body image · cycling

Anti-cyclist abuse with a side order of body shaming to go

Ragen Chastain recently blogged about her experience of good intentioned abuse from a minister, while out training for her marathon.

Who’s Ragen Chastain? She’s an amazing blogger. Her self description is, “Dancer, Choreographer, Writer, Speaker, Fat Person” and she’s training for her second marathon.

On her latest training walk/run, the minister whose church is on her usual long run route laid his hands on her, without permission, and asked God to heal her of her obesity.

That’s the good intentioned version of abuse that fat people get exercising in public.

She’s also blogged about the not so nice abuse larger women get when we dare exercise in public view.

I got the nasty version, “Stop at the stop sign fat cow” yelled from a car that pulled up beside me while riding home from a training ride last night.

It happened at a four way stop. I actually did stop. I just didn’t unclip. There was no other traffic at the intersection. I suppose it wasn’t complete and total stop but by cyclist standards, I stopped. Indeed. by my usual car driving standards I stopped.

I got the abuse above, plus an added “fat bitch.”

Now it wasn’t clear at all whether the nastiness was anti fat woman, or anti cyclist, or both. I got the sense that both fat women and cyclists annoy these guys and the combination was just too much to bear. But I don’t know. I pedaled away quickly, turned left when they went right, and didn’t see them again.

Now to be clear–it just annoyed me. My self esteem is independent of judgements about my size from twenty something year old men who feel free to bellow out car windows. I’m the mother of teenagers. It would take a lot more than that to upset me.  (See Fat or big: What’s in a name? or Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI, if you haven’t already to get a sense of that.)

But it did make me worry about  larger women who want to exercise without a side order of verbal abuse. After all it’s not like the options for larger women who want an abuse free workout are that great. Gyms aren’t easy either. See Working Out While Fat and Traveling, new gyms, and thin privilege.

Lots of larger people exercise at night so that no one can judge. And I confess there was a time when I did that too. See an old post, I like it in the dark.

When I first started running on my own I confess I liked the dark because no one could see me! I didn’t look like a runner and I felt stealthy about it all. In the dark it didn’t matter that I was a much larger than average runner, that I wasn’t going that fast, and that I didn’t have all the right clothes and gear. It gave me the protective nudge I needed to get started though now I’ve left that cocoon behind.

But on the bike I just don’t think that’s that safe.

The world isn’t a very nice place in lots of ways and I’m not asking for sympathy. But if physical activity is good for one’s health and that good is more difficult for some people to attain than others, we have reasons, as feminists, to be concerned.

Image: bright red stop sign against a blue sky with white puffy clouds




8 thoughts on “Anti-cyclist abuse with a side order of body shaming to go

  1. That you were just annoyed by the content of the shouting is one thing. I tend to think that any time a driver is side-by-side with a moving cyclist, window down and shouting abuse, it’s more than an annoyance. That situation is inherently one of critical danger to a cyclist merely due to the distribution of vehicles at speed, and the fact that the driver is letting hostility determine their driving behaviour. In terms of likelihood of injury or death, there is a bright line between the case where a driver passes the cyclist legally and safely, while muttering unkind words under their breath, and the case where the driver pulls along side, lowers the window, and holds station there while yelling something angry or insulting. My sense is that there is very little separating the latter case from the case where the driver deliberately bumps the cyclist, runs them off the road, sprays them them with gravel, etc. So I tend to find any scenario like the one you describe pretty worrying, even apart from the body-shaming and misogynist attitudes of the driver.

    1. Thanks Tim. Yeah, in this case I wasn’t nervous because it was a low speed situation, wide streets, suburban neighbourhood, other people nearby etc. Had that occurred on a country road, at speed, I would have at least got their plate number and reported it. I’m glad I didn’t encounter these guys outside the city. Lucky I guess.

      My worst story was when guys in a pick up truck slowed down and threw a McDonalds hamburger at my male, whippet/racer thin, cycling companion and it hit him on the helmet spewing condiments everywhere. At that time we were going fast and we weren’t sure what the projectile was. Ugh. Ew. We didn’t crash. We slowed down and cleaned up. But didn’t get plate numbers.

  2. That story made me really angry and sad at the same time. I worry for humanity sometimes. How in the heck to people get it in their heads that they have a right to fling abuse out to others?

    I like the way you connect this to a larger concern about people, especially women but I think all people who don’t “look the part,” feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable about getting started with any kind of exercise. It’s hard enough to be a beginner who needs to develop the skills and knowledge to take up a new activity. But to add body-shaming and the judgment of others to the list, it takes an amazing amount of self-esteem and resilience just to get started.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. I’m sorry this happened to you. We’ve all had things yelled at us, but you get to experience the extra fun of fat-shaming along with the normal verbal abuse.

    It sounds like you have a good attitude about it. It really wasn’t about you. The driver clearly has issues and you were just the unlucky person he could yell at from the anonymous safety of his car.

    I truly hope that this kind of thing doesn’t discourage people from getting out there and exercising.

  4. There’s so much hostility towards cyclists out there, I think it can be hard to tease out what’s plain anti-cyclist and what’s that plus fat-shaming. I haven’t ridden in several years, but I recall one morning while riding to work, I had “taken the lane” preparatory to making a left turn and some guy in a pickup truck behind me yelled at me to “move [my] fat ass”. I’m actually within the conventionally-accepted norm, size-wise, so I think he just grabbed at the nearest-to-hand insult for women he could think of. So I guess that wasn’t specific fat-shaming, but more a sort of meta-fat-shaming – but the hostility was really directed at me as a cyclist.

    My husband bike-commutes year-round to his job in our fair city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s pretty circumspect about any negative experiences he has on his bike (I think he doesn’t want to worry me) but he’s admitted that he’s had take-out cups of soda flung at him from cars a couple of times, and alluded to a few near-missed accidents. It takes a sturdy soul to get out on a bike, regardless of size.

    I find it ironic that motorists sitting on their backsides in cars engaging in minimal exertion feel no compunction about about abusing “fat” cyclists who are out there being active.

  5. I admit there was a time when I would have been outraged by your story, but also, frankly, a bit chastised-by-proxy (as a once-slim-now-fat person who has had similar — if less threatening — experiences when out in public moving my body around). Your story would have reinforced some of the things I believed (and yet didn’t believe), tolerated, about the social view of bigger bodies. But I credit your work on the blog (and Tracy’s!, and others’!) and others like it with my initial reaction today, which was a simple, unadulteratedly (and unapologetically!) disgusted “F–k that!” and “How DARE they!”

    Also… I’ve been working to be more careful when driving around bikers in a not-very-bike-friendly city, also thanks to you.

  6. It’s good that you are posting when this sort of abuse happens against cyclists (and women, and not-small people/women) by drivers and other non-exercisers. As a cyclist and large woman, I have certainly experienced being yelled at or honked at by rude people who clearly don’t see my humanity at all, much less my vulnerability (as a person on two wheels and as an athlete who doesn’t resemble the athletic stereotype). As for hiding our activities under the cover of darkness, I agree with you– in many contexts, it just isn’t as safe (although for my part I LOVE riding at night– always with other people, and sometimes off-road). What I hope is that we are in a period of backlash which precedes mainstream acceptance of cycling as a part of the transportation scene. As for acceptance of athletes of all sizes, ages, colors, and abilities, I think that is starting to happen, too. In my upcoming blog post on my Bikes Not Bombs charity ride, y’all will hear about the great diversity of folks out on the road. It was energizing and motivating to see all these folks out there, being active and having fun.

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