Real-life fat fit runner Lindsey Swift was made the cover star of UK Women’s Running magazine after being heckled whilst out running and speaking out about it in a Facebook letter that went viral. Michelle Stylianou reports on the women proving fat does not mean unfit
Overweight women are often ridiculed for their size, regardless of how fit they may be. And there is no denying that fat is usually associated with unfit and thin with healthy. However, thanks to fat fit women all over, this idea is finally changing.
In July, US Women’s Running magazine did the unthinkable by putting Erica Schenk, an 18 year old, plus size model on their front cover. In the online storm that followed, Erica revealed she has been running for a decade and the magazine story shed light on the fact that there are many fat fit women out there. Now a British magazine, Women’s Running is following suit.
The cover of this month’s issue features size 18 runner Lindsey Swift, who was recently heckled by a van driver for being overweight.
Lindsey, 34, wanted to improve her fitness and came up with the idea of running with her boyfriend Ryan, who regularly runs and has taken part in marathons and half-marathons. Speaking to Women’s Running, She said, ‘Running was something I’d always wanted to do but I never dared. I thought it would be too hard – and the first time I did it I was like, ‘Yep, that’s definitely too hard!’ I couldn’t even do half a mile, I was absolutely dying, but Ryan just encouraged me. He said, ‘I know it feels awful now but just keep going.’’
Lindsey listened to Ryan and found that gradually running started to become easier. She had stuck to secluded routes around the country park near her home but finally plucked up the courage to brave the streets. Unfortunately, the first time she did, she ran into her heckler. It was towards the end of the run,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t a particularly long route, but it was quite steep – more steep than I’m used to – so I was quite out of breath. Just as I was coming round the corner [the driver] was coming around too, and he just leaned out of his window and started singing a sarcastic version of Mica’s Big Girl Your Are Beautiful at me.’
Lindsay had stuck to secluded routes around the country park near her home but finally plucked up the courage to brave the streets. Unfortunately, the first time she did, she ran into her heckler.
Lindsey was left feeling embarrassed, but this initial feeling soon turned into anger. She says, ‘The more I thought about it, it was just really rude. I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me. I can’t see how me running in my body affects his day at all. Why does he think he’s got a right to comment on how I look?’.
Lindsey decided to voice her feelings on Facebook by writing an open letter to the van driver. She did not think much of it, saying, ‘I’ve got friends on Facebook who’ve had similar things happen when they’ve been out walking, or on their way to the gym, and it was just meant to be a light-hearted joke for my friends to see. I just wanted to write something that maybe those women would read and think, ‘Yeah!’’. Her letter soon went viral and has been shared more than 26,000 times, inspiring thousands of female runners worldwide.
Lindsay’s letter to her heckler went viral and has been shared more than 26,000 times
Although Lindsey did not set out to be a role model, she hopes that her post has helped women with low self-confidence to step out and run without fear. Indeed, overweight women should not be ridiculed for working out, but instead should be encouraged and celebrated.
All over the blogosphere and social media, fat fit women are having the confidence to come out and share their exercise routines with the world. On Instagram alone, by using the hashtag #curvyyoga, you will get a result of over 53,000 results of bigger women proudly showing that fat can still be healthy.
Indeed, exercise groups aimed at plus-sized women are becoming increasingly common, from Curvy Yoga to Fat Girl Running classes and Full Figured Fitness aerobics sessions. In fact, when online yoga studio yoogaia.com launched Curvy Girl Yoga classes, its Facebook likes jumped from 8,000 to 32,000 in just two months.
Dr Mike Loosemore, a consultant physician at the Institute of Sport Exercise & Health says that ‘There are a number of good studies that show it’s much better to be fat and fit than thin and unfit’. He believes that ‘The emphasis should be on activity, not size. What determines your health is how physically active you are, not how thin you are.‘
The emphasis should be on activity, not size. What determines your health is how physically active you are, not how thin you are.
Lindsey believes that attitudes are shifting. ‘You do see bigger women in sports magazines, so I think society is slowly starting to accept that people are not always one uniform shape. Magazines are always going to have their idea of what’s beautiful, and they’re always going to want to put that on the cover, but as long as people recognise that there is variety out there, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re really skinny or if you’re fat – it doesn’t impact you as a person.’
You do see bigger women in sports magazines, so I think society is slowly starting to accept that people are not always one uniform shape.
Women’s Running magazine will be the first UK running publication to feature a plus size model on their cover and editor Elizabeth Hufton feels it’s important that Lindsey’s story is shared to inspire other women. She said, ‘It’s time real female runners were given proper representation in the media. Running is such a fantastic way to get fit, improve self-confidence and relieve stress – we want all women to feel they can enjoy it without fear of being judged.’
On choosing Lindsey as the cover model, Hufton says: ‘Lindsey’s story and the response she’s had from women around the world shows that women are tired of being judged by their shape and speed when they’re out doing the sport they love. That’s why she’s the perfect choice to represent the readers of Women’s Running magazine on our cover.’
Going forward, Women’s Running magazine will feature real-life runners of different shapes, sizes and backgrounds on all of its covers.
Talking about being the first cover star to mark this transition, Lindsey said: ‘I’m really thrilled that Women’s Running has decided to go with real runners from now on, and I’m so proud to be the first one. I think it’s right that society accepts people of all shapes and sizes who love their bodies and want to keep it healthy.’
Read Lindsey’s letter that went viral:
‘An open letter to the idiot who thought it was ok to heckle me with fat jokes on my run yesterday,
Your comment was a clear indication of both your incredibly witty repartee and a feat of observational comedy. I am indeed a big girl, and I am indeed beautiful. Thanks for noticing. I’m not sure who you were telling I was fat, you clearly have eyes, and the only other people present were me and my boyfriend. I assure you that despite your concern I do own a mirror, and my boyfriend has seen my fat body as he too has eyes. Don’t tell anyone but I think he might even like it.
‘Normally I don’t get militant about these things, idiots are idiots. However, I can see why comments like these might put a person less confident than me off from running, and that is shameful. Everyone starts somewhere.
My fat body has been swimming in crystal clear Thai seas that you have probably only ever seen on TV. It has lived in countries you wouldn’t dream of visiting
‘Let me make one thing very clear, I am not ashamed of my body. It has never stopped me from doing anything I want. My fat body has done things that you, hanging out of the window of your babe-magnet white van could only ever dream of.
‘My fat body has been swimming in crystal clear Thai seas that you have probably only ever seen on TV. It has lived in countries you wouldn’t dream of visiting and been a part of cultures you are too small minded to appreciate. My fat legs have carried me up mountains on more than one occasion. My fat brain speaks languages you probably don’t see the point of learning, which is why you spend your time hanging out of van windows since you have nothing better to occupy it with.
‘Recently I made the decision to get fit as I thought it would be a fun thing to do, and good for my health. Not that I have to justify my body to you, but I have a goal to run 10k, and I will get there. I’m a stone lighter than I was, and can do a whole host of things I couldn’t do before. It baffles me that anyone would try to discourage that kind of effort. Excuse me if my assumptions about you are wrong, but I only have your actions to go by. If my fat arse running (quite slowly I might add, I was bloody shattered) offends you and spoils your journey, try driving with your eyes closed, into a lamp post.
now I have written this, I feel sorry for you.
‘But in all seriousness, now I have written this, I feel sorry for you. Your behaviour is not normal, and your manners are well below par. Most importantly though, I forgive you. Here’s hoping that anyone with a goal, fat or thin, isn’t put off by this kind of thing. I know I haven’t been.
Engage your brain before opening your mouth.
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