Am I The Fat Girl

Written by Ann Brennan

Fat Girl

Click to see what my bottom half really looks like.

I read a lot. I also run a lot. And, inevitably, I often find myself combining the two activities. While I run I think over the articles and books I have recently read. I analyze them or I let their messages sink in. And once in a while I have an “aha” moment. Unfortunately, last Thursday I had an “uh-oh” moment. A moment of clarity when it suddenly occurred to me that I might just be the “fat girl” from Hey, Fat Girl. And suddenly, I wanted to cry. Because no matter how fit I am. No matter how hard I work or how much I succeed. It will always hurt to hear, Hey, Fat Girl.

I am sure when Flint wrote Hey Fat Girl a year ago, it was meant as a compliment. I am sure it was not mean to be patronized or insensitive. But I want to weigh in.

I am short, I have wide hips and a big butt and I don not carry any of it well. For most of my running life I have been subjected to comments like, “Good for you, giving this a go.” “Well done for being out here.” “Are you still running?” And whether they are meant this way or not they come off as patronizing.

What was that thing your mom used to say? Don’t judge a book by the cover?

Well I am here to say she was right.

I am short, I have wide hips and a big butt and again, I do not carry it well. But I am also a 13-time marathon finisher and a sub-14 hour Ironman, yes, Ironman finisher. I workout six to seven days a week and have for more than twenty years.

I may not look like a runner but I am. And I am not embarrassed to be out there in triathlon shorts because although I know that I don’t look great in them, they are part of the sport I love.

When I don’t make eye contact with you, it doesn’t mean I am embarrassed my how I look. I may be counting laps, I may be thinking about my next hard effort or I may be analyzing a blog post. Who knows? The assumption that I am embarrassed also assumes that I have something to be embarrassed about. That assumption hurts.

So I might be the fat girl. But that does not mean I am not athletic. That does not mean I don’t believe I can do anything. Because I can and have done more than I ever dreamed.

Yes, I struggle with my weight and yes, I work to lose it but I almost always find myself back here, in the fat suit, wishing I was thinner, wishing people could see me for the athlete that I am.

As all of this digested I thought about the other “fat girls” our there and I wondered how each of them, at the stage they are currently in, felt about the post by Flint. How does it make you feel to be referred to as “fat girl” even when it is somebody well meaning?

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About Ann Brennan

Ann Brennan is first and foremost a mom of three beautiful children. She is the managing editor of Beyond Limits Magazine and the creator of Ann’s Running Commentary. In 2012, Ann took Ann’s Running Commentary to new levels – first with a segment on the RunRunLive Podcast, chronicling her journey to her first Ironman and second, with a new channel on YouTube. Currently Ann is working on a non-fiction book series and working hard every day to remind people to get up, get active and get out there.
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22 Responses to Am I The Fat Girl

  1. Ryan says:

    Thank you for sharing the blog, Fat Girl. Thats what I needed to hear and remind me to not give up with the goals. :)

  2. Ann Brennan says:

    Thanks Ryan. So glad it helped. Staying motivated, not getting discouraged is not easy. But we are badass runners. We’ve got this.

  3. Nicki says:

    Not only does that post annoy me, it makes me go back to my feelings on Athena and Clydesdale categories. Don’t give me a prize because of my size.

  4. Rachel says:

    What surprises me is that people can’t tell the difference between “fat” and “athletic” builds. I’m tall so I carry weight better than my shorter female friends, but we’re all very athletic and in my experience “athletic” fits such a WIDE range of figures, male and female, that you just can’t make assumptions about a person’s ability by looks alone. Can’t. That ATHLETIC girl can probably run miles around you, couch potato.

  5. Chantel says:

    So, I just read the blog and I guess I had a different take away message than you did. When I look at you (at least in pictures). You look great. Of course, I haven’t seen a picture of your tush but who of us women over the age of 30 actually thinks ours looks good.

    I felt like the blog was speaking to me. I started running with 50 lbs to loose (I have lost 20 ). It was embarrassing trying to run my fat butt up those hills. It was embarrassing having to buy the XL running pants, the sports bra is even worse. I didn’t want ANYONE to see me. I didn’t want anyone to know. I was so afraid of failure that I didn’t want to even speak my intentions out loud. That included my husband and my kids. I fact you were the first person I told. I guess internet is great that way.

    Like you I grew up in an abusive home. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally abused. Unlike your mother, my mother never got help. Probably the biggest scar left from my childhood is my failure at school. In our family school education was everything. Both my parents went to the University of Southern California. My family is filled with doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. Then there is me. I struggled in school. My mother insisted I be in the honors and AP classes because I was “smart enough. I just didn’t apply myself.” Middle school and high school were hell. I was always grounded because of my grades (mind you I got Bs and Cs with a full honors load). So not only was I failing in school but I had no friends and was not permitted to do any extracurricular because I hadn’t learned “good study habits yet and couldn’t handle more.” So fast forward to college….I dropped out. I am the only non graduate in my family. I married a PhD. FAILURE

    I am now the mother of four children. Two of them diagnosed with dyslexia. One of the two with high functioning autism. Maybe this was my problem all along? Trying to teach these children to read was like repeating my school hell. Yet both of these kids overcame. Elementary school was really hard for them but I have learned that where there is a challenge there is also a gift. These two a my best problem solves and can see situational answers quickly. I never told my kids that they weren’t trying or that they were doing it wrong, just that they needed to learn differently and that we needed to find the right help…and we did.

