fitness · Guest Post · Sat with Nat

Me? Inspiring?

I’ve been thinking about this for a bit. I realize when people tell me I’m inspiring the intention is to compliment me on my efforts and results when it comes to fitness. This kind of thing is mostly said by friends who know me fairly well. I’m always taken a bit aback. Me? Inspiring?

I’m not a terribly good role model for fitness. I’m sporadic at best with my workouts, efforts, motivation, and nutrition. Mediocre really. Is that inspiring? I don’t think so.

I try things before I’m totally ready or trained for them just to have the experience. I like to get out in front of my anxiety , before it stops me completely from doing anything. I blog about my workouts and experiences not to inspire but to simply add another voice to the kinds of lives that are active, to debunk the myth that being fat means being lazy.

I am active. People always ALWAYS assume I’m less active than I am. I mention running, someone offers that I could do a couch to 5 k program. Uh. Awkward. I do 5km as my short run. I don’t say that thought. To call friends, nice supportive FRIENDS, out on assumptions based on my appearance is just too weird. Then the inspiring talk starts and I know it is meant to compliment, to flatter, to validate but it feels…well…paternalistic and demeaning. No one tells my lean, athletic partner he’s inspiring yet he’s out doing a 400 km cycling brevet as I type. He’s a 40 year old white cys guy on a bike WHOOP-dee -doo. But put a fattie on a bike, now THAT’s inspiring. Why?

Saying my half ass efforts are inspiring implies you don’t think I’m terribly capable of better.

It’s also not true that if I can do something anyone can.

I have a specific body with limitations (like asthma) and benefits (like not being terribly prone to injury). I like doing the things I do. I tend to have a shit eating grin on my face when I race. I don’t tend to be in pain post race.

I don’t share my fitness journey to be some white, middle-class, ablest fitspo crap. I share to add a teeny wedge of diversity into articles about fitness. A fat perspective, a feminist one and of mediocre effort. So don’t laud me with praises and tell me I’m inspiring. Take that energy and do what you find fun, draw your inspiration from your own self worth. That’s all I’m doing, deciding I’m worth the effort to be fit and trying to support that in others.

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19 thoughts on “Me? Inspiring?

  1. For me, it depends on who’s saying it — and how it’s said, of course. If it’s from a reasonably-healthy-weight person and the meaning is “you are inspiring to others”, then yes, it can feel a bit patronizing. If it’s from someone of larger size like me, and the meaning is “you inspire ME” and helps them to feel free to get out and do something they didn’t think they could do, then it feels much better — that I’ve been able to share an activity that I enjoy with someone else.

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    1. I was just about to say something similar! I had someone comment on one of my blog posts about running recently saying it was inspiring. And my first thought was, what? First off, I am doing a running program building up to 5k, my running is very slow, for very short periods of times, and I don’t do it as often as I’m supposed to. After awhile though I started to think that maybe that is what makes it inspiring? Because if you are someone who doesn’t run looking to start, seeing someone else doing it despite being slow and not running much, might make it seem more doable.
      Also taking a look at the person’s own blog, it was clear to see it was someone with chronic health issues and I talk more and more on my blog about fitness from the perspective of someone struggling with chronic health conditions.

      Now I think if I had an able-bodied friend say that it was inspiring that I run/lift/whatever even with my health issues, that would be rather condescending.

      I think the same thing applies to weight too, if someone else around my size feels like fitness activities are within their reach because they see me doing them it’s different than someone smaller than me thinking “gosh, if even you can do that, I can too!”
      Really seems like it comes down to “it’s inspiring to me because you are like me” vs “it’s inspiring because it’s something people like you aren’t ‘supposed’ to be able to do.”

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  2. I’ve had lots of friends say their “proud” of me in reference to things like traveling alone , paying off my home, and my involvement in social activities. I am sometimes told “oh, you are so brave”. I get where you are coming from with this post. I do say ” Thanks”, but inside I feel like saying, “Who are you, my mother?!” It is patronizing to me. I am a professional fifty year old woman with interests and a fair degree of common sense. I’m not beating some overwhelming odds by being single and having diverse interests, seriously. If I sign up to travel and climb Mt. Everest, than yeah! Go ahead , be inspired.
    I know my comment is a parallel only. Thanks for letting me vent. It struck a cord with me.

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    1. I think it is exactly the same thing. A man doing what you are doing is simply living their life but a woman on her own? Boils down to classes of people and different expectations of these classes, be they gender, age, size, race. All of it.

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  3. I disagree with your take on what the compliment is Natalie. To me the compliment is “i can identify with you, and that makes me see what’s possible for me too.” I can be impressed but not inspired by Michel because I can’t even identify with riding 400 km. still and all, I don’t say it all that much because I know it can come across wrong.

    But thanks for your post.

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    1. That theme of identifying something similar keeps coming up. I’m being persuaded by your most excellent points 🙂

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  4. I am relatively thin and quite athletic. I play soccer twice a week, I run pretty regularly and I bike to work. I have friends tell me all the time that I inspire them to be more active. I never feel that their comments are paternalistic. I think women and men speak differently to one another. I’m not even sure I’d tell another guy that their athleticism inspires me. Is it that women inspire other women and we voice it to one another?

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    1. Oh and I should clarify…I never think it’s my physique that my friends are complimenting it’s the activity and movement. Getting out there and doing something….pushing myself. That’s what I hear them saying when they say that I inspire them.

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  5. “I try things before I’m totally ready or trained for them just to have the experience. I like to get out in front of my anxiety , before it stops me completely from doing anything.”

    Well, this is legit inspiring for people – in a good way. That’s some good modeling.

    I agree that people are probably being patronizing a lot of the time, but perisisting and staying interested in healthy activity you enjoy – without being some perfect athletic goddess and/or virtuously melting away the pounds as one is “supposed to” – is awesome.

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  6. I find you inspiring for one reason – you’re not afraid to be you. That is what I appreciate the most from your posts. Not the athletic part (I do what I can when I can) but it’s your personality and perseverance that I appreciate. Thank you for making my Saturday mornings enjoyable again ☺

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  7. I’ll echo caitlinburke above and say that, coming to this post without knowing anything about you, the third paragraph was really inspiring to me–that’s something I struggle against a lot. Having the example of people who just go for something and somehow the world doesn’t end really helps me when I’m freaking out about contemplating trying something that I don’t feel 110% ready for.

    That said, I know what you mean about the double edged “compliments”–sometimes someone will compliment me on my bike riding, and it feels awesome. Sometimes I can practically hear the “for a girl” after the “You’re pretty good/fast” sort of comment, and the condescension boils my blood.

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  8. OMG – I could so relate to this post … the assumptions that are made because I’m heavier than I should be or want to be. I simply cringe every time I get *advice* that I should be more active. Are you freaking kidding me?!! … I’m a runner, a cyclist, a hiker, I do yoga and strength training on a regular basis to support the other activities in my life. In other words, I do more in a typical day than most people do in week.

    No one tells my lean athletic husband that he’s “inspiring”. If someone is going to say I’m inspiring, I hope it’s because it has prompted them to take action in their own life and not simply continue to sit on the sidelines of life.

    Great post, thank you!

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