The other day, as I dominated a tough treadmill workout, I reflected on how far I’ve come and how strong I feel.
I haven’t always had this attitude about myself. In fact, for many years I did my best to hide my lumps, rolls, and other perceived imperfections from the world. But on this day, feeling inspired, I decided to post these reflections on Instagram, with a picture of me running in my sports bra on the treadmill. Even a year ago I wouldn’t have dared show that vulnerable side of myself. I felt like I was making a statement: LOOK! I’m so BRAVE! I’m a runner AND I have curves!
And, herein lies the problem: this message has become a cliche to the point of meaninglessness.
Everywhere we turn these days there are messages of women’s empowerment and strength. We refuse to let our bodies be objectified by friends, strangers, or even the President of the United States. And yet, the body positive movement leaves me feeling conflicted. It sends a contradictory message: by constantly celebrating every woman who doesn’t “look perfect” we are watering down the message, or worse, actually increasing the objectification we so badly want to leave behind. Will there be a day when the topic of shape, size, and cover-worthiness are not even part of the conversation, because seeing all types of bodies in advertising is just commonplace?
Not a day goes by where I don’t come across a headline about some “real” woman being included on a magazine cover, a swimsuit ad, or in pretty much every soap commercial. What was once revolutionary became novel and what was novel became noteworthy and now it’s commonplace, expected. We’ve come to expect a token “real” woman to show up in ads alongside their impossibly svelte model counterparts.
Progress, right? We women with non-perfect bodies should feel empowered that we can hang with the impossibly svelte, that we are worthy of attention too, that we’re attractive … enough.
But these ads and articles are not appearing in a vacuum. If you’ve spent any amount of time browsing running-centered media, you’ve no doubt seen a headline like:
Overweight woman runs and she’s not ashamed to show her body!
Woman runs marathon, loses pounds, and takes back her life!
SIGH. While these stories might intend to inspire, they do little more than occupy space and perpetuate this ingrained notion that it’s just SO CRAZY that a person who “doesn’t have a perfect runner’s body” still RUNS! And not only does she RUN, she … SHOWS! FAT! ROLLS!
The message that somehow it’s so brave to show a fat roll in public takes away from the countless other ways women battle obstacles and insecurities. The message that the chubby girl is so brave minimizes the body acceptance struggle that many runners face. To say I’m brave for displaying my body implies there is something about which to be ashamed, or that should be hidden in the first place. To be so kind and cutting edge to “let” the average- or plus-sized runner join the perfectly-toned ones on the cover of your magazine, is to co-opt the audience’s shame and, dare I say, exploit it.
We know running is an inclusive sport, but in magazines and social media we’re often divided into those who “look like runners” and those who don’t. Magazine covers of “plus sized” runners with some sort of weight-related or apologetic headline perpetuate the same message as a cover with a fitness model on it: if your body isn’t perfect, you need to be brave to belong.
**Our goal here at Salty Running is to not take the easy way out by riding the coattails of cliche assumptions, but rather to show how we all have complicated relationships with our bodies at some point in our lives. We hope to demonstrate the many ways we can be brave and vulnerable and empowered, because it’s just not as simple as a matter of weight. We will be sharing more stories of body positivity and how complicated that goal can be in the coming weeks.**
In the end, isn’t any day our bodies allow us to run and be active a cause for celebration?