To the Creeper Who Was Staring at Me Running

Kelrick and I at the finish line with our hard won medals.

Kelrick and I at the finish line with our medals.

I did my first training walk so it turns out the rumors are true, I’m going to do another marathon.  I’ve already contacted Kel, who is going to do it with me because he is the best Best Friend ever, and “Team Never Again” is now team “Just One More.”  Los Angeles Marathon 2015 here we come!  Cross finish line, get medal, that’s still the goal.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is the idea of support, especially as it applies to the way that strangers say things that they think are supportive to fat people that are actually examples of preconceived notions gone wild. Recently this style of “inspiration” was brought into sharp relief in a Facebook post the someone wrote after watching a fat runner.  The post, like so much of this “inspiration” is based on the writer heaping their preconceived notions on the fat person and then applauding them for rising above preconceived notions that may not, in any way, actually apply to them.

I wrote about it for iVillage, and I want to reiterate that all fat people, whether we run or not, have the right to exist in the world without bullying, stereotyping or stigma. The rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and basic respect are not size- or habit- dependent. Fat people should not have to “earn” the right to live in the world without condescension, we should not have to run to “earn” basic human respect.  And that’s the major issue here.

I was thinking about this today and specifically the Facebook poster’s assertion that the runner’s gaze drops to their feet “every time we pass” and If you’d only look up from your feet the next time we pass, you’d see my gaze has no condescension in it.”  This person feels really comfortable making the assumption that the runner is not making eye contact because they are scared of condescension. It made me wonder about the Facebook post the runner might have written when she got home, maybe something like this:

Wasn’t feeling well today so I had to take a lot of rests but I made it through my run!   This creepy guy kept starting at me the whole time, I tried not to make eye contact because I didn’t want to encourage it.  Dude, I know I’m hot but it’s not cool to just stare me while I’m trying to get my workout in, pay attention to your own run.  Freaking creeper.

I am aware that expressing the fact that I don’t enjoy being an “inspiration” for rising above someone’s preconceived notions (that have nothing to do with me), and pointing out ways that this is problematic, will lead to people accusing me of being ungrateful, too sensitive, too PC, and suggesting that I should just be happy that they didn’t throw eggs at me. Fuck a bunch of that.

It’s not ok to celebrate being “inspired” by someone we know absolutely nothing about because they are “rising above” our preconceived notions and stereotypes of them. This serves to reinforce the idea that it’s totally fine to stereotype people based on how they look, and it further oppresses those who aren’t somehow “rising above” those stereotypes – which they have absolutely no obligation to do. It adds to appearance-based oppression and that’s not ok. It’s fine if other people aren’t bothered by this, and obviously nobody is obligated to take offense or speak out about this, but to me that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is problematic on more than just an individual level, but at a societal level as well.

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Published in: on March 10, 2014 at 10:03 am  Comments (39)  

39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have similar feelings about people who compliment me/my partner in crime when we go out (we usually go to the local gay bar/drag show), our collective 600lbs in push-up bras, corsets or low cut tops, miniskirts, and fabulous 3-5 inch heels. Yes, we know we’re hot and that our outfits/jewelry/makeup/hair are amazing and you’re more than welcome to gush over it/us. Where the problem comes in is when you feel the need to ‘reassure’ us by saying things like, “You’re beautiful, honey. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.” Ack. No. Just say, “You’re beautiful,” and move on. Unfortunately a nightclub where you have to shout to be heard isn’t really the place to try and have a teachable moment-at least not for me. Sigh. Thankfully most of the guys either don’t have the preconceived notion that we need/want reassurance or their mommas raised them to know to not give backhanded compliments.

    • My response would be, “Why would someone want to tell me otherwise?” with a big WTF look on my face.

      • Usually I just smile and say, “bless your heart.”

    • Happens to me ALL THE TIME!
      I always ask “why would people say otherwise?”
      Which is met with awkwardness and a glimmer of hope that they will actually think about it!

  2. D’you know, Ragen, someone I know from among my long distance running friends, a good soul who would have been horrified at the thought that they’d circulated a message that was condescending rather than encouraging towards fat women moving their bodies, shared a very similar post a week or so ago, and I read it and thought of you. I’m glad you’ve picked up on it.

