by Kristen Abell
In student affairs it seems that this year has been one of focusing on health and wellness (at least in the online world of student affairs). We’ve seen the rise of the #safit hashtag, the Student Affairs Runners group on Facebook, and at a recent regional conference, our participation in the fun run/walk jumped from four last year to over 70 this year. With student affairs being a notoriously unhealthy field – especially in terms of balance – this seems like a welcome change.
From the beginning, there has been something about the whole focus on fitness that has bothered me, and it took me awhile to put my finger on it – and even longer to write about it. It feels like when we talk about health and wellness, all we are talking about is physical health and wellness – and for many, what we are also talking about is size. Pictures and stories abound of weight loss, fitting into clothes, being the smallest we’ve been. To me it feels as though some have turned the focus from health to size, and those folks have turned from being supportive of all sizes to being supportive only of those who are making an effort to be a smaller size. I don’t believe anybody has done this intentionally, but it stings, nonetheless. For a field that is supposed to be supportive of all shapes and sizes, we’re acquiring a tendency to shame those of larger sizes because they’re not doing anything about it.
Perhaps part of this is my frustration with my own health issues. I’ve been fighting to breathe easy for so long that physical fitness still sometimes feels like a bit of a luxury to me. So to be told I need to be focusing on running harder or lifting more or losing weight just feels like a small part of the bigger health picture, and it feels out of focus.
And when we keep the focus on physical health, we have lost a large part of that picture. I know I’m sensitive to this because of my own struggles, but it is just as important to me – if not more so – that my mental health is good. And this can take more than just seeking balance. Sometimes it requires doctors, and therapy, and medication. Sometimes it requires that our physical health isn’t just fit, but that we are actually healthy – that we aren’t suffering from other types of illnesses. If we only focus on physical fitness, we’re excluding those who are fighting for even a baseline of health – physical or mental.
This has been a hard post to write – not least because I have several friends who I feel have benefited from the #safit movement. And I want to be clear that I don’t think it’s a bad movement at all. I myself love the encouragement that I get when I post a workout or something positive about my journey to better health. I’ve had several people who also have voiced how much they have been encouraged both from my posts and from this movement. I just think we have to be careful about crossing the border between what is good about this movement toward fitness to becoming more exclusive than encouraging. It’s a fine line, but it’s one that we should be particularly cognizant of as student affairs professionals.
What are your thoughts about the movement toward health and wellness in student affairs?