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Archive for the ‘Fat Acceptance’ Category

I know I said you would receive a race report shortly after my half marathon.  It has now been two months, and nary a peep have you heard from me.

Race reports are hard to write, y’all.

In a nutshell, the race was okay, but it wasn’t great.  I finished 10 minutes slower than I anticipated, but I finished in good spirits (unlike the last half marathon).  The last three miles were the worst, and I started cramping up at the end.  But here’s why race reports are so hard:  There has to be a very careful balance in a race report between funny, insightful, inspirational, and whining.  If I complain too much, it looks like I’m soliciting sympathy.  If I make it sound lovely, I’m lying — and to be frank, you don’t want to read that.  So all of this back and forth means that I kept thinking about what I was going to write, and then just ended up not writing anything at all.

Anyways, but now I’m back and I’m going to tell you about the 4 most annoying things that customers say to me.  Now, before you get all excited, this will not be what it sounds like.

  1. “I know I don’t look like a runner.”  This is usually said while gesturing towards their supposedly fat, non-running body.  Listen folks, I’m tired of people who feel the need to cut themselves down.  There are plenty of people out there that will do that for you.  You don’t have to do it to yourself as well.  What does a “runner” look like anyway?  Most of the people who come into the store aren’t rail-thin.  I certainly don’t “look like a runner.”  And yet, I work at a running store.  And when you come into my store and dismiss your accomplishments and self-shame your body, you are really shaming everyone else who doesn’t “look like a runner.”  A runner looks like you, like me, like your neighbor, like your grandpa.
  2. “I’m not really a runner.”  This is said by at least one person a day at the store.  When I ask them what they mean, they usually respond by saying that they only run 3 days a week, or only 3 miles at a time, or whatever the case may be.  My response: “If you go out the door and you are moving in a forward direction and you aren’t walking, then you are running.  And if you run, you’re a runner.”  There is no special “club” or card that you need in order to be considered a runner.  Again, please stop dismissing your amazing accomplishments.  I’d be willing to bet that your friends, family, and neighbors who don’t run at all consider you a runner.
  3. “I’m really slow.” This is said to me usually in conjunction with one of the previous comments.  When a customer tells me he’s not a “real” runner, and I tell him that, indeed, he is, he responds with, “Well, I’m really slow” as if this somehow diminishes his “runner-ness.”  What is most amusing to me is that when I ask what his average pace is, his response is  “10 minute mile” or “9 minute mile.”  Well, I’ve got news for you buddy: that is a lot faster than many people run.  You are fast.  And besides, as I always say, whether you run a 7 minute mile or a 12 minute mile, it is still A MILE.
  4. “I just run 5Ks.” Or the alternative, “It’s only a half marathon.”  True, you are not running 26.2 miles, or a 50K, or competing in an IronMan challenge, but JUST 5Ks?  JUST a half marathon?  Please, please, please, take that “just” out of your vocabulary.  It is not JUST a 5K.  It is 3.1 miles!  That’s longer than most people can run.  13.1 miles is just as challenging for you as that 50K is to someone else.  When you come into my store, we are not running a competition for the best, or fastest, or longest runner.  You run?  Great, let’s get you taken care of so you can be the best runner YOU can be.

There are dozens of other examples that I could give, but they all boil down to the fact that people put themselves down FAR too much.  I ascribe to the HAES movement (Health at Every Size), which says that I can’t tell how healthy (or not) you are just by looking at you.  In fact, believe it or not, that really skinny guy that you think “looks like a runner” may very well be a chain smoking crack addict.  I believe running isn’t about losing weight (though it may have that added benefit), but it is about your TOTAL health.  That means not only your physical health, but being happy with how your body moves, celebrating the astounding accomplishments (yes, it is an astounding accomplishment that you ran 2 miles, because last year, you couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting winded), and clearing out the clutter in your mind.  There is something so freeing about being outside, enjoying the scenery, focused just on you and no one else, not worrying about the dry cleaning that needs to be picked up, or the kids’ Christmas program costumes you have to make, or the floors that need to be scrubbed.  When you are running, it is just YOU.  You are the HERO in the moment that you lace up your running shoes.  I don’t care if you run 1 mile or 31 miles, YOU ARE AMAZING.

