body image / feminism / November 2015: Taboos / sisterhood

Too Fat To Run?

My thighs were red raw and lumpy with chafing. I had deep, cavernous blisters on the soles of my feet. My knees howled with pure anguish as I stretched to brush the pebbled ground with my fingertips… I was exercising.

Put it this way, I was in my dad’s running leggings and my mum’s bargain supermarket trainers so you could probably tell that I didn’t exercise a lot. I’m overweight for my height and I’ve had my running bra since I was 12 and first sprouted tits.

This time though, I was determined. I had my ‘inspirational’ playlist on with my water bottle at the ready. I was on an addictive health kick. Just as I looked up from my stretch though, I caught eyes with two beautiful women.

As they ogled me from their car, they began to laugh profusely – ‘Probably at my saggy arse in my 50-year-old father’s pants’, I thought. My eyes glazed over as they screamed: “Aye! You should be running, you fat bitch!” My heart dropped to my aching ankles.

Usually, I was used to men and erection-yielding youths making comments as I pounded the pavements with my 34Es, but I loved my running route. It was a secluded forest track where I only met talkative golden oldies with beautiful dogs.

I never expected another woman to tell me I was too fat to run. My world fell apart – and I hadn’t even finished my warm-up.

As I walked in a haze of grief and stifled sobs, I mewed along to Beyoncé and tentatively walked the rest of my journey home – my eyes to the ground.

I began to hate myself again. I had just got out of some dark years in my life where I was the lowest I had ever been, but this pain was so brand new. I felt utterly disgusting.

This split-second had ruined me. I thought I was a strong feminist role model with a killer sense of activism and yet here I was, crying at the age of 22 to a stupid comment I’d heard before when I was a schoolgirl.

I couldn’t bear to look myself in the mirror and I hated all of my clothes. I became distant with my boyfriend, and dropped off the face of the earth in the minds of my friends. All because of a measly eight words.

Our society really is vile, isn’t it? We measure beauty on the diameter of a woman’s hips, and how pert the fatty tissue growth is on her chest. We are constantly faced with the pressure of perfection and fat-cat glossy mags that brandish flawlessness as achievable.

Even when we have the courage to exercise, we are judged. It takes a long time for a woman who isn’t used to exercising to have the get-up-and-go to kick-start a healthier life. It seems now, especially in the gyms I’ve been to, we’re intimidated by the slender regulars who don’t break a sweat.

It’s mortifying when you’re stuck on a treadmill next to the school’s much-loved netball player, and you’re breathless – with your spare tyre bouncing at a different speed to your boobs. It’s even worse when said school celebrity chokes back her snobbish scoffs at your cheap gym gear and makes her machine faster.

Why, in the 21st century, are curvy women afraid to sweat for fear of being emotionally abused? It’s truly shameful that we are terrified to exercise for our own health because of our society’s vision of perfection. It’s that rose-tinted vision that has made us get our running shoes on in the first place – now it’s rubbing shit in our face about our glistening cerise cheeks.

Only in March this year, the English government released a brutally truthful report stating that women are more likely to exercise in isolated locations, like their sheds, for genuine fear of being laughed at. This came shortly after Public Health England’s statistics revealed that only 31% of women exercised regularly.

So, was I petulant for laughing at a fleeting jibe? No, not at all. My torment was a legitimate drop in the ocean of fear for curvy women who simply want to be healthier. Refreshingly though, there seems to be signs of minute change in attitudes towards ‘real women’ pumping the iron.

This summer, many of us witnessed the rise of national Sport England campaign This Girl Can. Women are being encouraged to tackle the overpowering fear of being judged – regardless of shape, ability, age, colour, or sexuality. The edgy and inspirational campaign is impossible to ignore, and was even a main sponsor for the Great North Run 2015.

Jennie Price, Sport England CEO said: “This campaign says it really doesn’t matter if you are a bit rubbish or completely brilliant, the main thing is that you are a woman and you are doing something, and that deserves to be celebrated.”

Their adverts are impossible to ignore, many feature flushed-faced girls with the tag-line: ‘Damn right I look hot’ – and a beautifully full-bosomed woman stating that she’s ‘Sweating like a pig, but feeling like a fox’.

Also, if you take a look at Instagram right now you’ll see that it’s littered with plus-size women that have overcome the impending doom of exercising to amuse those around them. Check out Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn); she’s this tremendous woman who contorts her body into unbelievable yoga poses. She labels herself as a ‘Fat Femme’ and yet she can stand on her freaking head.

Or take Eda Marbury’s YouTube channel; she keeps her health in check by feeling sexually empowered as a curvy lass, and creates enviably racy pole dancing regimes – crop top and all.

Women deserve to be celebrated. My cellulite, deserves to be celebrated – and not just by my boyfriend. We need to overcome this taboo of feeling ‘too fat to run’ or ashamed to sweat it out on a treadmill. We need to peer out from our sheds and hit the concrete streets – despite our knock-off sports gear.

Emmie Harrison


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