Our Bodies, Our Responsibility, and the Media

(Content warning: This post contains my thoughts and feelings around my body and pictures of me. There are no numbers, behaviors, or weights.)

In early 2017, Men’s Health reached out to me to feature me in a story about obstacle racing. As part of that, there would be a photo shoot. I internally cringed a bit. I’d had a tenuous relationship with photo shoots for years, but a different kind of guilt was emerging this time. I knew that I was in a rough patch with my eating disorder, and I was aware that I was not comfortable in my body at the moment. Namely, I thought I was too lean. While the story wasn’t about my body (it was about tackling your first OCR), I felt a sense of guilt that my image would be attached with the story – that I could be projecting an unhealthy ideal. 

I almost backed out of the shoot, but I tried to remind myself that the responsibility was on the magazine, not me, to vet its images. But is it? Where does the responsibility lie? 

I’ve struggled with the thought that I’ve somehow been complicit in promoting an unhealthy body image by being on magazine covers and in photo shoots without disclosing my history with an eating disorder. I’ve been aware of feeling guilty for taking part in photo shoots where I’m decently exposed, knowing that how many body looks may cause others to compare. I’ve wondered if I’m part of the problem by projecting an aesthetic to women that could be unattainable in a healthy manner. 

Honestly, it’s weighed on me. I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of guilt that I could be perpetuating the issues with diet and wellness culture. 

Since opening up about my eating disorder struggles, I’ve had people reach out to me and tell me that they used to look at my body as the ideal, that they would use me as #fitspo. And I’m saddened at this: knowing that yes, my body may have been the cultural “ideal” by some, but that at a certain point, it stopped functioning how I wanted it to – in a strong and capable manner. 

I’ve never wanted to be a body ideal. To be honest, my body has never been a source of pride for me, or something that I’ve “owned.” In fact, I’ve made a point intentionally, over the years, of NOT speaking about “how to have a body like me” or engage in stupid fitspo shit like “WORK HARD AND YOU TOO CAN HAVE THIS BODY.” I’ve intentionally deflected questions about workout routines, about diet, about my aesthetic. I’ve joked that NO ONE should take diet advice from me, and I (clearly) still stand by that. Because of my internal conflict, I’ve tried to never encourage focus on my body or my diet. 

But yes, I am in a lot of pictures in very little clothing. That’s not because I’m trying to show off my body or make people jealous – frankly, it’s practical. For obstacle racing, the fewer clothes you wear, the less the mud and water sticks to you. In full honesty, I’ve always been SUPER uncomfortable in just a sports bra (but yes, I DO hate pants with a vengeance).

The clothes I wear have little, if anything, to do with body image and aesthetic. If I look back over the history of my eating disorder, it didn’t start out of body image concerns. Weight loss was never a goal for me. It may be difficult for some folks to believe, but body image and weight actually may have very little to do with eating disorders for some folks. I’ve been super uncomfortable with my body at times, but it hasn’t been about the weight or shape. (that’s a deeper-rooted discomfort that exists regardless of the size…and a separate topic entirely!) Body image and weight actually wasn’t at the forefront of my struggles for a long time, though I will admit that being in the media spotlight did start to bring it into the fold. 

The funny thing is that the most proud I’ve ever felt about my body has been in the times when I have felt strong and functional and racing well, regardless of what it looked like. When I can thank it for running non-stop for 24 hours or when it carries heavy-ass shit up a mountain. That’s when I’m proud of my body. Not when I’m pictured on a magazine or have a random stranger compliment my arms. And the times when I feel like I have looked very unwell and too thin, I have been ashamed of my body because it’s NOT functional and cannot do the things I love to do without breaking.

(In theory, you would think that knowing this and feeling this way would be easy enough motivation to break out of the disorder. It helps, sure, but if only mental illness were that simple. But I’m making this point because there’s a lot of misconceptions about the causes of and motivations for eating disorders and how they manifest.)

That’s all an aside, though. Regardless of how I’ve felt about my body or how much or little that has factored into my eating disorder, the public has seen an image projected of me over the years in magazine, photo shoots, and race photos. 

So while eating disorders are not about bodies, I’m going to address this because it’s a common misconception. 

Let’s take this picture of me.

Doing my best Baywatch impersonation. Nah, this was just after swimming through a pond mid-race in 2018

If you didn’t know about my eating disorder, many folks would say this is the product of discipline and being an athlete.

But knowing about my eating disorder, many folks would say this is the product of starvation and disordered eating habits.

What’s the correct answer? 

