Monday, December 28, 2020

Pain and Pretzels

Every time I go to a certain store, I sort of pretend I'm not going to buy a large soft pretzel. I'm not sure why I do this, maybe in part because bread has become such a taboo item these days, and I contemplate whether or not I "should" eat the pretzel, thinking maybe I ought to choose something healthier. I try to look away as I walk by the bakery, and eventually take a quick glance. If there are any twisted knots left, I get a little thrill and run over to put one in a bag. If the shelf is empty, I'm always disappointed and reluctantly toss some salad or a can of soup into my basket. 

These days, it's not exactly guilt that makes me kind of weird about the purchase. I used to eat two bagels topped with peanut butter or cheese at a time when I was in college and never really thought twice about it. Back then, bread was still considered part of a healthy diet. I was also running a lot and probably needed whatever carbs I consumed. As it is, I really enjoy toasting the pretzel and eating it with cream cheese, butter, or fried eggs. It makes me content or at least not feel physically bad. Overall, it's a pleasant experience, however, there's this little part of my brain that questions it. I hate that the world ever heard of Keto, Paleo, Atkins, or whatever other fad diet is au courant because now we're all supposed to look up to Instagrammers who eat "clean," whatever the fuck that means, when it's much more enjoyable to take pleasure in eating. The mess of dieters on social media reminds me of terrible times in my life when I was way too rigid and uptight to eat what I craved and couldn't see that eating something outside of my comfort zone when I was hungry was better than avoiding all food if I couldn't get something that fit with my specific set of set rules. In some ways, I'm still too rigid, a bit of the old OCD going on, but I'm glad I'm suffering a bit less and not so uptight that I can't enjoy some fucking bread now and then.

Baked goods aside, I've been thinking about this blog post for years. An outline has been sitting untouched for far too long, but an incident that occurred recently prompted me to drag out the draft folder and take another look. This is really just a rant, not an exercise in writing, and it's probably not going to be very entertaining. In other words, read at your own risk. 

It goes without saying that this year has been an exceptionally hard year on almost everyone. Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances have lost people close to them, the majority but not all from COVID. As a result, this doesn't feel like the right time to drop this kind of post into cyberspace, but there's never really a perfect time. 

A little over a week ago, I had a colonoscopy that resulted in two polyps being removed. Everything should be fine, but I have felt exceptionally tired and run-down ever since. That same day, I got some not so good news about my foot. An MRI showed a ligament tear, tendon thickening, a trapped nerve, some swelling in various places, and a little cartilage wearing in the joint. Oddly, none of this is supposed to prevent me from running..well, jogging, but today, I was just tired, tired of my routine, physically tired, emotionally drained, and sick of dealing with the pain and my wonky gait. I started out on a little jog in the falling snow and kept stopping. My shoe needed retying. Everything hurt. I needed to stretch a little more. My other shoe needed adjusting. I didn't even get a few houses up the street before I just said, "fuck it," and walked home. 

In the last couple of months, I have given more serious thought to giving up running altogether. It's the only exercise I really like other than horseback riding, which is too expensive, and I haven't gotten anywhere near a horse in what feels like a lifetime. I'm not quite giving up yet, mostly because I feel like if I can get to a point where I can walk without pain or at least with less pain, I'll naturally want to run. At this point, both hurt. Suzy Hamilton and I talked once about what we would do if we couldn't run. We both agreed that we would become walkers or maybe hikers instead. I don't know where she stands on that now, but walking isn't much of an option for me at the moment. Even biking accentuates my imbalances. It all just feels wrong. 
Pain is considered a symptom of an underlying condition. In more technical terms, it has been described as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage." Physical pain and emotional pain can sometimes become intertwined. The pain of existing for some can feel like a physical ache or discomfort, and chronic physical pain can increase emotional pain. 

When I first got the results of the MRI, I wasn't exactly surprised. I knew something was wrong, but I still worried maybe the test wouldn't show anything. Going into my hysterectomy, that same kind of fear arose. What if it's all in my head? What if there's nothing wrong, and it turns out I'm just a whiner? But, to date, that has never been the case. 

What concerns me regarding this whole situation is that a few years ago, I saw a couple of alternative "healers" who suggested that I was creating pain, that there was nothing physically wrong with my foot. I put off getting an MRI because I assumed they were basing this knowledge about my body part on some kind of evidence, but what they were really getting at was a fancy way of saying, "It's in your head." I suppose looking at my foot, one would never really know all that was going on under the surface, but everything wrong with my foot isn't apparent at a glance. That's why there are other ways to access injuries. That siad, there are at least some ways of prodding and poking certain areas that should give a professional some kind of an idea about the type of injury a person has or at least make it apparent that the discomfort is specific to a particular spot and not in a patient's head.
I always thought that this post would be extra long and informative, full of facts about the difference between psychosomatic issues and injuries. I know that the mind is powerful and believe it can contribute to either making pain worse or alleviating it, but I can't even tell you how absolutely sick and tired I am of people who discount other people's pain. I'm very fortunate that I have recently worked with a few people, my podiatrist included, who have never questioned my pain. Insted, they have worked with me to try to find ways to help cope with it and alleviate it as much as possible. 

