Last week, I signed up to run a half-marathon. This doesn’t sound like much, but let me give you some context: I signed up a mere 12 hours after I did the very first session of Couch To 5K (an app that aims to help unfit people start running), which I have tried and failed roughly eight times in my life. I currently have to lie down and pant after running a mere 3km and in five months I have to run seven times that distance.
There are a couple of reasons I did this incredibly stupid thing. First, I’m running the half-marathon to raise money for Refuge and I thought that doing something I am genuinely, truly going to hate would compel people to donate. But the thing that made me feel like I had even a gnat’s sweatband of a chance of doing it in the first place was watching Bryony Gordon and Jada Sezer running the London Marathon in their bra and pants. Seeing them doing this incredibly challenging thing with the same thick thighs, belly rolls and big boobs that I have gave me hope. If they can do it, then maybe I can, too?
See, I’m a fat woman who struggles with exercise. Not struggles physically – although, yes, chugging yourself round a park when you’re carrying 6st more than the NHS says you should be isn’t particularly easy – but mentally. I feel sick and ashamed of myself for not being like the sleek, smooth fit people I see exercising around me and that mental barrier is far harder to blast through than any physical one. That spark of hope Bryony and Jada gave me was all it took to get me going, but I know that the only way I’m going to keep going is if I keep that spark alive. Problem is, it isn’t easy.
These bodies seemed so far removed from my reality that there was no point even trying to aim for them – I’m like a different species
When I looked online for fitness inspiration or running tips, searching #fitspo hashtags on Instagram and “women running inspiration” on Pinterest, all that were getting served to me was images of thin, strong (usually white and blonde) women, bodybuilders or “before and after” pics demonstrating the huge amounts of weight people had lost since they started training. These bodies seemed so far removed from my reality that there was no point even trying to aim for them – I’m like a different species and I feel simultaneously enormous and very, very small when I look at them.
I started looking specifically at tags relating to fatness and fared better. Ish. #fatbutfit showed me some bodies that looked like mine, but also lots of women showing off their perfect six packs in a gym mirror. When I searched #fatgirlsrun on Instagram, I got just over 2,000 pictures – compared to the 25,000 you get when you search for #girlsrun. The body-positivity and fat-acceptance communities online have been so incredible in helping me feel positive about my own body and it was incredibly frustrating that I was struggling to find a similar space specifically related to fitness.
People should absolutely be proud of the hard work they’re putting into their fitness. I just wish there was more space given to fat bodies that exercise, too
Look, there’s nothing wrong with lots of photos of slim, incredibly fit people showing off their slim, muscled bodies. I can see why these photos are inspiring to a lot of people – after all, when you buy a cookbook you want beautifully styled food photos, rather than the blurry iPhone snap you’re probably going to upload to Instagram when you try it – and people should absolutely be proud of the hard work they’re putting into their fitness. I just wish there was more space given to fat bodies that exercise, too, in a way that wasn’t focused on weight loss.
I have big thighs, a wobbly belly and everything jiggles when I run – but I can run, as my training is showing me, and I can swim and do yoga and lift weights with my body looking the way it is now. I just didn’t believe it until I saw other fat women doing it first. Exercise is about more than weight loss, and fat people deserve to get its benefits without feeling like they have to strive for a chiselled body to be able to do it.
Places to go for non-traditional fitspo
I asked on Twitter for some places to find a fat-but-fit community and got some brilliant replies. Here are some of the best places for fitspo that make me feel hopeful, rather than hopeless.
The #healthateverysize tag is a great way to see bodies at every size moving and sweating, as well as conversations around body diversity and how health does not just equal thinness.
Jessamyn Stanley was my original source of inspiration – her aim is to show that everyone can do yoga and her account alternates between beautiful shots of her bending her body in incredible ways and videos of her very accessible yoga sessions. She’s an absolute hero.
Too Fat To Run was recommended to me by multiple people. Julie Creffield is a plus-size athlete and motivational speaker who has helped multiple plus-size women run marathons. There’s a Facebook group you can join, too.
I’ve already spoken about Bryony Gordon and how inspiring I found her marathon training, but her new book talks about how she used running to ease her mental-health issues and training for her first marathon as a plus-size woman. Plain-talking and hopeful, it got me through my first week of C25K.
The Gym Is Hard is not fat fitspo, but it is encouraging for people who don’t seem to get the “glow” most fitness instagrammers do. Becky is totally honest about the times that exercise is hard, without feeling disingenuous and without ever giving up.
If strength-training is your thing, Laura Lifts intersperses shots of her deadlifting and of her progress with pints of beer. A fitness hero we can all relate to.
Louise Green is a personal trainer who has written the book Big Fit Girl and encourages people to embrace the body you have. She’s currently training for an Ironman and her feed is full of photos of her smashing various exercises and quotes destroying society’s idea of what a fit person is. She’s the very definition of badass, basically, and a feed to scroll through when you want feel invincible.
Pretty Big Movement is the First international Plus Size/Full Figured Professional Dance Company and they are incredible. If you want to see big bodies looking powerful and beautiful and incredibly cool, this is the account for you.