Honestly, I don’t know. A woman in the sauna the today turned to me and said “I’m trying to lose weight and you have an amazing body: what’s your secret?” I blinked for a few seconds, and answered “I have an eating disorder.” (Note to self: if you ever want to kill a conversation instantaneously, this works quite well).

While I understand there is controversy around the “set point” theory, the correct answer about my body may actually be “genetics.” As I continue to feed and nourish my body fully, I’m still trying to figure that out. There are folks who have completely healthy relationships with food and are in smaller bodies (those folks tend to generate a lot of envy and hate from people: “why can they eat anything they waaaaaaaant?”). There are also folks with completely healthy relationships with food who are in larger bodies. In times when I’ve been in a solid place in recovery, I’ve still been in a smaller body. That’s not to say that’s where I’m going to end up now. I just have to trust that my body knows where it needs to be.

So how does this relate to the media? Because I know how detrimental diet culture and body ideals are to our society, where is my responsibility? For example, should I have said to Runner’s World “sure, I can be on the cover, but just to let you know, I have an eating disorder and my body could be a product of it?”

My Runner’s World cover in 2015. Can I be proud of this? Or should I be ashamed?

It’s something I’ve wrestled with internally a lot. While I was at Opal, I was asked to be part of a photo shoot for one of my sponsors. I spent MANY process groups crying over it. Am I causing harm by being photographed in my body, I asked? I felt the guilt. It’s gnawed at me.

My initial response in life is always to take the blame – 100%, it’s my fault.  It was actually my treatment team that suggested to me that maybe I don’t have to shoulder 100% of the responsibility here. That the media has a responsibility. That consumers have individual responsibility. And that feeling guilt and shame over my body or how it’s portrayed does nothing to solve the problem.

So what DOES solve the problem? 

I’m aware that this is a tricky topic to talk about, especially since I’m in a smaller body. So step one is for me to acknowledge and accept that I have thin privilege. I’m aware that this post may come across as “woe is me poor girl in a smaller body.” I hate the idea of “skinny shaming” and that’s not what this is about. I’m also aware thin privilege is a very controversial topic (believe me, we talked about it my first group at Opal and I’ve never been so uncomfortable in my life). But I’ve reached a point where I know thin privilege, fat phobia and weight stigma are real, and they are harming us all. 

This is the number one reason why I’ve made a personal vow to NEVER comment on a person’s body – I don’t care if it may be considered a compliment. You NEVER know the reasons behind why a person’s body looks the way it does. Frankly, the sooner we stop assigning value judgments to bodies, the sooner we can move towards a society where this discussion doesn’t even need to be had anymore. 

In all of this, I’m accepting my responsibility, but I’m also accepting that I don’t shoulder 100% of that. Here’s how I view the breakdown:

(1) Myself: I have a responsibility to speak up for myself in photo shoot scenarios – what I am and am not comfortable with. I have a responsibility to come into the shoot how I look like on a daily basis – well-fed, well-hydrated, etc. And I have a responsibility, as a person with thin privilege, to use that privilege to advocate for body neutrality and body acceptance of ALL bodies.

(2) The Media: the media has a responsibility to portray bodies of ALL sizes, shapes and colors, and to not edit or change bodies in order to fit an aesthetic that our culture has deemed “ideal.” It has a responsibility to not perpetuate diet and wellness culture, and to challenge that with bringing in contrarian viewpoints and idea such as Health at Every Size and the social justice issues around weight. 

(3) Consumers: as consumers of media, we have a responsibility to be aware that what is projected in the media isn’t necessarily the truth, and to consume with a critical eye. We have a responsibility to consume media of differing viewpoints, to expose ourselves to, with the hopes of embracing, bodies of all sizes, to educate ourselves and learn about concepts such as thin privilege and Health at Every Size. You don’t have to end up agreeing, but education is key. And finally, if you find yourself being activated in a negative way by an image or media or a person’s body, we have a responsibility to ask yourself WHY. Why does that image trigger you? What, internally, is it getting at? And if it’s not healthy for you to consume that media, then don’t.  

If I sound a bit defensive in all of this, I’m aware that maybe there’s a part of me that is. Or maybe I’m just trying to figure out how to navigate the world going forward. How am I supposed to embrace and love my body, but also not negatively impact others? Should I hide it and cover it up until society deems it an “acceptable” recovered body?

I don’t have the answers. But I wanted to say that I’m not deaf to the discussion. And instead of ignoring the conversation, I’m at a point where I want to engage in it, to learn from it, and to advocate for change. Not just with how I treat and view my own body, but how society does for ALL bodies.

