“In life, as in art, the beautiful moves in curves.”  Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

For it’s August cover, Women’s Running Magazine is featuring Erica Schenk, a “plus-size” or “curvy” girl runner, and since releasing their cover, the women’s running community has been all a buzz.  Every woman runner, and some men, seem to be talking about her.  This cover issue has been instagramed and tweeted over and over, and of course now I’m blogging about it.

First, in case you haven’t read about her, Erica is an 18 year-old plus-size model with the Wilhelmina agency in New York City, and has been running for 10 years, since childhood.  She says that running allows her “to clear my head and think” and prefers to run alone if going for a “therapy run.”  Hmm….sounds familiar.

The reason that she caught my eye, however, seems to be a little different from everyone else’s.  Yes, I’ll put a disclaimer that I haven’t read every comment about her, but so far, everything I have read, is talking about how great it is to see a plus-size runner on a cover….that runners come in all shapes and sizes and that we need to stop equating “runner’s body” with “skinny body.”  Agreed, but that is not what caught my eye.

When I saw the cover, my first thought was:  Yay, she is white!!!  In most ads or magazine articles that I have come across featuring different women of varied ages, ethnicities, and sizes; the curvy girl is almost always African-American.  Sometimes she is hispanic.  The white girls…almost always thin.  Before you start bombarding me with ads with curvy white girls, I’m not saying that there are none….I’m just saying that in what I have noticed in ads, when there are a group of women, it’s much more likely that the curvy girl will be non-white.

This sends so many wrong messages:  If you’re white, you still are not allowed to be overweight.  If you are ethnic, you are expected to be overweight…never mind that diabetes is higher in African-Americans; it’s expected.  If you are African-American and “skinny” without a booty, you are not right.  Oh, if you are the Asian girl in the ad, you are not allowed to be overweight either.

What do I think about this cover?  I’m glad that for the first time, an overweight woman is on the cover of a fitness magazine.  Because runners do come in all shapes and sizes.  All you need to do is to go and watch any race, be it a 5k or a marathon, to see all sizes of people running.  Go to a marathon, and you will see many more people with Erica Schenk’s body than people who look like other Women’s Running cover runners like Olympians Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher.

I’m further pleased that they didn’t perpetuate the stereotype of ethnic women being overweight.  I’m glad that they are showing that you can be running regularly, and still be overweight.  Because study after study shows that exercise and weight are two different things, and regular exercise does not mean that you can eat whatever you want.  It is much easier to out-eat what you run than to out-run what you eat.  For me, the days I do a long run (which at this point is a run over 6 miles or over an hour), I definitely eat more….it cancels each other out.  For me, running for 3.5 years now has led to a small amount of weight loss, but much more importantly, has nearly eliminated an almost 30 year cycle of poor eating (see post Cousin Binge Revisits), not by burning calories but by fueling an exhausted mind through moving meditation.

Who would I like to see next on the cover?  Someone in between Erica and Shalane.  I have to say, that Women’s Running does also feature runners such as Dorothy Beal, a non-Olympian inspiring mother-runner who has completed many marathons.  They have also had some celebrity mom’s such as Tiffani Thiessen who run regularly but are not doing several marathons per year.

But who I would like to see next….. maybe a non-celebrity mother with a “regular” body … a body that while not being plus-size, may not look so “strong and lean” and “perfect” on the outside despite its many accomplishments.  A body that has carried a few children, nursed a few children…  A body whose cross-training has come in the form of carrying thousands of bags of groceries, putting strollers and car seats in and out of a mini-van or SUV countless times, carrying loads of laundry, rocking babies for hours, pushing kids on swings, giving piggy back rides, lugging diaper bags and backpacks ….soccer bags and lacrosse equipment….

A body that maintains some soft spots that heads get buried into for comfort and stroking….

A body of a mother that despite all the above cross-training, has made the time to run regularly for herself, so that she can in turn give more to all those who rely on her…..

A body that still maybe looks soft on the outside, but has been strong and has had endurance, been capable and present when it’s been most important.

***My daughter to me:  “Mom, you know why I love to hug you?  You’re so squishy…like jello.  Do you know what jello is?”  Me:  “Yes, I do.”

About Paria

Runner, mother, pediatrician, blogger

8 comments on “Covergirl

  1. I love how you celebrate all the things that mothers do and describe it as cross training: it is that and more. I also agree, ads with overweight women are often those of women of different nonwhite and nonasian (ie brown) ethnicities: it didn’t even occur to me until I read this post, which speaks of the power and manipulation of advertisement.

    I also love (and glad you highlighted) how if running leads to modest weight reduction it is likely more from the meditative therapeutic aspects than from the actual workout, as it is easier to out eat the calories you burn from running than outrun and burn more than the calories you eat while running in order to lose weight. I do believe though that running has infinite interconnected benefits just a few of which include moving meditation, improving one’s sleep, strengthening one’s core (thus fewer back injuries), boosting one’s immune system, increasing one’s confidence, developing one’s relationships, etc and these are all interconnected. You have written before (and I can relate): when you take a non athlete who never ran a single mile who trained oneself to run a marathon (that’s a lot of miles), it makes one feel that the sky’s the limit ……in everything.

    It is sad how much low self-image can hold one back; it is more sad that one can internalize a projected image (such as in advertisements) onto oneself creating false notions of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, success and failure…these labels and storylines inevitably hold oneself back. I too thought for the first thirty years of my life that only skinny people who were runners from youth can be runners. I had no idea until my first race and a runner mentor that runners come in all sizes and shapes and ages. It was so freeing to learn this.

    • So well stated, Laila…. the power of manipulation and advertising is unbelievable…sometimes we don’t even realize just how deeply it effects us.

  2. You know what I’d like to see? An older runner…not an elite, but a regular 50-something woman out there killing it. I hope this cover opens up the door for more regular folks to be on the cover of fitness magazines instead of professional models who don’t even run!

  3. Last week was soo crazy for me that I forgot to comment on your post, but better late than never!

    I love seeing ALL bodies in movement. It’s the only vehicle we’re given in this lifetime so why not take care of it and love it. Yes, we ALL have our spots of wanting it to look a little different, a little better, or in hindsight, maybe our 20-year old bodies to return. We ALL have a love/hate relationship with our bodies. Starting now, think about what you LOVE about your body. Think about what your body does for you everyday, every hour, every minute, every second.

    Your post is the fourth thing I’ve read recently about body image and change – Misty Copeland, Michaela DePrince and Kathryn Budig (she did a great talk about every woman being a real woman). I’ve always loved this statement that my Pilates studio has had on their pamphlet/brochure since day 1 – “All bodies are welcome”. So inviting, welcoming, open and warm, isn’t it?

    Now is the time for change. If not now, when?

    • I LOVE the “All bodies are welcome”…. I really think that is how the running community is as well…once you start to explore it, there is support for every runner…And the 42 me is much less critical and much more loving of my body than the 20 year old me…the love/hate relationship is almost all love now:)

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