Shedding Light On Exercise Shaming

Preface: This is probably the longest blog entry I’ve ever written about something so inconsequential. It probably only affects 1 out of ever 1 million people. But still…if it makes that one person say, “AMEN!” or “Wow! Thanks for showing me that perspective!” then I’ll feel like it was worth it.

I remember the day I heard a never-had-to-work-to-be-skinny person express hurt feelings when people say things like, “That girl needs to eat a sandwich…” about skinny people. It was like someone had slapped me in the face. I mean – OF COURSE IT WOULD HURT HER FEELINGS! Why did it never occur to me that making a snarky comment about a skinny person is JUST as offensive as making a snarky comment about an overweight person?

Never. It never occurred to me.

But – seriously – DUH. Why is making a snarky comment about someone’s body okay just because they have the body I want? IT IS NOT. And I’m so glad my perspective was shifted that day. Comments about other people’s bodies, even if you WISH you had that person’s body…is never okay.

Periodically, when I longed for the body I had on my wedding day, Donnie used to say, “You were too skinny.”

And I feel how that girl felt. I worked hard for that skinny body! Are you telling me it wasn’t pretty? That body that I was proud of?

He said it because he thought it would make me feel better, but if he had told me that on our wedding day? I would have been DEVASTATED.

Yet, still. Did it occur to be before that day that saying, “You’re too skinny…” to someone was hurtful? No. Even though I thought it was hurtful to my past self. Still…CLUELESS.

But I know now! See! You can teach an old dog new tricks.

I am bringing this up because I’m noticing a similar trend lately – and before I point it out to people who may realize they’ve done it and then feel bad – I want to point out the author of this blog entry? HAD THE SAME TYPE OF REALIZATION. DON’T FEEL BAD. Sometimes it just takes someone saying, “You know? That may hurt someone’s feelings.”

Let’s Talk About Exercise Shaming!

If someone makes the effort to exercise, whether it’s a video at home, a Body Pump Class, or a running group…that’s a HUGE MOTHER-TRUCKING DEAL. I am betting 99% of those people had to fight their demons to do that exercise. Maybe they wanted to watch that reality TV show sitting on their DVR. Maybe they wanted to eat those cookies on their counter. Maybe they feel really stupid doing Zumba. Maybe they feel like they’re too big to run. 99% of those people have voices inside their head telling them not to do what they’re doing. Yet…YET…they are fighting those voices and doing that thing. This is true for men and women the effort required is universal!

SO! Before you share out an article on Facebook about how “over-excercising is bad” or one that says “running causes more damage that good” or before you email your runner sister that article that says “any exercise more than 30 minutes a day is pointless for your health or longevity” – PLEASE think of the people in your Facebook circle fighting those demons to get out of the door. PLEASE think about how hard your sister works to be a runner. And maybe some people actually enjoy the exercise they’re doing, I have a friend that loves going to her Tennis Lessons. Don’t try and make her feel bad about enjoying something good for her!

Because – chances are? They’re doing that thing because it makes them feel good. And they’re proud of what they’re doing. And if you’re posting articles trying to convince them not to do it? Or trying to tell them there’s no point? You’re making them cry a little on the inside.

In the last 2-3 years since I’ve become an active and healthy adult…I’ve seen all of those articles posted around Facebook or Tweeted at me or sent to me via Email. When it’s on Facebook I think, “Is that directed at me?” When it’s sent directly to me I think, “That IS directed at me. I’m going to cry now.”

These “exercise shaming” articles fall into two categories.

1) They’re focusing on an exercise-induced health issue that only affects a minority of people
2) They’re saying that there’s no health reason in exercising as much as some people are, or the negative health side effects might outweigh the positive ones.

Now – article type #1? This one is frustrating because, it’s the same thing that is making our generation more cautious about letting our kids play outside that our parent’s generation. Yes. These things happen and maybe we should be aware of them, but they don’t happen often enough that we should discourage positive behavior. There’s two examples of these type of articles that I’ve seen recently. One is the article discussing “Rhabdo and Crossfit” (I’ve seen several) and there’s another discussing the tragic Person Dies Running A Marathon story. Marathon runners do die. Crossfitters do get Rhabdo. But by posting those links as something you want your friends to know about – then you’re trying to use something that’s probably not going to happen to scare someone out of healthy behavior.

Yes. I know marathoners have heart attacks and die on race day, but I try to take care of myself and prevent that from happening. Do you know sometimes people have heart attacks in the privacy of their own homes doing nothing too? And yes – there are some extreme cases and some bad gyms of Rhabdo and Crossfit – but does that mean someone who Crossfits every day should stop? No.

But that article was going around FB and I kept thinking about all of my Crossfit friends. Crossfit changed their lives. It motivated them to be stronger. Healthier. And now, they have to defend it because everyone is jumping to the CROSSFIT CAUSES RHABDO IN EVERYONE conclusion. And they’re angry. And upset. And I get it. I do. Because every time someone dies running a marathon, someone sends me the story as a “warning” type situation. Please don’t try to scare me out of running marathons. Please?

Now – article type #2? Never factors in one key element. HAPPINESS. Yes, runners have knee problems. No, running 5 hours is no better for your heart than running 30 minutes. Cardiovascularly? There’s no point. But you know what? It makes me happy. It makes me proud. And if you post articles or constantly remind me how bad running is for my knees? It’s going to really hurt my feelings. Because I’m damn proud of my life and I don’t want someone to try to discourage that.

These two types of articles have come up in conversation a lot lately with my workout friends. All of us agree on one thing – we want our friends and family to be proud of us for exercising. And if our Dad sends us another article about how running is bad for our knees? We’re going to cry. Or if our sister doesn’t stop telling us that our Crossfit is not healthy when it’s the one thing in 40 years that inspired us to be fit? We’re going to freak out. We want our Dads and our Sisters to tell us they’re proud of us. Or we want them to admire us. We want them to be amazed that we ran 10 hours that one day, not tell us we’re going to have our knees replaced before we’re 40.