Because all bodies are good bodies. And if anything is ever going to change in our fucked up culture that promotes disordered relationships with food, our bodies, and ourselves, then we need EVERYONE to take responsibility. 

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18 thoughts on “Our Bodies, Our Responsibility, and the Media”

  1. I just want to thank you and encourage you to keep posting and keep the conversation going. I am so grateful and always so very eager to read your posts. I’m a 40 year old woman. I’ve been an active runner and spartan racer for about 4 years. I’ve had some weird food relationships over the years and I’m so grateful to hear other’s perspective. It keeps me honest with myself and balanced. In January I hired a coach to help me lose weight for various reasons. It has worked and I lost 55 lbs. It’s done wonders for my ability to run especially uphill. I am far from super skinny but I obviously look much smaller than before. I’ve been asked several times if I am done losing weight now and that I might be getting too skinny. The crazy thing is that the day your first article came out revealing your struggle I said to my husband, “sure I’m thin but I’m not Amelia Boone thin.” It has shook me since. I’m so touched by your story and such a better person for it. The reminder to not compare myself is huge. I almost immediately stopped trying to lose weight and transitioned into maintenance. I’ve been adequately feeding myself for long runs and trying to focus on nourishment and balance. Thanks again so much! You are inspiring and brave and strong and beautiful!!

  2. Thank you for continuing this conversation and your honesty and openness, Amelia. Be proud of your magazine covers and photo shoots – your athletic achievements are 100% honestly earned and put you on there.
    I think in this day and age people assume glossy covers are always Photoshopped and manipulated to some degree or are never actually “perfect” and just capture one particular moment.
    Ultimately I am amazed you have performed so spectacularly on such stringent nutrition and who knows what a fully-fueled Amanda could do! If you want to, that is. If you want to chill and play mini golf or do yoga and never compete again ever that’s all good too, as long as you feel happy.

    1. I hope Amelia doesn’t read this before you get the chance to edit your post, if that’s possible. She didn’t appreciate being called Amanda on the course before.

  3. This is amazing!! Thank you for being so open! All this really hits home for me and inspires me to make some changes.

  4. It’s a dilemma that doesn’t have the answer. I look at athletes and having had/have ( as I will never consider myself cured) I often wonder if they are doing it the right way. Am I looking at a picture of an athlete who is in the midst of this horrible diseases and in denial? I question it but my 11 year old would not, she has no idea. I don’t think the media causes eating disorders but it causes frustration and does sometimes condone the female athlete triad. But a lot of what we see is on social media and not print or news stories. It’s the skinny Mom that has had 4 kids and is claiming that she doesn’t do anything special and just “ watches what she eats”. But I want to also caution not commenting on someone’s weight. Along the way, during my relapses there were moments that if a friend had reached out and said “ I notice your losing weight, is everything alright?” it would have likely made a difference. Sometimes not but I do stress that if you suspect someone isn’t healthy ( they might be average weight), speak up.

  5. You continue to inspire me Even more so as you accept and pursue your own personal development. The attractiveness I see lies begins with your dedication , determination, perseverance. The willingness to share, to speak , to listen , to grow into a different perspective that lets you -Love you more. Inspiring the rest of us to be aware , to be considerate , to accept the flaws that may not be flaws at all . We can all be different, not better, not worse . And still love ourselves and others. Thank you Amelia

  6. Wow! This is so powerful to read. I’m a therapist who treats many women with disordered eating, and I, myself have struggled with it in the past…if I’m honest, I still do. I’ve also been asked about how to get my arms etc, and I always say “Pilates;” But in truth I’m leaving out a lot of the rest. I also relate to feeling my best when my body performs and yet being shocked that when the body shuts down its not being enough to change. I’m much better now, but of course there’s work to be done…and if I can help young women navigate it, then my purpose on this earth is clear. Thank you for sharing your story, Amelia!

  7. You just nailed that girl!
    I LOVE your honesty.
    We ALL absolutely need to take responsibility for the information we absorb and better educate ourselves that even something like a picture may have a whole bigger story behind it. If only everyone would tell more real stories like this!
    The media have an even bigger responsibility in making sure they tell the complete story.
    It take so much courage to be this honest with yourself AND then for you to share your story with everyone else.
    Your have a beautiful body! Never be ashamed of the way it looks, it is YOURS.
    You are a true inspiration, keep being you.

