Look What This Body Can Do

I read a blog post last week that’s been stuck in my mind ever since. The post is written by Lauren Fleshman, a professional runner formerly with Nike, one USA’s top middle-distance runners. (if you’ve read the post, skip the next two paragraphs).

Lauren had recently participated in New York Fashion Week as a runner, cat-walking new sports bras and styles from Oiselle, a women’s running brand.  After the show, she found herself flipping through all the photos of that night to find the one perfect image that would be suitable to blast out on social media. She deletes many less-than-satisfactory photos before finding THE ONE (the photo has now been shared, posted, Tweeted, Instagrammed a hundred times over). In thinking this through, however, she admits that she’s only contributing to something she herself dislikes – our universal anxiety about how our bodies appear to other people. By always posting only the one perfect image she – and all of us, really – create a conception that we always looks amazing, fierce and toned, and perfectly postured.

Her point is that we can blame magazines and media and Photoshop all we want, but at some point we have to realize that it’s on us too – by deleting all unflattering photos of ourselves and only posting those rare perfect ones, it’s like we’re dressing the monster that Photoshop has created. It’s crazy to hear Lauren tell it, because here’s a person who makes her living based solely on her body’s ability to accomplish amazing feats, and she still frets over the public perception of her physical appearance. So next to her killer photo from Fashion Week, she bravely posts two very unflattering, candid photos taken at track practice later that same week. Her blog got over a million hits, so it’s no small thing she’s doing.

When I returned from France, nearly every single person I spoke to asked me a question about weight: How much did I lose? How much did I weigh before? Did I eat a zillion calories a day and never gain a pound? A few times, it was even more awkward: people close to me exclaimed that they just couldn’t believe it, they had thought I would’ve lost a ton of weight, but there I was, all done, and it didn’t look like I had changed at all!

Um, I’m sorry? I’ll try harder next time?

Those questions always made me feel so uncomfortable and I’ve wanted to write about it for a while but have never found the right reason. I never knew what my response to that observation was supposed to be, and I know those people were always well-intentioned, but still. Of course I had changed: I could run over thirty miles a day no problem, I had just run 90 miles in one go, 40 more than I’d ever run at once before. I was more flexible; stronger, leaner. I could now say I ran up one of the steepest mountains in the Alps, TWO DAYS IN A ROW. I was tougher. I was wiser. But the question was hardly ever “How have you gained fitness?”. It was, almost always, “How much weight did you lose?”

On the surface these conversations made me frustrated because I wanted people to ask more interesting questions, and I wanted them to understand that I couldn’t have lost too much weight, or I wouldn’t have been able to do the run. I wanted them to realize that running thirty miles a day isn’t what they might imagine, that after a few weeks your body gets used to it and even your hunger abates.

But lots of these people were just curious friends, and what really mattered was the feeling that lurked just below the surface irritation; something much worse: these conversations made me feel inadequate. Of course, I did lose some weight, (and I even got taller) but I sometimes felt like I should’ve come back even thinner, leaner, stronger. Without those questions, I felt so strong, and proud; but with them I somehow felt like running the Tour de France wasn’t enough; like I should’ve emerged from it looking more like what people expected me to look like. It was ridiculous.

It’s not the easiest thing to write about here – I feel a little bit like I’m peeling back a layer I’d rather leave on, but if Lauren can describe her insecurities on a blog for Runner’s World, I guess I haven’t got any excuse.

Most athletes are incredibly driven, and we’re often perfectionists – a combination which feeds our dedication to whip our bodies into incredible shape – into whatever shape we think is perfect.
And I won’t lie, I love being in shape. I like feeling my quad muscles as I walk, I like the tightness of my shoulders. I stand in front of the mirror and flex my ab muscles every single day. I don’t mind seeing a perfect picture of myself in action. But I think the issue here is that, even perfect shape doesn’t always look so perfect. We shouldn’t take the one ideal image of ourselves, or celebrities, or world class athletes to represent the whole, nor the constant.

