I wrote that first paragraph during the shutdown and wasn't sure where I was going with it. Now I'm back at work with different hours but the same amount of time away from home. I'm pretty sure I started the post with the intent of reminding people that it's OK to lower expectations and not be exceptionally productive, especially under stress, but since I lost my way with the original post, I decided to go ahead and completely switch paths. The title no longer fits, but I'll leave it.
Over the years, I haven't been as involved with the eating disorder recovery community as I once was. It feels saturated with a few loud voices at the top and many deserving but mostly unheard voices everywhere else. Despite the increase in available information about recovery and an increase in the number of people attempting to grab a platform, I still see a lot of bad advice presented. I've stopped looking at "health" and diet culture on Instagram altogether. I will never care about the macros someone else eats, and seeing images of high-protein or vegan glop served on a plate or in a bowl or blended with other ingredients and served in a glass will never inspire me. It's probably because there's little to no joy in that kind of food. I don't need to see your every unimpressive breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Great if that shit brings you and other people pleasure. It's just not for me. If I'm looking for some food inspiration, I'd much rather watch a video put out by Sarah Kosca and her daughter because why not bring some elegance, creativity, humor, and fun into food preparation?
Blatant unhealthy or triggering social media accounts aside, I have seen some of the worst content coming from people who probably think what they're doing is inspiring or helpful. Some missteps I have encountered recently are listed below:
1. Pinching your thigh or other body part and showing that even athletes or thin people have cellulite doesn't help anyone.
What the hell? I mean, why do this? If you're doing this publicly, either you have no clue how absolutely unhelpful this is, how potentially triggering it could be to someone struggling, or you yourself have body issues. I never, ever need to see anyone grab her thigh to point out cellulite. The only action this will inspire in me is repeatedly banging my head against a hard object.
Maybe instead of grabbing body parts to expose "flaws" as one person put it, you could try focusing on, oh, I don't know, a fucking book you read, the weather, the places your legs can take you, performance, health, or anything else, really. If you have a problem with your cellulite or want to show it off to everyone, that's your business, but don't think that doing so is going to be helpful to anyone. It's not. At best people don't give a shit. At worst, you're causing stress in someone's life who will compare her legs to yours and may start to assume the worst about her own body.
2. Stop calling yourself a "big" runner when you're not.
I'm not sure if it's a body dysmorphic thing or what, but I see a lot of lean runners calling themselves big. I even saw one runner who has continually placed herself in the "bigger" category show off countless images of herself indicating that she is no bigger and has almost always been the same size or smaller than her competitors. Claiming you're larger than you are is unhelpful. Imagine being an actual bigger runner or larger person while watching a thin, elite runner call herself big. It's worthless to focus on size anyway when racing is about performance, but many athletes draw unnecessary attention to the female body by talking about size. Your size is irrelevant to how someone else will perform. The same kinds of comparisons happen as with the situation above. It's just not helpful, at all. People have eyes and don't need to be told stories about what they're supposed to be seeing over what they actually see. Focus on you, and if you have a distorted view of yourself, ask for some guidance from a professional.
3. Don't offer advice when you're not qualified and know nothing about a person's history and health background.
I see this way too often. I'm not talking big generalizations like most bloggers tend to do; I'm talking direct answers to specific questions posed by a specific individual. If you don't know about a person's health and background, there is absolutely no way to know if that person is healthy, and, unless you have a medical degree, you are not qualified to answer questions pertaining to his or her health.
Years ago, a runner posted a Q & A on a blog that was rather horrifying. A fan asked about losing weight before a big competition. There was no mention of his or her current weight or if anyone suggested the weight-loss, only that there was this desire to lose weight. The one posing the question admitted being prone to stress fractures, too. Without knowing jack shit about this individual, the blogger started off sensibly and then quickly veered into what-the-fuck territory by musing that maybe this individual only needed to lose a few pounds... or maybe more than 10 in order to run well. Here's a thought, what if weight-loss wasn't the answer at all? I admit that the overall sentiment was probably not harmful or at least not meant to be, but it only takes a few lines of triggering content to possibly lead someone who's reading the exchange, including the one posing the question, in the wrong direction.
This is a great example of someone meaning well but being completely unqualified to answer this type of question. Are you a doctor? Do you have a degree in nutrition science? No? Then shut the fuck up. There is zero need to go into how much better you might run if you lose weight, especially when you don't know what the person weighs or anything about this individual. The focus should have been entirely on running and performance goals, strength, and balance. It's uncomfortable for me to see anyone in the running community go into fantasy success stories about weight-loss and running better knowing that there may be young athletes reading the content. Weight-loss alone never leads to running success. You still have to do the training, and you can't do that if you're not fueling your body, period. That's all that needed to be said. Jesus Christ, so many people have a God complex, thinking they can play online doctor, coach, therapist, and general know-it-all in every situation.
4. Male coaches aren't the sole problem when it comes to the abuse of young athletes.
I know I'm not alone in thinking this. Other runners and athletes have already pointed out that female coaches can be just as much of a threat to the well-being of an athlete as their male counterparts. Additionally, there are deeper issues at play when it comes to the broken systems in the athletic community. Replacing male coaches or adding more female coaches won't solve issues of abuse if deeper issues and false narratives are ignored. I and others have already gone over some ideas around potential ways to address abuse, educate athletes about what abuse looks like, and provide a safe space for athletes to open up and share concerns, so I won't repeat myself here. I just see too many people trying to solve problems that have been going on for decades by focusing on a single issue, not the big picture. Doing this isn't likely to fix what's broken.
5. Girls are not women and visa versa.
It's not so much that I or most people get upset if someone slips and calls women girls. It's generally not a huge deal as long as calling a woman a girl isn't meant to be insulting or belittling, as in she, an adult, is immature or not as competent as a man, but if it's simply describing gender and the person speaking uses boys and girls as descriptors, one can hopefully see it's not meant to be offensive.
The bigger issue is when coaches or other adults treat young girls as if they are women who can handle more emotional and physical stress than youngsters may be ready for. This may be obvious when it comes to actual children, but athletes who are teens are also not mature adults.
Too often, people apply adult thinking to situations involving teens and children. If you're an adult addressing a situation that involves a child and start out by saying, "I would just..." stop yourself. Just don't go there. Consider the different types of stressors children face. When it comes to abuse, it's even more unbelievable that people on the outside expect a child to speak up or face her abuser in the moment. That's why it's important to provide outside checks for young athletes, a way for them to feel safe about opening up about general concerns and abuses.
Some helpful resources:
Safe Sport: https://safesport.org/
Rachael Steil: https://runninginsilence.org/resources/
Child Help: https://www.childhelp.org/subs/speak-safe-athletes/
A lot of this is nothing new. I and others have expressed similar sentiments before, but I keep coming back to the fact that too many individuals are throwing themselves in positions of authority without having the much-needed qualifications and could potentially end up directly or indirectly harming someone.