We’re Not Lapping People On the Couch

If you run you are a runnerI 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.

More Cool Stuff:

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About Ragen Chastain

Hi, I’m Ragen Chastain. Speaker, Writer, Dancer, Choreographer, Marathoner, Soon to be Iron-distance triathlete, Activist, Fat Person.
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10 Responses to We’re Not Lapping People On the Couch

  1. lsstrout says:

    I wish we could help resolve insecurities. Goodness knows I have felt better about myself in many ways when I stopped doing it so much. I still fall into the trap, but at least now I can recognize it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Stacy says:

    The righteousness and superiority that our society tends to elevate those who chose to engage in athletics has always been something that turns my stomach. There are many schools who will pull funding from science, art, music and other programs and put it instead into athletic programs. Art and music programs are often cut in preference of the funding going toward athletic programs and those who excel in athletics in high school are often given special treatment by the school’s staff while those who excel in academics are often overlooked. Sadly it doesn’t end after high school – our society gives a moral superiority towards athletes and reinforces the idea that everyone is supposed to be pursuing athletics and fitness of some kind or another and that those who do are better than those who don’t.

    The idea that athletic people are just “better” is just a “given” in our society – something that we have been taught for so long that it’s never second guessed. The mantra of “what’s your excuse” is thrown around so often that people don’t even question it anymore, it’s just an “everyone knows” thing now …”everyone knows that everyone should be pursuing athletics and fitness”, “everyone knows that athletes are superior to non-athletes”, “everyone knows that physically fit people have more value than those who aren’t physically fit”, etc etc. It’s kind of scary how many “everyone knows” ideals in our society are things that should be examined more closely. My favorite teacher always told his students “Question Everything” – and I never knew how right he was.


  3. G says:

    This meme has always bothered me too. If the feeling of moral superiority is our motivation to get moving, it’s time to take a long look at ourselves…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. yesidoim says:

    Thanks. Inspiring article!


  5. V Missirian says:

    I always felt motivated by this phrase, but after this post, I’m realizing more fully that it promotes a feeling of superiority. To me, this competitive spirit would seem natural between people in the same race, but there is something disturbing about feeling competitive towards the people who didn’t choose to be a part of that race.


  6. As a person with chronic illness, I want to thank you for saying this. In particular, it seems that some healthy fat people are often pushed into a defensive position where they feel they need to say, “But I’m healthy! Look at my triglycerides/cholesterol/blood sugar/etc! I run! I can run X number of miles…” This seems to substitute health for thinness as a morally superior position, one beyond reproach. On the one hand, it seeks to decouple fatness and poor health, but I’m not sure that it does much to decouple thinness and good health. And more importantly, it’s a slap in the face to people with illnesses. Of course, the main perpetrators of this are not fat folks who’ve been pressed into this defensive stance, but healthist AND sizeist others, who populate comment threads (and real life) with comments like, “I don’t care how much you weigh as long as you’re healthy,” and “It’s not right to be fat because it’s just not healthy. By promoting fat acceptance we are saying it’s okay to be unhealthy.” Erm, well, folks, why the hell shouldn’t it be? Given, being unhealthy kind of sucks sometimes, but why should it be a moral issue? The quick answer is that it isn’t. And the fact that so many people think that it is is really very troubling.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Melissa says:

    See I always thought it was I’m still faster than my couch…. I read it as a quote talking personally to me about how much better it is for me to move albeit very slowly than to do nothing.
    When reading it that way I still think it’s a good quote, I agree with you about the other version though it just sounds like someone is trying to raise themselves up by bringing others down.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Lapping everyone on the couch? – FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

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