My Body Is A Beautiful Work In Progress

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins
The following is excerpted from A Beautiful Work In Progress by Mirna Valerio. This story was originally published on October 5, 2017.
I started writing my blog Fat Girl Running not because I wanted or needed notoriety and validation, but because I needed an outlet to write about what I was experiencing at the time. I didn’t think I was unique in that I was a fat girl who ran, but I thought I could get some leverage out of the name of the blog and its content, which would be about this one fat girl’s journey in running. Early on, I made it a point to let my readers know that it wouldn’t be a weight-loss blog, although I would mention it from time to time. I didn’t want it to become some sob story about how I was so fat that I couldn’t move like a human was supposed to.
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I also didn’t want people to pity me because I was fat — there was no need. I was plenty confident and pretty self-assured. I wanted to share my progress and my movement along the continuum of health and wellness while I continued to live, breathe, and exist happily in the body that I inhabit.
I wanted to share these experiences I was having while running. Although I had never taken to meditation, I was well aware of its benefits. Running was my meditation. It allowed me to empty my mind and focus on my own footfalls, my breathing. I would briefly look ahead to keep on track, but then I would get back into my own head and be in the moment. In my crazy world of working at boarding school I was finding the need to get off campus and engage in routine self-care. Working in a place that operates on a 24-hour schedule can make self-care difficult, especially as a woman with a family. I found myself again on this journey, welcoming a new and urgent sense of health and wellness of mind, body, and spirit.
Most of the time, when I’m not wallowing in the depths of self-pity or self-loathing, I’m striving to be the best person I can be. Whether that means attending workshops and conferences to improve my teaching, reflecting on a parenting decision I’ve made, trying hard to reverse the health trajectory of my family, or confronting issues in my marriage, I’m constantly looking to be and do better. I fail many times, but this frequent failure means there’s always vast room for modification and improvement, which is what drives me to keep doing what I do.
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In no way do I believe that simply becoming thin and aspiring to look like what mainstream media messages suggest I should like will make me happier. Will losing weight help lessen the likelihood that I’ll suffer from the chronic illnesses that continue to plague my family? Maybe. Will it lessen the stress I am placing on my joints? Absolutely.
I become emotionally drained by living in a body whose shape is assumed to be the product of indolence, letting myself go (whatever that means), lack of self-control, intellectual and moral inferiority, and surrendering to the primordial urgencies of hunger. I am complex. I am more than what my body suggests to others visually.
According to the fat-person stereotype, I’m supposed to sit on my big fat ass at a desk all day (if I work at all), with a 40-ounce plastic cup of soda by my side. I’m supposed to inhale one, maybe two 14-inch supreme pizzas while in front of the television, trapped on a couch.
I’m supposed to waddle and be unwieldy, tripping over my own fat feet.
I’m supposed to be constantly out of breath, reaching for the asthma inhaler that only prolongs my suffering. I’m supposed to be beholden to all sorts of body fluid–regulating medications: one for high blood pressure, one for pancreatic malfunction, one for excess fluid in my legs, one for the proper release or suppression of hormones, one for kidney issues, and another for constricted arteries.
I’m definitely not supposed to be out in public, anywhere really, unless I’m visiting a bariatric surgery center. I’m not supposed to be in any kind of restaurant, even the hip and esoteric salad bars with names like Green Leaf and Health Box Minimalist Tasteless Bullshit, because I’m not supposed to be eating at all.
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I’m not supposed to be hiking, but I do. I’m not supposed to be at the gym, but I go. I shouldn’t be, but I do. And God forbid I actually undress and show my naked fat body in the gym locker room. I may be photographed. I may become a viral social media post, at the expense of myself. And I’m definitely not supposed to be running outside in front of people enjoying myself without an obsession about losing the weight I carry on my body. I’m not supposed to be on this mountain or that hill, hanging by a rope, outfitted in a climbing harness. I’m too big, I’m too fat, I’m too…
I’m not supposed to be in a bathing suit or bikini near any body of water. I should be in a tent dress, where no part of my apparently unsightly body can be seen. I’m not supposed to be a sponsored athlete who gets to do really cool things in the name of sport in my fat body.
And honestly, I have no business having an ambassadorship with a major outdoor company because there are so many “fit” people who work out and “Why are you getting all this attention? You’re just doing it for the attention!” I’m not supposed to be showing my photos on social media, because how dare I create my own fitness narrative that isn’t centered on weight loss? How dare I not focus on changing parts of my body that are deemed aesthetically displeasing?
I’m not supposed to be proud of my body and all that it can do. How obnoxious of me to appear as though I matter? I’m fat, after all; that is, lazy, slovenly, and not worthy of being loved, liked, or admired. Bottom line is I simply should cease to exist.
But that’s all wrong. I have a body that is amazing and strong. It’s flexible and agile. It can carry me across one hundred kilometers and up and down mountains. It has birthed a baby and survived fractures, breaks, and multiple bouts of pneumonia.
It can do yoga and Tough Mudders. It was deemed worthy enough to be featured in Runner’s World, the Wall Street Journal, and NBC Nightly News. It was seen as beautiful and athletic when I was invited to do a photo shoot with professional plus-size models for Evans clothing. It was accepted as athletic and donned with the appropriately sporty high-end clothing of Merrell, Swiftwick, and Skirt Sports.
This body isn’t meant to stagnate or cease moving. When we stop moving in mind, body, and spirit, we stop learning. When we stop learning, we stop living. Therefore, when we stop moving, we stop living. We stop evolving toward being the humans we are destined to be.
This body is fierce, beautiful, and unapologetic. It’s meant to move through the world as it wishes: lifting, walking, and running, rolls and all. Love handles, bouncy boobs, curves, tummy, butt, back fat, and all. I honor her by continuing to move along the spectrum of health and wellness, and in turn she honors me by living vibrantly.
A Beautiful Work In Progress will be released on October 1, 2017.
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