Now, she recognizes how unhealthy that was for her. Now, she owns who she is. And who she is, she’ll tell you proudly, is a “fat cyclist.”
“I was always trying to change the fact that I was a fat cyclist into being just a ‘regular’ cyclist,” the 27-year-old says on a recent afternoon. “Now, I spend my time loving myself and moving my body because I enjoy moving my body and not as a punishment to my body.”
Search “cyclist” online and look at the images that pop up. The first dozen spandex-clad people you see might differ in some basic ways. They might be male or female, blond or brunette, young or not so young.
What they won’t be are people who wear clothes in sizes 2X, 3X or 4X.
Kornhauser and fellow “fat cyclist” Marley Blonsky hope to change that. They hope to make cycling more inviting to people of all sizes and expand the image of a cyclist — not just on screens, but also on roads and trails and in people’s minds.
“I think people forget that riding bikes is fun,” Blonsky says. Everyone rides a bike as a child, she says, but then they stop as adults and start to think of it as something only certain people do. When people find out she rides, she says, one comment she hears often is: “I would love to do it, but I can’t.”
Her response: “Why can’t you?”
Both she and Kornhauser call themselves “fat” as a way of reclaiming a word that is usually slung as an insult, but they respect that not everyone feels comfortable with that description. When they speak in front of people about how the industry and culture could change to accommodate more riders, they use carefully thought-out phrases such as “people in larger bodies” and “size-inclusive spaces.”
Even when they use the word “fat,” they do so in a way that acknowledges that the experiences of someone who is 250 pounds will differ from someone who is 400 pounds. They borrow language from the fat acceptance movement, which offers a spectrum of identifying terms, such as “small fat,” “mid-fat,” “super fat” and “infinifat.”
Kornhauser and Blonsky, who both wear a size 2X, consider themselves “small fat.”
They also consider themselves “adventure cyclists.” Both commute daily on bikes and go on multiday cycling trips.
Those similarities led the women to connect on Instagram several years ago and create a presentation last year that they are aiming to bring to the Washington area in March. The two are scheduled to speak at the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit, which is being held in Arlington and has the theme this year of “Safe Streets for Everyone.”
The women, who live in different states on the West Coast, created a crowdfunding page last month to help them pay for the trip. Both say they felt uncomfortable asking for help. Then they realized other speakers had employers and organizations that would cover their trips. They do this advocacy work on their own. Kornhauser is a 27-year-old PhD student in Oregon studying natural resource management. Blonsky is a 33-year-old sustainability manager for a logistics company in Washington state.
They haven’t reached their goal on the GoFundMe account, but they say they’ve raised enough to buy plane tickets and commit to coming.
“It has just been unbelievable to see how much support we have gotten,” Kornhauser says. “It just feels like people really believe in what we’re doing, which is even better than the fact that we can now afford to go.”
“In a way,” Blonsky adds, “it feels like we’re going representing all these people.”
The two got into cycling several years ago with different levels of enthusiasm. Kornhauser started “resentfully” because she didn’t have a car and needed to get to her undergraduate classes. Blonsky also started as a commuter but says she “jumped in feet first.”
Even though the two don’t live near each other, they share cycling experiences that their thinner friends haven’t encountered.
They have been called “brave” and “strong.” Strangers have watched them ride up hills and stopped their cars to say “Good job” or “Are you okay?”
Halfway through a bike-packing trip in Alaska, a tour van pulled up near Kornhauser and a friend, and passengers took pictures. In an article she wrote about the incident for Bicycling.com, she describes the guide as looking at her and saying loudly, “I just saw two very athletic men barely finish the ride.”
Blonsky says she often gets asked about how to lose weight from cycling. Her usual answer: “I don’t know.”
Both women say they don’t ride to shed pounds. They have both found that their bodies don’t work that way. Even when she’s riding 30 to 50 mile days, Blonsky says, her muscle tone may increase but her weight usually stays at about 260 pounds.
She also — and this is what most angers the online trolls who find her — doesn’t want to change her body.
“At some point, I said, ‘This is who I am, this is me,’ and I embraced it,” Blonsky says. To punctuate that point, she got two ice cream cone tattoos on her biceps.
The fat acceptance movement was created to push back against sizeism, which can come in the form of blatant discrimination or unconscious bias, but it has also been criticized as encouraging people to make unhealthy choices. That debate has a place, but that place is not within the welcoming space that Blonsky and Kornhauser are trying to get the country’s cycling communities to create.
They are raising societal and logistical issues that heavier riders face — including limited clothing options and bike weight limits — in an effort to draw more people to the activity, whether those people come to lose weight or come content with how they look.
Kornhauser says they’re not trying to tell people “don’t ever change.” They’re trying to tell them, “You don’t have to change, and the things that happen to you because of the size of your body are not fair.”
It’s a powerful message. It’s also a needed one.
Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, says weight bias is no different than discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation and skin color and remains “pervasive in our culture.”
“It’s still largely accepted that people who carry excess weight are ‘bad’ people or are ‘lazy’ people, and there are all sorts of consequences of that,” he says. One of them is weight gain. Being fat-shamed, he says, can diminish a person’s motivation to exercise and the fear of other’s reactions can make it difficult for them to step into a gym.
“So a movement like this,” he says after I tell him about Blonsky and Kornhauser, “to me, that is just such a refreshing thing to see.”
When Kornhauser has written about her experiences, she has received insults from people who want her to want to change. She has learned to ignore those people.
The ones she cannot ignore, though — the ones who drive her to wear the label “fat cyclist” with pride — are the people who tell her that they used to ride, then gained weight and stopped seeing themselves as cyclists.
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