Louise Green describes herself as a trainer, author, athlete, and crusader. She is the author of Big Fit Girl—an inspiring account of how plus-size women can become fit and healthy. We think she's also a badass and has a message that many readers need to hear, especially those of us who will never feel like we are "real runners."
About 15 years ago, on a rainy night, I stood on the corner outside my local running club. I leaned against the cold concrete wall, watching the “real runners” mill about, discussing their latest runs, laughing and high fiving one another. My inner voice started to chime in with unsolicited banter: What were you thinking? They are totally out of your league. The commentary almost deafening, I stood to the side, silently watching. I wanted to leave, but I was too paralyzed with fear to turn around and go home. I had dreamed of being a runner all my life, and I knew I couldn’t blow this chance.
I wanted to change my lifestyle after hitting an unhealthy rock bottom. For many years, I had tried to achieve better health through fad diets, but could never adhere for any length of time. I was constantly hungry, and always ended up breaking my diet. Seeing the crowd of laughing, lean runners that night only fuelled my fear of not belonging and my desire to be thinner.
My fear of participating was real. It stemmed from my lack of confidence that I could actually make it as a runner in my plus-size body. I’d never seen anyone with a body like mine successfully running (or participating in any sport, for that matter) in any fitness media, and I never saw plus-size people out running in my highly active city. This truly was uncharted territory, and my fight-or-flight instinct was kicking into high gear.
After years of flipping through fitness magazines, books, and DVDs, unsuccessfully trying to force my body to fit into fitness culture, I was about to finally find out what I had been missing all along.
We were called into the running club and ushered to the back of the room, where a chalkboard and benches had been set up for the Tuesday Night Learn to Run 5K Clinic. A woman decked out in running gear stood up and introduced herself as our running leader. This was the defying moment that transformed my life. As I shifted my gaze towards her, I was shocked to find that she was a plus-size athlete.
This moment changed everything for me; her very existence filled me with a new sense of possibility. Finally seeing an athletic body that looked like my own had the power to change my mindset for good.
Since that day I’ve gone on to run many 5K runs, as well as 10Ks, half marathons and triathlons. At these races I see great diversity of size, age and ethnicity in the women who compete. In fact, 67% of North American women are over a size 14, many of them athletes. Despite this, fit women of size remain an invisible majority; this diversity is not represented in fitness media and advertising.
After my profound experience with my first run leader, I realized the power of representation and how it affects our ability to participate in fitness and sport. Seeing one athletic woman who looked like me was powerful enough to usher me into a new lifestyle. I became so captivated by this new way of living that I left my successful career to pay it forward to other women. I opened up a plus-size fitness, and have since helped over a thousand women realize their athletic potential. I’ve experienced the power of representation and it’s compelled me to fight for more.
I believe in the adage we cannot be what we cannot see. When we can’t see ourselves, especially when we’re first contemplating engaging in fitness, it adds an element of the unknown to the fray; our fear and intimidation grow deeper. Seeing athletic larger bodies represented in the media would remove that “abnormal” element and make fitness more accessible for plus-size people.
I want the power of sweat, endorphins and victory to be accessible to every “body.” To achieve that, we must see more so we can all be more. Together, if we push for change, we have the power to move millions of women off the sidelines and into the game of fitness and sport.
Louise described her moment of being able to see herself as an athlete because she saw a trainer who looked like her. How many of you have had similar epiphanies?