  8. Dearest Amelia: Your journey so reminds me of my beloved, who had the same eating disorder of longstanding, and who was as well a marvelous athlete. I loved her for who she was on all levels, and tried my best to understand, support, and believe in her on any and all days of her immense struggles with her condition. She never shied away from other athletes as their coach, friend, and confidant, particularly the ones who had body image problems. There is something biblical, “to whom much is given much is expected”. K. never asked, per se, “why” she was aligned with the events of her past leading to her medical issues, be they physical, emotional, biochemical, or genetic. She somehow knew that she had to figure it out and try to be the best example to others dealing with those problems. She was one in a million; yes, past tense, as I lost her to cancer April 2015. I have never known a more courageous person in my life.

    My point is that we each have that “row to hoe”. Your task, your journey, is unique to you, and then not. Finding that exquisitely balanced solution can only assist in a deep way to all who suffer what you have suffered, provided you are there to accept this. That is your choice. It was the only way K. could go forward; yet she was not necessarily “overt” in her pain. It is a deeply personal thing, clearly. I offer this a sufferer of another (mental) illness: find a way, find support, anchor in something strong and indelible (for me, faith), share as you care to share, never f**king quit. Discover that reason for being!

    My sense is that you are gifted unbelievably, and that like all of us, these gifts are as well their own dungeons in a very real way. This forces you, somehow and on some fateful day and way, to examine yourself in myriad, bewildering, and unending instances. I can somehow only weakly yet imploringly exhort you to never stop learning the process, find sense of all the SHIT, and discover that path to understanding. It’s a sad yet ultimately freeing Socratic trek through the soul.

    Know you will make headway in unimagined ways, dear lady. I applaud your courage, your sensibility, your resolve, your freaking grit. Find the path, animal counselor, and break trail through the toughest race of all: that with yourself. I ever and forever believe in you, and support and love you, Amelia.

  9. Again, this is brave. Good on you for continuing to speak up and do the hard (and right) thing. You’re good at this, and seeing your honesty is inspiring for folks going through their own hard times. Keep at it!

  10. Thank you for sharing with us. It’s an important issue affecting real people. I grew up in a family obsessed with food and weight talk. From the time I can remember I was told, “You’re female in this family, you will get fat, don’t get fat, but it’s your genetic destiny.” Talk about messing with your head. I am very fit, I do fairly well in age group Spartan racing, I train, I eat food, I have an enjoyable life. I have body image issues. I force myself to post pictures of myself in action, pictures that I look at and think, gross. But others don’t think I am gross. It’s just me. Lately I have started running in just a sports bra and shorts, and oddly, I feel better about myself. I will turn 50 this year, and I still have body image issues and wonder if that’s always going to be the case. I NEVER EVER engaged in negative weight talk around my daughter because I wanted to protect her from that, and yet she picked it up. Somewhere. Friends, media, somewhere. She is 19 and monitors her size. Yet she will point out someone who is beautiful who doesn’t fit a “typical” beauty. I don’t have the answers, but I am open to being kinder to myself and seeing the beauty in others.

  11. Thank you for so eloquently putting into words, your internal struggles and growth. Your blog is a wonderful example of humanity and compassion and it obviously resonates with others (sometimes in ways you may not realize).
    I strive to reach my potential and have various internal “guilt trips” that work against me. As such I have to tell myself “it’s ok” to want to succeed. As long as you’re honest with who you are and realize you’re not a better person simply because you win a race (just like you’re not a lesser person when you lose), you will be just fine as a human.
    Your self-awareness is inspiring!

  12. Actively in my eating disorder and too weak to do hill repeats – and everyone says how great I look. If they only knew…so thank you.

  13. Your honesty and bravery is so admirable Amelia. Sharing what must be such an incredibly challenging journey, which no one could truly fathom, speaks length about your strength and the wonderful person you are. I wish you all the very best. xo

  14. The reason magazines feature bodies like yours is primarily that they expect your pictures to sell magazines. That is, they (accurately) think consumers already have a preference your look. Of course, these covers also perpetuate a body image ideal, but the work is already largely done, by a much larger aggregate of forces, before the cover goes out.

    I doubt this makes you feel any less culpable and of course admire your decision to speak out from a position of influence. But you’re running against a mighty headwind and no worse of a person for not rejecting a compliment in the sauna.

  15. Amelia. Thank-you. This is the most insightful article on body image I have read to date. As an active and but heavy most of my life person with a healthy relationship with food person who is so tired of the judgement and sickness of society around this issue, I am immensely grateful for your words. You are in a unique position to be heard and your wisdom around the responsibility is perfect. I can imagine that the physical and emotional pain of your challenge is as great as that which large people suffer, if only different. Thank-you for speaking out.

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