Earlier this week I published a post about why I am grateful for fat role models. I have a lot more to say about role models in general, so there may be several more posts on the subject!
In the earlier post, I wrote about how important it is for me to have role models that look like me. Courtney, of Black Feminist Fitness, has a profound way of looking at this. As black woman, she finds that role models who look like her are often few and far between in the fitness world. Any time she wants to try a new sport, she seeks out a black female role model to inspire her. For example, when she wanted to try CrossFit, she looked towards Elizabeth Akinwale‘s example. For powerlifting, Taylar Stallings provided inspiration. For dancing, Jeni Le Gon. She also follows community pages like Black Girls Swim and Black Girls RUN!
When I first heard about Courtney’s approach, it didn’t really stick in my head. As a white person, I am privileged to have never had to consider this before – in any of area of interest, I am fairly certain I can find a white female role model who has gone before me. Recently though, I have found myself profoundly affected and inspired by the journeys of several fat women involved in fitness, and I realized how important role models can really be.
See, I struggle with patience. In learning a new sport, I feel frustrated not being better at it yet. Sometimes I feel discouraged. Even though I’ve only been at it for 4 months. See? But over the past year, I see my fat role models (not fitness models. Not professional personal trainers. Regular people with jobs and lives and bodies somewhat like mine!) staying the course and achieving more and more.
Recently I posted in a forum that I felt frustrated about not being better at Olympic weightlifting yet. Courtney, mentioned above, who has been consistently active for over three years now in many kinds of activities (obstacle course racing, CrossFit, jump rope, triathlon, dance fitness) said the following:
I could write a song about all the things I can’t do. I can’t squat below parallel…I also can’t lunge deeply. I can’t run more than a third of a mile…I didn’t finish my first triathlon because I can’t swim fast. I’ve been doing Spartan races for a year and I can’t climb a rope or get over the walls. All that said, I do love documenting and seeing how some things eventually happen.
Several other people said that they too had been doing their chosen sport for a while and still consider themselves not very good at it. Well, that was humbling! You mean even people I look up to have the same struggles, but they were gentle with themselves and stayed the course, and that’s how they got to be in the position they are in today? They didn’t go really hard in the beginning, then get frustrated and disillusioned and give up? Shit, I’ve been doing it all wrong! </sarcasm>
I have another friend, Stacey, who I am blessed to know in person. Stacey often reminds me that two and a half years ago, she couldn’t walk half a block, and now she walk at least 10 miles. She regularly trains with friends and gets really excited about mastering new skills. I know she didn’t make all this progress because she went too hard, burned out, and got frustrated and gave up. No. She got there through easy, small, sustainable changes, one after the other, over several years.
Both Stacey and Courtney have been active for 3 years now, give or take. Both are still considered “obese” by medical standards. And it’s a lot easier for me to really see what patience, persistence, and self love look like, coming from people who look kind of like me and can relate to some of the same things. Both women show me what is hopefully to come if I stick with movement and self care and balance for three years or more. I aspire to their confidence, their persistence, their sense of gratitude, their joy in life. When I feel discouraged about not being good at something yet, I look to their attitudes when they are working on something new, or when things don’t go the way they had hoped, or when they finally master a new skill after a couple years. It makes my petty whining about not being a good weightlifter yet seem silly.
And yes, it’s easier for me to relate to their journeys than to a professional fitness model.