I guess my whole point in writing this is to encourage people to trust their intuition when it comes to pain. Most people, especially runners, have a good idea of what's going on with their bodies. Don't let anyone make assumptions about something you know to be real. I always come back to the idea that even if pain were in someone's head, shouldn't that also be addressed? Wouldn't that also be a symptom of something deeper? I mean, fuck. The way some so easily discount others really saddens me. 

If I opt for surgery, it will be my 13th. I'm not ready to face that yet.

I'm not bothering to proofread this. I'm too tired, and I've spent most of the day in bed.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Journalistic Integrity

Being loud doesn't necessarily mean bringing the right kind of attention to a cause, and, as others have noted, posting a black box or a pink ribbon on social media accounts one day of the year, wearing a shirt, or shouting a slogan isn't the same as learning about a specific cause, donating to it, or supporting the people dedicated to making real changes. For many groups advocating for change, some issues will slide into the political arena. For example, some of you might be familiar with the Breathe Act, an important and necessary bill created by some of the founders of Black Lives Matter. This bill addresses police brutality in the United States. It is supported by many racial justice groups and politicians, and this is just one way BLM is associated with politics.

If you go to the BLM website, the group describes itself as a political and social movement. In October 2020, Black Lives Matter launched a PAC (political action committee.) This was done specifically so that the group can effect change in a concrete way through legislation and by educating voters. I believe this to be a good move on their part. Another organization, and one I donate to, the ACLU, is also dedicated to fighting for racial justice and against systemic racism. According to their website: 

The ACLU is committed to combating racism in all its forms. Its advocacy includes litigation, community organizing and training, legislative initiatives, and public education to address the broad spectrum of issues that disproportionately and negatively impact people of color.

Targets of oppression are usually women, migrants, people of color, indigenous people, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and people who are poor, in no particular order. If you're a runner and exercise at all in public, chances are you've been yelled at, but that's not the same as facing oppression and systemic racism.

This is all just to say that political groups are usually necessary in order to accomplish lasting change in this country. It's fine to pay attention to the social aspect of an organization, but observable change has a better chance backed by legislation. It's also important that those who support a group or movement have a good understanding of all that the organization represents. As is often the case when it comes to large, diverse organizations, not everyone has a comprehensive understanding of all that the BLM movement entails. While it's clear that BLM has a political agenda, as it should, supporting citizens or people of color and minorities is not political, and it's great to see more and more people making an effort to learn just how to do this, whether it's supporting businesses (some ideas here and here), donating to specific organizations, or simply listening to others talk about issues, there are quite a few active ways to help.

In 2019, Outside Magazine Online published a gushing piece on Gary Cantrell, going into great detail about the kind and dedicated man and his ability to put on some of the most difficult running races around. If you googled his name then, you would find all kinds of information on his impressive charity contributions, his running, and, of course, his role as a race director. What a difference a year makes. In 2020, Outside Magazine online published an article about Cantrell that included a lie by omission in the title itself, hinting that their beloved race director might be a racist. As is often the case with biased reporting, no real evidence was offered. In fact, the author presents more evidence to the contrary, despite the misleading title. Google Gary's name now, and you will find a mess of contradictory pieces, those in support of him and those that look more like hit pieces, very little in between, though I found one article that did a better job than most of presenting both sides of a recent event that landed the race director in the hot seat.

After reading four articles, a blog post, far too many social media posts, and listening to two podcasts on the topic, there are still inconsistencies about minor details relating to the events that caused Outside to state that Lazarus Lake "took a stand against BLM," which isn't accurate. From what I can gather, a runner, Ben, who entered one of Gary's virtual races also joined the race's Facebook group, posted an image of himself in a BLM shirt that either violated the group's terms --which everyone is prompted to agree to before joining -- or caused a big stink while Ben was sleeping and was either immediately deleted or deleted after arguing in the group started and complaints began to roll in.

Either way, Laz and the moderators of the Facebook group have the right to delete whatever post they want for whatever reason at any given time. It's his group. Either you make exceptions for everyone, or you stick to the rules. I or others may not agree with what the mods choose to do, but it's not my group.