    The one thing that my mother did always compliment me on while I was young was how pretty I was. I had that beautiful 5’7″, 115lb figure with curves. Although she did think that my chest was too big and that I needed to cover it more because otherwise boys would only like me for that. Gee, thanks mom. I remember in high school seeing a chart about weight. For my height I had to stay under 155lb to be considered in a healthy weight. My 16 year old, 115lb self thought, “OMG 155 is so fat. I will never have to worry about that.” Here I am almost 30 years later thinking “OMG 155lbs, I will look like a beauty queen.” Perspective is so funny.

    I bring these two stories up because it helps me to understand why I have such a fear of failure at getting my health (and in return weight) were it should be. In my young eyes I was taught that the only place I was not failing was in my figure. Once that went I felt like a total failure. I don’t want to look people in the eyes and say I am starting to run because what if I can’t?

    However, my children have taught me that I can except were I am and improve. I have told my family now. Not only that, I have gone running with my teenage daughter and cadet son. Those four runs alone have made all the shin splints and embarrassment worth it. I might not have been the fastest most active mom when my kids were young but I’ll be darned if I get pushed to the rocker now. I am going to be the mom that goes for a run with her kids when they come home from college. I might not have been the pretty and thin mommy but I am going to be a “badass” granny.

    So back to the blog. I didn’t find it offensive. I found it to be a “you go girl.” It also was a reminder to look up and smile at somebody as you run by. They might be giving you that “high five” and knowing smile that you need to get you back to the trail tomorrow.

  6. Gwen says:

    Thanks for writing this; I run four or five times a week, I love distances and I love taking part in races but I always feel so utterly gutted that no amount of years doing all sorts of exercise has ever defeated my wobbly tum. I also get lots of looks of disbelief when I tell people I’m a runner but I have put too much effort into it for the opinions of others to discourage me now!

  7. Ann Brennan says:

    That’s exactly it but it really would be nice if people didn’t just judge you by how you look. I have even had someone yell at their wife during a race. Pass the girl in front of you, the fat one. Really? You can bet my big fat ass that woman did not pass me.

  8. Ann Brennan says:

    I am so glad you saw the good. I saw the good in his statement as well and I am glad he made it but, it is sometimes hard being misjudged and treated like I am less than when I know what I am capable of and too polite to say so.

  9. Ann Brennan says:

    That is absolutely right. I have a friend who is in the Athena category in races. She is absolutely amazing but gets really frustrated with the way she is treated. She is an athlete, not a fat girl who runs. She is an athlete.

  10. ES says:

    I came across that blog this week (and yours through reddit) and honestly, while I understand how empowering and encouraging he’s trying to be, I still found his post condescending and really problematic in a misogynistic way.

    Of course, I’m not saying Flint is misogynistic (from what I’ve read, he seems like a pretty cool/chill dude?), but I mean that post strikes me as reflective of institutionalized misogyny? Like, he means well, but he’s still making a judgement call on this woman based entirely on her physical appearance. And the part I take most issue with is that it doesn’t seem like he’s actually spoken to her, interacted with her, or gotten to know her as a person.

    Is she really “shyly clinging to the furthest corridor”? Or is she being mindful, maybe because she’s slower she’s trying to be courteous by remaining out of the way. Is she _really_ “cringing”, or is that just how he perceives her behavior (and what does that say about him)? Is she avoiding eye contact because she’s insecure and doesn’t want to feel judged?? Or is that she’s just there, doing her own thing, and avoids eye contact because she wants to concentrate on herself and is avoiding distraction? We don’t know, because judging by his post, it doesn’t look like he actually spoke to her, all we have is what he thinks/assumes is going on.

    Again, I realize he means well, and maybe he didn’t approach her because he didn’t want to intrude/prefers to quietly cheer her on which is fine and dandy except for another issue that I find really problematic.

    Is she even a real person, or is that post just a shout-out to beginner runners? And if the “fat girl” in question IS real, is she the one pictured on the top of his post? If so, did he ask her permission to take her photo and post it on the internet??? If not then…that’s really really problematic!

    I don’t know, maybe this is just my own personal bias coming through, but something about his post just struck me as really invasive and proprietory.

    PS, I really liked your post!

  11. Ann Brennan says:

    Thanks so much for visiting. I am glad you enjoyed it. But you said it so much better. My thoughts when he said cringing were right there with you. What? What does that say about you. It is nice to know I am not alone in feeling this way.

  12. ES says:

    It was my pleasure :) I figured it’d be better to comment directly on your blog, since reddit is kind of a cesspit of dudes-not-getting-it.