    We’ll know something’s going right when folk see a fat woman running and think, “There’s a woman running. She looks as if she’s enjoying her run/doing an interval training session/got a lovely economical running form/knows what she’s doing.” Or even, “That poor woman is struggling with her run today, bless her.”

    The writer could have learned SO much, and created a much better impression, by looking at the runner’s face instead of at the ground and maybe saying “Hi!” or “Nice day for a run.”

    Train strong and enjoy your marathon. Most people say “never again” at the end of their first marathon, but find their second marathon much less of an ordeal, and by the time they get to their fifth or sixth … ;o)

  3. Thank you for writing that piece. I left a comment there too, to try to offset the more nasty comments. I really appreciate your work.

  4. I know people think they’re being helpful and supportive, but there’s an unspoken (or worse, spoken) “… for a fat person” in comments like that.

    It’s pretty simple. If you wouldn’t compliment someone because they’re smart/talented/good-looking/athletic “… for a black person” or “… for a gay person” or “… for a Muslim person”, it’s equally uncool to say it to a fat person. You’re still stereotyping. Period.

  5. “Each step is paying the debt of another midnight snack,” they write amidst their invented fantasy of fat overindulgence, self-loathing, and self-abuse they’ve projected onto this stranger, then they try to reassure said stranger they’re not condescending? I think they need to look up what the word “condescending” means, because their diatribe is exhibit A. It doesn’t “encourage” me as a fat runner. It makes me want to set up my treadmill in a soundproof fallout shelter under Area 51 and wear copper wire shorts and a tinfoil sweat band while using it.

    • Amen. I kept thinking, “Condescending. You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

      • I thought of that line, too!😄

      • That’s because great minds think alike… and have seen the same great films.

    • “Each step is paying the debt of another midnight snack,” they write amidst their invented fantasy of fat overindulgence, self-loathing, and self-abuse they’ve projected onto this stranger, then they try to reassure said stranger they’re not condescending?
      Wowee!! You have a beautiful way with words! Spot on !

  6. Best of luck to Team One More Time!

    As for people wanting to be given a cookie for not throwing eggs at us, fuck that noise! I don’t want your pity, your condescension, your tears of joy at my supposed brave battle with donuts, your wonder at my resolution when it turns out I can tie my own damn shoelaces… I don’t want any of that.

    If you care about me so damn much, then get to know me instead of your insulting preconceived notions about who I am, how I live, and what I’m capable of doing. I am not your brave poster child nor your scary cautionary tale. I am a person in my own right, regardless of how you have been taught to think about fat people.

    As for looking down to avoid your assumed scorn, believe me, I have a million reasons to assume that scorn, bewilderment, nasty snickering, and downright hostility are not only real possibilities, but the more common reactions to a fat woman exercising in public. Excuse me if I don’t wish to subject myself to more of those things than I have to. I’m sorry I wasn’t looking at you when you added teary faux inspiration to the list, but I really hate vomiting in public.

    • “My supposed brave battle with donuts.” Well, THERE’S a blog title right there. I might have to steal that.😀

      • *gasp* Y’all are playing Captain Novolin, too?

        /running gag

        • I had to look up the reference. I’m old, and utterly unhip (and, coincidentally, perfectly OK with that).😀

          They actually had a GAME about diabetes???? OMG. What were they smoking? Diabetes is not a game; it is not fun; it is not “cool.” What utter fools.

          • It’s infamous in shitgame circles for being rather bad as far as playability; I think it was made for doctors to give kids who were diagnosed with diabetes. I don’t know how well it worked out because from a gamer’s perspective the controls don’t work, and most people quit before they get to any of the educational parts.

            But the villain was an alien donut.

            • Of course it was. *sigh*

              • Yeah, I don’t see him making it onto anyone’s Top Ten Villain lists with Sephiroth, Albert Wesker, or (heh) Lord Rhapthorne any time in the near future.

      • Go right ahead, Helena. Just let me know when you’ve done it so I can see what wonders you work with it.

  7. Rise above those preconceived notions and stereotypes… That’s it exactly. Thanks for this.

  8. Ragen, both this and your iVillage piece were, as usual, smashing. You always manage to put into words things I wish I could say, but you end up saying them so much better than I can. Thank you.

  9. “If you’d only look up from your feet the next time we pass, you’d see my gaze has no condescension in it.”

