Louise Green: Smashing Body Size Stereotypes

Book Cover Big Fit Girl

Throughout March we've been talking about misfits and outliers, people and characters who refuse to fit in the narrow spaces that have been prescribed to them. Athlete and personal trainer Louise Green, with her first book, is no exception. Big Fit Girl is described as "a kick-ass call to arms," an inspiring account of how one woman comes to embrace the body she has and how you can do the same. In this excerpt, Green advises about to start smashing body stereotypes and why you don't have to wait for "one day" to do the things you've always wanted to do. 

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I ran my first half-marathon in San Francisco. When I woke up on race day, my stomach was churning with both fear and excitement. Getting ready in front of the mirror that morning, I repeated my mantra: You are an athlete. You are a champion who has put in the training time. You belong here.

When we arrived at the race location and I caught my first glimpse of the start line for the 30th Annual Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon and 5k, I felt even more determined. This was the beginning of one of the most demanding days of my life, and I was filled with excitement and growing confidence. As I approached the desk to pick up my race package, I caught the eye of the young man behind the table. He asked my name and without hesitation reached for the 5k race package. He assumed I was participating in the (much) shorter race.

This moment speaks volumes about how people perceive those of us with larger bodies and why many of us feel that we don’t fit in. My body size communicated to him that I was not physically capable of running the event’s longer race. This happens at most events I participate in: someone might make an out-of-line comment or show surprise or express an assumption about what my body is capable of. The same thing happens when I tell people that I am a personal trainer and I own a fitness business.

“I am here to run the half-marathon,” I said sharply. “Oh,” he said, quickly fumbling for my race package in the other box. I took my number and the event-branded race shirt that was three sizes too small and joined my husband.

The little voice inside cheering me on had been reduced to a whisper. As we stood silently waiting for the race to begin, I couldn’t help feeling defeated. I had trained for months and run hundreds of miles, and yet this encounter left me feeling like an impostor. I had felt this before—like I didn’t fit in.

Unfortunately, this feeling of sitting on the sidelines can be common among women of size who participate in races; perhaps you have felt this way too. Throughout my career as a trainer, women have shared stories of fitness classes, races, and high school gym classes where their potential was repeatedly overlooked because of their size. As humans, we crave acceptance. And these memories of rejection linger and hold us back.

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Louise Green Big Fit Girl

Credit: Vairdy Photography

While many people assume that fat automatically equals unfit, a growing number of highly respected researchers and agencies say otherwise. Dr. Steven Blair is a renowned exercise researcher at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. His research shows that excess weight is not “the enemy.” Not getting enough exercise and being cardiovascularly unfit are much greater contributors to poor health than any extra pounds can be. Blair stands firmly by his research showing that fit, fat people outlive thin, unfit people. The National Cancer Institute also backed this finding, reporting that physical activity is associated with greater longevity among persons in all BMI groups: those normal weight, and those considered fat.

Although many studies demonstrate that a fit body can come in a range of sizes, many people can’t see beyond the stereotypes. Larger bodies seldom appear in advertisements for gyms or in fitness magazines. When we do see a fat body in the media, it often accompanies an article about the latest demonizing obesity study and shows the person from only the shoulders down, dehumanizing the person. Athletes like me who fall outside of the athletic norm often feel we don’t fit in because we’ve been told, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that we don’t.

Changing our fitness experience means surrounding ourselves with positive influences and finding teams of people who leave stereotypes at the door. And because we seldom see athletes of size in our daily visual landscape, it’s up to you and me to change the perceptions out there.

Louise Green Big Fit Girl Stretching

Credit: Katie Smith

There are a number of things we can all do to shatter stereotypes surrounding people of size and show society a new version of the plus-size woman:

1. Sign up for a 5k walk or run. Being seen participating in sporting events makes a powerful statement: plus-size does not mean inactive, unfit, or unhealthy. The more people like you and me who are seen at such events, the more our participation will be perceived as normal.

2. Perhaps you have a bucket list but felt you needed to be thinner or more fit to do these things you’ve always wanted to do. Jump out of plane? Do an obstacle mud race? I always wanted to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon—so I did! Today is a gift and tomorrow is not guaranteed, so start ticking off the boxes. 


3. Don’t wait for someday—live your life on your terms today. Maybe going to the beach is something you’ve been waiting to do when you are thinner? Everyone deserves to swim and enjoy the beach. I love the saying, “If you have a body and you go to the beach, you have a beach body!” You can rock a bathing suit. Buy one that makes you feel good and then strut your stuff. There is more than one type of bathing suit body.

4. Wear what you want. Try something that is out of your comfort zone but that you’ve always wanted to wear: bold prints, fitted clothing, and horizontal stripes come to mind. Bodies of size do not need to be all covered up, draped in black, or restricted to plain clothing. Wear what makes you feel good.

5. Accept yourself. Abandoning diet culture and rocking the body you have shatters the stereotype that all big women are on a mission to become thin. And, in case you haven’t heard, you don’t have to be on that mission anymore.

There is a misconception that people like us are crying into our pillows every night wishing we could lose weight and find happiness. But your weight does not determine your happiness. Live your happiest life now, not when you are thinner. Show yourself and the world that big girls rule their lives.

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From Big Fit Girl, by Louise Green. Greystone Books, March 2017. Excerpt appears with permission of the publisher. 

March 23, 2017
Books mentioned in this post
Big Fit Girl

Big Fit Girl

Embrace the Body You Have
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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