  13. Ann I’ve seen numerous photos of you over last couple years and in none would I even begin to think you are fat. You always look very fit to me. Unfortunately I know this isn’t a society view, and merely my own, but for you, Chantel, and everyone else, I think everyone that exercises and tries to take care of themselves is beautiful. I don’t care your size, how certain parts of you may bounce or jiggle more than you would like, if your face is bright red, make up is running, drenched in sweat, etc, if I see you out running I just see beauty. I’m just as impressed with the last finisher at a race, as I am the first. Stay strong, be proud, try not to care what others think, you’re all beautiful.

  14. txa1265 says:

    I totally get it … I know I will ALWAYS be the fat kid. Even though I am the thinnest and fittest of my life, if someone yelled ‘hey fatso’ I would turn around and look. Even though it is silly …

    We put these things on ourselves. It reminds me of something you said in the last podcast and have before – referring to yourself or things about yourself as unattractive. As I tell my wife **NO** – you get to choose whether you are happy with the elements of your appearance you can control … but let me tell you about attractive :)

  15. MichelleO says:

    I totally get your take on Flint’s post as well as his writing. I was the fat girl. Last year when I started running I would run alone where no one could possibly see me. I did not run in my neighborhood because I was so embarrassed about how I looked and my performance. I wore all black so I would not call attention to myself. Then something happened…a 3 mile run was my short run. I started training for a half marathon. I ran in snow, sleet and rain. I ran in 20 degree weather…at night with ice in my hair and snot on my face. I became a warrior. I realized it wasn’t about how I looked, it was more about how I felt. I am still an older, slightly overweight runner, but it no longer matters. I know that when running gets tough, I can do it and add another mile to it.

  16. Nora says:

    Wow! If you’re the “fat girl” I can’t even begin to think what I am!! I love to workout and have for most of my life. I took up more dedicated running about a year ago and have done it over the last 12 months, running my first 5K last fall and looking to do a 10K this fall. Despite all of that, and because I am not great a controlling my eating habits, I am definitely fat. When I read Flint’s blog, though I appreciated where his heart was, I was a bit insulted! If he saw me running this morning, he would probably assume I am a new runner and congratulate me on beginning to get in shape. I have been at war with my weight for over 20 years and have been working out, fairly consistently during that time. So, definitely not a beginner and definitely not looking for the skinny, in-shape people to validate me! Thank you for your blog!!

  17. Ann Brennan says:

    Thanks for replying Nora. I had this post in my head for about two weeks but was really nervous about posting it because I didn’t want it to come off as negative. I appreciate the heck out of people who support their fellow runners. But there is something just patronizing in the tone of that post. And of course, assumptive. I am not a new runner. I might look like one but I work hard to be where I am. It sounds like we are on the same page on this one.

  18. Ann Brennan says:

    Michelle, you have been one of the most fun people to watch as you grow. You have definitely gained a lot of confidence in the process. That is one of my favorite parts of being a runner – the confidence we gain.

  19. Christina says:

    For the record, I think you look great!!! I often see women runners who wouldn’t be considered skinny really push hard through races. I have long since thought that having that “skinny runner look” does not mean anything – all shapes and sizes can run equally well!

  20. Melissa says:

    Not only am I the fat girl runner, I’m also the fat girl weight lifter. Yes, I know what I look like, but I also know where I’m headed. And, honestly, I don’t give a fig what anyone (male or female, young or old) thinks about my body shape. That’s on them, not me. I agree, he’s quite assumptive. We all have a story and a history. My fat was my insulation in a 20 year abusive marriage. Now that I’ve finally gotten out, I’m slowly shedding it. On my terms, in my own way.

  21. I get what Flinn is saying, and I think he means well, but the post isn’t cool. Calling someone “Fat Girl” just isn’t my idea of encouragement.

    When I first started running and working out I felt embarrassed. I wanted to run outdoors but I was so worried that someone would make fun of me I avoided it at all costs. I’m definitely the Fat Girl Flinn is talking about … I was when I started running and I still am.

    In fact, the one time in my life when I looked like a lean runner was when I was spiraling downwards in the midst of a terrible eating disorder. When I was at a weight where I could have told people I was a runner without getting weird looks, I couldn’t have even run half a mile if I tried. Simple acts like taking a shower would drain me of all my energy. I would push myself to go to the gym and workout during those days but the best I could do was the stationary bike because I was sitting down – which would prevent me from falling down when I felt weak. After I would get home from the gym I would literally black out for sometimes hours at a time. I looked skinny therefore in shape to most people, but my God was I unhealthy.

    I hate that most people automatically equate skinny with healthy and anything larger than a size 6 as unhealthy and completely non-athletic. I get that my extra weight does make me unhealthy but it doesn’t mean I’m a complete couch potato who is going to quit this little running thing at any moment.

    I would actually say right now, at my highest weight, I am my most fit – both mentally and physically. I’m the Fat Girl but I don’t run with my eyes down out of shame. In fact I try to wave and smile at every other runner I pass because that little extra kindness never hurt a runner at any level. And I personally don’t need encouragement from anyone (though it is nice). Running has given me a new self-confidence that I’ve never had before in my life. I owe running so much because of all that its given me.

  22. myers55 says:

    Lovely pictures and nice blog. However, you really don’t look exactly “fat” or even overweight. You look quite healthy and toned to me.

    Keep on running!

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