Running skirts, dresses and the rise of the fastinista

At least once a year, it feels like I watch a debate unfold over a treacherous piece of running apparel – the running skirt.

Who knew that a single garment could cause such an outrage?  Not me, but evidently the running skirt and the running dress are tremendously offensive to other runners, particularly lady runners, who say things like this:

NO NO NO. As a women I am sick and tired of being told to embrace my feminine side. Running is not about fashion, it’s about just running, or gutting out the 32k training run, or busting your butt at the track doing speedwork, finding some inner peace on the trails, or just enjoying a run. If you are concerned about your appearance, there is something drastically wrong.

Granted, this is a commenter at Runners World, and if there is anything I have learned in my years as a Runners World reader, it’s that the people who comment on that site tend towards the insufferably smug.  I mean, way to slip in that little humblebrag about the 32K training run, right?  Because no woman has ever worn a dress or a skirt while running long distances…oh, wait…

Kathrine Switzer in...oh my god, is that a DRESS?

Now, I personally have not worn a running skirt in a few years. I used to, but the undershorts for the one I had would ride up between my thighs and I would end up with the kind of chub-rub that no amount of BodyGlide could defeat.   Yet I don’t see anything wrong with a woman who wants to wear one.  After all, I don’t like to wear capris or tights while running, yet I would not criticize someone who felt more comfortable that way.  Running is some hard shit, and if wearing a black sequined skirt motivates you to work hard, then by all means, I will cheer on your sequin-clad ass as you blast across the finish line.

(This is where I part company with many of RW’s commenters.  To them, the only runner is one who turns out six-minute miles for two hours a day, six days a week, with nothing but a pair of shoes and shorts on their bodies.  Everyone else is just a poser.  I imagine the average RW commenter also lives in a wooden shack with only a candle for light and eats nothing but grass and thistle scavenged from nearby abandoned lots.)

I’m actually not a terribly stylish dresser when I run, or ever, really.  I usually wear sleeveless tops and black shorts and whatever pair of running shoes I’m in love with that day.  My only nod to flash and sass is my big lotus tattoo on my arm.  But this paragraph in the Runners World article that talks about the rise of the “fastinista” actually resonated with me:

 Even elite runners are in on the popular mash-up of athletic function and fashion: When Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan wore knee socks in the New York City Marathon, she made noise not only with her fast time—2:28:40—but with her flashy, bright-white, look-at-me color. “These women have an attitude that says, ‘I want to kick some ass wearing some bold outfit that shows people I’m not afraid to stand out,'” says Ironman champion and Skirt Sports founder Nicole DeBoom.

I thought about this while thinking of the latest pair of running shoes I am coveting, which are a pair of Nike Frees.  And not just any Nike Frees.  No, I am salivating over this specific pair:

I love that these are pink, which is the feminine color, but they are pink in this really aggressive way, like a punch in the face followed by a giggle and a snap of the bubble gum.  Those shoes say, “Underestimate me at your own peril.”  These shoes say, “Laugh if you want, but you’ll be watching the soles of my feet disappearing in the distance while you do so.”

So I get the desire to dress like a super-femme bad-ass while running hard and playing harder, because I’ve got a bit of that in myself as well.

But what I don’t get is the desire to trash women who prefer to run while wearing skirts or glittery knee-high socks.   It just reeks of that “special snowflake” mentality, in which certain women show how tough and serious they are by distancing themselves from all things girly and feminine.   You know what I’m talking about.  The kind of ladies who say,  “I’m not like most women, because I like to drink beer and eat steak!” and who wrinkle their nose at anything pink and who mock chick flicks and who basically spend large chunks of their energy putting down other women.

I’m pretty familiar with this mindset because I used to do it too.  I was not like those girls.  I swore and watched sports and liked red meat and Adam Sandler movies.  I was so evolved.  It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized I had internalized a pretty heavy dose of misogyny that, when mingled with my feminism, led me to regard most stereotypically feminine things with disdain.  I had very much absorbed the idea that girl=bad, and I took it out on inanimate objects like the color pink and makeup and dresses, and sadly, the women who like these things.

