I use Groupon and, for the most part, I like the service. I've had a chance to eat at restaurants I otherwise couldn't afford, I've been able to go to IMAX shows that I otherwise might not have seen, and I recently got a National Geographic Blu-ray movie for free which is obviously a major score. What I'm saying is, the service has added value to my life.
But I can't unsubscribe from certain types of Groupon notifications, like, for example, the "Health and Beauty" notifications, without automatically unsubscribing from all Groupon notifications which I don't actually want to do. Which means I routinely get stuff like this in my inbox:
Up to 51% Off Beauty Injections
Up to 54% Off Threading Services
Up to 80% Off Laser Hair Removal
Up to 63% Off Haircare Package
Up to 48% Off Facials
Here is the thing, okay? Being "healthy" does not preclude these things. I want to make that very, very clear. I am not down on facials or hair removal or injections or plastic surgery. I will in fact delete any comments that are all GRR PLASTIC SURGERY because I refuse to shame or judge people who choose these things. To quote Aphra_Behn from Shakesville:
There are no perfect choices in the patriarchy, and some women's livelihood may literally depend on choosing plastic surgery, while for others it may be a part of their overall well-being. Others may not freely choose it, but are bullied or pressured into it, and it is not appropriate to shame them either.
The things in this Groupon email may be part of good health for someone on the Groupon mailing list. Certainly massages -- which were on this email but further down than my screen-capture would allow -- are part of my monthly back regimen. "Good health" is complex and unique and individualistic and cannot be easily boiled down into a short list of services that are healthy for all.
But. Here is the thing. Being "healthy" does not automatically include these things either. "Beauty injections" would most certainly not be "healthy" for me. If I received hair threading treatments I would not, by virtue of receiving that service, be healthy or be more healthy than before. Attaching the command "Be Healthy" to a service offering facials is not, for me, healthy. At all. My individual health needs are not represented in this email campaign which claims -- on the face of it -- to be an email campaign dedicated to improving my health.
What is more distressing to me is that the pictures used here to convey "health" are distressingly uniform. They convey in the conglomerate that being healthy looks like a very specific thing. A healthy woman would appear to be white, thin, conventionally attractive, and visibly hairless with the exception of her head-hair and carefully shaped eyebrows. In four out of five healthy women, "health" is also represented by suggested nudity -- or at the very least, strapless tube tops that do not appear in the four photos.
I am white, but not thin. I am far from hairless; I have unruly curly hair that stands out all over my head and when I actually did get a Groupon for laser hair removal (because my legs get extremely painful ingrown hairs if ever a hair is cut or plucked, even by accident, and I'd hoped laser hair removal would fix this issue), my leg hair heartily laughed at the laser treatments and went on growing as before. My eyebrows are not shaped (leading to a super-fun incident during my last attempt at a pedicure as a birthday treat where the salon employees tried to up-sell me into an eyebrow wax by repeatedly pointing out how Hairy! and Unsightly! my natural eyebrows clearly are). I never wear tube tops, and am rarely photographed in the nude. Clearly, I do not conform to conventional USAian standards of attractiveness.
Just as clearly, however, I do not conform to conventional USAian standards of visible health.
There's a point that is frequently made in fat acceptance circles, that "health is not a moral imperative". The idea here is that even if being fat is unhealthy and even if there were steps that could be taken that would remove the fat permanently and without adverse health impacts, that still wouldn't mean that fat people have a moral obligation to stop being fat. We tend to understand this instinctively with other things; most of us do not overly concern ourselves with the fact that most professional sports and "active" hobbies contain serious health risks to the people involved, nor do many of us give up driving, biking, flying, or other forms of transport on the grounds that these things carry bodily risk. We tend to understand that most things carry risk of bodily harm and that the point in life isn't to wall ourselves off from all potential harm as a moral imperative over-riding all others.
Until we come to the issue of bodily appearance. And then suddenly health is a moral imperative, because the pursuit of "health" -- when "health" is White and Thin and Hairless and Naked -- is a very expensive and lucrative pursuit. One hundred dollars for beauty injections. Ten dollars for temporary hair removal; nearly two hundred dollars for hair removal that may (or may not, as the case may be for the individual) be more permanent. Twenty-five dollars for hair care that will need to be repeated a few months down the line; thirty dollars for face treatments that are equally short-lasting.
There's nothing wrong with buying these services. If they make you more healthy, or more happy, or if they add value to your life in any way, you shouldn't be shamed for pursuing them. (Indeed, I celebrate you for knowing what you want from life, for getting it, and for getting it in a way that keeps people gainfully employed. Go you!)
But these services don't make me healthy. They don't make me happy. These emails, in my inbox, remind me that the way I look isn't considered acceptable. That my failure to look a certain way indelibly and visibly marks me as unattractive, as unhealthy, as a moral failure in my society. I imagine that for at least some of the advertisers on this list, that may very well be the point. Shame is, after all, a powerful motivator when it comes to persuading people to part with their money. Penitent consumers buying indulgences in the form of hair threading and beauty injections would likely be extremely profitable to the right companies.
The last time I went to my back surgeon, he told me to "just join Weight Watchers" -- a For-Profit company -- in order to help with my persistent back pain. My dermatologist told me that she could tell "just by looking" that I have a genetic risk for diabetes and therefore I needed to radically change my eating habits (which were, of course, unknown to her but must be a steady stream of baby donuts, Because Fat). At work, I overhear my co-workers opine that optional public transportation across our megaplex parking lot would be bad for the fat employees who "need" the extra exercise, and that our bigger chairs mark the point at which the workforce suddenly "got fatter", with the implication that this is obviously a Very Bad Thing that should be corrected. In the past month, I've struggled to find bras that come in my size, and my mother has lamented the impossibility of finding cute teen clothes for my fat niece. I know from hard experience that I cannot buy adorable souvenir clothes on vacation, because the Hawaii and San Antonio shirts don't come in my size, any more than the Zero Punctuation shirts do (at least not in the female-cut shirts. The ones cut for the male clientele have XXL and XXXL, naturally) (also, do not get me started on "cut for female bodies" being called "baby" tee-shirts because we will be here all night listening to me rant).
I'm not a healthy person. I'm not healthy because I have a genetic tendency towards a twisted spine, and three corrective surgeries have failed to prevent me from being in a body where my entire back, neck, and shoulders hurt constantly no matter what I do or where I am. I'm not attractive because I have genetic tendencies towards a combination of fat, hair, and moles-freckles-and-skin tags that don't represent the conventional standards of beauty in my country. All this has been evident since, oh, sixth grade. It's something I've had a very long time to come to terms with.
But it's frustrating to me to constantly be told that I'm unhealthy not because of genetic factors that I had no say in and can't change, but because I'm not spending enough money on the right services. That if I just bought those beauty injections, then I could be both attractive and healthy. I'm not healthy. But it's not because I'm not buying beauty injections. It's because I live in a country that has shitty healthcare, shitty doctors, and shitty advertising that bombards us constantly and convinces people who should know better that health is just a matter of spending enough money on the right things.