health

Sick of #fitspo? You need to read this.

Sick of these kinds of pictures? I was too.

Along with many others this year, I joined the fun run bandwagon. I don’t know whether it was the enticing spectrum of instagrams of the Colour Run, or my discovery of the Bay Run that got my ass in to gear, but earlier this year I signed up for the Nike She Runs the Night 10km run in Sydney.

I have been hesitant to admit that I’m a runner. Hesitant because I didn’t want to tell people about my fitness abilities, and then have them see me failing. So I’m not a hard-core runner, but I do run. For about six years now, a few times a week (mostly), I’ve run.

I run because it feels good. I run because I can feel the fresh air. I run because walking doesn’t really get anything moving – if you know what I mean.

When the opportunity came to run the night, I thought this might be a good chance to see how much of a runner I actually was. So, I called a friend, signed up for my-shirt, and bumped up my ‘couple’ of runs a week to ‘a few’ runs a week.

On the night of Saturday May 4, 2013, I posted my own instagram. The caption said: Girls run the night, we run the night. #beyonce #runningplaylist #nikesheruns #feminism.

The hashtags were all semi-sardonic (I thought I was being very funny with the beyonce reference). I prepared myself to cringe at the many inspirational womens slogans that I would pass on the race. I pictured them: ‘never never never give up’, ‘you are who you decide to be’, ‘only you determine your steps.’ I’ve often found them hard to stomach. Sure, I partly believe in them, but the part-lioness, part-woman logo image that was splashed around the place, for me was hard to take.

I don’t feel like a lioness running in the wind. I feel like an awkward antalope attempting to steady my panting steps. I have always found it hard to say ‘I am woman, hear me roar’, because I feel more like, ‘I am woman with a couple of opinions, please hear them out with me as I share them softly.’ I am hardly the eye of the tiger. But while running, this got me thinking. Thinking about running.

My Nike She Runs Instagram

Indeed it was the last hashtag on my instagram (#feminism (with some imbued lioness imagery) that I felt quite ambivalent about. (And thinking and running does work.) Have I taken the piss from a concept or abandoned a term that is in fact quite important?

As I ran the race I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the momentum (I should have guessed, it was a race), empowerment (some inspirational runners out there- I’m not kidding) and most of all, the overwhelming vision of so many women’s bodies. Now again, I’m not the type to put a spotlight on body image, but when you lump yourself on a track with 5999 other women in running gear, there’s not really anywhere else to look.

I saw pear-shaped figures, brick shaped, hourglass, stick-thin and apple-shaped figures. I saw the inspiration figures that lapped us in their stream-lined suits. I saw the packs of 19-years-old, 39-year-olds, and the mothers and daughters that ran side by side. I saw women who had obviously overcome health-related issues: broken legs, twisted knees and or weight issues. And, each woman was beautiful. I didn’t expect to feel so liberated.

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Okay, now let’s get writerly, and see what I mean by running and feminism.

Writers have talked about how we feel with our body. Our consciousness is tied to our frame. Marcel Proust wrote “We live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom: our body.” And as women, we learn to live in it, fight from it, and defend it. I’m sure you would agree.

For some reason or another this body image idea constantly crops up when considering feminism, or women in power. It frustrates me that a women’s magazine will discuss in depth issues about overcoming trials and circumstance, and then have a feature on how to make your lips look bigger on the opposite page. I keep coming back to this question of where body fits with feminism. I keep asking why my physical appearance must be stitched to the issues of my mind.

But running has taught me about this connection of body and mind. I didn’t realise how running with women could teach me that. I didn’t realise that running would help my thinking.

Running has helped me to slow those parts down. I speed up in the physical and shift weight (hopefully) as each foot that hits the ground. I shift my weighted thoughts. I suspend my emotions and think about the tangible. I think about my core, my legs and my lungs. I learn to breathe. I learn to be present. Running has had my mind stop, or at least slow down. Running, I realise, keeps me sane and that it helps me to breathe and feel the now. And as I run, I imagine I hold time, knowing that it will pass with distance. I shift the conscious to the physical, training that connection between body and mind.

Women’s fun runs… are they more than just inspirational slogans?

It doesn’t mean I am the lioness on the picture, the woman who overbearingly shares her obnoxious inspirational ‘I can do it’ slogans with the world. But it does mean that I can join with other women and cross some ground together.

Sure, the fact that this run was at night, and only in the company of women, might have been a large pull factor for many women. And,  I’m learning that that’s okay. It’s okay to not be able to swallow all the slogans. Yet, it’s also great to not dismiss them completely. Because running with women is actually wonderful.

On Saturday the 12 May 2013, I was proud to say that I, both mind and body, finished the race. I ran and counted my footsteps hitting the ground. While connecting with my physical world, I decided not to give my emotions so much weight. It was good to run the race with these women. And I would consider signing up for it again.

Emma Froggatt is a writer, a Masters student and an intern at Mamamia. You can follow her on twitter here.

What do you think of #fitspo slogans? Are they inspirational, or over-the-top and contrived?