3 Things Wrong with the August Cover of Women’s Running

I was disappointed with the August issue of Women’s Running when I saw the cover: a size 18 model and a teaser for an article about reasons your weight doesn’t matter. Simply, it was normalizing obesity. If your feelings are easily hurt, if the medical term “obese” offends you, and if reading about what obesity actually does to your body upsets you, perhaps you should actually keep reading and stop pretending that obesity is okay. It’s not, and we need to stop normalizing obesity. 
I don’t pretend to know Erica Schenk’s medical history (although at age 18, she’s still very young and unlikely to have any serious effects from her weight – yet – but her measurements do not suggest someone who is healthy, as evidenced by inputting her measurements into a waist-to-height ratio calculator.) But what I do know is that Women’s Running is doing a lot of women a disservice by putting Ms. Schenk on the cover of its magazine. Here’s why:

1. Women’s Running is normalizing obesity.

Obesity isn’t healthy. If you have a BMI of 30 or higher, you are medically obese. While it doesn’t take into account things like muscle mass, BMI is still the choice of medical professionals and applies to most people when it comes to determining whether or not someone is overweight or obese. If your BMI is over 30 and you’re convinced that you’re one of the special exceptions, see a doctor. Get measured for body fat percentage. If you’re under 30% (a male) and under 40% (a female), then you’re in a healthy range, and you can take your BMI with a grain of salt. But for the most part, a BMI of 30 or higher is going to be medically obese.

Ms. Schenk is allegedly a size 18, according to published reports. That’s still smaller than a lot of women, sadly. But they are going to see Ms. Schenk and think, “Well, she runs, and she’s still overweight, so even if I start running, I’ll still be obese!”

Again, I don’t know if Ms. Schenk has a medical condition that contributes to her weight. Genetic predisposition is rare, according to the CDC:

Genetic changes in human populations occur too slowly to be responsible for the obesity epidemic.

She could have a legitimate condition, like polycystic ovarian syndrome or Cushing’s disease. Or she could be on steroids or antidepressants that cause weight gain. But for the majority of people who are obese, none of these are factors, and none of those are directly responsible for more than 15 pounds of weight gain. It’s strictly lifestyle: eating too much, not moving enough. If you think you have a condition, see a doctor – and know that you can lose weight despite the condition.

In any case, here’s what obesity does to you (and lest you think I’m making this up, I pulled it directly from the Centers for Disease Control’s website):
  •  All-causes of death (mortality)
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
  • Sleep apnea and breathing problems
  • Some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver)
  • Low quality of life
  • Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders
  • Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning
Yeah, it’s not pretty, or cute, or empowering. Obesity is an epidemic that is killing our country.

2. It’s feeding into the false “body positive” movement.

I’ve already spent so much time on normalizing obesity and the effects of being obese that I will just say this: if you are positive about your body, you will take care of it. I applaud Ms. Schenk for running and being active. And I applaud anyone who is making changes to be healthier. That’s how you love your body, flaws and all.

I will also say this: the “body positive” movement should be for mastectomy survivors, amputees, burn victims, mothers with stretch marks from bringing life into this world, and other people with life’s battle scars. Not people who are digging their graves with their own forks and knives. Your body is beautiful, so please take care of it. Eat nourishing foods. Exercise to keep your joints limber and your heart healthy. Get plenty of rest. And have a treat once in a while – but just once in a while.

3. It’s bringing the body shamers out of the woodwork.

And no “body positive” statement would be complete without the “real women” brigade coming out of the woodwork. All these comments are normalizing obesity and putting down fit women. These screenshots sum up the attitude of the “body positive” movement quite nicely:

Healthy is now stick skinny.
“Stick skinny”?!
Normalizing obesity means fit runners aren't real runners.
Fit runners aren’t real?
Again with the "stick people."
“Stick” people?!
More thin shaming.
“Stick insect”?! Really?!
The middle comment? Normalizing obesity. Calling that woman normal? Ugh.
“Skinny” to describe fit, “normal” and “real” to describe overweight.
Thin privilege is being called a stick.
“Stick” women again.
Namely, thin, fit women are bad, and only overweight women are real. Tell that to my uterus, which has carried two beautiful, healthy children to term. And, of course, they forget that Women’s Running is a magazine about, well, running. I’ve met runners of all shapes and sizes, but most of the runners I know are lean and fit. It’s also incredibly anti-feminist and hurtful to imply a woman isn’t “real” because she’s fit.
Ultimately, I unsubscribed from Women’s Running for doing nothing more than a harmful publicity stunt by bringing out the “real women” brigade and reinforcing the notion that obesity is normal and healthy. Normalizing obesity isn’t healthy. It’s reinforcing poor lifestyle choices and discouraging people from reaching their potential.