It was a cold, rainy November morning when Latoya Snell prepared for the NYC Marathon. The plus-size model, chef and aspiring personal trainer was about to tackle the 26.2 mile run for the 8th time. As a “Jill” of all trades, she was no stranger to the runner’s life, having just completed the Chicago Marathon three weeks prior. She was ready to finesse her way through another victory lap around New York City.
With four miles to the finish line, Latoya embraced the end of her marathon, knowing she’d soon be able to celebrate with her family. “It’s going to take your fat ass forever,” she heard someone yell from the sideline. Shocked, Latoya turned to the voice. “What did you say?” she asked. “It’s going to take your fat ass forever,” he repeated. Latoya, a seasoned runner with extensive experience in the fitness world, was being heckled because of her physical appearance. “I stopped because the Brooklyn girl in me was like, what did he say to me? Everything in me thought, I could knock this guy out and keep going with this marathon but then it’s like I can’t afford to go to jail, I can’t afford to get kicked out of a marathon that I paid for and as a black woman, hitting a white man, it’s not gonna look cute. It’s going to be like, ‘look at that angry, black woman hitting this man on the sideline. She can’t control her temper.’” Latoya exchanged words with the heckler until a few marathon runners came along and encouraged her to disengage and make her way to the finish line.
At 225 pounds and 5’3” tall, Latoya doesn’t fit the mold of what society typically defines as physically fit. Throughout her life, she struggled with the perception of a healthy self-image. As a teen, she was told she was too skinny. In her 20’s, she gained a substantial amount of weight that heightened some health issues. “My Doctor said, ‘Hey, listen, you’re well over 265 lbs. You have something called disc degeneration, you have sciatica and you have a herniated disc. You need to lose some weight. This weight is not helping your situation.’ I ended up going to physical therapy. I felt like someone took my life away. I couldn’t sleep without feeling pain. There are some days where I could not even clean myself. You don’t know how valuable your mobility is until you’re stripped of it. I was out of work for a year and a half. That was my official rock bottom. At that point I realized either you’re going to dwell in that moment or you’re going to rise from it.” Latoya lost 100 lbs. in a year. Down to 165, she didn’t feel comfortable in her smaller frame. It was then that she realized she’d rather be a bit heavier but in a healthy way.
Today Latoya proudly affirms that she is fat and fit. “I personally identify with the term that people consider slanderous which is fat. I’ve heard it for almost all of my adult life. I’m not big-boned; the fat on me is fat. I’m good with that. I know that I’m a plus-size woman. I’m proud to be a plus-size woman. I lost the weight and didn’t know who I was because my mind didn’t catch up to it.”
There is a huge misconception when it comes to being physically fit. By definition, the term fit means good health, especially because of regular physical exercise. The idea that one can be a fit, plus-size person has been lost in translation. While Latoya’s story proves that fitness can be worn differently, it also reinforces that there needs to be a broader definition of how physical health looks. “I think people have to start with themselves. It’s going to take more than stories like mine. Don’t get me wrong; people of color, plus-size people, disabled people need to be visual. When we say, ‘who do you think of when you see a runner?’ there is only one type of person that you actually see. So I think inclusion is necessary but I think more than anything, the change starts within you. Sometimes we can’t visualize what we feel we can’t attain. We have to start learning how to speak positively of ourselves.”
On April 28th, Latoya will run 37 miles at the Northface Endurance Challenge, followed by a 10K trail the next day. Despite her size, she is proving that health is a full alignment of physical fitness, a good diet and a positive outlook on life and self: A mentality that can fit into any body.