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I HATE the BMI as an indicator of health.

I HATE the so often perpetuated myth in our body policing culture, that a fat person cannot be healthy.

I HATE the “news” stories that are trotted out every. single. day. about the “obesity epidemic” — which blames so many of society’s ills on fat people.  If only we weren’t all so fat, we wouldn’t die of cancer.  If only we weren’t all so fat, we wouldn’t have diabetes.  If only we weren’t all so fat, etc. etc. etc.

It’s depressing to see and hear every day people talking or writing about how my fat body is less than; that my fat body should be changed and shaped into something more “acceptable” to fit society’s beauty standards.

I am a strong proponent of the Health at Every Size movement, which focuses on an individual’s health, rather than hir body size.  That’s why I no longer engage people who try to talk about how fat they are, how much weight they need to lose, the new diet they are trying.  Women, especially, are conditioned to believe that their bodies need to be better. Every since we were little girls, we’ve heard the other women in our lives talking about weight.  Maybe we saw our mothers dieting for 20 straight years.  Maybe we were told as teens that we were too fat and needed to loose weight.  We have seen thousands of weight loss ads on t.v., in magazines… now, they are even delivered to us on our phones, constantly shaming us into believing that we need to buy some new weight loss supplement, a new piece of equipment, or join Weight Watchers for the sixth time.

Understanding this concept takes some time.  But since I’ve discovered and embraced it, I am much happier with myself.  In fact, it wasn’t until after I discovered the fat acceptance movement online that I decided to start exercising.  When I started thinking about my health and fitness, rather than my weight or clothing size, that is when I started to see results on the scale.

For those of you just embarking on your running journey, I strongly suggest you put the scale away.  Measure your progress by how many flights of stairs you can go up without getting winded, how far away you park your car at the store, how your clothes fit, how many miles you can run, your resting heart rate, the size of your appetite… I mean, there are hundreds of better ways to measure your fitness level than by stepping on a scale.

Here’s something that will put this in perspective.  I’ve lost over 30 pounds since I started running.  I’ve run a triathlon, two half marathons, multiple 5Ks, a 5 mile race, a 7K race … you get the picture.  I can easily run a 5K now at a 10:30 pace.  Before I started exercising, I couldn’t even walk up one flight of stairs before I got winded.  My resting heart rate has dropped by almost 20 bpm.  But according to the CDC’s BMI calculator , I am just shy of obese.  I would have to lose another 30 pounds before I would even dip into the “normal” category.

My stats are all good, in case you were wondering.  I have really low blood pressure and normal cholesterol levels. But according to the CDC, I am obese.

Compare what I’ve just revealed to another woman my age.  She weighs a lot less than me.  She fits into skinny jeans without a problem, and people have even told her she should model.  The BMI calculator tells her she is “normal.”  But she never exercises.  She has high cholesterol thanks to her mother’s genes. She smokes a pack a day. She couldn’t run a mile to save her life. Is this hypothetical woman healthier than me? According to the CDC, and a lot of casual observers, she is. Simply because she is thinner.

Remember this: thin does not necessarily equal healthy.

While I don’t necessarily have this problem, another issue with the BMI calculator is that it only measures weight and height, not body fat.  So someone like my dad, who has a really low body fat percentage, but has a lot of muscle, might be considered overweight, maybe even obese.  During the last Olympic games, there was some talk about the BMIs of different athletes, which I thought was great.  Many of theme are considered overweight according to the BMI, despite them being some of the fittest people on earth.  Here is a great infographic on the heights and weights of various Olympic athletes that illustrates the point.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because this great picture came across my Facebook feed the other day and I just had to share.

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We come in all shapes and sizes.  You don’t have to hate your body.  You can love it.  I give you permission.  Even if it’s fat.

