Body shaming is a topic that has come up several times from various sources, most notably a piece written by Lauren Fleshman. It addresses the idea of fit female runners and masculinity, as well as from a different perspective, in the view of a habitual runners slight frame appearing malnourished. The women of our sport can be seen as less feminine or healthy, in contrast, to the average or accepted view of women as accepted by general society. This is definitely influenced by the fact that even the CDC has said that 80% of American adults do not get the recommended amount of exercise. So any fit American, male or female, is definitely outside of the norm.
Every piece I have seen on this subject has been written from the viewpoint of a woman. As a man with a fit wife, I can comfortably say that I definitely admire the inherent strength of a fit female body, in any outlet it is manifested, but especially running. The grace and proportions, as well as the fluid movements at speed, are attributes I find admirable and attractive. But that’s just me.
So how can a man be affected by this concept? In a society where men are expected to be strong, and strong is associated with mass, a lean runner can be seen as less of a man. It is accepted that men will have paunches, even in their early 20’s, because generally their overall girth is a little larger to compensate. That extra size is attributed to masculinity, and it is not acceptable in polite interactions to reference or joke about someone’s potential weight issue, no matter how slight.
In comparison, a competitive runner will weigh 150 lbs or less (in my experience), whereas the average American male weighs 191. This can lead to direct comments, from acquaintances and strangers in range from suggesting the target eat more to derisive comments about their slight form. Personally, I have had my arms squeezed by multiple people accompanied with a comment about being all bones. It is because size is equated with strength and they don’t see that my gym visits have me doing exercises with equal or more weight than guys 40 pounds heavier than I. However, if I returned the sentiment and squeezed their arm, making a comment about the lack of muscle, that would be improper and probably result in some very negative sentiments.
The average competitive male runner, has a slight frame, with varying amounts of lean muscle on their upper body. In a entertainment world dominated by either super beefy power lifters, or those slightly overweight with a bulky torso and arms, they look rather frail in comparison. Even the runners with the most cross training and resulting upper body mass, would have their physique masked by the average t shirt. In day to day life, you would not know the amount of power and strength in their body. Most runners can recognize a fellow runner by their walk, but to the average person, they are just another slender person. One that needs to eat and fill out more because they don’t look healthy.
Personally, I don’t take these incidences of less than polite and generally ignorant statements to heart. I am comfortable with my fitness level and am confident with what I have accomplished so far. It helps, in a way, to have grown up being bullied with a much more malicious bent, in regards to my extremely small frame as a kid. But for some, the pointed comments and inadvertent harassment can linger for some time. Personal relationship or casual, if it is definitely rude to take those interactions and frame them as targeted towards an overweight person, it must be considered that it could be hurtful to a fit individual as well.