itchin’ on a photograph

Let me be clear about this: I love your race photos.

I get a chill any time I see an action shot, in the moment, of pure joy, grit, determination, perseverance, even temporary torture because I know all those feels. I focus on your face, your expression, your cadence, your stride. I see your muscles, your months of hard work, your spirit.

I know where you are. I am with you. I am cheering for you!

Despite what I know about how I react when I see your race photos, I do not have those same feelings when I see mine. And not just now, but since high school cross country, winter track, spring track and throughout my on-again, off-again love affair with running and racing that has spanned 22 years.

I go out for a run, and I love this body- everything it does, everything it is capable of. It can carry me up hills, it can lift heavy things, it can go fast – or at least, it used to and I am determined to make it fast again. It gives high fives and hugs and fist pounds and waves to other runners, to my friends, to all the people I love.

I go to work, or out with friends, or even the grocery store and I love this body. I’ve had good jobs, horrible jobs, better jobs and now a great job that gives me a great deal of satisfaction and even balance with the rest of my life. I’ve had good friends, bad friends, and amazing friends that fit different parts of my life. I have a great boyfriend who loves me in spite of my inability to load a dishwasher properly or get through a week without crying about something. And most of the time, I love myself.

I have lived for years on a roller coaster of anxiety, panic, and depression that has peppered an otherwise wonderful life. A far from easy life, full of loss and hardship of every kind. But a wonderful life that I love, and I do my very best to honor the body that carries me through this life.

Except, when I see my race photos, all of that love and appreciation disappears somehow.

I see everything bad that has happened to me and how it shows on my body. Its mass. It’s bigger than it’s ever been. And then the camera adds 15 pounds or more to my face, my legs, my arms. I see how big I am in relation to the men and women next to me. My body has changed immensely through the last 22 years- especially the last 3 years- and so have I.

I am frustrated that I have worked so incredibly hard to get my body back to doing the things I love to do, and when I look at those photos, I don’t see any evidence of that journey. Yes, I see a woman whose face is full of joy. She’s running! She’s doing things! But how could she be happy when she looks like that? Which is embarrassing, because I don’t think those thoughts when I look at anyone else. Not you, not anyone. Just me.

So I don’t post those race photos, because I am afraid that is what you will see. The fear is actually paralyzing.

And it’s not just now. I have always experienced a massive disconnect between the satisfaction I received from my athletic pursuits and how I saw my physical body in my race photos- even when I was much, much smaller. And as much courage as it took to write this, I sadly will still not post my recent race photos. The ones that bring me to tears, and mostly because I feel bad for myself for being so broken- I know what’s behind that photo, and that’s all the things I see when I look at your race photos, and I can’t look at my own photo, smiling, coming across the finish line, so proud of myself, and feel her joy.

I want to cheer for her, but I can’t. I love my body, but it’s complicated.

So I have some work to do, not just on my pace or my endurance, but on my eyes. I want to change that negative narrative that happens every time I see my body in motion. I want to see me the way I see you, so brave, so determined, so awesome.

We do this awesome thing, we runners. Here’s to hoping I can soon cheer for me the way I cheer for you.

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