On Sunday a fellow #Run1000Miler Paul Newey posted an entry on his blog titled ‘Inspire Someone’. It begins with two pictures of fat people running and the line: ‘What do you think when you see this?’ Well I think the best response in the group was Gary’s: ‘I see two runners competing in a race’ which is what I would have said. Mostly the responses to Paul’s blog were positive, agreeing with him that fat runners are inspirational and it’s so hard for us because were carrying all the weight….blabla. There were a couple of negative comments about how this was just another personal trainer trying to flog his business (don’t think it was) or how it was using fat people or whatever. I tuned out as I scrolled. One comment stuck with me though ‘If I was big and someone used my pic like that I’d want to die of embarrassment’. Oh my. So if someone used an image of me without my permission I’d be pissed off. If someone used it to be offensive, take the piss or whatever I might be a bit upset (depends on my mood on the day, I may just be fucking furious) but embarrassed? Nope. The comment suggested that the person posting it would be embarrassed IF THEY WERE BIG. I sort of wish I had a bikini pic of me I could plaster all over with all the wobbly bits in all their glory – but I don’t. I don’t own a bikini. Don’t get me wrong, I have my insecurities, I’m not a huge fan of my flabby wobbly bits, I get self conscious but embarrassed? Fuck no.
Anyway I digress. So I read most of the comments before I read the blog itself and I wanted to love it and be firmly on Paul’s side. I wanted him to have got the message right. I read the blog. I read it again. And then I posted this:
Hi Paul. First of all thank you. I’m a fat runner. I appreciate the support and the sentiment behind the post. I really do. I really really do. I know how hard it can be – for a long time I preferred to run in the dark when nobody could see me, I’ve been laughed at and commented on – not often but enough. But there is something slightly patronising about your blog. I know that you don’t mean that and it might really just be me and my insecurities. Maybe it’s the them and us – you know the fatties over there compared to the rest of us… I don’t know. Can I think about this a bit more and then maybe do a response to your blog on mine? I don’t want you to change it, I want to love it but there’s just something niggling me. Second issue – the photos – just because they’re on google doesn’t mean the people in them gave permission so this is something you might want to think about. if you do decide to swap them you are more than welcome to a picture of fat me running.
So, I don’t love the blog post. It’s been on my mind and I think I’m getting closer to being able to articulate why. So here are my thoughts
- I think Paul is genuine. I think the blog post is well intentioned and genuine and I think Paul is really trying to be supportive and lovely and caring and I think he really does see the hard work, mentally and physically, that these runners put in as inspirational. The blog comes from a good place, the right place.
- Mostly I like the blog
- There is something slightly patronising about it though – the tone is a bit them v us. Us is the ‘normal’ folk, the runners. Them is the fat runners, the not normal. He says:
To go out running when you have this shape takes much more mental strength than physical fitness. You’re not only fighting a battle against your own body but also against your own mind, more so than the rest of us in my opinion
Hm, well does it take more mental strength than physical fitness? This is loaded with assumptions. Fat does not necessarily equal unfit. I’ve always been fat but not always unfit. I’m not as fit as I’d like to be now but I know plenty of thin (or are we calling them normal?) people who are less fit. There are also assumptions about what goes on mentally. Yep I used to be a bit (ok ok A LOT) self conscious and I liked the cover of darkness but not anymore. I no longer care who sees me in my running kit. Wobbly bits will wobble – that’s life. And I really really don’t think we’re fighting against our own bodies. I mean really? Ok so granted, my body doesn’t always make this running thing easy but I’m not fighting it. I actually think it’s quite amazing really. I do fight my mind – daily. But that’s not because I’m fat, it’s just because I’m a fruit loop. So I think the thing with the paragraph is that it assumes that fat people struggle more than ‘normal’ people and I don’t think that’s right for either fatties or non fatties. I think running can just be bloody hard. I think sometimes the battle is physical and sometimes (mostly?) it’s mental. If the #Run1000Miles group has taught me anything it is that runners are not really so different from each other – tall, short, fat, thin. It’s kinda the same battles and where the emphasis falls is far more about where we are in our running journeys than about whether we’re fat or not.
4. Paul refers to the comments and and abuse fat runners face. Yep. Been there. But I’ve also been lucky. It’s been minor. The idea that a running club for obese people had to close down because of it is heartbreaking. People are cruel sometimes and I want to say thank you to Paul for calling out that cruelty and for adding his voice to the opposite message.
5. ‘These ladies and gents need to be encouraged’. Hm. Do we? Or rather: Do we need to be encouraged more than any other runner out there? I don’t think we do. Surely all runners like a bit of support and encouragement. Actually those who do need encouraging are those not yet out putting one foot in front of the other. And this is why actually Paul’s blog is important (thought possibly unlikely to be read by those it could benefit most). Fatties stuck on the sofa need to know that for every abuse shouting twat out there, there are 50 (at least) supportive, encouraging, friendly faces excitedly waiting to hear about their journeys, ready to be proud of them and their achievements. I can say all of that – but I’m also fat so that leaves room for doubt – normal people might not be so encouraging. Well Paul, sorry to label you normal but thanks for adding your voice.
