My husband and I signed up for the Philadelphia half-marathon in November. Coordinating two parents’ long runs on any given weekend is always rough (my husband returned from his, sweaty, after the guests arrived, to a dinner party we were hosting on Saturday. He got a late start because he was setting up the kids’ new ant farm…) But I am loving how it feels to get back into a routine of running significant distances. I did around 10 miles on Saturday afternoon, much of it on hills and trails. I love how I feel stronger week to week as I go long. I love the slight twitches the next day in muscles that haven’t been used in a while — twitches that remind me of what I accomplished.
I was not particularly athletic growing up. After getting married though, my husband and I found running was something we could do together, and running with him soon made it a habit for me. We ran a half-marathon together on our first anniversary.
Running has a nice side effect of keeping my weight in check. But as I was reading Allison Tate’s recent essay at the Huffington Post on “The Mom Stays in the Picture,” (hat tip to blog reader Karen for sending the link) I was reminded that I’m not a fan of running just for that. Perhaps what I like best about serious athletic pursuits is that not only do you look better and better as you pursue them, you wind up caring about your appearance less and less.
To back up a bit… Tate has four children, including a 5-month-old baby girl. In her essay, she recounted her niece’s Sweet 16 birthday party, where the parents had brought in a photo booth. One of her sons wanted her to take pictures with him, but she hesitated, because she felt frumpy and overweight and tired (due to said 5-month-old). Then she realized that “I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.”
Tate then proceeded to post adorable photos of her with her son and baby girl in the photo booth. She clearly hit a nerve, because her essay has now been “liked” 439,132 times on Facebook. Which means its page views are probably into the millions. The HuffPo was so overwhelmed by the response that they’re running a campaign to get moms to send in pictures of them in the photos with their kids. Lisa Belkin wrote about some of the responses in her HuffPo column this week.
It’s a wonderfully sweet essay, and I’m thrilled for Tate for rocketing to super-stardom. But there are lots of great essays out there. Why did this one touch such a nerve?
We talked on this blog, last week, about narratives, and how each of us have our own deeply held beliefs about the way the world is. It is always jarring to realize that other people do not share your narratives, or to see that other narratives you’ve never considered might be widely believed. Tate tapped into an apparently quite commonly believed narrative that if you are a grown-up, but are not as svelte as a Vogue cover model, nor dressed like one, then you do not deserve to be photographed. Belkin tells of women who have 10,000-plus photos of their kids and fewer than a dozen that feature mom in there too.
In some cases, this may be logistics. Mom is taking the photos, so mom isn’t in them. We have somewhat of the opposite problem in our household — my husband is more of a shutterbug, so he isn’t in many of the photos.
But in many other cases, it’s a self-esteem/self-confidence issue. Which brings us back to running. Athletic pursuits create a different script: your body is a functional object, not something to be seen and judged. Nobody looks good in marathon finisher photos, but runners display them proudly all the same. Likewise, it wouldn’t occur to you to demur from being in a beach photo with the kids just because you don’t look like something out of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. You’re probably in a swimsuit to swim!
Do you show up in family photos? I’m also curious what people thought of the original HuffPo essay.
Photo courtesy flickr user genericface