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Sam watched Brittany Runs a Marathon and recommends that you don’t

Catherine wrote a blog post about Brittany Runs a Marathon without watching it. That was definitely the wiser choice. See her commentary here.

She writes, “So why I am writing about a movie I haven’t seen? Because I think the movie/advertising/fashion/fitness industries have (sort of) taken in the message that it’s not okay to blatantly fat-shame people or overtly identify lower body weights with fitness, success and happiness in life. Notice, I said “overtly” and “blatantly”.”

Catherine goes on to identify “some strong fitspo messages buried (not too deeply) in this film:

  • Health problems should first be addressed by losing weight
  • Weight loss is possible to achieve through physical activity
  • Weight loss makes physical activity possible and easier and better and more fun
  • Some deep-seated emotional problems will resolve through weight loss and physical activity”

There’s a lot to dislike about the film that I knew before I hit play. It erases larger runners, it promotes weight loss fantasies, and it’s fat-shaming. All that I knew at the outset.

So why did I end up watching it? I sometimes watch “bad” TV or fluffy shows while cleaning. Easy to follow rom-coms? Sign me up! I hadn’t seen the floor of my room in weeks. There were Christmas gifts I still hadn’t put away, clean laundry, bags of gym clothes, yoga mats etc all over the floor, the bed needed making, the socks needed sorting and so on. I needed something longer than a regular half hour show to deal with all of the mess. I needed a movie length thing at least. I thought I could handle the fat shaming and enjoy BRAM for its redeeming features. The trailer looked, as a friend put it, cute. The Guardian called it a fluffy feel good flick. It is not that. By the end, I did not feel good at all.

Friends, it was not mostly cute with a side of fat shaming, which I expected. Instead it was a dumpster fire of stereotypes and it was also super sex shaming. All of this was lumped into criticism of Brittany’s self-destructive lifestyle. At one point in the movie someone opines–in a line that was supposed to save the movie, “Brittany, it was never about the weight.” Instead, “weight” is just a stand in for all of Brittany’s problems. Before fat-Brittany is taking drugs and giving men blow jobs in night clubs and by the end of the movie, thin Brittany isn’t just thin. She’s also turning down casual sex. The friends-with-benefits/boyfriend proposes. There was way too much moralizing about sex and drugs. And I say that as someone who is no fan of drugs or alcohol and is often accused of moralizing in this area.

This happens because Brittany isn’t just a fat girl. She’s a fat girl with low self -esteem. She could have just gotten some self-esteem. But no, she gets thin and then gets self-esteem. She could have gotten self-esteem and demanded equal pleasure in the casual sex. She could have started using drugs and alcohol in a responsible manner. Instead, no. She gets self-esteem, says no to drugs, and holds out for a real relationship.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t manage the weight-loss plot line well at all.

The Guardian reviewer writes, “The film struggles to square its protagonist’s weight loss with the pressure to present a body-positive position and ensure it doesn’t alienate the very female audience it courts. One minute it’s wryly poking fun at the expense and inaccessibility of gyms, the next it’s fetishistically cataloguing the shrinking number on Brittany’s scales. Indeed, as her body transforms, so does her life. She finds a new job, and supportive friends in her running club; men begin to notice her. Yet Brittany still battles with her body issues, unable to shed her identity as “a fat girl”. There’s a note of truth in Bell’s finely tuned performance as a character whose insecurities have calcified over the years, hardening her to genuine goodwill, which she frequently misreads as pity.”

For the record, fat Brittany is smaller than me. She starts out weighing 197 pounds. Her goal weight is 167. And we can track it because never in movie history has a person stepped on a scale so often.

(A blog reader pointed out a more charitable interpretation of why we see her stepping on the scale so often: “She steps on the scale a lot because she trades in her addictions to drugs and alcohol for an addiction to scale weight loss, which the movie portrays as an unhealthy obsession. What starts out as a good “oh look, I lost this many pounds now!” thing quickly escalates into a dangerous “go for a run, jump on the scale, dislike the number displayed, so go back out to run in the mistaken belief that it will make the number change” cycle. That’s why she steps on a scale so often. Because it’s NOT good that she does it.)

Forget the weight loss and the sex, even the running themes aren’t handled well. Friends tease Brittany when she first starts running because she isn’t a real runner. The longest she’s run is 5 km. Rather than tackling the “real runner” thing head on instead the film has Brittany run a marathon and become a real runner by the friend’s standards. Even her triumphant marathon finish is marred by Brittany’s continuing to run on her (spoiler alert) injured and possibly still stress fractured leg. We don’t know that but we do know she’s holding her leg and crying, running and not able to put much weight on it, and her first attempt to run the marathon was derailed by a stress fracture.

