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!