Posted on December 18, 2014 by Society Nine
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This is the third profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass women in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for. Have a story to tell? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org – tell us who you are, a little bit about your journey and what you fight for – in life and sport.My name is Kristin and I am obese. No, I didn’t mean to say I am overweight, I meant obese. I have run 6 half-marathons in the past year and a half, I weight lift 3 days a week and I follow a fairly healthy diet but despite these facts, I am obese. This is not my attempt at a sob story and I don’t need you to tell me that I am “pretty, anyway” or that I can “change that with healthy eating and exercise.” I don’t think I am obese in the way teenagers complain, while pinching a bit of skin to show proof. I really am obese. At least, that’s what I have been told by my doctor, who performed an In-Body test on me in her office a few months ago. If you haven’t seen one of these machines yet, they are actually really cool. It’s like a scale that measures not only your weight, but everything from your bone density, muscle mass, hydration levels and everyone’s least favorite word: fat. In under a minute, I had a piece of paper that told me who I was: Fat. Looking back, had I taken that test at the end of high school I could have saved a lot of money “finding myself” in college, but that’s a conversation for another day. The test confirmed that I had very good muscle mass, I was just a little bit dehydrated, my skeleton weighs over 70 pounds (when knew?) and that I was carrying around too much fat for my height. I am 5’9 and wear between a size 14 and 16 pant.
When I told my friends, there was a general sense of outrage, as one of the main changes my doctor prescribed was to end my long distance running. Studies show I can more effectively burn calories doing weight bearing exercises. My running team banded together to share articles and personal antidotes about the weight they had lost running, or how running burns the most calories of any cardio sport. I had actually gained weight when I took up running. I’m sharing this, because while it is no secret that weight and body image are huge issues plaguing women every day, it takes on a more extreme role when one is considered an athlete. If you look up the definition of athlete in the dictionary it will tell you this: ath-lete: noun: a person trained or gifted in exercise or contests involving physical agility, stamina or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise or game requiring physical skill. No where in this definition does it describe what an athlete should look like, male or female. But yet, our society has given us the image of an athlete. They are muscular and sculpted, without an ounce of body fat, and they always have the glow of a perfect summer tan. Pick up any fitness magazine on the market, and I am willing to bet the cost of a race entry fee, that I am right. There is no acknowledgement of any other type of athlete than this. So what is one supposed to do when they don’t look like this? I became incredibly frustrated for awhile. How could I be proud of my accomplishments if they didn’t show, physically? Am I expected to just pretend the unattainable images I see of what an athlete “should” look like don’t bother me? Am I supposed to explain my weight issues when announcing my most recent running accomplishment? I’ve spent too long walking around with the word obese hanging around my neck like an albatross. At the gym recently, I noticed a group forming around me as I performed my workout, including an obscenely large amount of burpees, assisted pull-ups and kettle bell swings. I thought maybe I had been taking up too much space or hogging equipment, so I apologized and welcomed them to use any of the equipment I had laid out. Instead, they all shook their heads, sharing comments about how amazed they were with what I was accomplishing that day.
For the first time, I saw what my body was capable from a new perspective. They were unaware that I was defined as obese. Having not seen my In-Body test results, all they saw was me. And for the first time, I saw me. A woman, with things to work on, but who was not afraid to push herself a little harder than had the day before. My body can do amazing things. I love my legs, with all of their girth and space they take up, they have carried me farther than I could ever once imagine. My arms have pulled me forward, propelled me through each lap swam, each sprint completed and each pull up attempted. Though the washboard abs have yet to make an appearance, my core is strong and can keep me in alignment through the toughest workouts, protecting me from injury and defeat. My butt can’t fit into a designer pair jeans, but it can help me climb up a Mt. Everest sized hill in my spinning classes!
While I am not encouraging obesity at all, and am acknowledging wholeheartedly the health risks associated with that diagnoses, I refuse to let this word define me, anymore than I will let the cookie cutter, photo shopped fitness models define me. I am proud of my accomplishments, and I refuse to consider that I have succeeded despite the fact I am obese. I have earned everything I have done because I worked for it. One foot in front of the other, closer to meeting the next goal, already planning the next race or next workout. I am a woman. I am obese. I am an athlete.
Kristin Korvell is the Site-Coordinator for a 21st Century Learning Center After School program in Lacey, WA. She is passionate about social change and fighting for what she believes in; bargain shopping and and a well poured glass of red wine. She is currently working towards her Masters in Public Administration and firmly believes in the power of a good run to change everything. Photos by John Korvell