Hey Runner Dude

This has been floating around Facebook. My reply will quote relevant bits, but you probably want to read the whole thing.

Hey, Fat Girl.

Yes, you. The one feigning to not see me when we cross paths on the running track. The one not even wearing sports gear, breathing heavy. You’re slow, you breathe hard and your efforts at moving forward make you cringe.

You sweat so much that your hair is all wet. You rarely stay for more than 20 minutes at a time, and you look exhausted when you leave to go back home. You never talk to anyone. I’ve got something I’d like to say to you.

You are awesome.

Hey, Runner Dude. Um, thanks, I guess. I mean, you said I’m awesome, and who isn’t flattered by that? Heck, as a fat runner, I’m happy not to have people giving me grief. Saying nice things about me is almost a bonus. But at the same time, for all your talk of reverence, a lot of what you say doesn’t sound like you think I’m all that awesome. Honestly, they don’t sound like you know much about me at all.

I mean, you know what you see. You know I’m fat. You see how I dress, how fast (well, really, how slow) I run, and how far I go, and who I talk to (or don’t talk to), but that’s it. The rest of my story, you create for yourself, making me into the archetypal fat girl on a Weight Loss Journey.

But we aren’t interchangeable, we fat girls who run. And the story you’re spinning isn’t my story.

You have already begun your transformation. You no longer accept this physical state of numbness and passivity…Each push forward leaves the former person you were in your wake, creating room for an improved version, one that is stronger, healthier and forward-looking, one who knows that anything is possible.

This is all inspiring-sounding stuff, but you don’t know any of it is true. In your head, I’m a before picture, working on her transformation. In your mind’s eye, I just crawled out of a donut-induced stupor, stood blinking in the unfamiliar sunlight, and started running.

But that’s not my story.

As it happens, I’m new to running, but not to yoga, or fencing, or dance. I love the feel of a good stretch, and the deep sense of relaxation that comes after a hard workout.

You assume that I’m starting a journey from sloth to fitness and health, but you don’t really know what path I’m on, or how far I’ve already gone. For me, running was not a resolution, but something that sounded like fun.

For that matter, you don’t know that running actually leads to health for me. You assume running is always a good thing, but people vary so much. For all you know, I could have untreated asthma or a heart condition that makes running until I’m out of breath a really foolish idea. Or maybe I’m cringing at every step because I’m running on a knee that’s been screwed up in a car accident, but no doctor will do a knee replacement until I lose some weight. Maybe I’m in good health overall, but I started running too much too soon, and I’m about to start paying for it with a stress fracture.

For that matter, you assume I’m unhealthy right now, but you don’t actually know that either. Body size isn’t blood pressure, or cholesterol, or illness, or injury. It’s just body size. For all you know, I could be in better health than the marathon runner half my size. You assume I’m not, because the media and the diet industry tell one story about people who look like me, and tell you not to believe us when we tell our own stories.

You cling shyly to the furthest corridor, sometimes making larger loops on the gravel ring by the track just so you’re not on it….If you’d look me in the eye only for an instant, you would notice the reverence and respect I have for you….The gifts you will receive from running will far exceed the gigantic effort it takes you to show up here, to face your fears and to bravely set yourself in motion, in front of others….You’re a hero to me. And, if you’d take off the blaring headphones and put your head up for more than a second or two, you would notice that the other runners you cross, the ones that probably make you feel so inadequate, stare in awe at your determination.

It’s nice of you to give them the benefit of the doubt, but just as you don’t know me, you don’t know that that’s why they’re staring. Maybe it is “Wow, she’s so determined.” But maybe it’s “Wow, who let her out of the house looking like that?”

You make it sound like any fear I might have of running in public is all in my head, like the running community would embrace me with open arms if I would just take my headphones off and look them in the eye. I’m guessing nobody has ever mooed at you while you were out running. Jillian Michaels doesn’t make millions of dollars telling people they’re lazy and pathetic because they look like you. Your body isn’t used as a symbol for laziness, or for greed, and there aren’t a whole lot of websites devoted to mocking people like you.

