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I have been coming under a lot of criticism recently for my use of the F word, and by that of course I mean the word FAT, although the other F word is front of my mind a lot recently as well…I am an East Londoner after all, what do you expect?

Growing up I was always called Fat, even when I wasn’t… so I feel like I have spent my whole life with that label and happen to quite like it now, although others still shudder with uncomfortableness when I use it, well those that are not in the know at least.

At home it was the biggest insult from my siblings, “You’re soooooo fat….” at school it was the number one tool to hurt your peers especially seeing it was an all girls school and even adults that should have known better used it with their “oohh be careful she doesn’t get fat” advice to my mother as I was growing up, and fast becoming one of the tallest girl in my class.

And of course I did get fat.

My first ever job in Wimpy didn’t help, neither did going to weight watchers at just age 15. Then I went off to university and started fending for myself and my issues with my weight got worse as I basically ate too much, drunk too much and exercised too little and I simply fell into being the big girl of the group with my friends and felt ok with that.

When you are a size 18/20 and struggling to find nice clothes to wear you kinda know you are FAT, well I did. I mean we have separate clothes shops, or at best separate areas in shops. OK so you might prefer to call it plus size or outsized or whatever, but I know as far as I was concerned I was a big girl and basically the way the rest of the world saw it I was overweight…FAT.

It was only really when my weight started affecting my health in my early twenties that I realised I didn’t want to get any fatter, and I started doing something about it. Basically I did a Triathlon and slowly but surely got into running after an excruciating negative experience of being laughed at in public in a post called Run Fatty Run. It was shortly after this that I started to realise just how ridiculous this world really is. The government want overweight women to lose weight and live healthier lifestyles, and the media would have us believe that fat people are bringing down the NHS with their indulgent lazy ways, yet sports wear companies don’t cater for larger women, and some people enjoy rubbing salt in the wounds by being nasty to us out on the streets when we are out running.

So what’s a Fat sporty girl to do?

Well what I did was start up a blog. Well it was more of a diary really. A place where I could write about the funny and sometimes awful things that happened to me. Back in 2010 I was lucky if more than 10 people read each blog post, now I have blog posts that have 3000 unique readers in one day and a community of followers who make me realise that I am not alone in my quest to be a runner (at whatever size I happen to be).

It also made me see that there is a humongous gap in the market, and overweight women are being ignored at best, and even discriminated against at times.

So in June 2014 I got a small start up loan, redesigned the website and launched a range of merchandise to start challenging the status quo. Having been on extended maternity leave after being made redundant from my previous London 2012 job, the taking out of the loan and putting my daughter into childcare marked an important step for me. I was committing to doing this properly and giving it the time and energy it requires, I was also taking a huge personal risk too because I have a mortgage to pay and bills to cover each month too.

Since June I have been having conversations with various bodes about the opportunity for using running to improve inactivity stats in the UK, as a country we spend billions of pounds on preventative programmes to help inactive and overweight people make changes…look at the whole Change for Life movement for example, so I am intrigued to find out why some of these programmes are not as effective as they should be and why in particular online communities such as the facebook page for this website and many of the other online resources are.

So I decided to carry out some research of my own.

Now bear in mind I do not have funding to do this like Sport England might so it was always going to be light touch. My plan was to do a quick survey monkey job of my followers and then do some google plus focus groups and perhaps some in-depth interviews with key figures in the running community, if they would talk to me that is. Then all of this data would be used to create a white paper on the subject of “How to attract more overweight and inactive women into the sport of running”, and just so you know I am not new to research I have a first class degree and a masters, and I have worked as a consultant writing reports etc for government so I am confident I can do a good job.

Anyhow.

After posting the survey for comments on a well known women’s running forum yesterday I came up against a lot of negative comments based on the title of the survey which was Fat Runners in the UK Survey, which in my opinion was a does what it says on the tin title. OK so I could have been a bit more politically correct and use the word overweight but I tend not to use that in my every day life or on the website so I decided to stick with the word FAT.

Why use it if I know it offends so many people you might ask? Well maybe because I want to be provocative, maybe I want to spark debates and get people riled up about the issue and maybe I am sick of us all hiding behind the voice of political correctness whilst the health and wellbeing of the population suffers.

