March 5, 2018
This blog has been edited roughly 18 hours after the first version went out. A report of copy write infringement was made on Facebook for what I can only assume is the use of an ASICS photo which this piece is about. I have removed the photo and instead uploaded a photo of my running shoes…which just so happen to be ASICS. The rest of the blog remains unchanged. You can find reference to the photo using the #AsicsFrontRunner hashtag on social media of perhaps check out their Facebook page
When I first started running more than 15 years ago I seriously thought I was the only fat runner out there?
Now, this of course was not true.
But I believed it was because I just didn’t see runners who looked like me anywhere else.
Not in running magazines, not at running clubs, not in sports marketing…so even if deep down I knew there must have been more women like me out there running it felt like we were completely under the radar because I couldn’t find any evidence of it.
I set up the Fat Girls Guide to Running in 2010 after coming last in a race, where the officials had packed up and gone home, not even leaving me any water. For context my 10K on that day took me 1 hour and 18 minutes, so although not speedy by comparison the last runner at a recent 10K I took part in (7 years later) was 2.15.17…and the finish gantry was still up then.
So the racing world has changed. No doubt.
I realised back in 2010 that stuff was happening to women who didn’t fit the norms when it came to running that in my view felt unfair. Not being able to buy fitness clothes to fit, being abused in the street, not being welcomed at running clubs, having to run alone because they couldn’t find anyone to run at their pace….all things which I feel have improved over the last few years with the likes of parkrun and campaigns like This Girl Can.
When I set up my blog though it was a different landscape for sure and for those reasons I was completely anonymous, no photos, didn’t use my name. I wasn’t yet ready to be seen. But then a few years later I realised that I was doing the blog a disservice, in fact I was shortchanging my followers. Here I was talking about the fact overweight women were invisible in sports marketing but I myself wasn’t out there loud and proud.
So I started uses photos.
And that is when everything changed.
My blog was picked up by major media outlets across the world, TV companies like the Today Show, ITV’s This Morning, The BBC…and print media ranging from women’s magazines to national newspapers. My story without the image was not as powerful as the story with an image. And as much as these news agencies pushed for before and after photos…this was not really my bag, because my story is not a before and after weight loss story. My before and after story is one about health and happiness more broadly, but I guess writing about mental health and confidence is not as sexy as talking about how much weight someone has lost.
So why am I writing a post about the importance of images?
I can assure you this was not planned, but is in response to things which have happened this weekend. Today’s blog was supposed to be about my participation in the Big Half which I ran yesterday…but in many ways this is far more important.
On Friday evening a lady from my online running club posted a picture of a bunch of runners in the snow, asking the question…
Where are all the plus size runners?
Now this is a valid question given the nature of my community.
The photo in question was one released by sports brand ASICS, of a photocall in the week for their frontrunner campaign. For those not in the know this is something they do annually (although I only heard about it this year) where they select runners to be brand ambassadors.
A friend of mine who is one of their brand ambassadors posted about the opportunity in an online group for bloggers I am part of, so late one night I applied like many people did. Who wouldn’t want to get some new kit, and be part of a new community of runners from around the UK, plus I figured by applying I would increase the likelyhood of the group being representative of the wider running world….ie include some fat middle aged women.
I didn’t get selected. (If you are reading this and thinking phrases like “sour grapes” or “Your just bitter” please see below)
There are lots of reasons I probably didn’t get selected.
I didn’t get selected because there were 5000+ entries, I am not stupid enough to think I am anything special. There are some wonderful people in the running world.
I also did not follow the instructions which were to post frequently on my social media channels about why this opportunity was so great….that didn’t sound like much fun to me, and I am not in the habit of supporting major sports brands by increasing their online presence without really knowing much about the brand and their views on supporting all runners.
I didn’t fancy bombarded my hard-won audience with a brand that doesn’t really serve them.
Because I probably didn’t get selected quite importantly because I wouldn’t fit into any of their gear. From what I can make out of their size guide they go up to a UK 16 and I am an 18.
It is also possible that I do not fit into their idea of “inspirational/aspirational” marketing
I do not know their reasons, but I accept them fully. It’s their gig, they get to choose.
In all honesty I wasn’t surprised or bothered by not being selected because I don’t do a lot of brand partnerships. Less than 5% of my income comes from paid collaborations and they tend to be much smaller brands who I actually build a relationship with and who take the time to understand my work. Also, I am very busy at the moment training for the London Marathon, Swimathon and running two online businesses oh and being a single parent to my 5 year old.
