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Please Stop Asking Me If I'm Exercising to Lose Weight

Author and curvy fashion blogger Anna O'Brien, on why you need to stop projecting your body issues onto plus-size women who work out.

One day I had a dream that I was going to start running. As a UK size 26/28 woman I had never run before, because I was so used to people telling me what I could and couldn't do. Everybody wanted to tell me that "I wasn't a runner", so I think my dream was my mind unconsciously saying "I'll show them" and do it anyway.

After that dream, I started doing whatever I could, to get to that running goal. The first time I tried I could barely walk one mile, but I didn't give up. I started walking home from work every day, until eventually I was able to start running parts of my walk home.

That was five years ago, and now I try to run at least four times a week. Still, that first half mile feels impossible, but I've learnt that every runner I've spoken to feels the same way. Once I've passed that half mile I think "Woah, I'm actually doing this" and I realise it's not actually that bad.

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I’m a slow runner and I don’t really like run clubs because I don’t want my running to be competitive, that’s not what it’s about for me. Some days I'll run as far as I physically can, other days I'll run two miles. For me, running is about getting in touch with my body and being in tune with how I move. We're always taught that our minds and bodies are separate entities that somehow form us. We always talk about taking care of your body, or taking care of your mind. But, we never really talk about how those two intertwine. For me, those two things come together only when I'm running.

Usually I run the same trail every week, but on Saturdays whenever I'm out running, I always get people stop and clap me on. They say things like “You go girl, you’re gonna achieve your goals”. Their immediate assumption is not only that I'm out there running to lose weight, but also that this is the first time I've ever run before and that I need encouragement. It's so frustrating. Would you stop and cheer on a thin runner? Would you high five them and tell them to keep up the good work? No. Not only are you projecting your own body issues onto me, but you're taking away the connective feeling that I get from running.

When I run I’m listening to my body in a way that I don’t feel I listen to my body on a regular basis otherwise, and that is special. When someone interjects and cheers me on, I start thinking more about how people are perceiving me running, rather than what it feels like to run. What you feel like is so much more important than what you look like, and by making these assumptions, I have a shallower experience.

For me, running isn't about weight loss. It's about pushing my body and connecting with my community. That's why I always take my dog, Data, with me when I run, he freaks out when I put on my running shoes. I stop and interact with people in my community that I see every day when I'm out for my run. It's not a competition for me and I don’t think that’s bad. People have different reasons for running, but mine isn’t to win and I’m never going to win, and that’s okay.

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As a plus-size woman I'm shamed if I don't exercise and I'm shamed if I do exercise. It sucks that you have a choice on the way you want to be shamed, but that's the reality of the world we live in. I know that sounds like the saddest thing, but it's exactly why you should choose whatever option is best for you. You're going to get negative comments either way, so don't let that be the reason to keep you from running.

Having said that, there are signs that attitudes could slowly be changing. When someone takes a picture of a plus-size person working out in the gym and tries to shame them online for example, the Internet is usually appalled. It's immediately obvious to everyone that the person doing that is a douche bag. Remember, you don’t have to work out in a gym. There are plenty of other options and ways to move your body. You can start by just taking a walk around your neighbourhood at night. I guarantee you'll feel better about your life.

I've come to a point where I've accepted that because I'm such an abnormality when I run, people will see me and go "Oh, what was that". But if anything, it empowers me and reminds me exactly why I started doing this in the first place.


 



Buy Anna's book: A Life Full of Glitter: A Guide to Positive Thinking, Self-Acceptance, and Finding Your Sparkle in a (Sometimes) Negative World here.

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