A few years ago, I was part of a team of moderators for an eating disorder recovery group, and our rules were very strict. As a result, we deleted a lot of posts and images that might not cause issues on Instagram or in other forums. People sometimes wanted to argue that certain images sent a positive message, but in that particular group, we didn't allow images of bodies, period. People who joined were given the rules and could leave if they didn't like the atmosphere. It's a judgment call, done in order to keep a group running smoothly and to hopefully prevent anyone from being hurt, and it's not like the Internet is lacking when it comes to places to post content.

Most of the time it's an easy choice for moderators as to what gets deleted, but sometimes it can be more complicated. Reading through the comments in that group, several other forums, and on Reddit, it seems most people at least understand the position Laz and his moderators were in and can see why he or his moderators made the decision to delete the post in an effort to keep the forum free of conflict. They consistently delete posts related to politics, ads, and spam. It's a group about running, and that's what they want the focus to be on.

As far as I know, the others who have had posts deleted in that group never brought their complaints to running magazines. Ben stated in a recent podcast, "I put up the post at about 9:30 at night. I wake up the next morning, and the post is gone. It's been deleted, and so I'm like. This is, why would it be deleted?"  He goes on to explain that he got a message from Laz and thought it was interesting but not surprising because he apparently knew that many people see BLM and associate it with politics. But then he wondered who was framing it that way and naturally assumed it was white people. He goes on to explain that whenever white people talk about politics (I assume he means in this kind of setting but could mean generally speaking because he didn't specify), it's "code for this makes me and other white people uncomfortable." At some point, after the photo was deleted, Ben contacted journals to cover the story. Runner's world and Outside both picked it up, and Get Out There took a more balanced approach.

After the photo incident, Ben and several teammates tried to join one of Laz's virtual races under the name BLM and were told they couldn't. He and others who chose what some see as controversial names or names that were bound to bring up politics were welcome to enter under different names. Again, this was a rule that applied to everyone, not specifically to Ben. There are other races that announce a political-free zone, too. I ran one in Longmont, Colorado a few years ago, in fact. I come back to the distinction of BLM being associated with a political movement versus supporting people of color because Laz never banned anyone from joining his race. He simply told people that he had certain rules everyone had to follow in order to participate.

What's clear isn't so much the individual stories, neither has been completely consistent; it's that journalistic integrity has gone to the shitter, and this has nothing really to do with those involved in the incident. The title of the Outside article, Why Did a Virtual Ultra Ban "Black Lives Matter"? is misleading, because Laz and the moderators banned all political posts including Black Lives Matter from both their Facebook group and later from a virtual race, not specifically BLM. There is a distinction. And the publication did this at a time when most people read only the headlines. Laz's group also banned posts that weren't on topic, spam, ads, and anything else they felt was a detriment to the group. BLM wasn't specifically targeted, and nobody banned people from supporting people of color, as evidenced by the image of Amelia Boone sporting a temporary tattoo that reads "say their names" and a team that initially wanted to enter Laz's race using the title BLM but, instead, entered under the name "Breanna [sic], George & Ahmaud” after finding out that the former name wouldn't be permitted. It seems as though Laz and at least some runners found a compromise. Laz seems more concerned with continuing his efforts to raise money for charity than getting involved in online spats, and he has raised an impressive amount for food banks and animal rescues.   

From the Outside article regarding Laz:

He maintained that the purpose of controlling the language of team names and race forums didn’t reflect a personal ideology, but an honest attempt to keep things from devolving into, as he put it, “pointless” arguments. 

And also:

...he and his nine teammates changed their minds after Cantrell informed them that they could not use “Black Lives Matter” as their team name. In an email to the group, Cantrell stated that he was unwilling to allow a team to call itself Black Lives Matter, just as he would be unwilling to let a team use the “MAGA” acronym. “If I thought one heart would be changed, it would be different,” Cantrell wrote, “But all that would happen is the race would fill up with the same crap that permeates everything.”

Keep in mind that by this time, the articles in Outside and Runner's World were out, and Laz and his family had started to receive hate mail and threats. Both Laz and Ben were invited to be guests on podcasts, Laz on Ultrarunning Magazine and Ben on Citius Mag. 

Ben wasn't about to let anything drop, so when he was interviewed on the podcast, he laid out his assumptions about Laz for all to hear, and people took what he said and ran with it, especially the host, Emma Zimmerman. Boy, if you're going to state outright that Lazarus Lake "banned Black Lives Matter from his events" and "shared his racist speech openly on a prominent podcast," you better fucking back it up with some proof. That's a serious accusation. Ben went on to say, "Neither Laz nor Amy say the words "black lives matter", but that's what Laz is referring to when he says " ...the ugliness of people and their politics." only it's not because if you take that statement in context, Laz is talking about the arguing in general, not specific politics, and it was related to him deleting multiple posts in the group. He reiterated this sentiment in his post (below). I listened to both podcasts, and unless you take Laz's generalizations personally while Carly Simon is playing in the background, it's not a racist speech, not even close. 