I am not really motivated by things like followers, or reach, or having logos to connect myself to. I rarely reach out to brands, most collaborations come to me. That’s not showing off. It is just the way I work. Most of what I do is inward facing in terms of running programmes for my women, or outward facing in terms of sharing my views on tough issues, and helping raise the profile of plus size fitness…I don’t really have the time and energy to play the blogger game.
So again why the post?
Well in light of what I do I posted the image in question on my business Facebook page for comments. I am always curious to see what my followers think. I also posted the photo in a closed group for UK fitness bloggers asking if people thought the image represented UK running, as I said I am interested in what other people think.
My view on the photo was that at first glance it didn’t look like a very diverse photo.
It looked very young, very slim and very white.
From the photo I could not see anyone who looked like any of the women I work with.
That was the perspective I was coming to this from.
However, I know other people were also questioning how few ethnic minorities were in the image. Although on closer inspection there are few non-white faces.
The posting of this image for discussion sake has caused a lot of controversies.
There seems to be two camps
Those who think it is inclusive and those who don’t.
But hey, healthy respectful debate is good right?
Well yes, that is until it starts becoming personal.
Yesterday afternoon while I was recovering from my half marathon (which I haven’t managed to blog about today, but lets just say it involved blood, sweat and…Ok so there were no tears) well anyway whilst laying on the sofa checking my stats and catching up with how my women all got on I was contacted by someone from ASICS via Facebook Messanger…so not by email, or to my business page, but to facebook messenger the tool I use to talk to my real in life friends and family.
The message was from an ASICS sports marketer who was in his words wanting to reach out to me to
Help put you right
Nip this in the bud
The language felt very off, I was being “Mansplained” how marketing and diveristy works. A message exchange went on until I realised I was not feeling comfortable with this kind of communication and I asked him to email me in office hours where I would be happy to discuss and share with him the impact of imagery on participation.
His messages continued with lots of justification for the selection…which was not my issue at all.
Apparently, a number of people had not been able to attend because of the snow…but again my issue was not who was selected, it was on how the image came across.
He did disclose however that the eldest person selected was 50 and that their half marathon times ranged from olympic standard to 2.15+
You see this is part of the problem, what one person thinks is diverse another person doesn’t, and as one of the women in my group commented
If you have to point out diveristy it probably isn’t there
Which I agree with, it is a shame because there are a couple of runners who I know from the blogging world who are diverse but who are at the back of the picture (not saying they were shoved there) but it hides the variety of runners is all I am saying. the person who contacted me who I now know to be the PR & Sports Marketing Manager at ASICS UK LIMITED simply said
The team and picture has runners of all sizes in there
Further posts on social media revealed that some of the people selected had great weight loss stories…but again that is not my point. Not all women run for weight loss, and not all women (especially older women) hold weightloss up as the be all and end all. This is not a criticism of who has been selected but just a comment on how imagery can be powerful in both a positive and negative way.
Meanwhile, in the bloggers group, my original post had more than 140 comments and the discussion had turned nasty with accusations of sour grapes, and lots of opinions shared about not seeing bigger bodies as aspirational…again all of this is opinion and people are entitled to it. Until that is it gets personal and again people took to social media, contacting me first thing this morning while I was getting my child ready for school, accusing me of
Dropping a grednade and walking away
And around condoning racism…because yes some of the posts went there…remember this is social media folks. How on earth are other peoples vile comments on an image I posted my fault?
So today I feel like I have to defend my reasons for posting that image….because I feel that ASICS or at least the person who contacted me was doing so in an attempt to silence me, as were various comments by the people selected. By calling out sour grapes or jealousy for not being selected you are attempting to silence anyone who didn’t get selected. Anyone who has a valid opinion. This is not helpful.
So here is my view…
Running is a broad community made up of a whole heap of different levels, abilities and cultures. It does not have to be them and us. There is room for all of us. Sports brands of course have the right to choose whomever they want to front up their brand…but we as consumers have the right to be offended by it, and to voice our dissapointment. Sports brands have enormous power and dare I say it resources, I dread to think about how much money I have spent on kit over the past 10 years.
