Why It's Not Cool to Think of Fat or Disabled People as Inspiration

Run, fatty, run? One rude Facebook post reminds us that some people need to keep their thoughts padlocked in their own heads

Recently a Facebook user has received media attention for writing an “inspirational” piece about a fat runner he saw (but didn’t know, or even speak to.)  

It begins with truly condescending language, from the use of the term “footslogging” to pointing out that the runner is taking a water break every lap and guessing that they would “probably stop twice a lap if there were bleachers on both sides” and pointing out that the runners gaze drops to their feet “every time we pass.”

These are familiar tropes to fathletes. It often doesn’t even matter how we actually look, people are very comfortable to see what they expect and process our lives through the filter of their own stereotypes and prejudices. But the second paragraph is supposed to make up for all of that. You see, it’s ok to trash a fatty if you bravely lift them up later:

"Every shallow step you take, you carry the weight of more than two of me, clinging to your bones, begging to be shaken off.”

"Each lap you run, you're paying off the debt of another midnight snack, another dessert, another beer."

“You run without music, and I can only imagine the mantras running through your mind as you heave your ever-shrinking mass around the next lap. Let's go, feet. Shut up, legs. F**k off, fat."

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

"I have nothing but respect for you. You've got this."

I know from experience that when someone is “encouraging” in this manner, I am supposed to be grateful for their benevolence, and that anything else will inspire people to say that they “can’t win” when trying to encourage fat people to exercise/be healthy/whatever. I would suggest that they first consider that fat people may not want encouragement and ask themselves if this is really even about the fat person, or if this is about their own ego and wanting a membership card to the “Save the Fatties” club. Then, I'd suggest they consider this:

The Facebook piece relies on tired stereotypes. He has no problem making guesses about this person's eating habits, exercise habits and psyche based on seeing her go past on a running track. Maybe she isn't a beginner at all — maybe this person is a marathoner who had the flu that day. This person may weigh twice what the author weighs, but maybe she has three times the muscle mass and feels just as easy moving her body. Maybe this person doesn’t like dessert, or doesn’t drink beer, or goes to bed at 8pm. Maybe this person doesn't feel that she needs to pay a debt for eating, maybe she is running for health, or because they like it. Maybe her eyes drop because the author is staring at her, silently composing the Facebook post he's going to write, instead of minding his own damn business. Maybe the runner loves her body exactly as it is, and her music free mantra is "I love my body and I love running and I wish that creeper would quit staring at me!" Maybe she isn't interested in a begrudging lack of condescension from someone who feels so free to make wild guesses about her.

It’s not a compliment to suggest that a fat person’s workout is any more inspirational than anyone else who dragged their tired ass to Zumba or the track. This reminds me of my friends with disabilities who are completely irritated at the idea that they are an “inspiration” for doing what other people do. These are obviously different issues, but I don’t think doing either is cool and I think looking at both is important.

There are lots of fat people out there who just want to be able to get through our workouts without stereotyping, condescension, pity, guesses about our goals, or unrequited “encouragement.” Most importantly, 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 this person's condescension, we should not have to run to “earn” basic human respect.

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