As a fat woman who runs, I am well aware that I do not have the archetype of the “runner’s body”. This fact became clear when I tried to buy a jacket for my first winter run outside, only to find that none of the high street sports stores stocked anything above a size 16.
However, strangers regularly remind me of my size and often congratulate me on my outings. Last week I was turning the corner of the park, climbing the last hill of my regular 5 km loop, when a man shouted, âWell done, honey! “
It might sound harmless enough, but it was the latest in a series of incidents involving people shouting ‘well done’. I have been called a “good girl” several times. I even heard a woman tell her young son that I was trying to get back in shape when he asked her why I was running.
It’s safe to assume that these comments are from a well-meaning place, but when strangers applaud me for running I know they’re kind of commenting on my height.
Of course, tall women aren’t the only people who receive unsolicited comments from strangers when exercising, but it seems to be especially common for those of us who are “not watching. room “. Would I get the same feedback so often if I was a size eight, or if my body conformed to society’s assumptions about a runner’s appearance? Probably not.
Be fat and fit
You absolutely can be both fat and fit. Just watch the Olympics; weightlifters and shot puters tend to be bigger than, say, runners. No one would doubt that UK’s first weightlifting medalist Emily Campbell was incredibly fit, but even she struggled to gain acceptance, recounting BBC Sport before the Tokyo games that she was determined “to prove that women who look like me can have successful careers in sport”.
When taller people exercise, others think they are trying to get fitter, which usually means they are slimmer. All of these well-meaning comments are read as congratulations for taking steps to shrink your body.
I am a fat woman, but I am also a woman with a resting heart rate above “excellent” in the athletic category for my gender and age. I may not agree with the fitness images that are plastered on the covers of health and exercise magazines, but I lead a very active lifestyle.
Hypervisibility can lead to embarrassment
Kate Rummery, 37, recounts Stylist that comments from strangers have already dissuaded her from exercising. âA woman came to me in the locker room to tell me that she had watched me train for the past few weeks and that she thought I was doing very well,â she recalls.
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? But for Rummery, they made her feel like she was exposed: âI like not being seen. I hated that someone watched me and then commented on it. I know she thought she was supporting her, but it didn’t help. It made me want to stop exercising without my PT.
Gem Loudon, 26, was also approached by a woman in the gym last month. âShe said it was great to see someone like me so confident about coming to the gym and it was great that I was exercising.
âAs well-meaning as the person congratulating you is, it’s the same as saying, ‘How are you so confident?’ to an obese person, like we don’t have to be confident anyway, âLoudon says.
While she says that sort of incident wouldn’t deter her from exercising now, comments from strangers have kept her from going to the gym. As a teenager, Loudon was approached by someone who praised her for being “brave enough” to run on a treadmill. She did not return to the gym for four years.
This embarrassment is something Tara Kent knows all too well. Kent recently took a virtual workout class, where she started talking to the group about her morning swim: âI was talking about going to the pool that morning when a member of the group (which I had met 10 minutes earlier), stepped in and said, “This is such a great exercise for you – really easy on the joints – well done!” “
“It made me feel so embarrassed and ashamed.”
It is this feeling of being judged that keeps people from engaging in fitness. Even now Kent wears long cycling shorts because she “doesn’t want to be seen in a swimsuit.” “Having [my weight] underlined just confirms that people are judging me, which has certainly kept me from doing things that I love.
Nutrition and exercise control
And it doesn’t stop with exercise; the policy of large bodies also extends to nutrition.
Plus-size blogger Becky Barnes has been praised for âEating Wellâ. âWhen I worked in an office, if I was enjoying a salad for example, I would often be asked ‘Are you okay today?’ or say ‘Aww, well done’, âshe tells us.
Barnes, 41, says comments like that kept him from eating in public.
“Being judged, commented on and singled out has given me such a complex and even though I have done a lot of work around it these demons still hit me sometimes.” She believes that when obese people are praised for exercising, it’s part of that same body policing culture that sees strangers praising tall women for eating a salad.
Many plus-size women face additional hurdles when it comes to exercising, from the shortage of sportswear brands that manufacture clothing in larger sizes, to concerns about exercising. ‘be watched when they move.
Praise someone for exercising may seem like a supporting step, but it could leave tall women feeling exposed and vulnerable in exercise spaces. For many women like me, the most encouraging step is simple: say nothing.
For more first-person stories, workout tips, and nutritious recipes, visit the Strong Women Training Club.