“Wow, you look like a runner.” Sounds like a compliment, right? While this comment may have good intentions, it can often be rather damaging. I know what you’re thinking, “but you look like a runner, Megan.” Yes, I may have the stereotypical lean runner build, yet I hate when people tell me I look like a runner. Read on to find out why.
There is no such thing as a “runner’s body.” Putting a stereotype on what a runner’s body should look like makes it seem that we need to look a certain way to perform at our best. This creates a barrier from many people entering this wonderful sport. Running is open to anyone regardless of size and shape. We don’t need to get down to a certain size in order to be a runner. If you run, you’re a runner. A BIG thank-you to irun’s “Running for Every Body” and elite athletes like Allie Keiffer who are willing to openly speak about this topic.
Comments about body size and shape can also promote disordered eating. With the high prevalence of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (click here for more info), we know that underfuelling is a major issue that has many negative health consequences. Even for those athletes who seem to have a “typical” runner’s build, you don’t know the practices they have engaged in to be at that weight. Perhaps they have been overly restricting food and over-exercising. Commenting on their “runner’s” build not only rewards this detrimental behaviour, but also creates an internal pressure to maintain this size.
Things are about to get personal. Some may know that I am no longer a competing runner. I was diagnosed with a heart condition that has resulted in an early end to my running career. I still run recreationally, but I can no longer compete. When I get told that I look like a runner, it’s a bit painful. Honestly, when people make this comment, I often think, “But what if my body shape changes? Am I then no longer a runner?” I don’t want the first thing people notice about me to be my body shape. Rather, I want people to see characteristics that aren’t so changing, like how I treat others or my attitude.
If you want to compliment a runner, try giving compliments that build them up but aren’t related to body shape or size. Try comments such as “you have so much stamina” or “you look so fluid when you run.” This type of feedback is so much more empowering to those at the receiving end without focusing on a body shape ideal.