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running while female: a follow-up

Hi, everyone! Thanks for all your response to my Running while female blog post, and it's been interesting to hear your thoughts about the Walking while fat and female article by Seattle-based Courtney Meaker. There's been a big mix of responses; at first it was about what jerks those guys are, and how it's not right that they say these things. But slowly it started to shift to me, people reassuring me that I look great, that I'm not fat, that I shouldn't take on board what these guys say.

Those latter sentiments are very well-intended, but they kind of miss the point. The issue isn't really about me, or how attractive I am. And no, I don't care what these guys say. I'm more concerned it's happening at all, and who else it will affect. One of the most wonderful things about growing up is being able to see things are NOT all about me; when someone says something nasty, it's because they have a problem. (And I can feel pity for them, and wonder what things in their upbringing and experience have caused them act that way.)

That's something you can tell a young person, over and over, that rude comments aren't really about them, but, hear me now:
... IT DOES NOT SINK IN.

Sorry folks, it just doesn't. It might make YOU feel better for having given what you think is sage advice, but... no.



I'm so glad I'm not a kid anymore, for this very reason. When people tell a depressed kid, 'enjoy these years, they're the best years of your life", I feel boiling rage. I think these adults have forgotten how kids can't help but be self-centred, and how heavily their own selves can weigh on them.

Life is so much better now that I'm grown up. Rude comments by strangers mostly bounce off me. But the point I was making in the last blog post is that day after day, ignoring them is very wearisome, and just enough to put me off wanting to go for the sweaty, painful run, which I dread for more reasons than male comments.

And it makes me think about young girls who were like me. What if they wanted to go for a run in my neighbourhood? Or more like me, what if they really, really, really didn't want to go for a run, but had a vague flutter of hope that maybe they could make it work and build themselves up, if they started out very slowly? They'd be smacked right down.

So please think twice before you say 'Just ignore them. You're not even fat. Why don't you try going to a gym instead?' Let's take that counsel apart:

* 'Just ignore them': I do ignore them. I do my best. But the blog post was a deliberate choice NOT to ignore them, because I think saying something might, I don't know, make other people trying exercise feel they're not alone? Maybe make guys think twice about giving women descriptions of their bodies? Also, it's not quite on for guys to tell me what to think about the rude dudes' constant comments. What I think about them will come out of the reserves of self-confidence and courage I've managed to build up over time, thanks in most part to lots of good long-term role models.

* 'You're not even fat': Why should I take on board how you think I should feel about my body? You don't live in it every day. And what if I was fat? Would your comments then not apply? When I was a kid, I wouldn't have believed you, and now, I know it doesn't really matter what you think. Moving on, I didn't intend to write this post so more people could analyse my own physique. (Why does it always come back to that?) I meant to raise the point about the guys' comments. Let's keep the spotlight on those rude dudes and how we can make public space more friendly for people exercising, particularly more vulnerable people.

* 'Why don't you try going to a gym/wear headphones/take up yoga/cycle instead?': I don't think it helps anything in the long run to back away from what I've chosen to do so that I can hide away from these guys. If anything, the non-dangerous hassling makes me feel like it's something I ought to keep doing, because I'm one of the older, more confident ones, and it makes the activity of an unfit person running seem more normal. Maybe if other non-sleek-runner-types seem me running in the park, they might feel more like it's something they could try.

Telling young women (or less confident older women, or anyone) not to let things hurt them is wrong. They WILL hurt, get used to that fact. Telling them to 'ignore it', 'dont' let it get to you' only makes them feel guilty and weak for hurting. They have spent their whole lives up to that moment forming their opinion about their bodies; do you really think that your comment will overturn all that social conditioning? No. They will think you're being positive about their bodies just to be nice, possibly being patronising (possibly because they've seen you prefer talking to thin ladies). The only outcome will be that they stop telling you that they hurt. You may feel better for thinking that you've encouraged them, and probably not even notice that they stopped exercising in public after those few attempts.

Try to remember what it was like to be young and awkward and horribly self-conscious. (Here are some sketches I drew a few years ago for my Dear Diary project of my young self, when I took EVERYTHING people said on board.)



What can I do? Well, I'll try to keep running. And I'll keep doing what I do.

What can you do?

* Think about ways we can make public spaces more friendly to people exercising. I don't know the answer to this one, but people of all sizes should be able to run on our roads and do their stretches in our parks.

* Be kind. Have some sympathy for chubby girls. You may not be able to get into their heads and understand them, but remember they've already suffered enough. (Believe me, they really have.) Don't tell them what to think about themselves.


A 'Dear Diary' page, illustrating my diary from when I was 14.

* Draw people who aren't stick-thin into your books and comics, make them well-rounded characters in character as well as in form. They don't always have to be the funny sidekicks. The story doesn't have to be about their weight issues.


Early sketch of Iris from Oliver and the Seawigs

* Think before you tweet. Don't make a sport of ripping apart people when they're on telly, in magazines or films, like people on Twitter did recently to Sarah Millican. Shame your friends who do. Think about why that person's in the spotlight, what's their particular talent? They're not pretending to be thin fashion models, don't judge them as such. Talented Millican has every reason to be confident, but having thousands of people tweeting abuse at her hurt her terribly. (Here's her Radio Times response article.) Don't think just because people are well-known for something or appear on telly, that they don't have feelings. People get jealous of people in the media, and chubby ones are the easiest to rip down. (Because they need it the most, right? They have no idea how fat they are, get off the stage.) How totally lame.



* Stop complimenting girls with the phrase 'you should be a model'. Who says being a fashion model is the pinnacle of a woman's potential anyway? I'd far rather be the designer, not the clothes horse. My sister gets that comment at her bar all the time, guys informing her that she should be a fashion model. Sometimes they go on and on, insisting it, particularly after a few drinks. What a stupid thing to say; she wants to run a bar, and she's very good at it.

Edit: Another article along the same lines, this time it's opera:


Read more here... And a second article here.


What am I even doing, I'm preaching to the choir here. Those guys who shout rude things in my neighbourhood will almost certainly never read a blog post by a children's book author. But for once I'm not ignoring them.

Now back to making books and drawing, that's a lot more interesting.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
candygourlay
May. 17th, 2014 04:46 pm (UTC)
I totally get what you're saying Sarah, and that comic says it all. Keep on running.
jabberworks
May. 17th, 2014 09:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Candy! xxx
John Anderson
May. 18th, 2014 09:11 am (UTC)
running while female: a follow-up
Good article, Sarah. Thanks for sharing.

From my perspective, the running (or whatever form of exercise you do) is for you. It's not my place to comment on your physicality - because it's not _my_ body.

But your support of the various publishing projects I've entered into - that's what you do for me. Your enthusiasm and brightness of spirit are always infectious, and welcome wherever and whenever I see you. And _that's_ why Cheryl and I love you.
jabberworks
May. 18th, 2014 10:57 am (UTC)
Re: running while female: a follow-up
Thanks, John! It's really inspiring to see you guys setting up your own publishing house. That takes guts!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )