Disability Pride vs. Diet Culture

It’s widely noted that diet culture can be destructive to people’s bodies and minds.  Pervasive and impossible standards of body beauty greet us in everything, from video games to comic books, to magazines, movies and Barbie dolls.  Of course, this is more of a problem for girls and women than it is for boys and men, simply because our culture determines a woman’s value on how she looks, as opposed to men. Even still, boys and men are also immersed in images of bodies that we are told are desirable and that most of us can never have. In response, many women and men turn to fad diets that look an awful lot like eating disorders (see the current trend of “intermittent fasting”) and can have similarly disastrous consequences to our physiology and psychology. 

As a physically-disabled person, such impossible standards have always been out of reach for me than for my non-disabled peers. This led me to just thrown up my hands and decide that I don’t need to worry about my body at all. Instead, I focused on the development of my creative and intellectual abilities. In high school, I spent enormous amounts of time doing homework and participating in drama and music extra-curriculars. Except for a brief flirtation with wheelchair rugby, (where I warmed the bench for a single season of playing with a “murderball” team), this has been my modus operandi for decades. I pursued a Ph.D. so that I could teach philosophy at a university. This is a life that truly rewards a person for focusing on the development of their mind rather than their body.

Joe elevated at iLevel in his Edge 3 Power Wheelchair

During the winter of 2020, I had a bit of a wakeup call. It forced me to recognize that my view of my body was just as unhealthy as if I was constantly pursuing perfection with fad diets. I spent an intense two weeks preparing a research grant application. I ignored the messages my body was sending me and ended up hospitalized with sepsis. This was mere hours after hitting the “submit” button. I realized that if I wanted to truly live disability pride and not just write about it, I needed to pay attention to my disabled body and give it the love it deserves. Disability pride does not mean ignoring your body because it is atypical. It means loving your body enough to provide it with care.

I began scheduling doctor appointments for chronic conditions I had ignored for years, previously telling myself that I didn’t need to “medicalize” my disability. I also began doing seated cardio workouts on YouTube and even a bit of strength training.

Just prior to my 39th birthday at the end of February, I decided that I needed to lose weight as a part of my selfcare. The weight I had gained during the pandemic clearly diminished my health. So, I began paying attention to my nutritional habits. Thus far, I have met with some slow success.  More importantly, though, I have realized that paying attention to one’s nutrition is not part of the self-hate that diet culture rests on.  In fact, it can be an act of radical self-love and disability pride that calls a person to celebrate and value their disabled body by taking care of it.

About Joe Stramondo: Joe is an assistant professor at San Diego University and is extremely active in the disability community. Joe uses an Edge 3 Power Wheelchair to maintain his mobility and independence. In his spare time, Joe strives to be the best father he can to his children. Click here to learn more about Joe.