What Running Taught Me About Body Positivity… It’s All In the Mind

The prompt for National Running Day was “I run to _____.” I actually just had a little wave of anxiety as I typed, thinking about sharing the reasons that I run. The reasons are deeply personal, however publicly I talk about running. Personal, and innumerable, so maybe I’ll try to distill it all down to one basic idea. I run to connect my body to my soul.

I grew up an incredibly confident girl on the inside, with incredible self-loathing for her outsides. I hated my body. Hate is a strong word. Not strong enough. I developed at a young age in all the wrong ways according to a hormonal pre-teen. Big butt, thick thighs, flat chest. Boys didn’t like me, girls didn’t relate to me. I wasn’t athletic. I wasn’t skinny. I wasn’t necessarily fat either. I was the word I’ve come to hate more than almost any in the English language – chubby. I was chubby. And it’s not cool to be chubby as a kid.

So I grew up hating my outsides and wishing for new ones, while simultaneously loving life, being social, feeling creative and insightful, and in general enjoying the human soul that was developing as Becky Sigl. I was very conscious of this strange dichotomy. How could I be so confident and so insecure at the same time? Mind-body disconnect. You’ve all felt it.

Along came running. I began running as early as 6th grade but didn’t stick with it in earnest until my college years. During that time I felt more pressure than ever to somehow achieve the body that I THOUGHT would match my awesome inside self (don’t believe everything you think). Safe in my college incubation bubble, I knew that once thrust into the “real world” the clock began. It’s tough for women in Hollywood and if you don’t jump in the Hollywood Double Dutch game when you’re a kid, then you better be ready again when you’re a young twenty-something still young enough to play high school and college. If you miss THAT turnoff and you’re not “smokin’ hot” or super charactery then you may as well wait around until you’re old enough to play the Mom. I realize I sound very cynical and no one is obligated to subscribe to these silly rules. You can pave your own way and you should! But the pressure. It’s brutal.

So there I was, 21, getting ready for the real world, and I thought to myself constantly “I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight.” The only time I didn’t think these thoughts was on the running trail. Interesting. I didn’t all of a sudden feel satisfied with my body. I just didn’t give a crap. I was running.

Along comes the real world and wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t magically transform into a 5’10” lithe supermodel or a cute little pixie girl in a size zero. Huh. Go figure. The real world arrived nonetheless and I started to realize how much I truly disliked this game of Hollywood Double Dutch. But I thought I’d still play anyway. I’d still attempt to achieve a body that would match my awesome, spunky, confident, inner self – still repeating the mantra “I have to lose weight” – I started running more consistently.

A funny and unexpected thing happened. I fell in love with my body. The body that in the past 10 years has run 13 half marathons, one marathon, and 2,000 miles to Tahiti. That body. The body that is actually 15 pounds HEAVIER than it was 10 years ago when I started running to lose weight! I love that body. I love it so fiercely. Sure I get a little itchy when I feel a few pounds of new jiggle after the holidays or if I haven’t run for awhile, but I still love the jiggle, however unwelcome. I love it deeply because I’m grateful for it. I know what it can do.

In college I took a philosophy course that focused heavily on the ideas of Iris Murdoch. One of our textbooks was “The Sovereignty of Good.” (I highly recommend it). It is the act of focusing on the Good – art, service, love – that effectuates transcendence. This focusing and taking action lures us outside ourselves. You can’t simply try to be grateful as effectively as when you focus on giving to others which results in a sense of gratitude. You can’t try to understand humanity as well as seeing a great play – the pathos of which evokes an understanding of humanity as a result. A focus on good things brings about Good. The actions make us Good. It’s not so easy to be good for Goodness’ sake. Someone alert Santa.

I couldn’t try to love my body in a vacuum. I just couldn’t. I did try. Hard! I simply did not love it. 10 years of running consistently – focusing my mind on something healthy and active instead of the outcome on my appearance – changed me. It works this way in acting. You want to get out of your own head? Focus on your scene partner. What are you doing to him? Do it. Voila! No more in your head. So too with body positivity as it turns out. You want to love your body? Focus on doing things with it. Be active. Put your body to work. You’ll discover that it’s Good, EXACTLY as it is.

