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Women respond to college athlete who made her body image issues public on Instagram

When college runner Rachele Schulist made her struggle with body image public on Instagram, it was received well by women in the running community. Here's how 15 women responded with their own experiences.


Left:NCAA 2014. Right: NCAA 2016. Look at the picture on the left. If in your mind this is what a “good” or competitive distance runner looks like, please, keep reading. The truth is I was very unhealthy. My teammates and coaches will tell you that I was not happy; I was disengaged with my teammates and missing out on life. My coaches warned me about the consequences of running in this unhealthy state, but seeing as my running was going well I ignored them and figured they were wrong. And in the fall of 2015 I paid for it when I found I had a stress fracture. Last year consisted for the most part of training in a pool and sitting on the sidelines while the rest of my teammates got to train and compete. Slowly my body healed and I could start to run again. But mentally, another battle had begun. Even though I knew being too small is not sustainable, it was hard for me to believe that I could achieve success and be the runner I used to be without it, and I allowed myself to believe this for the better part of this season. My coaches told me time and time again that I am still the same runner as 2014, just stronger now and have the talent to be successful, but whenever I looked back at what I used to be I was discouraged all over again. The better part of this season I allowed this lie to dictate my running, and my running suffered as a consequence. The day before our conference meet I was so discouraged and worn down from beating myself up I could only lay in bed, and decided that after this meet I was going to give up and quit running because I doubted I could ever be good again without being unhealthy. My coach could tell from my race plan that I was not mentally engaged and the night before Big Tens called me in to talk. He asked me at what point I was going to draw a line in the sand and put an end to whatever was holding me back from running the way I know I can. So I did. Because the truth is, the idea that you have to look a certain way and be thin to be a fast runner is bullshit. It’s a lie that a lot of people in the running community buy into. (Continued in comments)

A photo posted by Rachele Schulist (@racheleschulist) on

Rachele Schulist’s words are going to go a long way for women runners dealing with sport-related body image issues. The college athlete opened up about struggling with her health in 2014 as she obsessed over staying as thin as possible to do well in competition. 

She’s far from being the only one to have gone through this.

It’s no secret that plenty of women within the running community strive to be ultra thin. The motives? It’s a mixed bag. In a sport like distance and middle distance running, many believe that thinner translates to faster. And because so many women in this sport do have a slimmer figure, many others also feel the pressure to look the same as their peers at the start line. There’s also the notion that there is such thing as the “runner’s body” (read: lanky) and so several feel that if the mileage is going to be high, the number on the scale should therefore be low– as low as it can go. And hey, need we mention societal pressures that are felt by several outside the running community?

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Of course there are other reasons too but recently, Schulist wrote a jarring, honest post on Instagram to smash these misconceptions. The athlete struggled to keep herself as thin as possible believing that she could not be a successful runner if she didn’t do so. Earlier this month, she posted a photo of herself in 2014, when she was aggressively managing her weight, beside a photo of herself this year, when she was at a healthier weight. 

In her caption (written above in full), she explained everything that she has gone through in the past two years of overcoming poor self image. This includes learning to accept her new weight and not fall into the patterns she was in in 2014. And many women, no doubt, will relate. 

“My coaches told me time and time again that I am still the same runner as 2014, just stronger now and have the talent to be successful, but whenever I looked back at what I used to be I was discouraged all over again,” she wrote.

She goes on to say that she now believes in more body-positive ideas. 

“The truth is, the idea that you have to look a certain way and be thin to be a fast runner is bulls***. It’s a lie that a lot of people in the running community buy into.”

Since she posted about this topic a week ago, it has spread through the running community and it has been received well– particularly by other female runners. Here’s just a sample of women’s responses:

1. “I really needed to hear this, girl. I’m recovering from a stress fracture right now because I have starved my body for 4 years, and it finally broke down this past season.” 

2. “I too experiencing disordered eating and body image disturbances from running and competing. It wasn’t until my second stress feature that I woke up and treated the underlying problem.”

3. “Thank you for telling your story, your perspective on what you’re “supposed” to look like if you’re a D1 runner helped me with my image and how I don’t have to have a stereotypical “runner body” in order to be a great, strong, and fast runner.”

4. “How I wish I’d had this to read when I was running in college. I was such a mess and never happy.”

5. “I have a similar story to yours. It’s so important to let young (and all) runners know that being a certain size doesn’t make you fast.”

6. “Thank you so much for sharing this. Comparing myself to stick thin runners is something I struggled with for a long time, and still do on occasion.”

7. “I fell into this line of thought over the summer and it depressed me, as well as affected my running negatively. I’m so glad you posted this because I feel like now I can get my speed back and run the way I used to.”

8. “Thank you for bringing education to the running and fitness community! I struggled with eating disorders my high school early college life. I turned to marathon running to work through it. I was judged for not looking like a “typical” marathon runner.”

9. “Thank-you, I needed to read this tonight.”

10. “I struggle with this every single day. Thank you for sharing your story and being a light.”

11. “My daughter suffered through the female athlete triad: anorexia, low bone density and amenorrhea. The smaller she got, the faster she got. She was told she “looked like a REAL runner now.” She had injuries, the worst was a stress fracture in her pelvis her junior year of college.”

12. “Exactly what I need to hear. Everyday. I have the same struggle as a yoga instructor thinking I’ll only be legit if I’m thin enough to inspire people.”

13. “I have struggled for 3 years believing that if I was just thinner like I was 3 years ago I would be faster. You are so much younger than I am but my thin picture at a race 3 years ago looks very similar to your thin picture and my today’s running picture looks very similar to your today’s picture.”

14. “I am a middle distance runner. I did everything from the 400m to the 5K in college and it was a constant struggle between cross-country and track season to “bulk up” or “slim down” enough.”

15. “As a person that has always had body imagine issues and obsessed about the number on the scale this really hit home. It took me a very long time to realize that if I wanted to get stronger in the gym I was going to have to gain some weight and also come to terms with having bigger legs and butt.”