Female jogger on the dangers of fat-shaming: 'People feel like they have a right to do comment on people’s bodies'
Jogger Lindsey Swift wrote a letter to the man who heckled her whilst jogging. To her amazement, it went viral. She tells Radhika Sanghani about the hidden harm fat-shamers really cause
Published 18/08/2015 | 13:11
Lindsey Swift is overweight. She’s a size 18, and after getting to a point where she was struggling to run, jog and play tennis, she decided to do something about it.
Her goal wasn’t to become skinny – she tells me, “I’m happy with the way I look,” – but to become healthier. For the last few months that’s meant jogging in secluded parks and lakes near her home in Barnsley.
The idea was to get to a weight where she felt comfortable before she ran in public. A couple of weeks ago, she decided she was ready to take that next step, and went for a jog on the main road.
Within an hour, she was fat-shamed by a van driver.
He mocked her by singing Mika’s Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) as she ran past, leaving her standing there mortified.
“It was really embarrassing because my boyfriend was running ahead, and I had to explain to him what had happened,” explains Swift, 26. “It was humiliating, and annoying.
“The longer I thought about it, the more I thought that’s really wrong, and if he did it to anyone else, that could put then off running. My friends have had similar heckles in the past, so I thought it might be nice to have a chance to respond in an eloquent manner, and put my point across.”
That’s exactly what she did. She took to Facebook to write an open letter to the anonymous van driver, telling him exactly how his words made her feel and that she’s not ashamed of her body.
Her letter has now gone viral with more than 26,000 'shares'.
“I thought it would be therapeutic,” she says. “I can’t really believe the response I had. I thought I’d just get a few ‘likes’ on Facebook. But I’ve had messages from people all over the world, saying they’ve experienced similar kinds of things. I do think it’s quite a big issue. It’s obviously not a one-off.”
Fat-shaming is clearly a big problem. A number of high-profile larger women have spoken about their experiences of receiving nasty comments, and it’s something you can see all over Twitter.
Swift, who’s training to be a French teacher, has also been fat-shamed in the past. But she says a big problem right now – according to the hundreds of messages she’s receiving – is people heckling women whilst they exercise. Typically joggers like herself.
“People feel like they have a right to do comment on people’s bodies,” she says. “People say I don’t look healthy and my response is, I know that. What’s constructive about telling me that? What’s the point in telling a large woman she’s fat when she’s running? She knows she’s fat – that’s why she’s running.
“It’s completely pointless but people feel they have to express that whether it’s damaging or not. They think that they’re helping by giving you this criticism, when actually it can be really harmful and discouraging.”
If hecklers have an ultimate goal to ‘help’ her lose weight, she says they’re doing it in completely the wrong way.
“When I used to run by the lakes there were fishermen, and they’d say things like, ‘keep your knees up’, or ‘keep going girl’. It was nice because it’s encouraging – unlike the van driver.”
Her boyfriend, Ryan Wilkes, was with her when she heckled, and a number of the messages she’s received have said he should have stood up for her with the driver, and shouted at him, or even got physical.
But Swift doesn’t think that’s the best way to respond to fat-shamers. Instead, she says: “[Violence] isn’t what I would have wanted. I used my brain instead of fists, and my boyfriend’s really proud of me.”
She didn’t even want to name and shame the driver: “He’s probably a normal person with a nice job and family, but has just done a silly thing. I don’t think he deserves to be named – he’s not the only one who heckles.
“But secretly part of me hopes he might have read it and thought, ‘I won’t do that again in the future’.”
She has a final message for fat-shamers:
“Think before you do it. What are you trying to achieve? If you want to help, there are most constructive ways of doing it.
"If you’re trying to be funny, you’re not."