Speaking of backing up statements with evidence, as far as I can tell, Ben does no such thing when he claims Laz (and his moderators) left up posts containing images of people wearing blue lives matter shirts. Unless I missed it, I never saw a screenshot or image in the group, and most of Ben's "evidence" is a list of links to his own posts on social media.

In response to all that was going on, Laz posted the following:

moderating a facebook group is the worst job in america.
if you are willing to take the grief and maintain eternal vigilance you can have a good group that stays on topic.
you can see the positive and enjoyable potential of social media.
but you will spend an unconscionable amount of time removing ads, charities, trolls, dross, and political posts.

all we are having is a race.
the facebook group is about the race.
we did not just ask one team to change their name.
nor did we ask anyone to withdraw.
political or offensive team names are off the board.
apparently no one is upset that we asked the "whores" to change their name.

here was what surprised me about moderating.
we really didnt have a problem with abusive behavior.
a couple of times someone started to get that social media attitude,
but removing it and telling them to stop was enough.
out of the countless thousands of posts and comments
having someone get out of line twice could be considered nonexistent as a problem.

the popular ultrarunning troll took a little more effort.
but over time, if you remove every single reference as soon as it appears, they tire of it.
everyone learns to ignore the little symbols when they show up,
and it is eventually not worth the effort to insert them,
when it gets nothing in return.

ads, especially race ads, just require diligence.
sometimes it is well meaning members of the group
sometimes it is an RD whose marketing strategy is to piggyback on everyone else's social media.
you keep taking them down,
and no one ever objects.

you know, it sucks pulling down charity ads when you support the charity.
but if you have a good group going, the charity requests will suffocate it. removing them is just something that has to be done.

dross is hard. people dont put in dross on purpose.
sometimes people have faulty filters.
you see that in real life conversations.
the person that interjects something totally off topic out of the blue.

but politics.
first, let me assure you there are not actually any political issues.
the immediate response to pulling down a political post is;
"this is not political, it is a moral issue"
(unfortunately i am not moderating a group that is intended to teach moral values)
the second response is to accuse you of harboring the opposite political view.
success is when you are accused of favoring both sides.
kind of a pyrrhic victory at best.

politics are reliable.
every week there is a new political cause.
and you will have to take down a number of posts.
people who are really consumed by their cause,
and believe it must be the only thing discussed
will bend heaven and earth to find some way to interject it.
and it becomes a real nuisance to try to keep the issue of the week out.
but it has to be done,
because it only takes minutes for those posts to have a hundred responses.
a hundred responses exactly like the ones you can find in a million different places.
everyone is shouting out their viewpoint
and no one is listening.
there is simply no purpose in it.
not one heart or mind will be changed by what is posted in an ultra-race group.
(none are changed anywhere else either)
the group will just dwindle until it is only the people screaming at each other.
political content is removed.

now for the apology part.
after i took down a BLM post on the group they advertised it
(kind of like they are doing right now)
and it unleashed a torrent of ugly, nasty hate mail.
the hate mail was a wasted effort.
i coached other people's kids for 30 years
my skin is a meter thick.
but i did tell the BLM people it did not give me any warm and fuzzy feeling for BLM.
and i was told it did not come from them.

that is fair enough.
it is an error to accept when someone purports to represent someone else that they actually do.
so i apologized for blaming the hate mail on them.

however, using these smear tactics because i don't let them use my group as a forum to advocate for their cause.
that doesn't impress me either.


For whatever reason, Ben recently put up an Instagram post insisting again that he thinks Laz isn't a racist... after calling Laz's interview in a podcast a "racist speech". And shortly before that, there was another one of Ben's posts with the title "Lazurus Lake's White Lie" in which Ben first ties Laz to unrelated events and then brings up the race incident claiming that "white runners left nasty comments in a concerted effort to convince Laz to remove the post," but if he was asleep, how did he know those commenting were white or that they wanted the post removed? Ben may have seen people respond to Laz's post that the race director apparently posted later and then deleted, but how does Ben know who commented on his own post if it was deleted before he saw what unfolded? Anyway, that's another big assumption that may be accurate, but Laz claims otherwise, that it wasn't just white people. Both Ben and Laz seem to agree that the post caused an argument, but not everyone was awake to see who was involved.