There is nothing to love here. Nothing cute or funny or feel good or fluffy.

Friends, don’t watch it. Not even on an airplane.

14 thoughts on “Sam watched Brittany Runs a Marathon and recommends that you don’t

  1. A real runner can run more than 5 km? Lol
    I won’t watch it. I can tell it’s one of those if only you diet and exercise your life can be wonderful movies.

    Maybe my years of weighing myself, starving, excessive exercise and drinking myself to death make me jaded.

    None of these things help one find inner peace.

    The entire premise triggers me.

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  2. First of all, have you ever run a marathon? The movie perfectly displayed what it’s like. Her leg wasn’t still fractured. After an injury, you still feel that pain sometimes. My knee hurts all the time after running my marathon. It’s not a “fatphobic” movie. It is a FACT that if you are too fat it is bad for your health. In the movie Brittany needs to lose weight AND change her lifestyle to be healthy. If you have run a marathon, you would know that it does change your life. The marathon gives Brittany something to be responsible for, which she hadn’t had before. Once she is able to get control of her fitness, it was just the start of her getting control of her life. Keep in mind the movie happened in a two year span. It wasn’t easy for her. Maybe next time before you criticize a movie you should experience the thing it is about.

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    1. I agree with much of the author’s critique of this film but I also agree with you, Bailey, that running a marathon does change your life. The discipline, willpower, and persistence required to train for a marathon seem to infiltrate all areas of your life, and the confidence gained from crossing the finish line seems to make so many of life’s other challenges seem suddenly within reach. The idea that “how you do one thing is how you do everything” certainly held up for me as it applied to my personal experience with marathon running.

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    2. Some of our bloggers and readers have and do run marathons. Others of us have and continue to cycle long-distance– 100 miles in a day, 500 miles in a week– often. We walk and run and cycle and swim and paddle and sail long and short distances, year in and year out. Yet others are long-time or short-time athletes in weight lifting, swimming, racket sports, etc. We know how physical activity can be a source of joy and help us love our bodies and keep them functioning through the lifespan. Our bodies are different sizes and shapes and ages, with different sorts of functioning and disabilities/abilities. Meeting one shiny goal (like running a marathon) doesn’t change our lives. Living lives that incorporate movement in various ways is meaningful for us and the bodies we have, then and now.

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      1. Thank you for the insight, but you didn’t argue against my point. You took one thing I said (which wasn’t even apart of my argument) and attacked it. My point that I made wasn’t about if you meet “one shiny goal” your life is changed forever and everything is sunshine and rainbows. My point was that when you put as much work and effort into training for something such as a marathon, that mentality will infiltrate into the rest of your life. That was especially true for the Brittany, in the movie. It was also very true for me when I ran my marathon at age 17, training for the marathon helped me find responsibility for myself.

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    3. I’ve run two. And a half dozen half marathons. And I have a BSc in Exercise and Health Physiology (and 2 subsequent nursing degrees). Yes, running a marathon and the goal orientation and organization it requires can sometimes lead to positive changes in other areas of one’s life.
      However, you are 100% wrong in claiming “if you are too fat it is bad for your health”. We have ample evidence that weight cycling (loss and regain) and physical inactivity are far more accurate predictors of poor health outcomes than weight is. Being too skinny can be bad for your health. Being inactive is bad for your health. So is smoking and drug addiction. Know what’s even worse? Being born into low socioeconomic status and experiencing stigma (whether due to race, ability, weight, whatever). Health is far more complex and it’s relationship with body weight, composition, and patterns of activity is vastly more complex than “fat = unhealthy, slim = healthy”. Comments such as yours contribute to fat stigma and don’t help anyone choose ‘healthier’ habits.

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      1. I appreciate your professional opinion. However, I never said any of that was untrue. Thank you for stating the obvious. I agree that being inactive and living an unhealthy lifestyle is bad for your health, along with weight. The key word in my statement was “too”. It is bad to be too fat, just as it is bad to be too skinny. As you know, since you have a degree in exercise and health physiology, a healthy BMI is very important to ones health. So to say that weight has nothing to do with health is ignorant. You can’t ignore a fact just because you don’t like it.

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  3. Thanks for saving me the effort of watching it. It looked depressing. I watched Dietland instead and it was so much better!

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