Craig Wilson –
This blog post by Craig, a member of jogscotland Bridge of Don, is published to mark International Men’s Day 2022
I recently walked up to a guy I knew whom I had not seen in three years. As I walked up to him, I thought: “Wow, he has lost a ton of weight, good on him.” We shook hands, we exchanged pleasantries, I said to him: “Hey man, you are looking really well” and he replied: “Hey, what happened to you? I got thin and you got fat.”
I cannot tell you how much that hurt. How much those few words, perhaps innocently meant, possibly said in jest, truly ripped right to the bone of my soul. As someone who has struggled with body image since I was young, to have someone say that to me was truly horrible.
Perhaps it is true. Perhaps, as I look back on where I was in 2019, when we last met up, that is true reflection of how I looked then and how I look now. Perhaps all the running I have done since – three more marathons, multiple half marathons and 10k races and distance challenges – has been for nothing and I am fat and unfit, or at least that is how I am perceived by that one person. And maybe that should not bother me. They are not me. But in that short phrase, it felt like they defined me.
It made me question all the things I have done since I decided to change my lifestyle and get healthy back at the start of 2016. At that time I was so unfit, I took to walking to at least do something healthy, as I knew at that point I would not be able to run, or that if I did run, it would be really hard and would put me off.
After losing weight and returning to running on my own – I had done some running in my early thirties – another way of motivating myself to continue being healthy was to join my local jogscotland club in Bridge of Don in Aberdeen. A few years on, and I have done the Leadership in Running Fitness course and am one of the Jog Leaders, regularly taking out groups from Couch to Five K all the way up to 10km distances on our club nights. The supportive nature of the group and the joy of group running is now an essential part of my life.
Below: Craig with jogscotland Bridge of Don
But these comments really made me think. Perhaps I should be starving myself to get back to my lowest weight. Perhaps by not being as thin as I was, I am losing respect from my peers. Perhaps I should abandon the work that I do to attempt to stay thin and healthy and just go back to being the fat old guy that I was six years ago.
Now I know that there is only one opinion that truly counts here, and that should be my opinion, but when my own view of my own body image is so distorted by outside influences – how I looked in the past when I was much younger, how I looked at my thinnest, how I feel that my weight has yo yo’d a bit in recent times, how I think I would look if I stopped running – it is very hard to disconnect the opinion of others.
Body image is key. It is about how you feel about yourself. As the person who talks most to yourself, then trying to be positive about yourself should be paramount. Others might have whatever opinion about you, but you should at least be kind to yourself.
So when I feel negative about myself, then all of these things can come in to play. Self worth is all relative. Feeling positive about yourself is not a given. Something so small as this one throwaway comment can have a major impact on that sense of self worth.
I have no idea how to change this perception. Give up running and perhaps go back to how I was? Give up eating healthily and go back to how I was? Change my mindset which I have had since I was a child about my relationship with my weight? (this one is frankly unlikely….) Or just keep doing what I am doing?
The truth is, the last one is the only realistic prospect. In my brain (and my heart), I know I am doing the right things. I do wonder why I do not look as thin as a rake given all the running I am doing, but I guess my metabolism has simply slowed down as I get older and so it has just got used to my training regime as the norm. As a consequence, I do not burn off as many calories as perhaps I did in the past. Weirdly I do not think I eat anything like as much as I did a few years back when I was much heavier than I am now.
I am not writing this as a plea for help. I am writing this as an illustration of how one comment, one phrase, one throwaway set of words, can have such a significant impact on the opinion of someone else. I am sure the guy who said it has not even given it one more thought. But for me, in the days since he said it, I have given it much more thought. In many respects it will dominate my thoughts. And as I run in the future, I will likely think about it a lot more. Words are powerful things. Perhaps they should not be, but they are. And those few words really cut to the core.
But what I do know is that my friends in jogscotland will help keep me motivated, will help me to continue running, and will also see me for the guy who I am, not as someone defined by the comments of others.