For someone who talks about fighting racism and the importance of inclusivity, Ben sure does speculate, assume, and generalize about white people, a LOT. Creating division isn't actually supporting BLM or their principles, and one person doesn't represent an entire group. 

From the Get Out There online article, Ben says, “Laz, we haven’t written you off. This would be so much easier for us if we drew a line and declared everybody on our side good, and everybody on the other side bad. We haven’t done that, and won’t because it goes against our guiding principle of inclusion, which is one of the central tenets of Black Lives Matter.” 

But the more you push the narrative that someone's a racist whom you agreed is not, the more you go against your own supposed principles. And calling someone's speech racist when it's not isn't just lying, it's potentially harmful. It comes off as an attempt to damage someone's reputation. There are better ways to promote a cause. Ben still posts about Laz every now and then on Instagram. He claims he doesn't want people to choose sides, but he certainly isn't living in the gray.

I can see why Laz is fed up with all of this. It's exactly what he was trying to prevent, people arguing, more division, nasty comments, big assumptions spread as fact, and some threatening others over the issue. None of it helps the BLM movement in any productive way. People can look at Ben as some sort of hero, but what's the cost of him speaking out in this way as opposed to dropping the attacks on Laz and simply promoting BLM in his own way? Is he planning to make a fuss at every race that doesn't allow political sentiment? I really don't want to see anything like this happen to the race director in Longmont or any other race director. 

I was hesitant to post this and took an eternity to write it because I know this is a sensitive topic. By pointing out what I see as problems in journalism and with social media, I'm not encouraging anyone to get involved, and I have already made it very clear that I support BLM and will continue to do so. I just don't think that anyone should have the right to shit all over what someone else is doing under the guise of activism. That pisses me off, no matter what the cause. 

Ways to support BLM


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Women's Running

Monday, September 28, 2020

Double Standards And Who Does More Damage

The more I look into the controversy involving a race announcer observing the fact that two ladies leading the race had more muscle mass, the more I realize just how fucked up social media is. Obviously, when injustices occur against women, I believe people should call out the perpetrator, but what happens when the people doing the calling out get it wrong? 

What's strange to me is how few people are correcting those who are pushing the absolutely false narrative that the announcer called the runners fat, and no, he wasn't joking about women's bodies or being condescending, either. Trying to force people to believe that it's a sin any time a man makes any comment about a woman's body is unhealthy. The pendulum has officially swung too far in the opposite direction when any comment made by a man, no matter how inoffensive, is considered an insult. The women in front were pacers. It's expected that they might have a different build. In true body-positive fashion, their strength and power along with all the different body types in that race should be celebrated. Imagine how hard it was and how long it took these two runners to achieve that kind of speed, power, and strength. Why is it so terrible to claim a sprinter typically looks different than a distance runner, and why is there no upset when these kinds of comments are directed at men? 

It would be great if society could shift attention away from women's bodies altogether, but the announcer's comment was more about two athletes than it was about women in particular. The conversation around what happened afterward was hardly productive, mostly because of the many individuals commenting who jumped to the wrong conclusion and also because quite a few of them post far more damaging content than a guy simply calling two fast professional athletes muscular. 

I haven't seen a response from Zdenka Seidlova saying she was upset by what the announcer said. She seemed pretty content to have been invited to participate in the race and even noted that she initially laughed and was nervous about the offer to be a pacer. Nowhere did I see any outrage on her part about the commentary. I have to side with Bill Maher here and agree that you shouldn't be more outraged than the victim, especially if that person doesn't even see herself as one, but, man, the vitriol that poured out against the announcer was shocking and really upsetting. 

I'm scratching my head at one comment I saw claiming young girls would hear the announcer's take on the situation and think "small= fast". Well, which is it? Are people upset he called the fast runner fat, or are they upset because calling faster runners muscular will make kids think it's really the thinner runners who are faster? The original comment got all kinds of mangled and twisted, so much so that it's hard to sort through all the bizarre interpretations, but I suppose it's somewhat understandable when one realizes there has been a relentless focus on women's bodies for years, something I have said before. The problem here is that the woke community keeps shooting itself in the foot, looking for outrage in all the wrong places. All this displaced anger could be put to better use and redirected toward far more damaging content. If you're really trying to protect young girls from being exposed to unhealthy ideas, why not start with the slew of individuals and runners who promote a restrictive lifestyle and make their own weight, diet, and their bodies a constant topic of discussion? I can assure you that these types do far more damage in terms of promoting unhealthy and potentially dangerous content than a guy making a comment about muscles during a track race. 

