Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Talky Tuesday: Running, "Good" Fatties, and Inspiration Porn

I'm taking a break from the slow eking-out of my travelogues to talk about running. Again.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this on my personal Facebook:

Last Friday I woke up, had a cup of tea, and then went out and ran a 5K. Not any kind of official race; I mean I ran 3.1 miles, nonstop, around my neighborhood. (3.5 miles, if my running app is to be believed.) I'm including a recent, honest-but-not-flattering photo with this post so you can see more or less what I looked like when I did it, down to the hairdo and tanktop and sneakers. Probably equally sweaty, because damn Boston was SWELTERING that day. This is what a runner looks like. 
I'm talking about this on Facebook for a few reasons. The first is that I did something that I'm proud of, something I thought for years that I would never want (or be able) to do. Running a 5K was only slightly more likely, I thought, than going to Mars or winning the lottery. And last week I basically went out and did it by accident. Cool! I did the thing! I even *enjoyed* doing the thing! (And me *enjoying* running was, not so long ago, as alien to me as "enjoying paperwork" or "enjoying scrubbing toilets.") I worked hard at it for 18 months and then I did it without dying or injuring myself!* (I also did it without filling my albuterol inhaler 'script which in retrospect is a terrible idea for someone with asthma. Don't Do What Donny Don't Does!) 
*I did suffer a twisted ankle during all of this training, but not while I was actually running. I stepped off a sidewalk funny while I was in town. 
The second reason I'm talking about this is to be up front about something: it was hard. It was physically difficult (my earliest workouts were just 5 seconds of jogging mixed with 55 seconds of walking for a grand total of 15 minutes, and even those "easy" workouts were hard at times) and it was mentally difficult (exercising in public while fat and female is fraught). I felt weird and embarrassed and discouraged way more than I felt awesome. Sometimes it felt like there was something wrong with me for finding it so hard and progressing so slowly. If you feel like that about anything -- exercising, learning something new, coping with mental illness -- I want you to know that my fat, sweaty, awkward, struggling self knows what it feels like. I don't know if it'll get better for you or not when it comes to that particular arena of self-improvement, but I know what it's like in that moment and I see and recognize your struggle. We're all reforming fuck-ups together! 
The third reason I'm posting this screed with this specific honest-but-not-flattering photo is to make it clear that 1) I didn't wait until I wasn't fat, or until I was less fat, to try to do the thing and 2) I didn't do the thing to be a "good" fatty or to make me less fat. I did it because I wanted to, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could, and then at some point just because I liked it. 
This is what a runner looks like. It's not a "before" (hell, or even an "after") photo. It's me. The body I have *right now* can do this awesome thing. And maybe more! Maybe I'll train for a 10K. Maybe I'll benchpress my own bodyweight. Maybe I'll take dance lessons or take up MMA. Maybe I'll just keep running around three miles three days a week. During it all, I'll almost certainly continue to remain more or less fat. 
Every single person reading this is already capable of so much, just the way they are. All of us not equally much, or of the same things -- limits DO exist, illnesses and disabilities take their toll, we all only have so much spare time -- but often of much more than we realize. Your body is fine the way it is.
I shared this post with this picture of me visiting Diana (of Redskirts and Arisia fame) in Boston:

Diana looking all business casual dressy fly and me looking like a sweaty mess, in front of a burrito restaurant.

I suspect people might have misunderstood my desire to disable comments on the post. It was friends-only, and the friends on FB who get to see the friends-only stuff aren't assholes. I didn't think anyone would be mean or shitty about it—effusive praise is what would bug me, and naturally that happened (some of it more easy for me to digest than others). The idea that someone might process the picture and post as "inspiration porn" is what would bug me.

Inspiration porn, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is the use of images of disabled athletes or artists or whoever used as a means for the able-bodied to feel inspired (or to guilt them into Doing The Thing). This article on The Mighty has more information about that. While fatness and physical disability are not marginalized to the same degree, or equivalent in any way, I think, to an extent, images of fat people accomplishing cool shit are leveraged similarly. There can also be a well-meaning condescension and patronization when it comes to images of fat athletes or fat aspiring athletes: "How cute of you to try!" "Good for you for being a good fatty!"

This is better than images of fat people being distributed for the purposes of ridicule, but it's not really ideal, either. And it's exactly why I wanted to disable comments. I knew that no one was going to come at me with a shitty comment; it was much more likely for people to be effusive in praise and encouragement, all of which would have meant well but some of which would no doubt be coming from that place of "I'm inspired by your willingness to do this thing with a body I consider undesirable (even as we are friends because of my admiration for your personality etc.)" "I'm glad you're doing something to become less Fat." If you're thinking or feeling those things when you see pictures of fat athletes, please ch-ch-checkity-check yo' self.

On a positive note, I'd like to thank LineageWear for those awesome peacock bike shorts and my other leggings: they really are the #bestleggingsever. (If you don't have a pair of your own, you can shop through my LineageWear referral link and get a 10% discount. TREAT YO' SELF!)

I'd also like to thank Aardvark Sports Shop in Bethlehem, PA. When I walked in there almost a year ago to get fitted for my first-ever pair of running shoes, I thought I would die of embarrassment. But the employee who helped me was super chill and treated me and my big ol' duck feet with perfect, expert helpfulness and found me the perfect shoes. Gear matters, and without those leggings or those shoes I wouldn't have been able to do what I did.

And finally, I'd like to put in a good word for Charity Miles. A lot of times it was easier to go out and do the thing because I knew it would help a better cause as well as myself. Personally, I run for charity: water because damn there's nothing like a glass of cold water after a brutal run!

Playlist shout-outs include: basically every Tarantino soundtrack up to Kill Bill Vol. 1, Say Sue Me, Kanye (I'm trash), Garbage, Eve 6, Drunken Tiger/MFBTY, The Blue Hearts, and The High-Lows.