I started training with a coach this past November. During our first workout, I ran four repeats of one mile. I averaged 7:04 for each mile and I had a three minute break between each one. Last week, my workout was eight repeats of one mile. I averaged 6:34 for each mile and had 85 seconds of rest between each one. In the space of just three months, I doubled the distance of that workout, dropped thirty seconds in speed/mile, and cut the rest period in half. Yesterday I ran my fastest 10k ever, in the middle of an 18 mile training run. As a runner, THAT is what I find most incredible about the body, the fact that it can improve so drastically in three months. I look at that and wonder, what else can it do?! Our body is capable of so much, it’s absurd to think that we let its mere appearance get all the attention.

As Lauren writes in her post: “”Why aren’t we walking around naked, like ‘Booyah! Look what this body can do, bitches!'”

Honestly, why are we not?


Author: zoegoesrunning

Hello! I'm a runner, a writer, and have run across the United States and the Tour de France course. Most recently, I'm blogging about my adventures in an MFA program that will bring me to Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, and my teaching plans for Argentina.

9 thoughts on “Look What This Body Can Do”

  1. Zoe! I love it. Not of course the fact that you felt even a drop of inadequacy, but your honesty about it. Thanks for writing.

  2. Wow, best thing I have read all week, and it sure did hit close to home. How much weight did you lose? that was the question I also was asked time and time again after completing my solo journey of 450 miles through Death Valley July 2012. The accomplishment to me was beyond anything I could have imagined my 55 year old body capable of. My story goes one step further though and that is that very few were interested in a 55 year old lady pushing her body day and night through daytime temps of 125+ degrees ,sleeping less than 3-4 hours a day, summit ting Mt. Whitney not once but twice in a 13 day period.

    I ran this solo effort for myself and for the Wounded Warrior affiliation, they gladly took my hard earned 6,000 dollars and barely a thank you was received. I feel it should be known ,gratitude, recognition or not I still would have traveled all those miles and suffered so much for what I truly believe is a worthy cause. I do not understand to this day why no interest? even among most of the ultra running community, is it my age? my solo effort? Like I said the gifts I have received, the lessons I learned out there about my self, my place in this world are invaluable, its just that at the end of the day I am an athlete too, I am not 25, I do not own any first place medals or plaques , but i did accomplish something that no other woman 25, 45, or 55 had done and that was to be the first to complete a triple solo Badwater crossing. I guess what I am really getting at here is this, it does not take a perfect athlete, a perfect body, a certain age to achieve big things and maybe the running community could take a little time a out to celebrate the not so famous runners, to maybe look beyond the ego of the sport and see, really see that when it comes to long distance isn’t it really about how far you can go? and maybe just maybe the distance, the environment and not the time, the person, the medals, or the body, but the person who beats the odds and reveals at the end of it all, to the lesser known women who run, if she could do that ? ,,,,,,,,,,,

    Terry Abrams

  3. Love this post. It’s a hard thing, when weight has been drilled into us as an important focal point, to change our mindset to “strong is the new skinny” After having a baby, and taking up running, I now have such a level of respect for the strength of my body that my new desire for strong has replaced my old desire for skinny. I ran the furthest I ever have in my life today (which is pathetically a small distance in comparison to your amazing runs!!) and I’m more proud of that than any weight loss goal I have hit in the past.

  4. I followed your journey and it never crossed my mind how much you weighed or if the pictures you had taken were not perfect, your accomplishment was the only interesting part of your journey and you could have been either sex, tall or short, fat or thin. Your accomplishment is really the only thing that matters.

  5. I saw you speak the night before the MDI Marathon, it was great to hear your story. This past week I was having some body/weight image issues. I am a runner, I run all the time. Which of course makes me need to eat. Anyway, I came across a blog by TriMarni, called The Athlete’s body – love your body in motion. It was great! Then I read Lauren’s blog post and now yours. All amazing, and gave me much to ponder on my early morning run. I am now actively working on reminding myself that it is ok to weigh what I do, I can run for hours at a time and my body is strong enough to do it. That makes me happy. Thanks Zoe!! Come back to MDI anytime!

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