I find it far more concerning, too, that people keep pushing this incorrect narrative, that calling someone muscular is secretly calling them fat. A huge part of my own recovery included taking a look at the way my mind misinterpreted what was actually being said. It happened the other day, in fact, when a friend of a neighbor made a comment about my weight. I could have gotten upset, but the reality is that I'm pretty sure she meant no harm. I'm not going to lash out at her or lecture someone who was just trying to make conversation and maybe didn't choose the best string of words to say in a moment. 

I think it's a sign of a very sick society when a comment that was so very clearly not meant to be hurtful or critical in any way whatsoever is taken by so many people as an insult. I understand it on an emotional level, but I'm hugely disappointed to see such an extreme reaction that included wanting the guy to be fired and insulting anyone who disagreed with those who wanted to burn the whole fucking village down. I would understand the outrage more IF what the announcer had said had been negative or condescending, but it wasn't. If anything, it was a goddamn compliment. And if the solution to this kind of issue is to really take attention off women's bodies, which I'm actually for, then stop with the fucking double standards. 

For example, some critics of the announcer have Instagram accounts or blogs that include posts with images of themselves lifting up their shirts or posing in bikinis while making comments about their bodies and weight. It's the typical "Tee hee, lookie how tiny/fit/sexy I am" that's so common on social media. On the surface, these accounts might seem harmless, but if the goal is to get everyone to stop talking about women's bodies, why flaunt them and discuss size? I'm definitely not saying women should cover up here, nooooooo way; I'm just concerned and maybe a little confused about the double standard. Worse are those who feel it necessary to include "what I eat in a day" videos, before and after shots of various kinds, or "I'm thin but still have cellulite" photos, which is the kind of content that invites even more unhealthy comparisons and is definitely upsetting to a majority of individuals, especially those in the eating disorder recovery community. In 2017, a report by the Royal Society for Public Health was circulated. It reported that Instagram is the most "detrimental social networking app for young people's mental health." I have to ask, why is it OK for people to post all kinds of triggering content, content that has been shown to have a negative impact on viewers, but a man can't call a female athlete muscular and fast during a race? It just doesn't make sense. 

Don't talk about women's bodies!

Don't talk about weight!  

Don't talk about body size!

Oh, but it's OK if it's all for a few extra likes on social media.  #srongnotskinny #fitspro #whatieatinaday #fitisthenewsexy #nodaysoff   <------  #yuck 

Lastly, how many people honestly think an announcer would say "she's fat, and look how fast she is on the track! lol"? I mean, fucking hell. 

The incident has already blown past with most everyone already onto the next topic of the hour, but the lingering bad taste in my mouth from observing it will last. What strange times these are. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Not Quite What I Meant

Recently, there was quite a lot of online outrage over a comment by a sports announcer when he said something about the two women leading the race. The way people were responding, I thought maybe he said something negative about someone's weight or commented on a woman's appearance. Instead, he simply observed that the two rabbits out in front in a track race had "much more muscle mass" than the rest of the field. Unfortunately, his giggle and hesitation might have made it seem like he was laughing at the runners, but, taken in context, this doesn't appear to be the case. 

I've been saying we need to take attention off women's bodies for years, so you might be surprised that I don't find this kind of comment as bad as people made it out to be. I agree 100 percent that the wording could have been better to make the comment less controversial, but it clearly wasn't meant to be critical or hurtful. In the moment, it's not always easy to find the absolute best way to say something. He probably should have focused on their power, speed, and strength instead of hinting at anything close to the runners’ size, but it's not like he called them bigger runners, which some feel is just fine depending on who's making the comment, or said anything derogatory, far from it. The way people reacted was extreme, and this is coming from someone who struggled for years with an eating disorder. I fully understand how sensitive anyone can be when it comes to comments about body in general, no matter what the sentiment, but this kind of outrage puts sports announcers in a difficult position, trying to make the commentary interesting and even entertaining while also trying to avoid offending anyone by merely making an observation.

This blog post addresses much of what I was thinking about the issue, so I won't go into great detail here or repeat what has already been said. 

My additional thoughts on the matter are that it's understandable why people are on edge and ready to jump at any perceived error when it comes to commentary on female runners. We've been torn apart and objectified for a long time, and there are lingering effects of the systemic abuse of women and young girls in sports. It's all too easy to jump on the minor missteps of others when the mental health of many in the sport is potentially at stake, but I caution anyone reading to choose your battles wisely. It's unproductive to call for the firing of a guy who very, very clearly meant no harm, especially when there's more than one double standard at play. THAT is dangerous and damaging and shows a complete lack of tolerance and sensitivity. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

"Experts" Don't Always Have The Answers

Recently, I listened to a podcast about eating disorders that was a few years old and realized how common it must be for audiences to consider the content of podcasts as well-researched fact, simply because ideas are presented with authority and conviction. The same happens with documentaries, as I have already pointed out here and here. I'm not going to link to the podcast I listened to because I think some of my readers might find it triggering. There's a lot of talk about weight, body composition, and running times, and some misinformation about eating disorders, recovery, and how to help those struggling is presented as well. It's the perfect example of probably well-meaning individuals covering a topic they're familiar with more on the surface than in depth. Unfortunately, those who get labeled as "experts" don't always have the answers. That said, some helpful advice was offered, especially toward the end of the podcast, even though it contradicted what was said earlier. 

