I wrote a blog a couple weeks ago about my first official 5K and in it I discussed the fact that I benefit from athletic privilege and I got some questions about what that means. Recently some stuff has happened that brought it into sharp relief. About 4 weeks ago I woke up with a pain in my back. I thought nothing of it and assumed it would work itself out. Fast forward a week and the constant pain was pretty intense and I could not lift my right arm. Thankfully I happened to be in Austin where I have a team of amazing healthcare providers (Dr. Robin and Dave I’m looking at you).
It turns out that while ignoring the pain and “working through it” I managed to slip some discs and a tendon and tear some muscles. I wasn’t able to lift my right arm until four weeks later (a few days ago.) I had to ask for help with day to day tasks, I couldn’t do my own hair. The pain caused me to cancel things that were really important to me because I just couldn’t deal with the thought of having to leave the house and I’d only been in pain for a month, there are people who live with chronic pain their whole lives. Things are getting better for which I am very grateful, and this has really reminded me a lot about my athletic/ability privilege:
There are a number of ways that this privilege shows up in my life:
First, by luck of the gene lottery I have some natural athleticism and good natural proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. I build muscle, in particular Type 2 muscle, very easily. Second, I was able to be an athlete growing up. Being an athlete in your youth can make athleticism easier to maintain when you’re older. Also, I got the confidence of athletic achievement. When I first worked on loving my body for what it does for me and as I live day to day, I didn’t and don’t have to negotiate any disabilities and I had all of that athleticism to fall back on. Finally, there are social pay-offs that come to me because I am athletic that can negate some of the fat prejudice that I would otherwise face.
So I have privilege. Of course I also deal with bullshit – like the fact that people suggest that I can’t be an athlete unless I’m thin and plenty of other fat stigma/oppression crap, and yes I’ve worked very hard to develop my athletic skills, but that doesn’t negate my privilege – like the fact that I get social approval for the hours of work that I put in to physical fitness because I enjoy being an athlete, but I would not receive that same approval if I had spent those same hours becoming a bad ass knitter (and that’s bullshit). We all have privilege in some ways, typically we didn’t ask for it and we can’t give it away, but we can acknowledge it and we can try to use it to make things better.
Ways that I think we can do that include:
Being loud and clear that, while it’s not a bad thing to be, or talk about our experiences as, athletes, and while neither of those things are healthist or ableist in and of themselves, being an athlete/exercising/being physically fit etc. doesn’t make us any better or worse than people who aren’t those things for whatever reason, or who choose different hobbies than we do. (In general I think it’s a good idea to avoid feeling good about ourselves by cultivating a belief that we are better than others.)
Being proactive about making sure that the businesses and events we go to, and the events that we coordinate, are accessible to people who have limited mobility, disabilities, and less athletic privilege than we have.
Seeking out information from, and listening to, people whose experiences are different than ours (and who want to discuss these things) to see what we might be able to do to make things more accessible, and to better avoid healthism and ableism.
If you have more ideas, leave them in the comments!
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