Is anyone doing this a bad person? Hell no. Just like I wasn’t a bad person for saying, “You’re getting too skinny!” to my friend losing weight. Sometimes, if you’re not a Crossfitter or a Marathon runner, you may not know how those articles sound. Just like – as a not-skinny person – I didn’t know how the “Eat a sandwich!” comment sounded.

Basically? This is just public service announcement. If someone is exercising a lot? They want you to be proud. If you are just really concerned and want them to know about this issue? Then maybe FIRST tell them a million times how proud of them you are. And then…THEN…when you share that one concern? They’ll know it’s okay because you still think they’re awesome.

Dude. TOO MANY WORDS. Stepping off unnecessary soapbox now.

9 thoughts on “Shedding Light On Exercise Shaming”

  1. Hey Sister! I know you’re not the biggest fan of Nike, but I have always really liked their messages with “JUST DO IT”. I’m proud of you and am blown away by what you do. Most of the people I worked with at Federated were athletes (actually I was the only salesperson that wasn’t a college athlete.) Anyway, one of the guys I worked with was an amazing football player. And he once told me, “You’ll never know how incredibly talented you are or your potential until you really push beyond what you think.” He said he wouldn’t have known that potential without his awesome college football coach. I think that is what you are doing every single day – whether in running, helping with Elem school activity, sending your BFF off to school, supporting an Ironman-in-training… and all the other things you do. Girl, whatever it is that makes you happy… JUST DO IT!

  2. I have friends who are runners and I do. not. get it. But I don’t have to. It makes them happy, and I know that, so I don’t sit around wondering if that 20 miler they ran together this weekend was better or worse for them than the 3-4 miles they run on their own during the week. Singing makes ME the happiest, and no one is telling me THAT is stupid because I’m not getting long-term health benefits from it (I probably am but not to the extent I would if I were, you know, running instead), or because I should probably be out doing jumping jacks instead or something.

    I think those articles are out there to make those of us who hate exercising and DON’T most of the time feel better about ourselves, but yeah… at the expense of someone else? Not cool.

  3. I get fitness shamed all the time, but never more so than during pregnancy, my favorite moment being when it was suggested I was letting vanity compromise the health of my baby.

    So. That was really fun.

  4. YES! Can’t tell you how often I get veiled concern from people about my running. I also have friends that are crossfit crazy and it’s like, LET THEM BE! Although, I’m not a fan when one exercise group gets all up in another exercise group’s grill – like crossfitters vs. runners and vice versa. But, that’s a whole other post… 🙂

  5. I just found this post via Twitter; loved reading it and you make great points. I hadn’t really thought about this before either, although I have been annoyed with the running is bad for you stuff many times. Thanks for sharing!

  6. “Although, I’m not a fan when one exercise group gets all up in another exercise group’s grill – like crossfitters vs. runners and vice versa.”

    Add to that the exercise evangelists who use high pressure tactics trying to convince you to try their preferred form of exercise, and this is what I was thinking of when I read Zoot’s post. I wonder how many of those sending or posting those articles are themselves feeling defensive?

    I can not tell you the number of runners who have insisted I should ‘just run’ (despite the fact that I have rheumatoid arthritis and have specifically been told to choose low impact exercise) or Crossfit enthusiasts who insist I am not really working out if I don’t need to puke. I brush it off – I figure the appropriate level of exercise is between my doctor, my body and me – but I do get irritated, and I can see how someone might get defensive. Particularly if their situation is not as black and white as mine. (Its easier not to get upset when your doctor is backing you.) Not that it excuses lashing out, passive aggressively or otherwise, but I wonder if it explains some of it.

    And, I want to make clear, that posting about your own experiences, excitement, etc. is great. I’m specifically talking about explicit pressure to join in and the often unsubtle implication that I am ‘less’ for not.

  7. It’s a two way street though.. I only find myself giving a hard time to people who I feel pressuring me or pushing me to be like them.

  8. I love this post, Kim. Thank you for taking the time to write it all out. Those articles, and so many others like them on different topics, are completely missing the point, like you said. Who cares if it doesn’t make a difference to your cardio health to run more than 30 minutes a day? If if makes you happy, that makes a HUGE difference to your overall health.

  9. It can be so hurtful when someone in our lives thinks what we’re doing is obsessive or weird or whatever. I’ve had that with my interest in having more than two children, and with blogging, and with baby names: people even use the word “obsessive,” like they think I should get professional help, or they talk about it with air quotes and/or with an obvious “I’m discussing something freakish right now” tone of voice.

    I’ve found it useful to imagine areas where someone else might be very proud of themselves for their accomplishments and yet I would not be proud of them at all: someone who was converting many, many people to their dangerous religion, someone who had the intense self-discipline necessary to achieve and maintain anorexia, someone who was doing a hugely effective job organizing anti-gay protests. They’d be so proud—and yet it wouldn’t be within my range to feel proud of them for it. And if I saw an article saying that actually, more people stay converted if they come to the religion in their own way rather than by personal evangelism, or that at a certain point people would actually lose more weight if they ate more calories, I can see being very tempted to pass than on in the hopes that my dearly-loved relative would back off from something I considered dangerous and obsessive. Maybe their accomplishments DO make them happy, but that isn’t really the issue.

    On the other hand, some people feel threatened and accused by other people’s success, and they cope with that by trying to diminish the importance of that success—or even making it seem like it’s a failure. It can be hard to figure out which group people are in, but in general I hope my actual loved-ones are in the former category rather than the latter, or else I’m in a worse situation than I’d thought.

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