Thoughts on “Brittany Runs a Marathon”

I’m always a little nervous about movies showing overweight women for fear of how they’ll be portrayed. But I’d read good things about Brittany Runs a Marathon, a movie about a heavy young woman who decides to try to get her life in order and lose weight by running.



So I decided to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.


I had some quibbles with it (the whole house-sitting situation bothered me, for one), and I wasn’t excited by the early parts when Brittany was drinking all the time, doing drugs, and generally treating herself badly.


But once I got past those, I could relate to and appreciate so much of her journey. (Warning – spoilers ahead.)


The doctor

One of the things that struck me was Brittany’s visit to the doctor. She went to the office hoping she’d get a prescription for Adderall, but instead, the doctor warned her of all the things that might happen to her if she remained overweight. He told her that if she wanted to focus better, she should lose weight and get in shape. That didn’t surprise me.


What did surprise me was when he said that some people can be healthy at a bigger size depending on their genetics and what their lifestyle is like. When was the last time you heard a doctor say that you could be heavy and healthy?


The doctor also asked a crucial question, “Would you say that you make healthy lifestyle choices?”


I was very impressed by this. I certainly remember doctors telling me I needed to lose weight, but I don’t remember any of them giving me any reason except the numbers on the scale. But Brittany’s doctor pointed out her high resting heart rate and elevated blood pressure as reasons for concern.


And no doctor I ever went to when I was heavy asked about my lifestyle choices. It made me wish I’d seen that doctor when I was younger – that is, if I’d been able to bring myself to go to a doctor at all.


The first steps

I loved the exchange when Brittany checked out a gym and was told the lowest rate was $129/month. My jaw dropped at that, too. I know Planet Fitness is much less than that around here, but maybe the prices were so high because she was in New York City.


She made the excellent point, “But going for a run outside, that is zero…..”


And so, she started running.


I felt so much for her when she stared at the sidewalk and had to decide if she was going to take those steps or not. For me, it was hiking, and running up and down my stairs to train, but I could empathize so much. Running and hiking aren’t even always easy for fit people, let alone those carrying an extra 40+ pounds (or significantly more).


Those first steps are the hardest, but they’re so important because once you get moving, then you have momentum. You know you did it once, and you can do it again.


Changing relationships

I also really appreciated the fact that the movie looked honestly at how Brittany’s relationships changed.


Some of this was about Brittany becoming more confident in herself and realizing that she didn’t have to keep the friends in her life if they weren’t supportive of her and/or not interested in the person she had become. Admittedly, she took things a bit too far by thinking she could completely go it alone, but by the end, she came around and realized who her true friends were.


The other part that stood out was how strangers perceived her. A recurring image in the movie was her running to catch the subway and yelling for someone to hold the doors open for her. When she was heavy, no one did. But once she’d lost about 40 pounds, suddenly a guy held the door for her.


I think this is something any woman who’s lost weight can relate to (I’m not sure about men). Jillian Bell, the actress, may have discovered this phenomenon as well because she lost 40 pounds for the movie.


I still remember this feeling for myself, after I’d lost probably 80 or 90 pounds, and suddenly people were nicer to me or at least acted like I was there. Instead of being a large but invisible presence, suddenly I was a smaller but visible person. It’s a strange thing because, on the one hand, you feel good for being seen, but on the other hand, it reminds you of just how image-focused our society is.


It’s not about the weight

But the thing that I most liked about the movie was the acknowledgment that it wasn’t really about the weight.


Brittany’s brother-in-law called this out: “You changing your life and wanting to run this marathon was never about your weight. It was about you taking responsibility for yourself.”


I liked this because it’s so easy to make everything about the weight, but most of the time, that’s not the real issue.


My own weight loss was, in reality, a side-effect of me deciding I wasn’t going to wait any longer to do the things I wanted to do, and that I wasn’t going to wait for other people to accept me as I was. I needed to stop waiting for external validation and be who I wanted to be for myself.


In many ways, Brittany was the same. She started caring about herself and what she wanted. She gained self-confidence and realized she was capable of far more than she had imagined – including running the New York marathon.


Perhaps the real-life Brittany experienced some of this, too. Her story isn’t the same as the one in the movie, but the life of Brittany O’Neill did inspire the movie. She decided to take charge of her life by starting to exercise more, which in her case meant running, and it worked for her.


Everyone’s story is different

So I’d recommend the movie, but with the reminder that everyone’s stories and journeys are different. Running marathons isn’t for everyone (I wouldn’t do it, for example), and neither is hiking mountains.


But I think everyone can find something that inspires them and encourages them to work toward a goal, and achieving that goal will bring self-confidence and help you to be your best self.

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