Fitness is Not A Size

This post originally appeared on the blog: Seeking A Life Full of Laughter

I get into a lot of conversations with my sisters and female friends about what it means to be an athlete, to be fit, and more importantly, to be a woman who doesn’t fit the idealized view of fitness. Open up any running magazine, browse any fitness apparel websites, or look at the posters in your local gym and you will soon realize that we still live in a world where fitness is defined by a size.

Anything less than a Greek god/goddess equals laziness, inactivity, and fat.

In fact, I am tired of hearing the word fit and fat being used to describe any women over a size 8. In my world of athletics, I have always been “fat”. My BMI (body mass) index has always indicated that I was overweight, even when I was playing college field hockey and wearing a size 10. We glorify and objectify female athletes, and make critical and disgusting comments about their level of fitness and health when they do not define that idealized shape. We forget Serena Williams’s many victories while we use derogatory comments to define her athleticism, her race, and her elite level of fitness by using such abusive and vulgar terms like “beast”, “thunder thighs”, and “manly”.

It wasn’t until recently that more mainstream media outlets such as Sports Illustrated and ESPN’s the Body Issue began featuring more realistic images of women athletes. Look at the powerful and stunning physique of hammer thrower Amanda Bingson, who many would classify as “fat” or “plus sized” while the ignoring the grace, strength, and athleticism which is involved in her chosen sport.

Yet, we are quick to judge a women’s health and fitness by her looks alone. A recent issue of Women’s Running brings that discussion to the forefront with one of the first realistic portrayals of female athletes over a size 14 on the actual cover of its own running magazine.

How many women of larger size, including myself, have felt judged, shamed, and even ridiculed for the size and shape of our bodies? How many people have stared as we have jogged past, climbed on the elliptical, or worn a swimsuit into the pool for laps? How many of us have gone home discouraged, angered, and tearful that our society cannot define us as fit without also using the term “fat”?

While I am encouraged that we are willing to acknowledge the stereotypes which exist for female athletes in terms of body acceptance, I am still frustrated. Because we have a long way to go in terms of outright acceptance and creating better avenues of access to health and healthy lifestyles for larger women.

At 6′ and 250 pounds, I still operate in a world in which I am singled out for my size, despite the fact that I have been involved in some sort of athletic activity since age 5. I have to order men’s clothes to wear to the gym, because I can’t find tops which cover my fuller chest and long torso. I show up to triathlons in anything but a tri-suit, because even the women’s fitness apparel stores offer limited options and even more limited sizes in trisuits. I have trouble finding swimsuits which fit or are even designed for workouts, since most over a size 16 come with ruffles and skirts which are meant to hide fat, but clearly, accentuate it even more. Go to any store and you can find a decent sports bra if you wear a C cup or smaller, special order online and pay a lot more money if you are “full figured”.

I still continue to struggle to lose the weight, and to find community. While every woman battles with issues of body acceptance in today’s society, we forget that for women of larger sizes and shapes, no matter how fit or successful we are in our sports field, the first word to define us will be “fat”. Or rather, we may camouflage the word “fat” with seemly innocuous terms like “plus sized’, “full figured”, or “curvy”.

I am tired of being a called a fat, but fit athlete. I want to be seen and referred to as a female athlete. Plain and simple. No sizes attached to its definition, because we don’t do it to our male counterparts.

Instead of looking at my size, my curves, or my fat, look at what I can do and appreciate the fact that I chose to do something that some people would never get off the couch for. I run half marathons and 5Ks, swim countless laps, train for triathlons, play softball, participate in volleyball, complete Crossfit workouts, and go head-to-head with coworkers in pick-up basketball.

Next time you go running, work out at the gym, or are people watching at the beach, try to remember that fitness is not a size, but a way of life. A six-pack doesn’t equal health, and a size 16 doesn’t equal laziness.

Let’s do more to encourage these discussions, reflect on our own stereotypes about fitness, and appreciate that being fit is a struggle for everyone. It takes commitment, heart, and perseverance. Do not discourage others on their journey, because you are stuck with a number in your head.

And for my readers, who are also athletes (male and female alike), I would love to hear from you. What stereotypes frustrate you? What would you like more people to understand when it comes to health and fitness? What more can we do to change this discussion for the better?

