October 16, 2014
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.
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.