I spend plenty of time talking about my trials and tribulations as a runner. Sometimes people try to encourage or cheer me up by sending me little Facebook memes or things for my IRONMAN Pinterest board. It is incredibly kind of people to take their time to support me and I really appreciate it, it really does help.
There is one meme that I keep getting sent that I want to talk about: “No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping people on the couch.” There are seemingly endless iterations of this some with pictures (often of a fat person) some without. I know that people who send this to me are well meaning and I appreciate it, but I also want to look at ways in which this is problematic, and representative of a lot of the “motivation” stuff that I see in the fitness world.
I’ve noticed that underneath a lot of the bravado of athletes lies a deep undercurrent of insecurity. Motivating themselves by insisting that they are better than others who choose different hobbies. Insisting that because they do “hard work” on their bodies those bodies are somehow more deserving of praise, or being treated with respect. Lashing out at people who don’t share the same values. Making judgments as if they were appointed the sole arbiter of who gets to be called an “athlete” or a “runner” or who deserves to be treated with basic human respect. It’s this insecurity that I think drives much of the hatemail that I receive.
The thing I don’t understand is why it’s so important to people involved in athletics to be “better” than someone else – I’m not talking about people who choose to compete in a race. I’m talking about people who talk about lapping people on couches, and people who are sitting on couches who didn’t ask to be involved in this mess. I choose my own goals for my own reasons and I pursue them. At this time one of those goals includes running. I have no need or desire to claim be “better” than anyone else to be happy with myself and my choices.
I think that one of the things that athletes who are also Size Acceptance activists must speak out about is the way that fitness culture, and our culture in general, can tend to elevate our choice of hobby to a status symbol in ways that are ableist and healthist. The truth is that participating in fitnes/athletics is no more or less virtuous than knitting a tea cozy. Running a marathon is no better or worse than watching a Netflix marathon.
This gets even more complicated when athletes toss around comments about health as if health is entirely within our control and should be used as a barometer of worthiness (Noooooo. World of no. Galaxy of no. No.) As if participating in athletics doesn’t open people up to health issues for which they would not otherwise be at risk. As if the world wouldn’t be better off is we focused on making sure that everyone has the choices that they are interested in accessible to them, and then each of us gets to make our own choices for our own reasons, and we can do so without insisting that those who make different choices are “wrong” or that our choices make us better than someone else.
We’re not lapping people who are on the couch, we’re doing something different than they are, and I hope that we are all having a fabulous time.
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