Fat, Skinny and Other Words Our Culture Doesn’t Know What To Do With

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.”

Anna and me.
Anna and me.

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.

5 thoughts on “Fat, Skinny and Other Words Our Culture Doesn’t Know What To Do With

    1. Anna. You really are one of the strongest leaders I know. You lead with this awesome combo of heart and mind…a winning combination. Thank you for your hospitality last week. I look forward to working with you in the future.

  1. Anna Murphy, you are my new hero. Thank you, Molly for this blog…as always…awesomeness. So well written. Thank you for not just being a GOTR, Anna, but a role model to so many. As someone who struggled for years, I must say THANK YOU! Y’all are changing the conversation around true beauty and worth…living by example on what it means to be vulnerable and accepting of the notion that we all come in different shapes and sizes. It breaks my heart to see the girls I’ve coached criticize their bodies…and they are so young! So THANK YOU! Thank you both for inspiring me and many others.
    This blog gives such great perspective to a much needed conversation. Molly, do you mind if I share this?

      1. Thanks! I posted up your blog on the Southern Smash Facebook page (www.facebook.com/southernsmashings) and of course got a great response. It was shared on another page, as well.

        As for my program, Southern Smash…we are a nonprofit aimed at raising eating disorder awareness while also promoting positive body image. Our mission is to challenge women to redefine their worth and beauty by letting go of those perfect numbers that weigh them down. We do this through our signature scale smashing event and SmashTALK panel discussion. The goal with the talks is to get the conversation (like the one you and Anna had) started amongst all women. We not only want to educate and make others aware of this sad epidemic of disordered eating and eating disorders, but mainly empower women to see the real beauty within themselves and hopefully live a more authentic and real life comfortable in their body – whatever size that might be! I travel around hosting the Smash events and also sharing my own personal story through eating disorder recovery. When I left treatment in 2011, I made a silent promise to one day pay it forward to all of those who helped me (and continue to help me) on my journey. Southern Smash is how I am paying it forward. And I owe much success to the support of my GOTR family here in BR. Hydie and gang have been monumental in seeing my dream into a reality. Southern Smash has taken off beyond my wildest imagination. I pinch myself on a daily basis because it still feels like it is all a dream. I know you can relate 🙂

        And you still owe me a ‘Like’ on Facebook, Molly B…so head over to http://www.facebook.com/southernsmashings and give it a ole big thumbs up 🙂



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s