Disclaimer: *There is a lot more to unpack under the concept of HAES, including bullying, the politics of being fat in public (Chris Christie, for example, forced to talk/joke about his weight rather than his policies), body policing, Big Pharma’s role in the weight-loss industry, medical mistreatment of fat patients, etc.  There are plenty of people across the internet talking about these issues if you’re interested.  One of my favorites is Melissa McEwan at Shakesville (though forewarning, it is a very progressive blog, so if you’re not into that kind of thing, you might want to skip it).*

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This was written a few months ago and published in the monthly U.S. Running Room magazine.

When I first started running, I would wear headphones every time I went out.  It was all I could do to get outside and trudge out 3 miles.  It was painful, and not at all fun.  Where was this “runner’s high” I had heard so much about?  At least the upbeat tunes of Lady Gaga kept me distracted from my grueling pace.

But at some point, that all changed.  Now, I leave the headphones at home.  At first, it was mostly for safety and training – too many race courses don’t allow headphones.  But now, it truly has become about getting a chance to “clear my head.”  Those 5 miles, alone on the trail, are my chance to think through anything that has been bothering me and come up with solutions to any problems plaguing me.  I’m a bit of a worrier, and at times my anxiety can get a bit overwhelming.  In fact, just last week I had a miserable day.  I was crabby and cranky, easily upset, worried and anxious, and generally unpleasant to be around.  When my running partner didn’t show up that night, I almost chalked it up to more bad luck and called it a day.  But instead, I went out for a short run.  It was only 2.5 miles, but it was in the cool fall air, with a light mist falling, and no one was on the trail.  When I got home, I realized that I was suddenly in a better mood.  I had a chance on the trail to work through everything that had been bothering me.  And that’s when I realized that prior to that night’s run, I hadn’t been out for 4 days.  That’s like a decade in a runner’s world.

When I look back at the person I was a year and a half ago, before I started running, I discover that I’m a completely different person.  Not just in size, eating habits, or physical health, but my emotional health has improved 10 fold.  I’m less irritable now, I don’t get as upset about schedule changes, I’m more patient, and I’m more determined and ambitious than I was before.  I’ve realized my own self-worth.  All of that could have taken years to do on a therapist’s couch.

Now I know that running truly is “cheaper than therapy” and I’ll proudly wear my Running Room shirt with that slogan, if only to send a message to newbies that someday they will feel the same.

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Sunday was a warm day.  In fact, it was almost too warm for my taste.  But I got up early and went downtown to cheer on the runners in the MedCity Marathon.

My sister, my cousin, my sister’s husband’s grandpa (phew), and a good family friend of mine, all competed in the relay portion of the marathon.  They each ran 6 miles.

It was incredibly inspiring to see all of the runners out on the trail.  While we watched, I saw old and young, fat and thin, in shape and, well, not so in shape.  In fact, even in the relay group we were cheering on, there was a huge variety in the ability of the runners.  My sister had been training for a few months, but had never broken 5 miles, always trained on a treadmill, and had been diagnosed with bronchitis just a few days earlier.  We didn’t think she would make it, but she did incredibly well, completing her portion in 1.5 hours.  My sister’s husband’s grandpa ran the first leg of the event.  He was over 60 years old and runs in a lot of marathons.  The first leg was apparently extremely hilly, and he completed his portion in a little over an hour.  My cousin, state-qualifying cross-country runner, flew through the anchor leg of the race, running just over 8 minute miles and completing her portion in just under an hour.  As I watched everyone go by, I felt like I too should be out there running.

Everyone was cheering loudly, and the runners appreciated every applause and cheer.  Our family started talking about getting two teams together for the next year’s marathon, so we would each have someone to run with.  I thought, why not?  I can do that.  It’s only six miles.

Of course, running six miles requires a lot of training and practice.  You can’t just hop on the trail one day and do six miles.  And I need a lot of practice!

As I started thinking about the race, I wished I could do something sooner.  I know that I need to exercise more, and that I need to loose weight.  I have about 30-40 extra pounds to get rid of.  Every time I try a diet, I can’t stick with it.  A few days later, I’m starving and frustrated and I dive right in to McDonald’s or an icecream sandwich.  Every time I try to get into an exercise routine in an attempt to loose weight, I give up after a few weeks when I don’t see any noticeable results.

