Monday, June 11, 2018


Recently, I saw some Tweets expressing outrage about an article in the New York Times. I clicked the link expecting to be horrified by the content and, instead, found a very cautiously written piece on young female athletes. I read and reread the article, trying to see the cause of all this anger. It seems people often want to shoot the messenger instead of get to the root of the problem.

The article actually addresses something Brad, Kevin, and I discussed at our book signing. An audience member asked us why so many young, successful female athletes disappear after high school. Asking the question doesn't make anyone the bad guy. These are important issues that need to be discussed. As the article points out:

...since 1980, just one female winner of the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships has made an Olympic team, compared with seven male high school champions. Just four have won an individual N.C.A.A. championship, but none of those were in cross-country.

In regard to the changes young females and young female athletes experience at the onset of puberty, Melody Fairchild offers her perspective in a thoughtful and measured response by saying:

That is not a sustainable thing,” Fairchild said in an interview from her home in Colorado, where she is a personal running coach. Even more dangerous, she added, is the message young women get when they are encouraged to fight to regain their high school physiques. “We want them to embrace being in a strong woman’s body.

Then the article goes into how Tuohy, a runner who is already breaking course records in cross country and track, her parents, and her coach are doing what they can to avoid mistakes they see others made. They are limiting her mileage, doing what they can to keep media attention to a minimum, encouraging her to stay in school and not go pro, and working to keep her healthy and her life balanced.

There's already a healthier trend in high school running programs that, fortunately, encourages young women to embrace their strength. Things are definitely different now than they were in the 80s, though there's still a very long way to go. Still, sayings related to being thin to win are no longer the norm. It should be noted, too, that nowhere in this article does it suggest you have to be thin to be successful. Nowhere in the article does it say or suggest that puberty is the problem. It very clearly states that the issue isn't staying thin but not building strength to sustain changes that naturally occur at puberty. There is a huge difference, an enormous one. In fact, the article suggests that a false assumption that an athlete has to stay lean is what often leads to disordered eating and low self-esteem and, eventually, the common crash and eventual disappearance of promising female athletes after high school.

I could spend more time on this and go through the article sentence by sentence, but that's it in a nutshell. I think people are misinterpreting the content of the article and taking a few lines out of context. For me, there are bigger battles to fight when it comes to what's going on in our society to promote, intentionally or not, unhealthy eating and lifestyle patterns, and mustering outrage at a pretty sensibly written article isn't on my list of time well spent. 


  1. Lauren seems to think that if people wouldn't write articles like this, the central issue it raises (that a lot of great teenage runners for whatever reason ultimately fail to attain world-class status) would simply disappear. That's obviously hogwash.

    She also appears to be accusing the writer of not being sensitive to the fact that different individuals (either within-sex or between-sex) mature at different rates. That's a red herring, because in the end, the author's observation stands: a lot of great girl runners don't go on to become great women runners.

    She seems to be postulating that articles like these drive girls out of the sport owing to a self-fulfilling prophecy: If fast girls who have not yet fully matured are made aware that they are supposed to fail, then they will. If this is in fact what she's saying, I don't see any reason to believe that she's right. It would be virtually impossible to be a fast teenage girl and be unaware of the comparatively long odds one is facing -- an unfortunate reality that long predates the Internet. Specifically, Tuohy's family and coach are clearly aware of this.

    It's Twitter, so a lot of the comments were nothing but blind outrage aimed at the writer by people who couldn't be bothered to read the story. Fangirls of Lauren and nothing more.

  2. I think Melody did a great job of addressing what needed to be said. Articles like this are good because they allow for a discussion. One problem is that people jump to conclusions and don't read the actual content. There's absolutely nothing in the article that suggests that female runners shouldn't mature into stronger athletes.I mean, Melody states it outright that they should and implies that they should be supported in that. The author is merely asking how this might be done and providing a few suggestions based on what Tuohy and her team are attempting to do now.

  3. It's interesting that Outside Magazine decided to write an entire article based on one person's misguided opinion of the New York Times article, despite the fact that the author of the NYT article tweeted a response that said, "The whole point of the story is that society puts unrealistic expectations on youth female runners because it doesn’t understand development and its effects." I'm still struggling to understand how anyone could read this and assume it suggested that puberty is the problem or that the puzzle is how to avoid the effects of puberty. The puzzle is how to better adapt to the changes that naturally occur and how to avoid the pressures, both internal and outside, that anyone, especially a top athlete, might experience. Focusing on body size and shape isn't the answer.

    I have to admit, I haven't been impressed with Outside Magazine's take on women, health, and body image lately.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.