This past Tuesday, Women’s Running magazine released the cover for their August issue. In almost all respects it is a normal magazine cover; there’s a picture of a beautiful woman, it’s covered with slogans like, “Run Strong, Stay Cool!” “The 6 Best Exercises for Runners,” and what could possible be a stunning feature on their favorite sports bras. Typical magazine fare. The woman on the cover is another genetic lottery winner (and I say this without anger, she is beautiful and I’m happy for her) and she looks happy to be sweating it out in the middle of Prospect Park. I can’t get her picture out of my head though.
Here is the thing; she has a tummy. And arms that jiggle. And this is a very strange thing to say, especially in print, but her butt and her legs, well, they look like mine. Maybe I see myself in her, so my fascination with this picture is really a form of narcissism, but I have to say, damn, girl. Our butts look good.
I am so proud of this stranger that I don’t know and have no way of ever meeting. And I’m proud of myself too. Only recently, after a solid year and a half of dedicated work and trying, have I decided to start calling myself a runner. I am slow, but consistent. I have specific running-related injuries (hello, plantar fasciitis), and have worn out a pair of sneakers or two. I am also not thin and I’m not chubby. I’m perfectly plus-sized in every way.
Running is intimidating. That’s a fact, not an opinion. We remember running from gym class, which was boring, hard, and embarrassing because we had to do it in front of our peers or, if we were really unlucky, a crush or two. As an adult, we think of runners as being svelte and toned because we imagine that these are the only people crazy enough for that kind of torture. But perhaps that’s because we are only shown examples of slim people exercising. Under Armor and Nike commercials never show anyone in their clothes, who have to shop in a, “special section.” Why do Self and Women’s Health magazines always have thin actresses on their covers? I guess that means that only thin women are working out? Wrong. I’m plus-sized by today’s standards, and I run. I swim too, and when I told my close friend, who is also in very good shape (and thin), how many laps I do she was thoroughly impressed. “I think I can do like 20,” she told me, “I could never do as many as you.”
I go to the gym about 3-4 times a week, and let me tell you, there are other perfectly imperfect people who are out there with me. I run in the park (Prospect Park, just like my friend on the magazine cover) and see women (and men!) with big bellies and big butts, or thighs that touch. Often, I see another soldier in the fight against running with big boobs. And yes, I can get insecure if I start trying to guess what other people are thinking about me as I run, but that’s a game that I can never win. So instead, I tell myself that people are staring because they are impressed with how well I run (a lie), or if I’m really trying to focus I tell myself, “no one is staring at you. They’re just trying not to run into you.”
The problem with the discussion surrounding weight is that we only equate exercise with weight loss, when there are so many other aspects of exercise that can be pleasurable. Sometimes I run just to feel the U of the muscles in my legs (so, leg, butt, leg) pump hard and get stronger. Sometimes I run for that warm, flushed feeling in my cheeks. The first time I timidly tried running outside, I convinced myself to do so because it would be an excellent way to explore my new neighborhood, without feeling strange. Most of the time, I run because it makes me feel like a person who cares about herself. Running feels very adult. It’s a certain type of grown-up kindness to give myself a time and space to do something that feels good, and no matter how much I hate it while I’m doing it (because I do, don’t let all this feel-good language trick you into believing I wake up with my sneakers on my feet) I never regret getting out there.
If you are on the heavier side, it can sometimes feel that you are asked to lose weight invisibly – please shed the pounds, but please do so unseen. It’s a very confusing message, and is impossible without the use of a magic wand. If you have a day where you feel bad about yourself or you KNOW that people are looking at you, just remember that you are there for yourself. No one else gets the extreme privilege to live in your body and feel how wonderful it feels for your body to change and grow. There will be some days that will feel not as good as others, but the highs are really high, and the lows are not as often as you may fear they will be.
Okay, Genny, you may be thinking to yourself. That’s great that you have the confidence to run and call yourself plus-sized on the internet, but what about me? Who has never worked out before, never gone to the gym, and am afraid to be made fun of?
Well, first I would tell you that you don’t have to want to lose weight to start exercising. You can absolutely be fat and fit and just like the way exercising feels or want to pick up a new hobby. I hate to beat an old horse to death, but weight does not equal health, so you should feel no shame if you just want to try running a few days a week to get out of the house, only go swimming because it’s been hot out, or want to look at your butt in the big gym mirrors. Those are all fine reasons for going, as well.
I would also remind you that there are all kinds of people who exercise. We often don’t see a wide variety of body types because TV, film, and magazines are businesses that need to sell images that they believe are aspirational. But I personally believe that people would love to catch a glimpse of someone who looks just like them, but on their best day. In fact, when I first saw the magazine cover I texted my friend, “oh my good, look at how beautiful she is! She looks just like me! Isn’t it amazing? Someone like me could be on the cover of a running magazine!” Another person’s picture made me, personally, feel beautiful. So don’t let a small group of people who are only retreading the same tired ways of making money influence you too much. There are plenty of girls out there who don’t look like models, who are all living healthy and happy lives. If no one else is saying this to you, please allow me this final moment to offer you some support, YOU are amazing! I’m so proud of all your hard work! You got it, girl!