I decided that what I needed was a goal.  A goal not of loosing x number of pounds, or fitting into a certain dress by a certain time, as those didn’t seem to work – but a goal that would be impossible to avoid.  If I signed up for a race at the end of the summer, I would absolutely have to train.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to coomplete the race and I would be embarassed and probably in a lot of pain.

I’ve always wanted to do a triathlon.  I love to swim and am very good at it.  So I found a training schedule for free on line, which gave me 13 weeks to train.  I also found a triathlon in Hudson, WI on September 4th – exactly 14 weeks from now.

I’ll keep track of my workouts here and my thoughts as the weeks progress.  I’m already kind of terrified after reading all about transitions, the swim portion in open water, and the injuries people have sustained.  But, reading about the people who just completed their first triathlon is also inspiring.  Everyone says that the feeling of finishing that first race is exhilarating.  I want to experience that too.

So, this is week one.

Monday, I was supposed to run 20 minutes and swim for 15.  the pool was closed, so I went to Chester Woods and ran on the trails (more like walked with sporadic running) for about an hour and a half.  It was a nice exercise, but I discovered a few things.  One, I am in desperate need of new exercise clothes, and two, I need trail running shoes.

I ordered a RoadID (in case I croak while out training), a sports bra, bike shorts, sunglasses, and a bike jersey.  My mom is letting me borrow her cross-training bike that she never uses.  And I’m getting a Timex Ironman watch today so I can finally keep track of my laps and time my runs.

This is actually kind of thrilling and I’m super excited to get through all of this.

Today I also start a women’s self defense class, so I imagine I will be very tired after a couple of days of training.

What is my goal?  Well, I want to be able to complete the triathlon in September without a) killing myself, b) killing someone else, and c) finishing dead last.  I’m not particularly concerned about my time – I can worry about that later if I find I love this sport (I hear it is kind of addictive!).  Weight loss is no longer my goal.  Fitness is.  And if I loose weight in the process (which I’m hoping I will) – so much the better.

OK — triathlon in 14 weeks.  Yes I can!

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ABC News covered this story about the Chawner family in England, who were recently the subject of a scathing article in Closer Magazine, what appears to be a British celebrity magazine equivalent to People or US Weekly.

The article explains that the Chawner family, with a combined total weight of 1, 160 pounds, does not work and lives solely on benefits provided by the government.

What is interesting about this article is the way that it crosses multiple political and social discussions that we often have in the fatosphere and in feminist circles.  The article questions the validity of allowing a family to live soley on government benefits while it also talks about the problems that he Chawner family faces related to their weight.

Husband Phillip has diabetes while wife Audrey has epilepsy.  Both conditions prevent them from working now.  Daughter Samantha, 21, weighs 221 pounds and says that she has applied for over 500 jobs as a hairdresser and has been turned down every time.  She attributes this to her weight, implying that she was turned down for these jobs because of prejudice against her.  I can see this being a particular problem in the beauty industry, as we have been told time and time again that fat is just not beautiful.

However, the article also brings up some more issues that are often discussed in the fatosphere.  The ABC News article quotes Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical College Weight Management Center, as saying that fat is the “last acceptable prejudice,” an idea that has constantly been rejected not only in the blogs I frequently read, but also in my own life.  See this post from Fillyjonk over at Shapely Prose.

What is particularly confusing about ABC’s attempt to cover this story is that the Chawner’s first point out that their weight is hereditary, but then ABC debunks that claim.  However, several studies in the past year or so have proven that weight is a product of your gene pool.  Again, see Kate Harding over at Shapely Prose.

The confusion continues as the reader is expected to blame or admonish the Chawner’s for receiving these kinds of benefits.  As I recently said in a guest column I published in my local paper, it is not our job to judge the reasons why people become homeless, or in this case, disabeled.  Rather, we should support them as is our job as fellow human beings.  But even with that stated, the ABC News article still tells us that Audrey has epilepsy, which is not related to weight, and that Samantha has no immediate health problems that would prevent her from getting a job.  The article does not state when Philip was diagnosed with diabetes, so an argument could be made that even his diabetes is not weight-related.  But again, even if all of their problems were weight related, should we really be expected to judge and condemn this family?