You see Fat is a word that is often used in society as a weapon. I know believe you me I have been hurt by it often enough, but I can assure you my use of it is never meant for that purpose. It is never meant to shame. The title of my blog, this website, the branding on my merchandise…its not about you, it’s about me and I can describe myself however I so wish. If you choose to buy into the brand and say “yes that’s how I feel too” then that’s great. If not then so be it. I am not calling anyone other than myself Fat, because of course Fat is something you self define…I have friends that are a size 8 who feel fat sometimes…my use of it should not offend you.

Its funny, when someone calls me Fat to hurt me, it’s not the word that hurts me its the intent behind it that hits a nerve. Why would another human being want to pick on what they see as a flaw and publicly abuse me like that? and even now it gets to me, despite the fact I have taken the word on for my own benefit. Sometimes I think it hurts us because we realise just how others see us, rightly or wrongly because when someone calls me Fat, I realise that is all they see and that is sad.

I won’t stop using the word FAT in what I do because I find it to be useful in driving my message that exercise should be accessible and enjoyable for all. But I guess I will start considering its impact a little more, especially outside of the little community we have going on here, so I have changed the title of the survey to save further distress.

Ultimately I don’t want to anger or upset people and blind them by that word, as that is counter productive to what I am trying to achieve. Many of the people who commented on that online thread have never been to this website so do not have the context to frame their opinion, and I guess that shows just how quickly we are ready to judge.

If you would like to comment on the survey I would be very grateful and it literally only takes 10 minutes. The plan is for the research paper to be published in mid January for further comments and discussions.

As an aside I would love to know your views on how you think I should progress in terms of my use of the word FAT, so please leave your comments below on the use of the F word.

  1. October 23, 2014

    Hi Julie
    First of all I want to say I love the provocative slogan on your running kit, it’s sticking your tongue out to the world and to me shouts out “You can’t hurt me with your comments, I know who and what I am!”
    I have spent my whole life being a fat girl, regardless of my shape, size and weight which has varied massively over the years. I have always been very active, as a general rule eaten healthily (if too much) and been fit to a certain extent. I grew up with an older sister who was very tall and skinny, whilst I was the short dumpy one, for as far back as I can remember my thoughts were always along the lines of “I wish I was as tall, as slim, as pretty, as clever as my sister!” Now both in our 40’s I still look up to her in many ways but I don’t compare myself to her any more we are two completely different people with different strengths and weaknesses and we bring out the best in each other, she is my best friend only my husband is on a par with her in that (don’t get me wrong I have an amazing network of friends who are always there for me and whom I love dearly).
    I took up running in August and joined a group of fantastic people (men and women) of all shapes and sizes, that is when I first heard about you and your company as one of the girls has one of your running vests, it has been one of the best moves I have ever made in my life. I have always though I couldn’t run the length of myself, I’ve always been able to walk miles (I recently did a charity walk “The Kiltwalk” which was a marathon, my friends and I did it in 7 hours 5 minutes, so I know I can walk!!) but running, in particular distance running (I’m not a bad sprinter) has been a massive challenge. I just couldn’t seem to get to the running a mile mark and have been getting my knickers in a twist about it for weeks, breathing and pace being my enemy and then ultimately my own self perceptions and doubts removing the fun from the whole experience. Last week two things of significance happened……
    1. My doctor gave me an inhaler for suspected exercise induced asthma.
    2. I adjusted my attitude and gave myself a break, I reminded myself that it was supposed to be fun and to stop having certain expectations of what I should be able to do!
    This week something amazing happened…
    I went to training on Monday and ran 2.9 miles, I still struggle the most in the first mile and find I need to walk for a wee minute, (already reducing this week) but then, boom I seem to get into my groove. It’s still early days for me but I have been buzzing and feeling on top of the world since Monday night.
    Anyway, I just wanted you to know that your facebook posts and links etc have helped keep me going. I couldn’t have done it without my running buddies and coach in ST.AART (St Andrews Adventure Running Team), they are an amazing group of people and deserve a big shout out!!
    Thanks a million.
    Mandy

  2. October 21, 2014

    I admire what you are doing but I personally really dislike your use of the word fat in your campaign and wonder if as I was it turns the people away who you are most trying to reach. No one wants to consider themselves fat or is genuinely proud to be fat are they? I find your t shirt and hoodie slogan distasteful and wouldn’t ever wear them myself and certainly not when I was bigger (18 stone now 11) but I know what you are trying to achieve- confidence and empowerment as well as causing a stir. I think the t shirt slogan is too confrontational and potentially an invitation to comment and ridicule. A more positive empowering statement on t shirts could surely have been found surely?