    You know, when you’re part of a group that experiences bigotry on a regular basis, you adopt certain habits out of a desire for safety. Like, as a woman, I am REAL careful about eye contact with men (which men, duration, what is my face doing…I wonder how much brain space would open up if I didn’t have to do that). I’m not saying that THAT is why the runner wasn’t making eye contact (I like Ragen’s example of the creeper).

    But. BUT. This dude has some nerve suggesting, that with all the bigotry fat people face, that this runner ignore their sense of self-care so this guy can have his inspiration acknowledged. That drives me up the wall; people can’t just be inspired/admire how someone looks, the OBJECT of their inspiration has to ACKNOWLEDGE them. Like it’s a damn compliment “Don’t worry runner-who-is-a-complete-stranger, **I**, the great and wonderful ME, approve of your activity. Carry on.”

    Gah.

    • YES.

    • “Don’t worry runner-who-is-a-complete-stranger, **I**, the great and wonderful ME, approve of your activity. Carry on.”

      ROTFLOL. I love that summary!

  10. It’s like Pink sang, I’m not here for your entertainment. Or your inspiration. Or your approval. Or any stereotypes you wish to wallow in. Or any “good fatty” labels you want to slap on me.

  11. Reading about this reminded me a lot of …

    http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/it-happened-to-me-there-are-no-black-people-in-my-yoga-classes-and-im-uncomfortable-with-it

    Thanks for another great piece Ragen!

  12. Sorry forgot to post the brilliant response to that article^

    http://www.plussizeprincess.com/2014/01/happened-black-girl-around-small-white-people-suddenly-feeling-uncomfortable-with-response-carons/

    Ragen I feel like I might have been linked to this one through your blog or facebook so I apologise if I’m reposting your old content!!! Just made me think a bit more!😀

  13. Facebook poster: Wow. The smarm is strong with that one.
    I think my favorite way of dealing with these types of situations is returning in kind. This is a great way to separate the supportive from the smug. For example, a colleague declares she is proud of me for . I declare (in full saccharin mode)that I had been remiss in not mentioning it sooner but I am, in fact very proud of her for . Or if someone says “Good Job!” when I’m out on a trail, I respond in kind: “and YOU sir!! EXCELLENT job!!” This highlights the absurdity/oddness of the original comment without getting into a war of intentions or sending my blood pressure up. That and its funny.

  14. If someone wants to use me as an inspiration, that’s between them and the story they made off their lives. As long as they do not tell me, they are welcome to it. If they *do* tell me, that’s kind of creepy, because it has nothing to do with me, really, but only with them and their story.

    The most horrible thing is if people that have known me a while take me as an inspiration that they, too, can become thin. I don’t even know yet if I can. I don’t want them to pick up an unworthy project like that. I do not want to be the person that shoved them back on that useless track by being there.😦

    I want to tell them, “don’t, it’s a bad trip”, but that’s opening a can of worms I really, really. do not want to consider. So I just look pained, I think, and mumble “If you say so…”

  15. It appears the “fatty” runner has replied: http://groupthink.jezebel.com/inspiration-youre-doing-it-wrong-1540633035

    “You fooled people on Facebook but you have not fooled me. You do not have respect for my journey because you do not know it. I have told my story to thousands of people. I have been told that I have inspired many as well. Not because of the way I run but because of the person I am. Not because of my 200 pound weight loss but because of the words that I have had inside for years.”

    • Thank you for posting that!!

      • The largely positive comments are pretty good. So far, not too trolly (a rare thing at a Gawker site)😉

      • Not sure if he’s the runner or not, but if he isn’t, he did a very good “putting myself in someone else’s (running) shoes” perspective.

        • Either way, he put his name to it, and that’s awesome.

          • Agreed! It’s a beautiful thing to see him step out there so unfraid, on top of the awesomeness.

  16. When I saw that article it totally rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn’t say why. You have said why for me. Thank you for articulating what I was feeling!!

    This week I haven’t been able to run, because I’m getting over a cold and I am having trouble breathing. It’s only been a couple days that I can even walk. It is hard for me to walk and not run, but I know I’m not doing my health any good by running, so I force myself to walk. And then some bozo decides to comment to me, “Keep up the good work,” and I all can think is FU because he has no idea if this is good or bad, if I’m pushing myself or just taking a nice walk, if I just finished 3 miles or half a mile, or anything!


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