35 thoughts on “Fitness is Not A Size”

  1. Thank you for this post, Kris. I’ve struggled in my head with my body image too. I say in my head because self-image IS all in our minds shaped by what we’re bombarded with by the media as to what a worthy or near perfect human being is supposed to look like. I’ve lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for over two decades now and the fat is sticking because I can do only limited aerobic activity – even swimming one length in the pool does me in! But I’m learning to love myself just as I am – but it’s hard work. Raising a glass of wine to you! 🙂

    • Thanks! Enjoy the glass of wine for yourself too. I think understanding and embracing who we are is part of that battle for body acceptance. And also starts with us discussing and acknowledging that what we see in a magazine is often airbrushed or representing a very small percentage of the population whose genetics and environment result in a “perfect” body. You keep doing you and enjoying life!

  2. Our world is so full of discriminating labels ! I’m large, have thunder thighs, big boobs, wobble when I walk, don’t go swimming, clothes shopping is a chore. But I love myself. My family and friends never, ever judge me. When will the world stop judging and see beyond the surface ?

  3. Hi Kris, I am a 57 years old retired physician that has maintained my physical AND mental health through exercise and lifestyle for the last 38 years. Without intention of bragging, I am in excellent health (and shape.) I state this because my focus is on LIFESTYLE. Those who pursue a lifestyle that provides the body and mind the tools needed to be healthy create a quality of life that few attain. Weight and appearance becomes a side effect; an end result of a PROCESS. It is NOT the focus. Those who truly follow a healthy lifestyle usually don’t experience self image issues in the long run. They are physically and mentally capable of pursuing all they desire fulfilling the needs of personal growth and development. They value the joy of their lifestyle as it creates PASSION for purposeful living.

    When a person reflects upon all the benefits of a REAL HEALTHY LIFESTYLE, self value, self worth and self esteem elevate to such a level, that external judgement no longer matters. Conversely, if a person claims a healthy lifestyle to improve self image without truly living this lifestyle, an emotional (and possible physical) imbalance will reside within this person.

    The joy of life and the ability to seek personal growth can be experienced all the way to our final breath. People can’t take this love of life from our hearts regardless of the cruelest attempts to do so. Controlling one’s own destiny is challenging. Mastering the components that achieve this outcome helps each one of us find our true SELVES. In doing so, the world’s opinions about our lives become significantly less relevant.

    The body is designed to be healthy. The earth provide the body (physically and mentally) all of its needs. A “healthy” body COMPOSITION (not weight) is achieved by living a healthy lifestyle. Unless there is a biochemical or genetic disorder, a healthy body composition is achievable and sustainable. I have worked with many patients over the years and provided insight helping people achieve the GOALS THEY DESIRED. Often, unaddressed components are the missing pieces to restoring healthy function achieving these desired results.

    I offer this (long winded) comment hoping to share an honest, yet POSITIVELY stated opinion to help improve awareness and achieve personal satisfaction. On my blog site I write about many topics you might find beneficial as you continue down a path of CHOICE. My mission is to offer perfect strangers KINDNESS and a chance to live the life THEY CHOOSE. Feel free to browse if you’d like. I can be found at: https:AllAboutHealthyChoices.wordpress.com

    Wishing you all the success in life you desire.

    • Thank you for the lengthy and thoughtful comment. I agree that a healthy lifestyle is a key component in a happy life. And that when one is happy, the external judgements of others matter less. What I was asking for was more of a self-reflection in how we view the fitness and lifestyle choices of others as they go through their own personal journey.

      And you hit the nail on the head, when you finally stated that a healthy lifestyle may not be as easily attainable if a genetic or physiological component prevents or contradicts the choices of the individual in being healthy. I am a prime example of how my lifestyle choices are contradictory to my outward appearance which is why my doctor and I have spent many hours discussing the genetic and physiological components of why it is harder for me to look healthy with the body I have. However, as confident and strong as I am, it is still frustrating to see and hear others who judge me and people like me based on a momentary glance or their own unrealistic ideas of health and fitness.

      Even sadder, is the doctors who I have encountered that also perpetuate these feelings of frustration and misunderstanding. I think you would support me in saying that anyone looking to lead a healthier life find a doctor who is not only knowledgable but also willing to listen and look beyond the number on the scale.

      • (1) Any doctor that narrows the view of health to the numbers on a scale, needs to re-evaluate their definition of good health.
        (2) As hurtful as comments from others may be, their emotional impact can only come from accepting (on some level) the validity of these comments (regardless how untrue they are.) EX. If a confident beautiful woman was called “ugly” by another woman that was unattractive, it is more likely the beautiful woman would view this encounter as a jealous response rather than experiencing emotional harm from the hurtful statement. If the beautiful woman had a self image issue, the emotional impact would likely be more significant.
        By learning to focus on your own expectations and visions YOU determine measure the standards of health and appearance you seek, you may find extraneous comments less harmful and impactful.
        Your message is shared by many people in this world. Hopefully as readers see our comments to each other, it will stimulate awareness that optional pathways exist to overcome these obstacles we’re discussing.
        Thank you again for sharing your story.

