fitness · sexism

When it’s okay to say “good job” to a woman while she’s in the middle of physical activity

CW: some talk about body weight, fatness and feelings that anti-fat micoaggressions can provoke.

tl:dr version:

NEVER.

N E V E R.

Never. that's all.
Never. that’s all.

Context: many/most/all of us have found ourselves in the gym, on a bike, running, or doing some kind of physical activity (or any activity, for that matter, but I digress), when we get told by some stranger, “great job! You keep it up! You go, girl! You got this!” or some such infuriating fit-splaining-ness.

Really?

As a person who identifies as fat, I have experienced this more than a few times, and also heard and read about it in many social media and other groups. Samantha blogged about hating people cheering her up hills, explaining why.

Now that you’re done reading her post, here are some modified examples commiserating on “good job!” unsolicited comments (I mean, there’s always unsolicited):

I was heading down from a hike and some people were like, oh don’t turn around, you’re almost there. I’m like, wtf, I had already been to the top… and now I’m heading back down.

I have done a lot of run/walking… Sometimes when a run interval is over and I go to a walk people yell “don’t stop keep going”. Like, leave me alone…

I once had a woman stop me to ask me if my heart was okay to run. Sigh…

I used get this hiking… “You’ll make it!” “Keep it up”. I wanted to pick them up and throw them off the mountain. Was hiking summits 3x/week. I take my time because I care less about speed and more about enjoying the hike.

We were walking around a small lake in a park, and a slim woman and her daughter stepped aside to let us pass. She asked if we were ‘walking around the lake’ and we said ‘yes’. She looked us up and down and said- oh, Good For YOU! We kept walking, looked at each other and realized we’d just been – I dunno, fat congratulated on our walk.

Someone told me I was “really good” at yoga. And then added, Especially for someone my size… she could’ve left that part out and also, yoga isn’t a competitive sport so I’m not looking for feedback, thank you very much.

I’ve been told, “Keep coming back!” at the gym. Yeah, I’ve been coming here regularly for years…

It’s hard to know how to respond in such situations.

WHAT AM I SAYING?! Of course it’s not hard to know how to respond. Here are my top 4 suggestions:

  1. *uck you
  2. F*ck you
  3. Fu*k you
  4. Fuc* you

Sorry/not sorry for the potty-mouthed list.

Seriously, it’s hard to know what to do in the moment because 1) you’re actually in the middle of climbing or cycling or paddling or running or lifting something very heavy, and you’re trying to concentrate; 2) these digs just show up out of nowhere, apropos of nothing, so take you by surprise; 3) they can provoke feelings of inadequacy, shame, fury, sadness, loss of energy– all sorts of things can come out.

Ignoring it is one tactic. Coming up with a snappy reply is another, but can be hard to produce in the heat of the moment. There’s my list, but it is rude and could provoke an unsafe reaction in the fit-splainer.

There is this:

Oh sit down. You’re dismissed.

So, readers, what do or would you do in a situation like this? If you feel like telling us about a similar encounter and/or what you did, I’d love to hear about it.

11 thoughts on “When it’s okay to say “good job” to a woman while she’s in the middle of physical activity

  1. This is spot-on, and much appreciated. Last week, I had a guy in his 20s, running past me in fatigues and a backpack, give me a thumbs-up and say something which I couldn’t hear but I suppose was meant to be encouraging. I wanted to to yell back at him, “I have been running since before you were born, you clueless twit.” But I try to be nice, so I didn’t.

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  2. I’m a slow bicyclist and a terrible climber. I was on an organized ride and had turned around at the 50- or 60- mile turnaround. There was a long, wicked uphill on the way back. I was slowly but surely crawling up the hill when an overly-perky woman I actually know (tangentially) passed me and yelled “Keep going!” My reaction was the same as yours, but I was too out of breath to say it and she was already gone

    It was so patronizing

    I’m slow, but I can ride all day

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    1. Soooo patronizing. What does she think, that you will just stop and sit by the side of the road without her perky-a** comment? Sighing in solidarity!

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  3. My first thought was “only if you’re a physical trainer for the woman in question and she has specifically requested your feedback” but no, not even then. “Good job” isn’t useful feedback. “Shoulders looking strong, remember to stay aware of your knee alignment” is useful feedback.

    So now I think the only answer is “if you’re standing on the sidelines near the end of a marathon waving an encouraging sign and telling every runner who goes by ‘great job!'”

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    1. I like your substitution comments– very specific and coaching/performance-directed. And yes, cheering runners/cyclists coming across the finish line is always a good thing!

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  4. Please be careful before judging runners. Especially in trail running, it is part of the culture to encourage fellow runners out there. “Good job” and “good work” are the most common phrases. It’s most common during races, especially marathons and ultras, but I hear it while on training runs, too. We’re not patronizing, we’re recognizing a good, hard, honest effort, no matter how slow or fast you may be. A simple “thank you” or even a nod makes two of us happier.

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  5. In cycling culture it’s conventional to give a wave to those riding in the opposite direction, and to say a “hi there!” or similar as you pass on the left. That signals solidarity and empathy (usually for the wind) in the sport. I have, however, offered encouragement occasionally, when I know something is going to be really tough: for ex, last week I saw a woman approaching a local twisting climb on a fat bike, and as I passed her I said “you are a badass!” I think I’d do it again, but I appreciate you helping me reflect, Catherine, on whether or not it was appropriate / when it would not be.

    I have to say the thing that leaps out at me from your post and the comments is this: the people who do this humble-brag shouting crap HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO BE ATHLETES. Athletes do not go all out all the time – they rarely do! Athletes do not punch all the hills; if they did they would be toast on race day. Athletes know that if they pass someone it may well be because that person is doing a recovery ride, or a set of hill repeats, or some other workout aimed at baseline training. I find it frustrating when I climb my fave local hill for repeats and someone at one of the houses at the top is all cheery; I’m like, dudes, I’m doing REPEATS. You haven’t seen me summit this like three times already? CLUE IN!!

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  6. This happened to me in a ballet class. I returned to a studio I hadn’t been to for a few years (after gaining some weight). One person in the class knew me from when I used to go regularly and kept her eyes on me the whole time. When we finished petite allegro (a challenging jumping series) she enthusiastically, loudly said to me “GOOD JOB!” as though she couldn’t believe her eyes. I didn’t say anything bc I’m well aware of the culture of the dance studio—everyone watches the new person to see if they’ve got it, most especially if they are fat. The sad thing is that I overcame a lot of fear to show up and felt amazing afterward, but I never went back because that one person’s patronizing attitude stuck and I haven’t been able to shake it since. Anyway, thank you for this article. I’ve been compiling resources on the topic of exercising while fat and am glad to have found this one.

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  7. I always find it hard to know what the balance is as an instructor of fitness based activities. I want to congratulate my students on putting in their best effort each session, but not to sound patronizing. I generally use this at the end of my classes, “Be proud of taking the time to do something nice for yourself today by being here and giving your best effort to your workout.” Even then it feels not quite right.

    I think we have been trained to be motivational and positive and inspirational to a fault….it can be insulting when not intended to be so.

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