Small correction on my above comment: the scholar who discusses the Blackfoot language and worldview (absence of the concept "to have") is Andrew Goatly (in his book "Washing the Brain--Metaphor and Hidden Ideology") rather than Underhill, as I mistakenly cited. Last summer I was reading books by both theorists (re: worldview and metaphor), and I mixed up the sources in my mind when I commented yesterday. Probably very insignificant as errors go, but this morning the correction popped into my head (ha ha, how's that for a metaphor?) as if out of nowhere, so I thought it best to pass that info along--should another language freak (like myself) come upon it and then go looking for the source in the wrong place.

      Okay. Back to regular programming. :)

    2. HaF: I really appreciate how you grab my thoughts and run with them. Honestly, your comments are always wonderful and greatly appreciated!

  2. One of my most recent NSV's (non-scale victories in the parlance) was walking through the door of new local hot yoga studio...
    I was the biggest girl in the class, but earned compliments on my flexibility & "stick-to-itiveness".
    Believe me, I was talking myself out of it (I don't own any of those cutesy yoga clothes! Nevermind that when I visited snazzy shop, they didn't carry my size...So I went in ordinary short & T-shirt gym clothes) right up to the moment I stepped through their door. Thankfully, the instructors have offered nothing but positive support.

    & great commentary, HaF!

    1. Val, you rock! Keep on bending and twisting. I envy you!