Two weeks ago, in an interview with The New York Times, Donald Trump was questioned about climate change. When asked if humans have something to do with it, he replied “maybe” — but, even with that almost-admission, doing something about it “depends on how much it’s going to cost [America’s] companies,” because they’re “non-competitive right now.”
Essentially, what Trump was saying is that the actual health of the environment, which will largely affect us in the medium- and long-term, is less important than amassing wealth in the short-term.
He’s not wrong that wealth, in a capitalist market, is important. If our companies fail, our people will struggle.
But instead of seeking sustainable solutions that are outside of the box and forward-thinking — which will probably be unpopular despite their ability to protect us long-term — he is focused on preserving short-term wealth and popularity.
I consider this, in many ways, to be analogous to what goes on in the world of health and fitness in relation to personal brand.
I have seen healthy living bloggers with anorexia and orthorexia who refuse to stop blogging about #cleaneating, because it would mean they would lose affiliate deals. I have exercise bloggers with damaged knees and hips continue running marathons, because to stop would mean to lose the race for social capital. I have been the health blogger who made her health worse by attempting to be the most healthy, pushing forward to gain acclaim, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that my actions were damaging me.
When your ability to earn income and/or love/acclaim is dependent upon how you present your personal brand, and your personal brand is dependent upon protecting your short-term capital over your long-term health, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
It’s very easy to become emotionally invested in the thing that earns you capital. Especially for women whose financial earning ability is less and whose competition for social status is predicated on your ability to spend financial capital on health, fitness, and beauty. When we are presented with the opportunity to earn more, we take it. Even if that opportunity is (as it seems to be in this Age of Internet), predicated on selling your body.
I’m not just talking about sex work. I’m talking about this new class of women (myself included — I do not exempt myself from this), who seek to make money by building a personal brand on the internet.
This amazing new modality has opened the doors for women to become self-sufficient or, at least, more self-sufficient. To make a freedom income and leave the mansplainers in our workplaces or to work from home while taking care of children.
There are many of us who seek social capital (likes, shares, follows) and financial capital from our Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and blogs. But if you drill down and take an honest look at who is actually earning, you’ll see that the majority of those who make money on the internet (besides marketers marketing to marketers) are women who sell “health.”
The Age of Internet is one that views looks as proof of concept; it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not if the filter looks good.
A healthy body isn’t one that is free of disease (the actual definition of health) but one that is tight, toned, and “clean.”
And how you look will help you sell health to others who want to look like you.
You may sell leggings, but your body is your brand. You present yourself as proof of concept; the leggings are merely the accouterment to your brand.
If your brand is running, but you have to stop running, you lose your brand. If you sell weight loss and you gain weight, you lose your brand. If you sell clean eating and you get ill, you lose your brand.
And your brand is your earning potential.
I see many of us clinging harder and harder, despite clear-cut evidence of harm and damage, to the idea of “maybe” like Donald Trump. The affiliate deals, the pyramid scheme, the paid posts, the coaching sessions are all more important because, right now, we need that freedom number. We have to keep the factories that are our bodies chugging along now.
I say this all from experience. When I was sick and trying to start a fitness blog, I knew I was sick, but I couldn’t do anything about it or else I couldn’t be a fitness blogger. I admitted, inside, that it was possible that I had an exercise addiction and an eating disorder, but to say so out loud would be my downfall.
When I was Paleo and writing about curing my acne by experimenting with supplements and ever-more-restrictive Paleo elimination diets, I could see that my eating and obsession with my body was holding me back from true recovery, but I also couldn’t say anything about it for fear that I would not get health coaching clients. I needed a freedom number to leave a toxic workplace and move out of my parent’s house.
I see more and more women being seduced by willing disbelief of the “maybe” in order to remain financially and socially competitive. Clinging desperately to claims made by health gurus and parent companies about the magical property of whatever they can sell — supplements, essential oils, shakes, cleanses, bars, exercise programs — because that is how they become or remain independent.
Your body is your brand, as long as the system makes it impossible for you to make money any other way.
The solution isn’t an easy one, because, in the short-term, it will hurt. We either have to continue making money by relying on these bags of flesh and blood that break, and age, and scar, or we have to disengage from the activities that turn our bodies, and the bodies of the women we follow online, into money-making machines. In the short-term, it will hurt, because there will still be women out there capitalizing on privilege (thin, blond, fit, “clean”), and we will feel the FOMO of not participating in their “tribes” or feel the economic pain of trying to find fulfilling employment that also pays for more than just our ability to photograph our abs or update our Runkeeper.
But in the long-term, if I opt-out, and you opt-out, and others see that and begin to opt-out as well, and, in opting out we don’t just give up, but seek new ways of making money that demand a participation in the economy that isn’t merely predicated on age, weight, and the ability to do 15 pushups without resting, we will be creating a long-term shift in the way that women participate in the economy. We can do that without having to cling to the idea that our financial freedom is only one 30-day challenge group away.
If we are able to look at Donald Trump and say, “Your position is unsustainable,” then we should be able to look at ourselves and say the same thing. Trump and climate deniers won’t change their views until enough companies say, “We’re willing to sacrifice immediate funds for long-term changes that could protect our world.”
It’s time to get brutally honest.
The climate has changed, and it’s time to stop denying it. Our bodies cannot be our brands if we want to own our health long-term.