Of course, the public normally answers “yes,” but weight is not should not be a public issue.

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Okay, so seriously, these are a lot of topics to cover in one post, but I’ve been very absent from my blogging lately and reading posts on The Rotund have got me thinking about my unique experience as a fatty.

Oh, and also, my mom won’t stop bugging me about loosing weight.  And it’s driving me crazy.

So, here’s the scoop.  I’ve gained about 60 pounds or so since I graduated from high school.  Some of that weight gain I can attribute to very stressful times in my life (loosing two jobs in a row, moving, etc.) and some of it I can attribute to just feeling lazy.  I’d say its about half and half. I am definitely not proud that i spent (spend?) a lot of my time in front of the television, eating crappy food out of a box.  So, all of this, combined with a hereditary influence to be overweight, puts me in the “obese” category.  By contrast, my sister is rail thin.  She inherited my dad’s genes.  She doesn’t really watch what she eats, and she isn’t really strict about going to the gym, but I wouldn’t say she doesn’t exercise or eats whatever she wants either.  However, gaining weight is clearly not a problem for her.  At the same time I was gaining weight, my mom was trying to take it off.  She succeeded pretty well, dropping about 15-20 pounds, I suspect.  I justified a lot of my weight gain by telling myself that, “at least I’m still smaller than my mom.”  But when I took a huge leap and flew past her weight, I could no longer use that justification and I guess my mom thought that since she lost weight by taking up running, she was now entitled to give me advice (if that’s what you want to call it) on weight loss.

My journey towards fat acceptance has been slow and rather painful.  I am still struggling a lot with my notion of HAES and trying to make it fit with my lifestyle.  However, I have gotten past my obsession with the scale and my concern with an arbitrary size number and my feeling that to be beautiful and fashionable, you must be a size 4.  I think that is definitely progress.  But when I look at my lifestyle … my activity level and my food choices … I begin to think that I am not a “good fatty.”  

I’ve been questioning my health more and more, especially as I read about fatties who go to the gym, not for the sole purpose of loosing weight, but just so that they can feel more energetic when they leave.  The summer Olympics got me hooked on swimming and I have recently taken up swimming laps and going to water aerobics classes.  As I have gone more and more often, I am beginning to notice the effects that an exercise routine can have on a person.  One of these effects if not weight loss.  However, I have noticed some toning in my arms and shoulders, and I have definitely seen an increase in my stamina and a lowering of my heart rate. 

Discussing my progress with my mom (among others) has been difficult.  I want them to praise me for my dedication and my new found fondness for an actual physical activity.  Instead, I hear, “Well, you need to watch what you eat too” and “Good for you, but you still want to loose weight, don’t you?”  I haven’t yet found the ability to explain fat acceptance and HAES to my family, so I suffer through the comments. 

And yet, despite how much I hate these comments, despite what I know about weight loss, fat acceptance, and HAES, I still keep thinking that I want to loose weight. 

I’ve been an employee of a certain plus sized store for about a year now and my mom suggested to me that perhaps I am not loosing weight because of the clothing I can buy there.  I brushed off her comment at first, but then I started thinking more about it and I realized that she was probably right.  Loosing a significant amount of weight can be a major financial issue for people with established closets.  Can you really replace everything in your closet several times over as you loose weight?  But besides that, what I mostly thought about was that if I loose a moderate amount of weight (say, 20 pounds or so), I will be put back into that in-betweenie status (size 12ish).  It was so much more difficult to find clothing 20 pounds ago than it is now.  I can actually walk into my store and everything fits!  Before I crossed the line to mythical plus size status, I found that pants were always slightly too small, the XXL never really fit, and sometimes the stores didn’t even carry a size 12.  So yes, shopping is a much better experience now than it has ever been.

All of this just complicates my notions of fat acceptance and self.  It will undoubtedly be a very long time before I completely understand what fat acceptance, weight loss, and HAES means to me.  However, I’m hoping that this blog with give me the opportunity to talk more about all of these issues; share my experience with you, the theoretical reader; and get your feedback on FA issues that concern all of us (size 0 to size 32).

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