‘Fat’ feminist jogger defies PE class persecutors

Katherine McMahon realised she had to exercise to be healthy. Picture: Neil Hanna
Katherine McMahon realised she had to exercise to be healthy. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A performance poet who was targeted by bullies while at primary school for being overweight has written a show about how she turned to “fat activism” and then to running to challenge the notion that slim always means healthy.

Katherine McMahon, whose debut, Fat Kid Running will be staged in Edinburgh next month, said that as a “fat kid” at school she hated the competitive nature of PE and felt anger about the pressure girls and women come under to be slim and polished.

McMahon’s play, which debuts at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh on 12 May, includes comedy as well as darker insights, and describes her life as a youngster skiving PE lessons and her recent endeavours to become a “fat, fierce, feminist runner”.

She explores what it takes to feel at home in her body and asks how people are meant to have fun just moving around in a world where the emphasis is on body shaming and fat burning.

“This is not an evangelical story about a before-and-after transformation from being fat to becoming a slim runner, which I am not.

“Instead it’s about size acceptism and how, after years of thinking certain attitudes to size were unacceptable but not knowing what to do about it I reclaimed things like exercise after hating PE at school.”

Edinburgh-based McMahon said: “The hardest bit, and most intense bit to write was about the bullying. It was the most emotionally difficult thing. I was cornered by some girls in a changing room and punched when I was about eight years old.

“That was when I first started becoming aware of size, and how it stops you feeling comfortable in your own body at a young age.”

McMahon said it was the competitive nature of PE she found particularly difficult.

“Lessons were set up in a way that teachers would choose those who were already good at PE to choose teams, which was excruciating. So, I said to myself ‘I just don’t care. I’m not going to try.’”

As an adult McMahon began researching fat activism and size acceptism which aims to get rid of discriminating against people due to their size.

“It’s quite a radical concept, that all bodies are worthy, whether fat or thin, and people are not ‘less valuable’ because they are not the accepted size. Someone who is a bigger size may be eating more healthily than a slim person.

“I think it’s really important that when it comes to health education for children that we take the emphasis off size. ‘Fat’ should just be a word like ‘tall’ not an insult to describe someone.”

The second half of the show by Flint & Pitch Productions, deals with how McMahon discovered running and took part in a 10K race after becoming immobilised temporarily due an injury to her feet.

“After a while I realised that with my feet being really bad I didn’t have the choice anymore about taking exercise. One day I just thought, ‘I’d really like to try moving around a lot more.’ But I made a deal with myself, that if I hated it I would stop. There was no obligation.”

Dr Gary Hamilton, a Glasgow-based GP, said that for good health people should fall within a normal healthy weight range.

“There are a lot of serious health implications for people who are overweight or underweight. People can be too light which affects the bone mass and can lead to fractures and make them more prone to infections.

“However, a study in the British Medical Journal showed people nowadays have problems defining what is a healthy size, tending to think they are lighter than they really are compared with people 30 years ago.”