Dear ‘I really wish I knew your name and don’t just want to call you Luke’s Mum’,
I hope you are ok. The comments the boy who I presume to be your child made earlier and that you endorsed suggest that maybe you are not. I hope you can fix that. I hope you can be happy. Of course you won’t read this. But I am going to pretend that you are because I would really like you to understand a few things.
I am the fat woman who ran past you on the canal towpath today. You know, the one your boys nearly tripped up as they raced me. The one who ‘lost’ that race to your boys as my scheduled walk break kicked in. The one who was told by one of your boys that had I been thin I would have won. That I need to be thin to be any good. Remember what you did when you heard that? You laughed and then you said ‘That’s right Luke’. Let’s unpick all of this a little bit: It actually happens relatively frequently that kids want to run alongside me for a bit but parents usually call them back or ask me if it’s ok (I don’t really like it but when asked usually say it’s ok and generally kids drop off after 30 seconds or so anyway). It actually also happens on occasion that kids call me fat. But usually this is simply a descriptor and they are quite right in their description. I am fat. I have never heard it as a value judgment from someone so young. I don’t really blame Luke. After all the message that fat is bad and thin is good is everywhere. It’s easy to pick up. But you? I think you know better. Our humanity does not depend on our size. Our value as a person has nothing to do with the width of our hips or wobbliness of our thighs. If you can’t see that I don’t know how to help you.
So here’s what I want you to know about our little encounter and I wish I could have shaken off the shock of it all straight away to articulate this and say it to your face. I’m sorry I just stared at you like an idiot and then ran off.
- What you did today, that laughter and those three words crushed me. You validated all of those things I used to know to be true – that I am too fat to run, that I can’t do it, that I don’t belong, that I am not good enough. Indeed, that fat is bad and thin is good.
- I was doing my last long run before the London Marathon. It was already tough because plans had changed, I was doing a different route to the one originally planned and confidence was relatively low in spite of going pretty well. I was roughly 7 miles in when I met you, not quite half way of my intended distance. You made me want to go home and give up. I nearly did. You made me cry.
- As well as nearly making me go home, in that moment you destroyed my confidence to the point that I nearly withdrew from the Marathon. I opened the email and hovered over the withdraw link for a little while as tears rolled down my face. Then I posted about our meeting on Facebook instead.
- The post resulted in so much support and love particularly from the #Run1000Miles trail running challenge group. They reminded me that you are wrong. That I am good enough, that I do belong and that fat is merely a descriptor of my size (I’m a size 16 and hover around the 14 stone mark, in case you wondered – so now you can be truly horrified at just how bad I am). They too made me cry but very different sort of tears. They made me keep going when I didn’t think I’d be able to settle enough to finish my run.
- I want you to know that I sobbed my way to 10 miles and then stopped for a re-set and calm down. I also want you to know that until we met I had been going well. I’d felt pretty good, comfortable and happy to be out. After our encounter every step was hard, every yard a battle and every mile impossible. Remember I still had nearly 8 miles to go if I was to complete my goal for today.
- Maybe I should say thank you. Maybe I just needed some more mental training, some more testing of grit and determination and maybe I needed evidence of other people believing in me. You forced me into gritting my teeth and slogging it out for far longer than I would have needed to otherwise and because of you I posted something on Facebook which got such an overwhelming response. I will draw on both of these things on the streets of London in 3 week’s time.
- You took something from me today which I can’t get back. You took the positivity out of my last long run. You took the joy of having completed the tough part of the training. I can’t celebrate this run in the way that I wanted to because of what you allowed your child to say and then said. I want you to know that this makes me really sad.
- I am also sad for you. And for Luke and the boy that was with him, his brother maybe. I wish I could go back and tell them something about winning and what winning means. In the context of our encounter I would tell them that for me winning is being out in the fresh air, it’s being able to run, it’s feeling the air fill my lungs and my legs move, it’s being aware of the strength I have, it’s running further and sometimes it’s running faster but its not about further or faster than someone else – it’s about being a better me. Winning is also about being kind, about celebrating others, it’s about laughing and loving. I would tell them that sometimes coming last is winning. I wish I could tell them something about being fat. I’m not quite sure what I would say here – maybe I would ask them what they think it means. Maybe I would tell them about my life, the things I’ve done, how much of the world I have been lucky to see and the people I have the privilege to know and love. Maybe I would tell them that even though sometimes my brain is poorly I am happy, that I love my life and that I am proud of the choices I have made. Maybe I’d tell them that fat doesn’t really mean anything in any of this.
Does any of this make sense to you? Probably not. Maybe you’re just too much part of the world bombarded with the fat=bad message to step outside of the narrative. I don’t know. I don’t know you. Maybe your own self-worth is so tied up with how you look that you can’t really imagine how it is that almost all of the time I don’t care about what I look like but what I can do. And the thing is, I can do a lot. Re-reading the Facebook comments and reflecting on today’s run made me realise that I won today. That doesn’t mean your boys lost actually, it just means that we weren’t in the same game, or the same league or whatever. We were measuring our achievements very differently. I’m happy Luke and his brother (I presume, I know, I’m sorry if I’m wrong) won the race they thought they were running. Being in front of me as I stopped to walk clearly made them happy. I didn’t lose that ‘race’ though – I wasn’t in it. I won because I was competing with the demons in my head and while you utterly crushed me and briefly gave them the upper hand, I didn’t stop. I won because your toxic words were drowned out by love and support and I was very quickly and firmly uncrushed. I won because in spite of sobbing my way for 3 miles and then taking a break to calm down I ran 13 miles within my target marathon pace and then managed another 2.4 to make sure I covered the distance I had set myself. I won because I’m not angry, I’m not even upset about the comments and your endorsement of them. I’m just sad that you think that to be any good you have to be thin and that you appear to be passing that thinking on to those boys who are going to have a whole load of unlearning to do.
Wishing you happiness and love