So…I get interviewed a lot…about Girls on the Run.
Inevitably the question comes up, “So, what’s the backstory? Why did you start it?”
I may ramble a bit, but I inevitably land somewhere close to this: “Well, I’m a girl, and like most girls began to struggle a bit around middle school with filtering through some of the incoming ‘data’ about what a girl should look like, act like and be like. About that same time I started running and discovered that running provided a sanctuary of sorts…a kind of reprieve from all that dialogue in (and outside of) my head. When I run, I feel strong, present and connected to body and soul, one in the same.”
Many reporters, writers stop there…but others more curious (and believe me I would be one of them)…then ask, “Tell me a bit more about that. Perhaps there is something here our readers/viewers could relate to.” And of course, they can. All of us have experienced the insecurities that come with feeling “not good enough.” As I’m getting older I’m learning that it is simply a part of the human/spirit experience.
On a number of occasions, however, instead of the generic, “Tell me more about that,” I am asked, “So you struggled with an eating disorder then?”
I have not mentioned nor suggested that the demons I’ve struggled with are eating related and yet often this is the question that comes my way.
And yes…I totally get it. I am very thin…so putting two and two together, knowing that I am a runner and the work that I do to create a safe space for the spirit of girls to thrive…I understand how THAT story could be written in an observer’s mind.
But the truth is, I used to be uncomfortable with my thin-ness. (Still do sometimes.) In fifth and sixth grade, I often wore thick knee socks, even in the middle of summer, to hide what I felt like were too-skinny calves. Chicken-neck, chicken-chest, knobby knees, go eat a burger…I heard it all. I didn’t start my period or need a bra until I was in ninth grade.
As I write, I’m very aware of the fact that this could be construed as Wah Wah Wah-ish. Our culture is much easier on those built like me than those who are not, but being in the girl-industry and so aware of those conflicting messages we all get, this question and/or supposition about my eating habits has come up more frequently perhaps than if I worked in banking, art or some other unrelated/non-athletic field…and I’ve kind of wondered about that. What does it mean?
This past week I was in St. Joseph, Michigan attending a number of Girls on the Run events in that community. Anna Murphy is the President of the United Way of Southwest Michigan and her group is responsible for funding, supporting and staffing our Girls on the Run council there.
We had lunch. Anna is a very open person…a what you see is what you get kind of spirit. She doesn’t make excuses for herself and calls it like she sees it. I shared with her the exchange that had occurred earlier in the day.
She understood. “Yep. It is a bit like the flip side of the same coin.” Anna understands because in her words, “You are skinny. I am fat…Adjectives that unfortunately carry with them our culture’s stories…stories passed down from woman to woman. Stories exaggerated and supported in the mass media.” Anna is not a small woman. She’s been on the larger side her whole life. But lately, life has simply interloped her ability to work out like she used to, so currently she isn’t at her optimum weight. “But I can still compete in sprint triathlons. I’m in training now,” she says. Anna will participate in a local event this summer. “I have some work to do though and I know that. I’m okay with knowing that I’m not at a healthy weight, but the truth is my healthy weight is still big. I’m judged either way.”
We talked for most of that lunch about how accepting ourselves is a life long journey…and how now both of us in our fifties, were coming to a true space of self-acceptance…me with my “skinny build” and hers, being less so.
I loved our open dialogue…the fearlessness…our ability to be so vulnerable with one another. I’m grateful for her and her willingness to peek out from behind words our culture has draped with shame and ridicule and call it for what it is. Fat, skinny.
I wonder how things might be different if women could discuss more openly with each other, about our bodies…and do it in a manner where we aren’t buying into the stories, the assumptions and the judgments, but instead accept that we all show up in a variety of shapes and sizes…sometimes each of us over the course of our lifetime…and that all of it, every last bit of it is absolutely beautiful…particularly the love that is exchanged in connecting through our vulnerabilities rather than through the negative, the gossip, the judgment or harsh self-talk.
I like to think about that.