To the jerk who wrote an “inspirational” letter on Facebook

13 Mar

You know what I am really good at?  Blogging as a procrastination technique.  Seriously.  I haven’t much felt like blogging recently because my life is slightly, shall we say, out of sorts.  Right now, however, when I have an article to write for a website that is not my own (and no I am not getting paid for it because, seriously, who needs money?) seems like a wonderful time to post something here.  Where, by the way, I am also not getting paid.  So, okay, let’s do this.

A few days ago, someone I went to high school with but haven’t spoken to since then (and, in fact, I am not entirely sure I ever spoke to her then either…social media is so weird) posted a link to an article called “To the fatty running on the track this afternoon.”  It was a link to some status message written by an anonymous Facebook user and then posted on a website called “Closer” which I have never read and, if this is a sample of the sorts of things this website has to offer I will never read again.  Anyway, the introduction to the post was as follows:

“The message begins in a typically condescending manner. It accuses the overweight runner of ‘footslogging in the wrong direction’, calls them out for wanting to ‘stop twice a lap’ and points out the ‘sweat’ that ‘drenches’ their body.

“But then, all of a sudden, the tone changes – and we find ourselves confronted with a seriously inspirational messages for all the would-be runners out there.”

So it leaves you thinking, how in the world could someone turn a post entitled “To the fatty running on the track this afternoon” into something even moderately supportive and encouraging?  The short answer is that they can’t.  Here is the full text of the original Facebook post:

“To the fatty running on the Westview track this afternoon:

You, whose feet barely lift off the ground as you trudge around the track.  You, who keeps to the outside lane, footslogging in the wrong direction.  You, who stops for water breaks every lap, and who would probably stop twice a lap if there were bleachers on both sides.  You, whose gaze drops to your feet every time we pass.  You, whose sweat drenches your body after your leave, completing only a single, 20-minute mile.

There’s something you should know:  You fucking rock.

Every shallow step you take, you carry the weight of more than two of me, clinging to your bones, begging to be shaken off.  Each lap you run, you’re paying off the debt of another midnight snack, another dessert, another beer.  It’s 20 degrees outside, but you haven’t let that stop your regimen. This isn’t your first day out here, and it certainly won’t be your last.  You’ve started a journey that lasts a lifetime, and you’ve started at least 12 days before your New Year’s resolution kicks in.  You run without music and I can only imagine the mantras running through your mind as you heave your ever-shrinking mass around the next lap.  Let’s go, feet.  Shut up, legs.  Fuck off, fat.  If you’d only look up from your feet the next time we pass, you’d see my gaze has no condescension in it.

I have nothing but respect for you.  You’ve got this.”

Oh god, where to start.  I am a runner.  I am a runner because it feels good, it makes me happy, it clears my head, and it is inclusive of just about anyone.*  I am a runner who is constantly impressed by the kindness and support shown by runners to runners and that is why this ridiculous “inspirational” message really made me mad.  Here’s what I want to say to the person who wrote that note:

The person to whom you wrote this does not need your approval or permission to do what they are already doing.  The person to whom you wrote this does not need you to tell them that their fat does not bother you because clearly, it does.  What you consider inspirational, drips with disapproval, judgement and, yes, condescension.  It is your attitude, and attitudes like yours, that make people ashamed of their bodies and afraid to start running, afraid to start doing many things.  Who cares if this runner stops for water breaks every lap? I do that.  And you know what?  Sometimes I also wish there were bleachers on both sides of the track.  You know why?  Because running is hard.  It is hard and it is tiring.  And yet I don’t see you writing a letter to me.  Ask yourself why.

Why is it that you feel the need to calculate how many times you would fit under this other runner’s skin?  Why do you feel the need to judge this person for how long it takes them to run a mile?  How dare you assume that this person is somehow paying off a debt for calories consumed.  How dare you assign mantras to someone else and assume to know what motivates them.  I said this before and I will say it again, it is people like you, and attitudes like yours, that make people ashamed of their bodies.  This is not inspirational.  This is called fat shaming.

Let me share with you something that is actually inspirational.  I wish I could find the direct quote but a summary will just have to do.  A few years ago I was reading the interviews of some of the elite athletes following the New York City Marathon.  A reporter sat down with one of the men who finished on the podium and said something along the lines of “you run so fast.  You are just such an inspiration.”  The runner, a man who was at the top of his field in an incredibly difficult and punishing sport said the following:

“I am not inspirational.  I am only out there on my feet for a little over 2 hours.  It is the people that are pounding away for 3, 4, 5, 6 or more hours that are the real inspiration.”

This runner did not need to point out how much more talented he is than the rest of the field, how much faster, thinner, more athletic.  This is a man who just achieved an incredible goal, and instead of making the moment about himself, he deflected it to include everyone who completed the race that day.  That is called grace. That is something that made me want to lace my running shoes up right then and there. It made me feel like what I do day after day, what so many of us do no matter how fast or slow we do it, is amazing.

Listen, I know the sentiment of this letter was not malicious but what came through was insanely unkind.  I am glad that you feel proud of yourself for being the bigger person and supporting a “fatty.”  I’m sure you’re very proud of yourself.  But you know what?  You sound like a dick.  I hope you take a step back and really think about what your letter says about you and about the way our society treats people who are deemed to be “footslogging” their “mass” around the world, a constant reminder of the “debt” accrued from years of what you seem to think of as irresponsible overindulgence.  This is a person you are writing this letter to, a person who is deserving of respect and not judgement.  This letter is a perfect example of the fucked up way we think about bodies and what we consider supportive within the realm of fitness.  I don’t know.

It is things like this that make me doubt the way I feel about the running community as a whole.  For me, it is not about being better than others, faster than them, thinner.  It is about all of us being out there, propelling ourselves forward using only our bodies.  That’s an incredible thing.  We are all out there, we are all working, and we are all deserving of support.  Just hold the judgement.

Update:  My friend Julie just shared with me a blog written by a man speaking on behalf of the person to whom the Facebook message was directed.  His name is Tony Posnanski and he is awesome.  Read his blog.  It is WAY better than mine.  Keep on loggin’ those miles and sharing your journey, man.

*I know there are issues of safety, access and serious injury that do bar some people from enjoying the sport.  But by and large, I think that just about anyone who wants to do it, can do it.

One Response to “To the jerk who wrote an “inspirational” letter on Facebook”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Goodbye, New York Road Runners | franklyrebekah - May 23, 2014

    […] there is so much support amongst the running community.  This is part of the reason why that stupid viral Facebook letter to an overweight runner made me so darn angry.  I have just always found that more than anything else, runners want other runners to have good […]

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