Fat is the New Ugly?

I live and breathe in the world from the view of an 8 year old girl.  I just love kids.

When I started Girls on the Run, the obesity issue wasn’t much talked about.  That was sixteen years ago.  As anyone who reads the news knows…it is much talked of now.  Couple this with the eating disorder challenges young girls face and the landscape can get very confusing.   Our culture’s  extreme emphasis on appearance coupled with shame for not fitting into the appearance norm, is I believe a contributing factor on the issue. I will admit, right here and now that I am not an expert in the field of nutrition.  The issues are very complex for sure!

This article was shared with me recently and it broke my heart.


I posted it on my Facebook page and the number of adults who responded was significant.  Many of them were “the fat kid” on the playground and many of them still carry the hurt that went along with being labeled that way.

The further I get down the Girls on the Run road, the more awed I am by the passion and commitment of the Girls on the Run volunteers and staff around the nation. (If you are visiting this blog because of the “Naked Face Project” please read on.  We need you!)  Many of them have their own stories of feeling left out, shamed or hurt when they were little girls (and boys), but all of them have used that pain, shame and healing to create safe havens on playgrounds, in rec centers and school classrooms, all across North America, where little girls as young as 8, can open up, share their hearts, their fears and their hope.

One of the VERY Strong and Brave girls in Girls on the Run!

I am reminded of Sierra.

Sierra was in fifth grade.  Sierra was a big girl–some of the other girls in her class called her fat, lazy, ugly.  Sierra was about five two and probably weighed about 160.  When Sierra read her big sister’s magazines, all the models were thin, beautiful and sexy.  They all had really nice cars and didn’t have to work when they were fifteen.  All those actresses wore makeup, smoked cigarettes and confused her because her mama, a good strong woman told her, “That stuff isn’t good for you,” but she thought maybe if she tried it she’d be beautiful too.

Sierra was in Girls on the Run.

Two thirds of the way through the 12-week program the girls get a chance to practice a 3.1 mile run or walk.  Sierra did not believe she could do it.  While the majority of girls in the group were running by her, I could see Sierra look on with envy.  “My body can never do this.”

While Sierra had stubbornly drudged through two miles, all of the other girls had finished and were already socializing on a nearby picnic table.

Among them was Jordan. Jordan was the fastest runner.  She was thin and in third grade. Jordan always finished first. Jordan noticed something special on that day.  She noticed that Sierra had gone further than she ever had.  She walked to the edge of the track.  “Sierra, you’ve gone further than you ever have.  Come on now, you can do it,” she yelled joyfully.

And in that moment, I witnessed a light—THE light—sparkle in Sierra’s eyes.  The realization that “I can do this” transformed her stroll into a jog, her attitude into a kick and her body into a machine.  With every ounce of her being, Sierra started jogging first, then running, huffing and puffing every step of the way.  She smiled with each step–moving that big, strong, bold body effortlessly around the pavement.

Before the last lap was complete all 16 girls had joined her.  She had done it.  The body that never would–could.  A smile, as big as California, stretched across that beautiful, sparkling face; sweat glistened on her brow.

On that day, Sierra took her body back. She took it back from the magazines, from the movies and from the MTV images.  She took her body back from the teacher that told her she was lazy and from the girl who called her fat.  Big.  Strong.  Beautiful.  Bold.  Her body was her body and she took it back.

I don’t believe there is much more I can write.  This story makes me cry everytime.  This story makes me feel the power of our work and  fuels my desire to move the world in such a way that all of us…every last one of us can realize that…we are all strong, big, beautiful and bold.

I guess sometimes it just takes a few of us longer to realize it than others.  But if ya don’t mind…let me remind you, right here and right now…that yes my friend YOU are strong, big, beautiful and bold.

8 thoughts on “Fat is the New Ugly?

  1. Post-partum (from the recent birth of my 4th child), I have NEVER in my post-puberty life been the “small” girl. I have run several marathons and have many family members that make comments about how if “fat” people wanted to be thinner they would just need to work harder, these comments cut deep because even when I am “fit” and am running all of the time, I am not a “thin” girl. I love that story every time I read/hear it. This is one of the reasons why I LOVE being a part of Girls on the Run. I love empowering girls to take their bodies back, the small bodies, the large bodies, all of them are BEAUTIFUL and wholly theirs. I really needed this today.

    1. Jessica…thank you sister for sharing this. I re-read some of these stories as a way to reconnect…to the core of our work. This story..yes…it has been re-lived by so many girls in our program…is an important one.

  2. What a beautiful and touching story. This bought tears to my eyes, I wish I could give Jordan a hug, she is a great example of what a true friend is.

  3. I was always the bigger girl too and while I was always active, I was not an athlete….think worst on the team. When I was 45 I became an athlete. I worked out, I ran, I moved each and every day. I ran my first 5k that year and finished 12 minutes sooner than I thought I would. I have kept it up and am so proud of myself finally. I am nearing 50 now, but am more confident than I have ever been and more proud of my body and what it can do than I had ever been able to realize as a child or as a younger adult. I am still overweight by about 20lbs and I still struggle at times, but overall I am a new person. I will be running the Girls on the Run 5k with my 9 year old daughter and I could not be prouder of myself, of her and of all the girls and former girls that will challenge themselves that day and everyday.

    1. Can I just say it? Yes…I LOVE what you have written here and I LOVE that you are starting to be just crazy about yourself?

      Kids are just so naturally in love with being themselves. I have learned so much from my own children and the girls in the program.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and please give your daughter a big hug for me…

  4. I am replying as the daughter of a fat girl. My mom was always big- and as she got older and bore six babies, she got bigger and bigger. She made some attempts over the years to slim down, some successful but never permanent- because she never committed to a truly healthy diet and appropriate exercise. She was obese by 40. She would always sit in the car or on a bench while my dad took us kids on the hike, the rides, whatever. I remember kids snickering at her at the beach and was embarrassed to be seen with her, yet ashamed of my own feeling. As a teen I was naturally skinny, but once I had my children I too began to spread out in the middle! I became obsessed with my weight and was so afraid genetics would triumph. Today, at 50, I still am constantly “watching my weight”, on and off weight watchers, etc. And my Mom is almost totally disabled and I am heavily involved in her care. And I can’t help but blame her for not committing herself to get healthy years ago. She is paying the price for being fat- and so am I. So to me, to be honest, fat is ugly. Not because of how it looks, but because I see the future laid out for the fat child or teen, if it isn’t corrected. I tried to raise my daughter to be accepting of all shapes and sizes, but I know she saw me looking in the mirror saying to myself “omigod, I need to lose some weight!” But I think more than anything I ever said, she also sees the affects of obesity on her beloved Grandma.

    1. Doris…I wonder if you shed a tear or two while you wrote your beautiful comment.

      We are all SO human…just trying to figure it all out aren’t we? The obesity issues are so complex…while I don’t have a steadfast and absolute solution…I do know that as long as we don’t talk about these things…as you have done here…we can NEVER work toward a solution.

      I applaud your BLATANT and OPEN honesty and believe that being honest first with ourselves…and then with those around us is the first and most important step toward any kind of liberation…both of ourselves and those who live in the world with us.

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