Picture from Women’s Running Mag Features Plus-Size Model
Runner and plus-size model Erica Schenk appears on the August cover of Women's Running magazine. Image ©2015 COMPETITOR GROUP, INC.

Women’s Running Mag Features Plus-Size Model

Women’s Running magazine made a bold move in their August issue—one that is likely to inspire a whole new group of athletes. Rather than printing the usual ultra-fit runner on the cover of their magazine, this month’s Women’s Running features 18-year-old plus-size model Erica Schenk.

“This cover will empower and remind so many women that they don’t have to be slender with six-packs to get out and do something positive for their health and well-being,” said body image expert Harriet Brown in a BBC interview.

So far the reaction on social media has been overwhelming with many Twitter users and others expressing their appreciation for the cover.

While most running magazine covers depict “aspirational” images, this one may be far more “inspirational” for women who have never seen themselves as runners. Encouraging women to lace up their shoes and hit the road despite their body size can help them achieve a healthier lifestyle whether or not they lose weight. According to Active.com, regular running can also help lower the risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart attack as well as benefit those in the early stages of diabetes. It may also increase confidence, relieve stress and help eliminate the effects of depression by secreting hormones that naturally improve the mood.

Running or other forms of exercise can improve body image as well. An article from Brown University’s health services department suggests that poor body image puts people at greater risk for turning to dangerous behaviors to control their weight. “Extreme dieting, exercise compulsion, laxative abuse, vomiting, smoking and use of anabolic steroids have all been associated with negative body image.”

Unfortunately the pervasive images of skinny models and celebrities in the media, cultural prejudices and even comments from family and friends may contribute to negative body images. And in some cases women may also feel pressured to reach a certain ideal from the very sources that could and should be encouraging a healthier lifestyle. In the Brown article, Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts found in studies that “70% of college women say they feel worse about their own looks after reading women’s magazines.”

However, one of the suggestions for improving body image includes moving and enjoying your body. That can include walking, hiking, dancing, participating in team sports and swimming. For other women, running may be the way they choose to move and this month’s cover model may be just the encouragement they need to try.

Women’s Running Editor-in-chief Jessica Sebor believes it is important for the magazine’s readers to realize how diverse runners are. Sebor said, “There’s a stereotype that all runners are skinny, and that’s just not the case. Runners come in all shapes and sizes. You can go to any race finish line, from a 5K to a marathon, and see that. It is important for us to celebrate that.”