  4. Hey Kris . I loved reading about your struggle with the standard BMI charts. It reminds me of my life. I was a gymnast and have always been bulky from muscle. Fitting into ‘female’ clothing was always tricky. Made me feel self conscious when I have no reason to. I am definitely going to check out your other blog posts. I look forward to reading future posts of yours (I will follow you after I hit send). I normally don’t solicit, but I do think we’d have a few ideas in common, so I encourage you to check out my blog to hear more about my experiences with fitness and health related things. Thank you for your story, Kris.

    https://millennialsurvivalblog.wordpress.com/blog/

    • Thanks! I will definitely have to look at your blog as well. And yes, it is frustrating how limitations in fitness can provide an avenue for negativity and self-consciousness. If we did more to offer easier access to things like fitness clothing for women of all sizes, it would be a huge step for sure.

  5. I am on the smaller end of the scale and height chart. As a petite woman, I am often underestimated. Yes, I am not as physically strong as a man, but real strength isn’t measured by the number of reps we can do, nor is true beauty determined by our external appearances.

    I have a post on my adventure/fitness blog, The Worldly Fool, that I think you can relate to. It’s called “How to See the Beauty in Everything”: https://worldlyfool.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/beauty/.

    If you haven’t yet, also check out Mary Lambert’s music videos. Lambert suffered teasing being she was overweight, gay, and bipolar, but she’s an incredible singer and you can feel the emotion in her music. Listen to “Body Love” (Parts 1 and 2) and her cover of “Teenage Dirtbag,” even if you don’t like the original “Teenage Dirtbag.”

    The incredible thing about Lambert is that her pain is real and it’s present. She’s still overweight. She’s still gay. She’s still bipolar. But she’s embraced it as a part of who she is.

  6. I really liked your site content about fitness not just having shredded abs. It is more than that isn’t it? A healthy approach to life, eating, fitness. If you have time can you check out my site and give suggestions- I am new to this. Jon Keller PT

  7. Love it. I’m 5 ft and on court i sometimes think “everybody in this whole place is watching this game” because (a) it’s mostly guys in badminton and (b) they’re typically stronger, faster and more powerful. I often wish I could be taller/stronger/slimmer/more-muscular but have to be realistic because that’s not my body. It’s one of the reasons why I created a badminton website: https://badmintonbeat.wordpress.com
    Hopefully this contributes to the conversation about judging women in sports!

  8. Good article. In our society it is so difficult to adopt better nutrition. Some people get massive cravings when they try to eat healthier. Everywhere we turn there is unhealthy food, and I love food! I connect with you in the fact that I workout, and I enjoy it but I”m still considered overweight. Check out my new blog at http://www.conflictedhealth.com.

  9. Fantastic post. It took me a long time to stop caring about what people thought about me when I worked out. I was ashamed to do any kind of floor work in the gym or go on the treadmill and just walk, because I thought people would make fun of me or give me funny looks. Today I just think, yeah whatever and crack on with it. Because I seriously doubt that the people who look down on people like us, would be able to do what we do if they suddenly found themselves 100lbs heavier.

  10. Perfectly said. I like seeing a woman who is not skin and bones. The super in shape people are paid to be that fit they are not the normal woman. I love to encourage all at the gym or out for doing there best to get out there. It is the way you carry yourself and the confidence that makes you hot and sexy no mater the size. I feel we just need to be in healthy shape for long term life.
    Cheers to your article.

  11. Love this! So much truth here! Male athletes are not subjected to the ridicule or judgement that female athletes endure on the reg! What saddens and sickens me even more than this fact, is the fact that women aren’t just the victims, they are often offenders as well. As a female in a male dominated society, I feel like us girls gotta stick together! We are all beautiful, powerful women, regardless of our waistlines! Thank you so much for your post!

  12. While I am late to the party, I agree. The standards set forth for female anything are impossible and demeaning. Female athletes are especially pounded for not being ‘feminine enough’, fit enough, strong enough. No one needs to live up to anyone’s ideal size or shapr. I may not look like Artemis, but I do have Hera’s fiery temper. 😉

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