It was one of those dresses that feels like it was made for you. It seemed to fit my body perfectly, so I decided to step out of my dressing room and examine the dress from multiple angles in the full-length mirrors just outside. "Wow. You are too thin," a woman said, singling me out. "Do you even eat?" My smile immediately faded, and I just stood there, feeling vulnerable and exposed.
I felt a range of emotions from frustration to sadness. I wanted to extend grace to this woman, but I was undeniably hurt. I don't think she meant to hurt me — or at least that's what I tell myself — but those words should have never been spoken regardless of her intent. It was body shaming, plain and simple, and while it may not take the form you hear about most often, I can tell you from experience that it's painful just the same.
I've always had a lean, skinny body type, but I also work hard. I'm an avid marathon runner. I love to work out and do so almost every day, sometimes twice a day. I don't exercise to lose weight; in fact, I never even weigh myself, except at the doctor's office. I work out and run because I love to race and compete, and training has always been a stress reliever for me. I also have a healthy relationship with food, and I know I'm eating and consuming enough calories to work out at the level I do. Yet I've heard this type of criticism before, even within the running community, from people who assume I don't eat enough because I'm so lean and thin.
I was so caught off guard in the store that day that I didn't have a comeback, and the woman walked away before I could respond. I did, however, stop and stare at myself in the mirror before shrugging my shoulders and walking back into my fitting room. I took off the dress, hung it up, and looked at my body in the mirror. I began to analyze myself, looking at my visible collarbones and flat chest — and in that moment, I didn't feel beautiful at all. "Maybe I don't look good," I thought, spiraling into a negative headspace. With my lean body, I often struggle to fit into clothes, because there's not enough of me to fill them out. It's a slippery slope that can cause me to become critical of my body and only think of the things I don't like about it.
I began to think of all I've accomplished . . . My body may be lean and skinny, but it's also strong.
But then, I looked at myself in the mirror again. This time I felt empowered, reminding myself that I'm healthy, thriving, and happy. I began to think of all I've accomplished and what this body of mine has done. I played collegiate basketball, have run 40 marathons, and am working toward a 100-mile ultramarathon. My body may be lean and skinny, but it's also strong. A smile came across my face. I knew I looked great in that dress, and I wasn't going to let someone else's opinion sway me that day. I picked up the dress and went right to the counter.
Looking back on that day, I wish I had a quick-witted response, but I know choosing to love myself and my body and to wear what makes me feel fierce is a victory in and of itself. No one should be body shamed, and while I hope one day we'll learn not to be critical of others, I won't be a victim any longer. I'm a lean, thin runner, and I don't need anyone's acceptance but my own.