Is it condescending to congratulate an overweight person for exercising?
That’s the question of the moment, after someone posted an anonymous letter on Reddit titled ‘To the fatty running on the Westview track this afternoon’. The ‘fatty’ in question then saw the letter, and responded.
It all started when someone on their afternoon jog was so moved by the overweight person they saw running along the same track, that they immediately went home and wrote an open letter about it on Facebook:
To the fatty running on the Westview track this afternoon:
You, whose feet barely lift off the ground as you trudge around the track. You, who keeps to the outside lane, footslogging in the wrong direction.
You, who stops for water breaks every lap, and who would probably stop twice a lap if there were bleachers on both sides. You, whose gaze drops to your feet every time we pass. You, whose sweat drenches your body after you leave, completing only a single, 20-minute mile.
There’s something you should know: You f**ing rock.
Every shallow step you take, you carry the weight of more than two of me, clinging to your bones, begging to be shaken off. Each lap you run, you’re paying off the debt of another midnight snack, another desser, another beer.
It’s 20 degrees outside, but you haven’t let that stop your regimen. This isn’t your first day out here, and it certainly won’t be your last. You’ve started a journey that lasts a lifetime, and you’ve started it at least 12 days before your New Year’s resolution kicks in.
You run without music, and I can only imagine the mantras running through your mind as you heave your ever-shrinking mass around the next lap. Let’s go, feet. Shut up, legs. F**k off, fat. If you’d only look up from your feet the next time we pass, you’d see my gaze has no condescension in it.
I have nothing but respect for you. You’ve got this.
Someone took a screenshot of the letter, posted it on Reddit, and as these things tend to do, it went viral.
The people on the internet who argue about things immediately began arguing about whether the letter was offensive or not. One camp of commenters considered the letter extremely condescending and lacking in self-awareness; the other camp found the letter lovely and inspiring.
But then someone unexpected joined the debate: The ‘fatty’ the letter was addressed to responded. He found the letter insulting. On his blog, Tony Ponanski wrote the following:
To the man who judged me on the Westview track,
I see that you wrote a Facebook status about my journey and me. It described me on the track and from what I gather it was supposed to inspire after a little insult. It went viral.
So let me tell you what I think of your post…
First off I would suggest you not judge me at all. You have my journey all messed up. My journey did not start twelve days ago. It started over a year ago. You see me at 300 pounds but what you do not know is I was over 400 pounds.
You did not know this because I was embarrassed to run in front of other people. So I would come to this track when no one else was around. Sometimes I would go for a couple of minutes. Sometimes I would go for four minutes.
It all started when I went for 48 seconds my first time running. Yes, I timed it. Yes I was upset. And yes, I promised it would never happen again.
When I was over 400 pounds and decided to make the commitment to change my life I would wake up and look in the mirror. I would find at least 100 negative things about my body. All the descriptions you made about me…I was even harder on myself.
Then after losing a few pounds I looked in the mirror again. I did not look at my body. I looked in my eyes. I saw determination and character. I saw a man who did not want to be an inspiration for others but one for himself. I was that man.
Your whole post insults me like no end. I do not eat midnight snacks or drink beer. You probably think all “fat” people do this. Well, we do not. I ate better than most at 300 pounds. In fact, I have not had a drink in well over 20 years.
I look down because I see you stare at me all the time. I do not want to give you the satisfaction of looking into my eyes. There are people who were supporting me all along. Not people who made up fictional parts of my life.
I also do not listen to music because I hear everything. I hear the laughter and I hear the snickers. They are never about me except they always are. I have been overweight my whole life. I have not had my blinders on for some time.
There are no mantras going through my head. When I run it is clear. I have no anger or happiness. I am there to complete a task. I am good at that.
You fooled people on Facebook but you have not fooled me. You do not have respect for my journey because you do not know it. I have told my story to thousands of people. I have been told that I have inspired many as well. Not because of the way I run but because of the person I am. Not because of my 200 pound weight loss but because of the words that I have had inside for years.
Many of us have been that person being judged and then twirled into some weird inspirational story. I was judged at the gym at 400 pounds. I was laughed at in Panera at 350 pounds. I was embarrassed at 300 pounds and honestly I was the same person at 195 pounds as I was at 420 pounds.
I tell people now that weight loss should not make you love yourself more. That is the mistake I made.
So next time you look at me on that track do yourself a favor. Look away. I do not look like I once did. I do not want to be your inspiration or your motivation.
I am a runner. I was a runner at 420 pounds and I am a runner today.
And runners do one thing.
They run. Not write about other runners.
Tony Ponanski (not surprisingly, his name isn’t ‘fatty’) seems to understand something that the writer of the anonymous letter just doesn’t get: That his self-worth doesn’t come from his weight. It sounds like he has already been through an incredible journey in terms if his size and self-image, and he has learned that “weight loss should not make you love yourself more”.
Basically, there are a million reasons that people run, and assuming he is running exclusively to lose weight just because of the way he looks is presumptuous and rude.
And Tony Posnanski doesn’t think his running should be anybody else’s damn business. So was his response fair? Did he have the right to be offended, or was the original open letter more inspiring than condescending?