    • Hi Deb, thanks for feeding this back. The use of the word FAT is received differently by lots of people and some people are happy or proud to be conscidered FAT, its not every culture that aspires to being slim or what the media portray as beauty. However I do take your point that it may turn some people off, especially the merchandise which is why in January I will be launching some less provocative running kit. The Too Fat to Run campaign will still continue in essence though because it is exactly its provocative nature that is getting people talking, and we can not ignore some of the health issues we have in this country (and around the world) due to the fact that many of us sit on our backsides for too long. Feedback has been mixed, and many ladies have found the tshirts and hoodies to be empowering, even with the slogan. The fact that I only have a small number of these left from my initial order means there was demand. I’d love to hear your views on the new brand when it is launched in January. Many Thanks. Julie

  3. October 18, 2014

    I saw the negative comments as well. I support what you do. I am fat. I don’t like it but it is what I am. I own it. What term are you supposed to use? Large? Obese? Horizontally challenged? I will wear my top with pride! Keep on doing this.

    • There is a huge movement around reclaiming the word Fat and using it simply as a descriptor, rather than having negative or positive acconotations. The use of words such as overweight imply that there is a universal perfect or optimum weight which there isn’t. I know it is an emotive subject for many women, I guess I am just a little shocked at how offended the women on that forum were and how vocal they were in slagging me off, many without even looking at the website.

  4. October 16, 2014

    I think using the word FAT is ok. I agree with Lynda when she spoke about those not fat complaining with “being offended”. My group’s title is Fat Chicks Running! It is geared toward women (like the UK’s Bird) it is a play on words in that little chicks actually run about rather quickly–I digress–those offended to the name were men! Its is a group for women, for heaven’s sake!

    I think it is important to NOT become desensitized to the realities of our lives. Lisa Marie was correct in stating that all the horrible crimes now how delicate, easy to digest names….FAT IS FAT!
    Can we be better? sure, Can we try to loose weight? Sure. But some of us (ME) are just fat! It has taken me years to adjust to that reality, but I am ok with it now. I don’t even listen (with any seriousness) to the thinner folks opinions about me, what I can do or not do. I would love to see all the size 2-8 clothes hidden too! Let them search for 3-5 hours when they shop! hah!

  5. October 16, 2014

    Initially I guess I was offended but the use of this particular F word. (The other one definitely offends me!) However I have become a firm believer in “let’s call it what it is”. For instance, (and a bit off subject) we don’t call it rape anymore here in the U.S.; its assault. When a child is raped we call it “molestation” thus somehow making the horrific act more palatable; easier to hear or read. The same should be true with this. Yes, I’m a bit overweight… I am FAT. But because of my activity, I’m also healthier than people almost HALF my size so I would say to them “shut up!”. Judge me if you must, but if you can’t see past my curves and bulges, you’re missing out on one hell of a person.

  6. October 16, 2014

    The strange thing was about that post, when you looked at pictures of those ‘offended’, they were not in the least bit fat.

    • I didn’t want to start a riot by suggesting that, but this is one of the issues I face. Women who are not overweight taking offence

  7. October 16, 2014

    You are obviously so much younger than me! when I was a teen, Chelsea Girl and Zoo only stocked to a size 12 at all. At a size 14, and 16 years old, I was fat!

  8. October 16, 2014

    I did try and defend the concept, but was told i was offensive too. Sorry. I value what you are doing

    • Thanks Lynda, I guess I still have some way to go in terms of convincing traditional running groups like that. But have taken on board some of the comments.

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