It’s kind of a common thing among younger women, I think, and I suspect most of us grow out of it when we realize that we’ve just traded in one set of gender markers for a different set, and that we did so for the sake of aligning our interests with a group of people who were never really going to fully accept us as “one of the guys” no matter what we did.

So now, even though I’m not the most feminine lady – in fact, I’d say I’m about as feminine as a jock strap – I make a point to show respect for expressions of gender that vary from my own.  I mean, what ultimately matters is not what the runner is wearing, but what she is doing.  Is she running hard?  Is she facing her fears of pain and failure?  Is she refusing to be okay with her past performance?  Does she crave the ability to run harder, longer, faster?  Hell, is she even out there?  If a runner can answer yes to these questions, then who the hell cares what she’s wearing?

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10 responses to “Running skirts, dresses and the rise of the fastinista

  1. I like to drink beer and eat steak…. in a running skirt! To be honest, I thought they were AWFUL when I first saw them. A woman was wearing one in the gym during an aerobics class I was taking (prior to me getting into running) and she looked very uncomfortable. Looking back, I realized she was most likely wearing the wrong size for her and it was too tight and restricting her movement.

    I love the running skirt on my body. Specifically the runningskirts.com brand. Mainly because of the build of my thighs, I find that most shorts I try ride up in the front and give o glorious shot of “camel toe”. Plus, that is really uncomfortable.

    Plus… I will admit that I LOVE getting compliments on my red plaid running skirt. It makes me feel good about myself. And I feel a bit of a throwback to the punk rock days of yore when a plaid skirt was all the rage with some ripped fishnets.

    • I love your plaid running skirt, and think it suits your punk-rock personality very well!

      You know, it’s one thing to just not like the way they look, but people get so OFFENDED by them, like the running skirt wearer kicked their dog and spit on their children. I’d like to ask how many of those deeply-offended runners just pull on whatever schmattes they dig out of the “athletic apparel” bins at the local thrift store, because the way they talk, it’s as if they have absolutely no vanity at all whatsoever and could not give two figs about what they wear, as long as they are running.

      But then, I wonder how much of all this is just Smug RW Reader Syndrome.

  2. I LOVE my running skirts. But, like you, the shorts underneath are always just a little too short, resulting in the chubrub. So I just don’t wear them when I’m planning to run over 45 minutes. I feel so happy and kicky in them. To me, running is about feeling good, confident, athletic and happy. Wearing skirts accomplishes that, so I’m not getting rid of them anytime soon. Even the Lumberjack has come around on them.

    • Kicky! Love it, that’s the perfect word to describe it.

      I don’t mean to act like I’m always supportive of every runner, always and forever. There are some things that runners do that bother me (besides being insufferable pricks), like toeing the line when they run eleven-minute miles or wearing full faces of make-up. But I think the key difference is that these are things runners DO, not things that they WEAR.

      • OH the full faces of makeup. That one drives me crazy. One lady in a race kept slowing down to gently dab away sweat so as to (apparently) keep her eyeliner from running (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha no pun intended) everywhere. That was a little ridiculous.

        Also once I went running after work and forgot to take out my rhinestone drop earrings. I felt pretty fancy, and not in a good way!

      • I have to say that a friend of mine showed up for the 5k I ran on Monday evening…. and won the masters division overall for the ladies…. in full makeup. It had even stayed on the whole race when she came and found me afterwards! Though, I think she probably had just come from work like most of us at that particular evening race.

      • Ha, figures that your friend would be all awesome and make me look like an idiot for caring about something like that. And really, it’s not like I’m all snidely pointing out made-up ladies and snickering. I just get…confused. And a little sad, too. Take this one girl I saw on the morning of the Women’s Half Marathon in St. Petersburg. It was, like, 6 a.m., and she was all decked out in a cute pink running outfit and her hair was done nicely, which is fine, but then her make-up…it was like club make-up, with careful liquid eyeliner and multiple shades of shadow and blush and all that. And all I could think was that she had probably gotten up an hour earlier than most of us to put effort in for something that in less than two hours was going to be running down her face in streaks. So, so pointless…

  3. Thanks…This really crystallizes some vague feelings I’ve had about feminism and the whole beer/steak thing. You put those perfectly. And thanks for the reminder not to put other women down, which we can do so often in feminism.

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