A few months ago I was selected for the Hartford Marathon Elite Inspiration Team. My selection (and the selection of the other eight members of the team) had nothing to do my athletic resume but rather was about involvement and support of the endurance sports community and my struggles with food, body image and being a semi-public figure. It was a really nice honor, I work hard to be “out there” raising funds and awareness for organizations in which I believe and it feels good to be recognized.
As part of the program the Hartford Marathon Foundation printed 8 foot tall banners of each of the Inspiration Team members and hung them at the Hartford Marathon expo. A larger than life picture of someone who struggles with an eating disorder and body image issues is a scary thing (to be honest its simultaneously exciting and terrifying). I didn’t even get to see the banner when I started to receive text messages from friends and saw pictures of it posted on FaceBook. The vast majority of people were incredibly supportive, unfortunately not everyone is. One of the comments on my picture was that given my weight I didn’t look very inspiring. My friend Scott immediately removed the comment, but I still saw it.
I have a few things I would like to share with the commentor:
- To state the obvious, I know I am overweight. I live in my body everyday and understand that clothes that fit me a year ago are now tight and that I am bigger than most of the people who I race against, particularly when I race a long course triathlon. If the commentor had bothered to read the text on the poster, it talks about my issues with weight and body image. In no way is the Hartford Marathon Foundation promoting me as an “elite.”
- As a general rule, people who are overweight or obese know that they are overweight or obese and don’t need it pointed out by a stranger. As a corollary to this observation, many of us also are not slobs without self control who cannot be bothered to put down the donut or go out and exercise. For many people loosing weight is a complicated issue influenced by genetics, hormones, stress and environmental factors (in fact many women find that they gain weight when they increase training volume for an endurance sports event). Yes, some people can lose weight quickly by eating less, others cannot. Respect the fact that weight loss and body composition is not one size fits all.
- You don’t know me. You have no idea what my diet looks like, what my training load is or what I have gone through to get where I am. Do not cast judgment on me based on a single picture posted on Face Book.
- Finally, you hurt my feelings, a lot. I struggle with my weight EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you wanted to hurt me, congratulations, you succeeded. Yet I still got up this morning, got on the bike and then headed to the pool for a swim. I try to remind myself that what I look like is not who I am and hopefully someday what I look like will reflect who I am but if it doesn’t I’m working to be able to accept who I am regardless of size.