I got the sense that the one of three individuals who did the least amount of talking in that particular episode was more qualified and knew more about eating disorders than those who monopolized the mics. At least she brought up some important points, like how men also struggle with eating disorders, how eating disorders are complex, and how there's often shame around coming forward. Is it any wonder there's so much shame associated with eating disorders when the myth still exists that they're a choice? 

One thing I want to point out before I jump into the main topic is that criticism of the content is not the same thing as tearing down the creator of that content. People often assume that disagreements are charged in feelings of animosity, but that's not necessarily the case. My main concern is that misinformation and certain topics presented the wrong way can potentially cause harm, so I will often address what I stumble upon, even if it's a few years late. Quite often, people present ideas that support a certain narrative as fact, even though they are simply opinions.  

I'll add that it's completely false that someone who's self-critical is incapable of supporting, appreciating, and finding beauty in someone else. To be frank, fuck that. People who are not fully healed are absolutely capable of love. Everyone, except maybe psychopaths, at some time will experience self-doubt and will be self-critical. If you're human, you are not and never will be perfect. That doesn't mean you can't contribute, love, share, and deeply appreciate others. There might be some truth in the idea that there's a potential to project dissatisfaction with the self onto others, but it doesn't mean a person can't move beyond that while in the process of healing. To say otherwise is to discount the very real experiences of others. 

When it comes to numbers, by or even before 2011, it had become widely known that discussing weight and size can be triggering to those in the eating disorder recovery community, and specific measurements are often seen as an invitation to criticize and compare. Because of this, I started putting trigger warnings (TW) on my blog posts and content that contained potential triggers. We don't always know what will upset someone, but it's generally a good idea to warn audiences if weight is mentioned when discussing eating disorders. It's a simple fix, really, and can be done on any platform when editing out the content entirely doesn't make sense. It's also a helpful label when conflicting advise or information is presented. For example, when podcasters spend time talking about how unhelpful and unhealthy it is to comment on looks and body but then announce specific racing weights and sizes, and then say after the fact that it's potentially triggering, it's too late. Anyone who might be affected has already heard it. Sometimes light scolding in one moment doesn't prevent an individual from continuing to post triggering content down the road. Either she doesn't get it or doesn't care, so the audience ends up having to be prepared at every turn. Pretty much any time you see an article, podcast, or blog post about eating disorders, it's just sound advice to assume that there might be triggering content, even if there are no warnings. 

I've said it before that posting images with captions that focus on weight or perceived "flaws" like cellulite, is extremely unhelpful because it's just another invitation for you and others to compare and contrast or even criticize. The focus is still on the body. Can we please, at some point, just move away from this altogether? I really don't know what it will take, but a lateral shift isn't moving forward. 

One trap many bloggers, podcasters, and people in general fall into is assuming personal observation is fact or close enough. On the surface, it might seem like the majority of runners who struggle with an eating disorder have anorexia, but that's not actually the case. Remember, eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Does it really make sense that there would be more runners diagnosed with anorexia when nearly every study and survey show a higher incidence of other disorders in athletes and in general? Think about the percentage of individuals who struggle with binge eating, bulimia, ARFID, atypical anorexia, orthorexia, OSFED, or are in a state of RED-S. The breakdown of percentages of athletes with eating disorders is along the lines of 11% anorexic, 36% bulimic, and close to 70% EDNOS, with some overlap. Suggesting runners who struggle are mostly anorexic is misleading, and when myths like that are spread, you discount huge groups of individuals. By tossing out incorrect information, you're actually reinforcing stereotypes and potentially making it more difficult for those in the throes of an eating disorder to feel comfortable coming forward. 

One of the worst myths relating to eating disorders is that they are a choice. A person can say they're not but still reinforce the falsehood by suggesting a person "gets" a disorder in order to run faster or look prettier. When you focus on one symptom or imply a contributing factor is the cause, you're not giving people an accurate portrayal of what it's like to struggle with an eating disorder, and you fully discount individualistic experience. To suggest eating disorders are about looks and/or performance is missing the point entirely, and anyone who believes this should not be in a position of authority when it comes to speaking publicly about these kinds of illnesses. As stated above, eating disorders are complex and almost never come down to one simple cause. There are many contributing factors that can include genetics, peer and other types of external and internal pressures, media influence and set beauty standards, genetics, environment, brain chemistry, nutrition, nurture, self-esteem, coping skills, etc. In general, there's far more internal conflict than most people realize when it comes to the development of an eating disorder. 

