Allie Kieffer broke onto the scene when she finished fifth overall and was the second American woman across the line at the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon. If you were paying close attention to American track running, you’d have known she was a strong collegiate runner who’d attempted a post-collegiate career but had taken some time off after injury and setbacks. But for most, 2017 was the first time they’d heard of Kieffer.
Spectators of Kieffer’s career have commented the runner is not as lean as some elite marathoners. On Jan. 2, 2018 the 30-year-old published an online piece entitled “My Weight Has Nothing to Do With How Good a Runner I Am” in Self Magazine addressing an issue which she says has been ongoing for as many years as she’s been a competitive runner. “People often said they were surprised I could run so well for being ‘bigger,’” she says.
There are a lot of opinions about the hashtag #strongnotskinny. This message, a 15 year old girl sent me, is the reason why I’m going to continue using it. If you want to understand more than 140 characters worth of my opinion on this topic check my insta! pic.twitter.com/XFEMP2iVdj
— Allie Kieffer (@AllieKieffer) November 17, 2018
In May, 2018 to combat the narrative that she was “too big” and to help other runners who felt similarly, Kieffer started using the hashtag #strongnotskinny. But she has faced criticism for that, too. The runner wrote on Instagram yesterday, “When I began using the hashtag #strongnotskinny in May it represented the message I wanted to share–to focus on gaining strength rather than losing weight to become faster. Unfortunately, in this sport there are outside expectations on individual’s appearances and undertones that losing weight is the key to faster times.”
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When I began using the hashtag #strongnotskinny in May it represented the message I wanted to share – to focus on gaining strength rather than losing weight to become faster. Unfortunately, in this sport there are outside expectations on individuals appearances and undertones that losing weight is the key to faster times. The phrase strong not skinny clearly emphasized my stern opposition to that disruptive rhetoric. Those three words perfectly explained how I felt after 15 years in this sport – as a professional, a high schooler, a jogger, and a struggling NCAA athlete – that we needed a positive message to oppose the negative, self-deflating skinny requirement to be a good runner because I have seen far more people lose their love of running and their dreams from trying to fit those irrational standards than I have seen actually get faster from losing weight. . But recently it came to my attention that others are offended by my use of the strong not skinny hashtag. They feel like I am body shaming the leaner look and/or fan-girling the round, risqué booty pics on instagram. Maybe the hashtag rubs people the wrong way. Maybe it isn’t the best way to describe what I mean. @sportsillustrated wrote a story about it and some of my competitors thoughts surrounding it before the #TCSNYCMarathon (https://www.si.com/edge/2018/11/03/allie-kieffer-speaks-out-against-body-shaming-new-york-city-marathon-stephanie-bruce) if you want to check it out. But, at the end of the day I think my fellow runners and I are trying to say the same thing – love the body you’ve got. And, when you look at the pictures of people using that hashtag, feel empowered by what you can make your body become. It’s not strong verse skinny, it’s about feeling comfortable in your body. . . 📷: Somporn Vitesakara . . . #doyou #bodypositive #whatarunnerlookslike #runchat
She continues, “But recently it came to my attention that others are offended by my use of the strong not skinny hashtag. They feel like I am body shaming the leaner look… It’s not strong versus skinny, it’s about feeling comfortable in your body.”
Thank you for championing #strongnotskinny, Allie. Wish I heard more of this when I was growing up but am so, so glad it's reaching athletes of all ages now. 💪
— Laura Fedoryk (@LauraFedoryk) November 17, 2018
Many runners have taken to using the hashtag, reaching out to Keiffer via social media platforms about how positively it has impacted them. She tweeted a message from a 15-year-old runner yesterday. It read, “Last year I developed an eating disorder because I kept thinking, ‘I’m not as fast as the other girls because I’m not as thin.'”
One of the risk factors of losing too much weight as a runner is developing RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport). For example, stress fractures are a whopping four-and-a-half times more common in athletes suffering from RED-S. Unfortunately, low energy availability looks different on everyone, so catching it before it progresses can be difficult.
If you’re concerned you could be dealing with RED-S, considering checking out the LEAF Questionnaire. (LEAF stands for low energy availability in females.)
The young runner who reached out the Kieffer said that since she’s started eating whole and healthy foods, she’s one of the best runners on the team, not because she’s the skinniest, but because she worked hard. Kieffer says that messages like this are the exact reason she will continue to use the hashtag.