Saturday, February 11, 2017

Taking Steps


Taking Steps

working hard at megacorp
so I can buy some shiny things
step tracker, fitness wear

duped again, focused inward
eager to believe
it’s all about me
a seductive topic
nothing closer to home than me

me, me, me
I hum it in the shower
I’ve just completed a walk
5.4 kilometers
post a status update
such discipline

tracking my steps
for big brother
big data la la la
not thinking about that

aerobic workout five days a week
my health is up to me
I have the moral edge
inside the bubble
echoing the echo

they know where I am
my route, time of day
how long it took
if I met the goal
whoever they are

docile me
oblivious me
my head is full of me
I deserve it

too focused to think about
climate change
child brides
potable water
sexual violence
genital mutilation
living wage
social determinants of health

I’m busy with my body project
managing my risk
I walked 10,000 steps today
gold star for me

Source: Getty Images

About this Poem

I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Dr. Mary Louise Adams from Queen's University. Adams spoke about risk discourse, and how the individual pursuit of health has become a central cultural theme in our society. In particular, she spoke about the current craze for step counting, and how fitness trackers redirect one's attention to oneself, and to one's body as an object.

Although I do not own a fitness tracker such as a fit bit, I do have a couple of fitness tracker apps on my phone. I confess that there have been times that I have become rather obsessed about tracking and keeping stats on distance, time, speed, and calories burned when I go out for a walk, bike ride, or cross-country ski. Adams' talk made me think more deeply about fitness tracking and inspired me to write this poem.


  1. Interesting post. My daughter has an obsession with counting steps. Me, I couldn't be bothered. That's not to say I don't care about my health, I (mostly) eat all the right things have always taken care of myself in other ways. I used to practice yoga and still believe in it even if I don't practice it. Too old now for all those contortions but the wisdom of yoga remains in my head.

  2. Such a gripping and thought-provoking poem, Jude. Although I am not a step-counter, your message resonates loud and clear. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Valerie. I do think it is interesting that the notion of health has taken on this moralistic tone, and shifted so much to constant self-measuring. I have been a complete sucker for this because I like to count and measure things, and I have really bought into the idea that my health is my responsibility. Yet the number one predictor of poor health is poverty, and the research shows that the most effective way make a difference in health is through broader social policy changes (e.g. School lunch programs;accessible clean drinking water; education for girls).


  4. Thanks Donna. The message of Mary Louise Adams' talk really hit home for me. While do think that the first place to make a change is with one's own behaviour, I also think that too often in our culture we (as members of our present society) tend to become rather narcissistic and self-focused. It can become an excuse for opting out of advocating for larger social change.


  5. You've written a beautiful poem, Jude. I love data and got very wrapped up in the quantified self movement for more than a year. I too have bought into the idea that my health is 100% my responsibility. I'm terrified of the idea of developing a life-threatening illness for all of the usual reasons, but also because I will see it as my own fault - a failure of the mind-body connection. Measuring and tracking seemed at first to be a responsible way to be accountable to myself for my actions.

    Eventually, I felt sickened by the obsessive self-focus and gave it up. In my case it wasn't because it felt overly narcissistic (we have to be here and healthy in order to make larger social changes), but rather because it became just another way to beat myself up for my lack of perfection in health as in everything else. I grew weary of the self-abuse.

    Thank you for such a thought-provoking poem, Jude. I'm going to go explore more about Dr. Adams' work. The concept of risk discourse in health is fascinating.

  6. Karen, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I too love data, and am always amusing myself with mental math calculations. So the distance counting was a natural for me.

    I am no longer using a tracker. In my case, the reasons are because I do not like the idea that corporations are collecting my location data and possibly using it or selling it, and also because obsessing about stats takes away from my enjoyment of being in the moment -- observing what is around me while I walk, smelling the air, etc. I suppose that I also don't like the idea that my body is a project, some imperfect thing that I am expected to improve upon. This is the message that our society gives women, and I disagree with it.

  7. I love your poem Jude and it definitely made me reflect. I don't have a fitness tracker and I've never been good at tracking quantitative data. In reflection, I guess it makes sense that I ended up using all qualitative research in my doctoral program. Our health is definitely our responsibility, but we need to approach it in a way that is healthy for us - while not losing focus on others. Great message!

  8. Thanks Vicki. I think qualitative approaches to inquiry allow one to pursue more meaningful questions, whereas statistical approaches tend to constrict research questions to things that can be measured (rather than things that are interesting or important). My two cents.