OK, before I start … the amazing comments over the weekend have simply floored me. I repeatedly say how much I enjoy all of you guys because of the insightful, thoughtful comments that go in new directions and beyond my original post … um, yeah, totally.
Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, and although it sounds weird, I am thankful for having had to deal with obesity at 23, and the humbling experience of having to do it again at 46.
Day #25 – Wow … you were really, uh, big!
*** ‘Elephant with earrings’ was a drawing and tease-name in the 5th grade by Vinny Eisenhauer. As you can imagine, being an 11 year old boy in the mid-1970s who shopped in the ‘husky’ section, that was some pretty insulting stuff. It hasn’t bothered me in decades, really – but it has stuck with me. I think about the life-long impact of things like this as I watch parents (still) encourage their kids to judge harshly based on appearance (like when my son grew his hair for ‘Locks of Love’ because a friend of his had cancer), enter Pinewood Derby cars where the parents obviously did the whole thing against ones made entirely by the kids, or even seemingly harmless things like parents getting competitive with their toddlers having to ‘win’ costume contests that are much more about the adults. 37 years later there are many names I wish I remember … but one I DO is Vinny Eisenhauer, because of ‘Elephant with earrings’.
Looking back through my life there were more than a couple of times when I could have made or stuck with choices that would have stopped me from becoming as large as I did by the end of my college years – the easiest is at the end of my freshman year when I had finished the tennis season and the tennis coach wanted me to lose some weight but wanted me on the team again, and the football coach wanted me to work on weights and build endurance and try out for varsity. Instead I dove headlong into music and technology :)
As a result of low activity level and significant overeating I found myself close to 400lbs (I honestly have no idea … my first weigh-in was at 375 and I had already started losing weight). I have written time and again about losing weight both in 1989 and in 2012, so I will skip that (and if you want to read them, you can see My Running Story – In The Beginning …, My Running Story – The ‘In Between’ Years, My Running Story – The ‘Corning Years’ Through Today). But here is the thing:
I honestly believe that having been severely overweight has made me a better thin person, more aware of my health and very appreciative of the joyous gift of running.
I am not saying that being overweight makes you a better person, or that having been fat suddenly provides some universal clairvoyance or anything. I am just saying that for me personally, I feel more connected to the duality of being the same person in two different bodies having gone through it … twice.
In August I wrote about fat shaming and thin privilege, talking about the way that fat-shaming transcends ridicule to become oppression … and while I really didn’t expect much of a response, the comments were incredible.
And here’s the thing – the reality is that body-shaming runs across sizes and shapes and everything else. We are judged by someone else’s expectations of what we should look like, and so many people feel like they are harshly judged as too fat or too thin or eating too much or too little or for any of a variety of reasons. This is a gift that belonging to this community has given – an appreciation that everyone has a different story and deserves to be appreciated for the wonderful person they are.
OK I am thinking it, so I might as well say it – apparently some people believe it is required to have a weight/eating struggle to be a runner or a credible and ‘relatable’ running blogger. At least that is how it seems. A few people like Megan will readily say that they have never had to deal with much in the way of weight loss. Honesty is more important than false commonality.
But for others … it is as if having been obese or dealt with an eating disorder somehow gives a ‘story’ or ‘narrative’ that they are missing by having maintained a healthy weight their whole lives. WTF. Take it from myself on the fat end and ANYONE who has dealt with an eating disorder (and please make sure you have read Danielle’s incredible ‘Life with ED’ series if you haven’t already) … these are NOT ‘glamorous backstories’! I might have learned much from battling back from obesity twice … but yeah, I’m not sure that being a generally sensitive person wouldn’t have helped me along the way to gaining empathy.
My point? Your story is your story, and pretending to share someone else’s story doesn’t make you ‘more cool’, instead it makes you a rather obvious phony.
Well … since I have started down this path of alienating other bloggers … let me just keep rolling, and apologize in advance. I was reminded by a couple of posts I read this week that I think that ALL of us sometimes need to be reminded sometimes:
RUNNING. IS. A. GIFT.
Every stride we take is a joyous gift. Every run is something to celebrate. Sure, some runs are crap. Some days we feel like the Blerch has truly won. Yes, I get it – I have had my fair share of those days. And I also get that within this community we should feel that we have a safe place to complain to each other about what is a shared experience. But let us never forget those who cannot run, and really – for those of us who love to run … remember that we love this sport.
I have never forgotten how it felt in March of 2012 when I weighed over 275lbs and started running again, determined to lose weight and prepare for a marathon that fall. It was a pure force of will breaking through the pure suckage of the first couple of weeks until I began to hit my groove.
My ultimate thought here – own your story.
While I have disordered eating thoughts and have used restriction as a tool in the past, I don’t claim to really understand what it is like for those who have taken eating disorders to the point where it compromised their health. That is not part of my story, and I will never pretend it is. I do not claim that running marathons means I understand what it is like to experience childbirth (sounds ridiculous turned around and applied to a guy, doesn’t it?) – sure they are both hard things … but there are many difficult things in life and they aren’t instantly related by their hardness.
Also – treasure and protect your health. We are given one body, one life, and that is all. Hollie wrote about periods recently, which provided a relief valve for a number of young women who seemed to feel it was almost a rite of passage for women runners – which is absolute crap, of course. As I watched my brother lay unconscious spring of 2013, just 6 months after we ran the Wineglass marathon together … I was reminded of the fleeting nature of life. My father very nearly died of a heart attack at 45, and there was my brother on his second at 49! I have had a full cardiac workup and am fine – but it is a reminder … do not take this life, this body we are given for granted. Ever.
I DO have personal experience with extreme weight loss, but even in this my story is singular. What I have gone through as a child and adult is my own history, framed against the story of who I am, my gender and origins, where and when I grew up and those who were around me throughout my life. Having been obese is part of who I am, just as being ‘that guy we always see out running’ is part of who I am. And I am grateful for the part it has played in shaping the person I am today.
How do you feel about weight and fitness and motivation?
Yeah, more Weird Al …