I started running because my 6th grade teacher told me to. I stuck with it in high school and college to try and lose weight, when I suddenly realized it had this potent by-product of making me feel sane. I keep running today not to love my body, but because I love my body. Running, as it turns out, is the bridge between my sparkly, glitter-spackled, spunky, soulful, introspective, confident, awesome, self and the physical vessel I was given to get through life – my body. You get one boat to sail the ocean. Don’t scuttle it. Name it. Take care of it. Decorate it. Love it. Have fun sailing.
I run to connect my soul to my body. I run because it’s spiritual. I run because it’s physical. I run to get out of my head. I run to focus on the Good.

Why do you run?

sparkly self

happy birthday… miss monroe

Today celebrates a few of my favorite things. First of all, June 1st has always excited me as it marks the entree to my birthday month. I can’t help it. I love birthdays. Countdown to June 18th.

Second, June 1st is Marilyn Monroe’s birthday. I feel compelled to pay homage to someone who eternally mystifies me, on what would have been her 85th birthday:

I haven’t always been a Marilyn Monroe fan. Of course I’ve acknowledged her beauty and iconic place in Hollywood history, but she never meant anything to me in a particularly special way, until my third year of college. I took all of three academic classes in my college career (yes, be jealous, hurray for conservatory education!). One of the three was an absolutely incredible philosophy class taught by Professor Kestenbaum. Oh how I loved thee. Imagine the most inspiring, kind, gentle, intelligent, whimsical man. Now imagine that he looks like Santa Claus. That was Professor Kestenbaum. Easily one of the most endearing and inspiring individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to learn from.

On June 1st of that year, Kestenbaum wanted to share something with us. He pulled out the Boston Globe and showed us all a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the front page, commemorating her birthday. A small, inquisitive smile crept over his face as he softly said to the class, looking back and forth from the picture to us, “there really was something sort of, magnificent, about her.” Blushing like a schoolboy, he spoke to us as if he knew Marilyn personally, and yet retained a self-awareness that that feeling of familiarity mixed with awe is exactly what endeared her to the masses. Kestenbaum was a brilliant man. I was enrapt in that moment to see this academic powerhouse dumbstruck by the overpowering beauty of a woman. I guess Arthur Miller knows a thing or two about that.

We focused a great deal in that class on beauty (in a philosophical sense, not physical) and attention to a greater good. The curriculum was heavily wrapped up in metaphysics. Wittgenstein, Iris Murdoch, William James. Kestenbaum was not pointing out that, gee, Marilyn Monroe was just so gorgeous. He wanted to illuminate something deeper and utterly unique about her. Something that would explain why she has become the iconic symbol for icons themselves, for fame, for beauty. Kestenbaum remained intentionally ambiguous as to why he showed us that picture of Marilyn Monroe. He wanted us to meditate on it, and on beauty itself. Of course, in the past 6 years, I have.

Marilyn Monroe displays such yearning in all of her photos. It’s as if she reaches through the camera, trying desperately to feel someone there, but of course there is no one. In every photo she displays the desire to be loved by everyone, in conflict with the need to be cherished by just one. Would it have been possible for someone who so freely belonged to everyone, to belong to anyone? It’s difficult to put into words how Kestenbaum’s mini demonstration struck me that day. I just remember seeing Marilyn Monroe as if for the first time. A light bulb went off and I thought, there is something truly breathtaking about her, having to do with more than just the way she looks. What does it take to give yourself over to a camera like that? Utter narcissism? Pure selflesslessness? At some point do the two become indistinguishable? Call it photogenic, call it natural ability, call it what you will. I think there is something quite transcendent about Miss Monroe. Think about it.

the picture that started her career

Since that day in Philosophy class I’ve read many of her biographies and seen all of her movies. For Monroe-philes out there, I hope you’ve read “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates. It’s an epic, gut-wrenching masterpiece. Oates is so incredibly brilliant. She is the only writer out of many to realize that the  life story of the woman who most infamously represents fame and fantasy must be told through a fictional lens; and in doing so the novel becomes more honest and true than any Monroe biography available on the bookshelf. The book leaves you with such a sadness that someone at once beautiful and grotesque was snuffed out of this world. Why? There are so many answers to that question. To ensure her status as a timeless sex goddess? An icon? Perhaps as a cautionary tale against exploitation? Hollywood? Or perhaps just because a sad sick girl never accepted the love.


The third bit of excitement was that today is apparently National Running Day! Here I am writing a running blog and I get so swept up by Marilyn Monroe that I didn’t even get to the topic of running. Ah well, something to look forward to tomorrow. In the meantime, Happy Birthday Marilyn.

“I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.” -Marilyn Monroe-