So, yes, I’m hesitant around the die-hard athletes. I’m wary of mockery or condescension not because of my own insecurities, but because of what I’ve observed.

And really, I’m not here to chit-chat anyway. Some of what you see as shyness and fear is just me being in my own head, alone with my thoughts and my body. And sometimes I just have a really good song to listen to.

You are a runner, and no one can take that away from you. You are relentlessly moving forward. You are stronger than even you think, and you are about to be amazed by what you can do.

If I’m a runner, talk to me like I’m a runner. Do you shower the other runners with platitudes about how inspiring they are? Or do you ask them about their training, their latest race, their lives off the track? I’m not here to inspire anybody, I’m just doing my thing. And really, the only reason a fat girl running is an inspiration is because of the assumption that I don’t, that I can’t, because I am weak, wrong, and broken. You’re inspired by a transformation from a bad body to a good, worthwhile body, but my body was never bad. It was always just my body. And running doesn’t make me a better person than someone who doesn’t run. I’m not running to fix myself; I was never broken.

If you do come talk to me, please, don’t tell me I’m an awesome inspiration who’s on a life-altering journey. Ask me how my workout’s going, or commiserate about blisters, or ask how the Nike Airmax shoes are working out for me. Don’t talk to me like I’m the archetypal good fat girl who exercises and deserves a pat on the back for it. I honestly don’t find that encouraging or supportive. But if you want to encourage me, talk to me, and *listen* to me long enough to know why I run. When you see Kelly and not “that fat girl running,” then we’ll talk.

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7 thoughts on “Hey Runner Dude

  1. kprofou says:

    Hey blogger girl, you’re fantastic.

    I just started a couch to 5k program recently. I haven’t really run at all since I was in my early 20s and this is pretty new. But I have been a very regular exerciser. The first time I went out, I went around my neighborhood and was stopped by someone asking me if I wanted to hire them to be my weight loss coach. That person stopped me from my exercise to try to sell his BS program to me. I was humiliated and just went home instead of finishing. I’ve since driven over to a nearby park to run and the mojo there is just better. Everybody says hello and has a friendly smile, but that’s where the conversation ends. I don’t know what they think of my husband and my fat asses attempting to run and I don’t care to know what they think because I prefer to think they just see us as fellow athletes.

    Yes that facebook posting is condescending and unnecessary.

    • KellyK says:

      Aww, thank you!

      I’m sorry you had that kind of experience running in your own neighborhood. I’m continually amazed by people’s complete lack of boundaries or common decency. I’m glad the park is friendlier.

  2. SherryH says:

    Nicely said, Kelly. Nice takedown of what purports to be appreciative but actually is a backhanded compliment with far too many assumptions and errors to even begin to take seriously. And, of course, it assumes fat bodies are available for public comment and analysis, which is presumptuous and then some. Blargh.

    It’s hard to even be angry – I’m just so gosh darned *tired*.

    • KellyK says:

      Thank you! I felt a little bit bad taking it apart, because he really sounded like he meant well. And the Facebook friend who posted it (not specifically to me, thank goodness!) seemed to find it super-encouraging.

      I guess it says something about how screwed up the view of fat people is that condescension and backhanded compliments are what count for “nice.”

      • Yeah, when I first saw it, between of the whole “he meant well” thing and the fact that a friend liked it, it was easier to just write nothing. Glad you wrote something, and I can’t believe I missed it until now!

        I’ve been increasing my distance in running over the past year, while gaining weight and still being pretty damn slow. I’m certainly not on a weight loss journey.

  3. Charlie says:

    This is so on-target and wonderful and generous to the text it intervenes with. I’m a 300-some-odd-pound tennis player myself, and haven’t received negative comments probably at least partially as a result of male privilege, but you’re so right that what this guy wrote was infuriatingly condescending. Thank you for speaking up.

    • KellyK says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you haven’t gotten those comments. I think it may very well be partly a male privilege thing, that people feel entitled to comment on women’s bodies and activities in a way they don’t with men.

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