I can not stress this enough that developing an eating disorder is not about a lack of willpower. I've addressed this previously, but avoiding an eating disorder has little to do with mental toughness. When you have a better understanding of the causes and contributing factors of an eating disorder, methods of recovery also become more clear, and those usually entail addressing the underlying issues like depression, anxiety, unhealthy coping strategies, and poor self-esteem, to name just a few.

I've also explained that an eating disorder is NOT a separate entity here. It is not something to fight against. It's not about self-control. It is quite often a coping mechanism. The illness can occur long before someone starts running, and, as a friend pointed out, running can be part of recovery. I suppose "Ed" can be used to compartmentalize certain thoughts, but it's important not to treat an illness as anything separate from the self. Doing so won't lead to a deeper understanding of the core issues. 

If you are addressing eating disorders and say, "eating disorders, disordered eating, whatever," you clearly don't see that there is a distinction. It's like saying, alcoholism, problem drinker, whatever." Labeling an illness or disorder correctly is important because the proper diagnosis helps with finding the appropriate treatment. Someone who's engaging in disordered eating might do well with counseling or journaling, whereas someone with an actual eating disorder might need more intensive treatment. I'm not suggesting disordered eating patterns aren't as dangerous; they can be, and they can evolve into a full-blown eating disorder depending on the individual and the root issues.  What I'm saying is that they are two very different problems and shouldn't be nonchalantly lumped together as one.  

Speaking of recovery, perhaps the most damaging bit in the podcast was the suggestion that those who want to help someone they suspect of having an eating disorder confront the individual by saying, "I noticed you..." To my horror, the blank at the end of that sentence was filled with suggestions such as "have marks on your hands from throwing up," or "go to the bathroom for long periods of time after meals," or "don't eat very much." I will absolutely put my foot down here and say that this is NEVER a good way to address someone you suspect might have an eating disorder, ever, unless you really want to push her over the edge, humiliate her, and cause undue stress in her life. My God. 

I'm all for removing the shame around eating disorders, but you never know where someone else is in that process. Denial is often a form of self-protection. If you hastily burst someone's coping bubble and humiliate her in the process, you will potentially cause tremendous stress and possibly make the situation worse. What if that person is suicidal, and she wasn't ready to be confronted? How do you think that scenario would go? Besides, you don't even know for sure if the behaviors are related to an eating disorder, and it's not your business to force someone to share what she's going through if she isn't ready. This is just a bad idea on all levels. 

What I would suggest, instead, if you believe someone is suffering from an eating disorder is ask if she is OK and then offer in general terms to be there for her. Let her know that you are there if she ever wants to talk about anything. Above all, listen. Don't take a finger-wagging stance and accusatory tone, and then expose her behaviors. That is not supportive and could be dangerous. If the situation is so severe that she needs medical attention, then the best approach is to get professionals involved. This is a must. 

As I already addressed here, spreading fears around going through puberty or menopause is not helpful. The best way for athletes to address either situation is to learn how to adapt and try a different way of training. Telling people they will gain weight or they will slow down is not productive. Jeez. Why do people do this? You don't know what someone else will experience through transitions in her life, so don't speculate, period. 

Regarding recovery, one of the biggest reasons long-term sufferers don't seek help after years of struggling is because they are told it's unlikely they will get well. To that I say bullshit. As long as you are breathing, you have the potential to recover. I find it horrifying that "experts" tell an audience that the longer you have an illness, the less likely it is that you will recover. See, the reason why people do this is to try to encourage those suffering to get treatment early, which seems like a great strategy on the surface. You know what they say about good intentions, though. What they fail to realize is that they are giving the finger to those who have struggled for years. If you spend any time at all in recovery forums, you will see how hopeless the many people who have been struggling for years feel. Don't make it worse for them. There is no rule about who gets to recover. It's all about finding the right kind or kinds of treatment at the right time. 

Rant over, for now. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Art of Being Unproductive

In these times of surreality, I'm trying to remember how I somehow muscled my way through my generally unbalanced life. With plenty of naps and no structure, it seems like my productivity should have skyrocketed during the quarantine. Instead, I've barely dribbled out a few thousand words on various writing projects and have yet to reach any goals related to reading, running, or studying, not that I'm in school or anything, just glancing over some textbooks for the hell of it or "should" be.


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:
Rachael Steil:
Child Help:

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.