Feminist Times reader Katie Stanton responds to Deborah Coughlin’s article Running? It’s just jogging.
I could write a book about my history with dieting and I’m sure you could too. In the same way a man chats easily with a complete stranger about football, we women always seem to find calorie-related common ground when meeting other women (“No cake for me thanks, I’m being good”).
Poor body image is one of the most prevalent issues facing women today, proven by statistics showing 91% of those admitted to hospital for anorexia last year were women. For many feminists who suffer body image issues, there is also the added guilt of caring about it in the first place.
Most feminists are inherently anti-diet and there’s some great writing on why the dieting culture is a form of oppressive patriarchy (Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue is particularly good).
In the past, I have denounced any effort to burn calories to stay thin as anti-feminist, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I used to read about women spending hours in the gym, slaving away towards size eight, and imagine myself saying to them: “Emily Davison didn’t throw herself under a horse so you could spend half your life on the treadmill.” Did I think myself morally superior to these women because I wasn’t spending my time working towards a thinner version of myself? Probably.
But then I started running. And all that stuff they say about endorphins is true. Suddenly, I was not only healthier, happier and sleeping better, but my life became more goal-orientated, on the track and in the office. All that time I now spend flailing around the streets of Leighton Buzzard gave me time to think about my previous preconceptions of gym-goers and how I fit into my big feminist ideal now that I’m a runner.
Here’s what I decided: The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games gave us all an insight into the exhilaration of sporting victory. Here was a form of empowerment that needed to be tapped into. Worryingly, it struck me that the factor of good health was something feminism shied away from. Was the need for regular exercise being ignored because it sat too closely to the diet industry? Statistics show that 32% of women in the UK are overweight, so why is this women’s issue not being addressed? Where are the feminists against obesity?
I don’t write this to make you feel bad; in fact, quite the opposite. Let me reassure you I think fad diets are fucking repulsive and a societal scourge that oppress women. The best thing I saw at October’s Feminism in London conference was a teenage girl’s placard reading “pizza rolls not gender roles”. I want us to carry on eating pizza. But I don’t want us to ignore the benefits of exercise in the name of feminism. A healthy lifestyle is really important and it is possible to keep fit without selling your soul to the diet industry. Find a sport or activity that makes you feel empowered and go with it. When the revolution comes, we can’t be held up by those stopping for a fag break. For years feminism has demanded that society respects our bodies, so isn’t it about time we start doing the same?
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