How This Marathon-Running Fitness Editor Deals With Negative Body Image: ‘No One’s Immune to It’

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I look exactly like you’d expect a runner to look: tall, lean, legs for days. That’s not a weird flex; it’s just a fact. But because my body technically fits into a certain positive stereotype, I have always felt as if I am not allowed to have (and definitely shouldn’t admit to) any body hang-ups.

But here’s the thing: I’m a fitness writer and editor. That means I work out with your favorite trainers, go on photo shoots with Instagram fitness celebrities, and lift weights and log miles regularly with my coworkers. And since I started running seriously four years ago, I’ve found that every time I look in the mirror, I end up comparing myself to all the super-fit women I’m surrounded by—and I feel like I don’t measure up.

As women, we have become conditioned to compare ourselves to impossible ideals, and our insecurities have become the norm. No one’s immune to it, not Olympians, not the pros, and definitely not the people—like me—who dish out fitness advice.

Running has been an interesting thing for me. It has forced me to ask a lot of my body: My feet have crossed six marathon finish lines. My legs have carried me over 157.2 race miles (the training miles are countless). My arms have propelled me forward through more than 300,000 steps on those race days. And my core has kept me standing tall (or at least upright) until I crossed each finish line. This all makes me feel stronger than I ever have before. It takes me around four hours to run a marathon, and I spend the majority of that time just in awe that I’ve somehow developed the determination and perseverance to keep telling my muscles to dig deeper, even when I’ve depleted my body of every drop of energy. When I run, I feel in control. I feel proud. Honestly, I feel unstoppable.

The flip side is that running has, at times, bubbled up this body-image baggage. When I picture a runner, I see washboard abs, chiseled quads, and nonexistent body fat. When I look at myself, I don’t see the proof I think should be there after all the miles I’ve run. Even though I know that sentiment is ridiculous, those thoughts still sometimes manage to seep in.

As a way of getting rid of these negative, unproductive thoughts, I focus on the strength I have found in running. When you participate in a race, it becomes obvious that strength doesn’t look one way. Distance running is the great equalizer. Whether you’re tiny and petite, tall and muscular, curvy, or plus-size, you’re using the exact same muscles in the exact same way as the woman next to you to keep moving forward—and everyone, no matter what they look like, covers the exact same distance in a race. No matter the time. It’s an equal accomplishment.

Now, when that negative self-talk pops up, I think about how hard I’ve trained. And if my brain can manage the discomfort of a marathon, I know I can wrestle down the discomfort that comes with seeing a photo where my stomach doesn’t look perfectly flat. Running has taught me that the more you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, the stronger you’ll be the next time one comes up.

Follow Ashley Mateo on Instagram @ashleymateo for more info on her work.

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