The reason that I have been so vocal on this issue is because yes it has hit a nerve. Overweight female runners are not represented enough in sports marketing yet spend millions of pounds of their money with companies that don’t fully cater for them. We have no choice. We have to wear running shoes, even if the very same brand has chosen not to offer larger sizes or support this section of the running world more explicitly.
This whole concept of “what a runner looks like” has massive implications. Only last month a small group of female runners from an organised group we lead were asked to leave a running track because an assumption was made that they had not paid for the use of the track, the track has been paid for for the whole year for our project to run there. My guess is because they did not look like the running club members who normally run their this assumption was not only made, but not checked…they were simply asked to leave.
This shit matters
It may not matter to you because you have never experienced being abused or feeling like an outsider. It may not matter to you because you do not come into contact very often with middle-aged, overweight women who want to run? It may not matter to you because deep down you wish we would all just fuck off, lose some weight and stop making such a show of ourselves.
Either way, when you look at that photo you will see what you want to see, because it is the easiest thing to do.
Just because you can not see inequality it does not mean that it is not there.
Finally, I want to leave you with some thoughts from the people it really matters to, the women that this really affects…
Pictures like this make me feel that no matter how successful I am at meeting my goals and no matter what distances I run I will never be a “real” runner or welcome or represented in a group like this, and because of that it makes me feel like I shouldn’t be wanting to buy nice proper sports clothes
I’m fat, but I run. I want pictures that show inclusivity for all. And I want people of all shapes and sizes to believe they can do what they set their minds to.
I struggle to be accepted in all aspects of life because of my size. I’m running because I can, it makes me feel good. Stuff like this though makes me feel like I will never fit in here either. Why should a company of this size, which so many of us have previously used, be allowed to discriminate so freely-a mile is still a mile.
I think that the picture show that running is for thin people and only for one race and not all of us.
When I see a company as big as this marketing their products with a very homogeneous looking group of people, I feel like they are alienating a huge market. When you include a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and abilities, you give everyone a person they can identify with. It makes them feel as if they are not only welcome, but that the company sees them and wants to help them find their place and the products to get there. Where are the para athletes? Where are the chubby ones? Where are the colored ones? Where is the person I can identify with? That’s the question I ask when I see a group like this. Also… If they are hidden in the back, what’s the point? Why add your “token” fat person at all?
This photo makes me feel that no matter how hard I try, I will never be seen as an athlete. Only pretty, slim white people can be viewed as athletes. While I don’t know what I expected from a brand that doesn’t sell clothes for plus sized people, I was hoping for more diversity…after all this is a huge brand and has a huge audience and customer base
I am disappointed with the way this was handled by Asics, and having read their social media policy for staff I am sure that what occurred was not standard procedure. I did not want to write this post. I did not want to go up against a major brand…because don’t for a minute think this has helped me in any way. It has probably got a lot of brands and other folk in the fitness world thinking “She’s a troublemaker” when that is further from the truth. I expect this post may well cause further upset to ASICS, but do you know what you have enough resources to counterbalance it or at least take legal advice, something I sadly do not have.
You are allowed to make your choices, but we are allowed to be disappointed by them…it is as simple as that.
I love the sport of running not only for how it has transformed my life, but for the power it has to do good in this world, if I didn’t I would have long left the sport and given myself an easier life. Because trust me, challenging the status quo isn’t always easy in fact it is often a thankless task which does nothing for my own mental health.
If I was not having to write this post on a Monday morning in a hurry before actually getting on with some real work that actually pays my bills, I would probably have time to reference hard research evidence that backs up my claims about the importance of images in terms of women in sport. Sport England put a lot of resources into getting to the bottom of why more men than women play sport, and coming up with solutions for addressing it.
They can probably do a better job of making the case than I can right now.
I congratulate each and every one of the runners selected for this campaign. You will have been selected on merit. For your backstory, your social media following and what you can offer. My views are not passing judgement on any of you. And I am sorry if me raising this issue has shone the spotlight on you in a way you would have preferred not to. My intention was not to cause any upset to anyone, but rather than to look at the bigger picture of inclusivity in sports imagery.
If any sports brands or individuals would like to continue this discussion on any further or would like me to share my extensive experience of working with overweight women then feel free to contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are an overweight or inactive women who feel like they are alone in the sport of running, or fear its not for you because you can’t see women like you, check out our runner of the month feature for some inspiration or join our online running club where you will be celebrated for all of your accomplishments regardless of size.