6. Through the blog post and the comments on it in the group there is also an implicit and almost hidden assumption that fat people run because they want to get thin (normal!). Actually in my experience that’s mostly not true – particularly with fat people who have been running a little while. I think I probably started running to shift pounds – that hasn’t been my ‘why’ for a long time and it’s not the ‘why’ for many fat runners I know.
7. Something that was said in comments (Gary again I believe): ‘sometimes people just want recognition as a runner not because of their size’. I think Gary is my new hero. A while back my osteopath told me I was quite flexible for my age. I felt like punching him. I’m actually probably quite flexible for someone 10 years younger too so sod off. There’s the same thing with running sometimes and there are undertones of this in the blog – a sort of ‘aren’t they doing well for fatties’. This is coupled with a slightly irritating ‘oh my god they’re so amazing’ attitude and ‘I couldn’t do it if I was that size’. You don’t know that, you’re not this size, you’re just saying that because it sounds like the sort of thing you should say (Paul – I’m being unfair here I know). Sorry but sometimes being told that you’re ‘brave’, ‘inspirational’, ‘courageous’, ‘strong’ is really exhausting (sometimes it’s also uplifting and amazing – sort of depends on the context). No I’m not. I’m just a fat person who runs. I’m delighted if by me being out there doing my wobbly thing others can take something from that which helps them go chase their dreams (or let’s face it – just get off the sofa). I’m not inspirational because I’m fat. If I am at all it’s because of my story in the same way that every runner is because of their story. We all have our whys and we all have our demons and we all run… So yes, inspire someone and hell yes keep running ladies, gents and unciorns but don’t make exercise of any kind about size, don’t assume fat means it’s harder, don’t assume thin means easier. I’m with Gary, I see two runners. The rest is kinda irrelevant.
BTW – I’ve been ignoring my Sunday weigh-ins – because quite frankly, they’re irrelevant!
7 thoughts on “Inspire Someone – A Response”
Really enjoyed reading this thought provoking response. Like you I think Paul’s blog is full of good intentions with no ulterior motive. Like you I (try to) just see people running, but it has made be wonder how the ‘fatties’ feel when approaching the finish line of an organised event. A ‘normal’ person can cross the line to applause, but when a fatty approaches the applause has a habit of increasing along with added shouts of encouragement. Does this actually spur the person on, or do they think “please just shut the f*ck up”?
Anyway is has certainly made be think about the way I discuss and comment on runners, and I’ll phrase things differently as a result. Nice one Paul and Jess.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Oh the finish line thing never really occurred to me – I wonder whether I’ve ever noticed that the shouts of encouragement go up. Hm. I’m always grateful for any encouragement along the way but I also know that some find it patronising. It certainly beats the finish having been packed up already! Also, does this happen at whatever pace or is this just about being towards the back? Thanks Liam, more to think about there.
LikeLiked by 1 person
From what I’ve observed it’s predominately the runners at the back of the field. If a skinny person were to be approaching the finish at the same time as someone who is overweight, I’d put money on the overweight person getting more cheers of encouragement. However, that person probably has more determination than most in that race. Thanks to this debate I’m going to be observing and analysing everything at my next event.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Hm, interesting. But I’m not sure that the fat person approaching the finish at the back of the pack has more determination than the skinny one at the back of the pack – they’re both at the back, if it’s a distance run they’ve both been out there for a long time… I’m not sure it’s mentally harder for one or the other really. Not sure though. I might be completely off with that assumption
LikeLiked by 2 people
Great writing, a lot of thought and balanced arguments here 😊
LikeLiked by 2 people
HI Jess, thank you for your response. I love it. One or two bits were a little difficult to swallow but that’s the nature of constructive criticism and was purely due to my short sighted or slightly mis-fired points than your answers. All your points are valid and it’s great to hear it from your side as I could only assume (wrongly it seems) how it feels to be a large runner.
I myself am carrying a couple extra pounds that I’d prefer to lose but it was wrong of me to assume that overweight runners struggle more than simply unfit runners and also to imply that there is an ‘us and them’, normal and fat etc. That’s something I never wanted to convey so I apologise wholeheartedly for that mistake and should’ve read through it a few more times to eradicate that implication before posting it online. I also probably should’ve used different pictures or none at all.
Thank you for being straight to the point and honest about this. I really appreciate it and will take this as a learning experience from a much better blogger for next time I post. 🙂 x
LikeLiked by 1 person
Paul, I absolutely meant what I said in the group, it’s an important conversation and I’m really pleased your part of it.
LikeLiked by 1 person