As someone who has been exploring different ways to be fit, healthy, and happy, the question of alcohol comes up often.
Usually the question from the fitness point of view focuses on the calories in alcohol or avoiding overindulgence vis a vis athletic performance. When it comes to health, the issue is more about consuming too much alcohol.
Two articles of late have been making the rounds on my news feeds. The first one surveys the literature on alcohol and its link to cancer. Mother Jones writer Stephanie Mencimer began looking at this link after her own diagnosis of breast cancer even though she didn’t fit the profile as someone at risk for cancer.
The article is extensive and covers a lot of ground, but what leapt out at me was data on women’s drinking generally. As a rule, Mencimer reported, women don’t drink a lot. But that is changing, and rapidly, because of concerted marketing campaigns pitching drinking to women: “Ads and products now push alcohol as a salve for the highly stressed American woman. There are wines called Mother’s Little Helper, Happy Bitch, Mad Housewife, and Relax. Her Spirit vodka comes with swag emblazoned with girl-power slogans like “Drink responsibly. Dream recklessly.”
But it isn’t just ads selling specific types of alcohol. There’s a whole bunch of memes and cartoons online and on clothing doing this. Consider this popular image and concept. The image shows two women running. One woman tells the other her fitness tracker calculates how many glasses of wine they have earned through exercising.
The image equates exercise as a means to earn food or drink rewards. Run five miles you get a glass of wine; run ten miles and you get two.
That’s not how exercise works, and yet the message is seen as lighthearted and true. It doesn’t work if you think of two men running and saying it calculates how many beer you can have.
Then there’s this one:
With this meme, readers who are watching their weight are advised to sublimate food cravings by drinking wine. It goes further to suggest that thirst can only be quenched by alcohol.
I find this one really bothersome because the idea of moderation is dismissed out of hand. Forget having a glass of wine, drink the whole bottle. As for seeing how you feel, I doubt anyone who has drunk a whole bottle by themselves has the capacity to engage in any deep thinking.
Then there’s the marketing push from stories like this one on farm fresh vodka (made with kale!) and the latest marathon fad which includes 23 stops for wine.
I think though the worst idea for drinking came from a fitness apparel line:
We’ve come along way since Mick Jagger sang about Mother’s Little Helper (Where’s the sarcasm emojii when you need it?). There’s so much wrong with this I’m not sure where to start.
Perhaps it’s the idea that a strong woman needs help with parenting a strong girl. While parenting help is often undersold, are girl children that problematic that even a strong woman can’t cope? Or is it that the only way to cope is to indulge in strong drink (usually meaning hard liquor)?
I prefer my strength to come from lifting weights and from focusing on the ways I can cultivate resilience rather than on relying on drink to give me strength to face the challenges I have.
These memes are often shared because people find them funny but in fact, they normalize excessive drinking. Let’s take a look at what that is.
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as more than four drinks on any day or 14 per week for men and more than three drinks on any day or seven per week for women.
Health Canada defines low risk drinking as “no more than two drinks a day, 10 per week for women, and three drinks a day, 15 per week for men, with an extra drink allowed on special occasions.”
But limits aren’t that simple. The second article I read this week focused on the life-shortening effects of alcohol. The article reported on new research which found “people who drank the equivalent of about five to 10 drinks a week could shorten their lives by up to six months.”
It gets worse: “The study of 600,000 drinkers estimated that having 10 to 15 alcoholic drinks every week could shorten a person’s life by between one and two years. And they warned that people who drink more than 18 drinks a week could lose four to five years of their lives.”
Contrary to those memes, the research supports a new limit for light drinking or for encouraging abstinence from alcohol completely if one wants to pursue a healthier and happier life.
— Martha Muzychka is a writer getting her fit on in St. Johns.
5 thoughts on “What’s wine got to do with it?”
Thanks for this, Martha. I drink, but I have a skeptical relationship with alcohol, and the cultural wave around women and alcohol is very distressing to me. I don’t know if you read Ann Dowsett Johnston’s book about women and alcohol but it really gets underneath this issue.
Thank you — I haven’t read the book by Dowsett Johnston, but I will go look it up. I’m not much of a drinker. I’m more of an occasion-type of drinker — a glass of wine with a special meal, a fancy cocktail on a night out, a toast at weddings or holidays, or perhaps both a cocktail and a glass of wine at a special event or party. I’m not a regular, or even a large amount drinker the way various health agencies define it. Thus understanding some of the reports about risk are hard to interpret for me. And yet, the way alcohol is marketed and culturally represented — women must drink to cope because then you will be hip and not be worrying about anything — is really antithetical to how I view the world.
I have read and agree with your comment on Johnston’s book. Some disturbing trends noted in that book that had me literally shuddering as I read.
I admire Dowsett Johnston very much for her openness and honesty in writing it because her first person story intersects so much with the shift toward wine-as-safety-vest that Martha is pointing to here.
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