A few weeks ago I was reading Facebook comments posted beneath an article about street harassment faced by female runners, and one comment in particular jumped out at me, from a man who wanted to know what was so wrong about letting a woman know she looked good while she was out running. I commented and suggested that while I can’t speak for other women, I know that when I’m out for a run, pretty much the last thing on my mind is whether or not a passerby finds me attractive.
Anyone who runs with me knows that I tend to be gross when I run. I get incredibly sweaty – no “glowing” and “glistening” for this broad. My face also turns a lovely shade of eggplant. I wear no makeup, just smears of sunblock and BodyGlide. I spit when I run. Like, a lot. Brian says he can identify me from a distance based on the way I spit. And perhaps grossest of all – I blow snot rockets.
I ask you, does this sound like the behavior of a woman who cares at all about looking pretty?
There are actually a lot of times when I do try to make myself myself look nice, and those times are marked by some fairly obvious signifiers. I’ll probably be wearing lip gloss or lipstick, my hair will be brushed, and I’ll be adhering to, at the very least, a baseline of good manners (i.e. I won’t be spitting in public). I’m not saying that I’m suddenly cool with random drive-by comments just because I’m wearing lipstick, just that there are usually some pretty clear signs that an effort at prettifying myself has been made.
Because here’s the shocking thing – and I know this will blow your hair back, so hold on to your butts – but not all of us care about looking pretty all the time. (A lot of us don’t even care at all!) Sometimes we just want to go out in public and do our thing and not have to be reminded that there is still a segment of society that looks at us primarily as decorative objects meant to pretty up the place.
One of the things I love best about running – and really about any physical activity at all – is the experience of feeling totally and completely alive within my own body. Josey at the Span of My Hips wrote a brilliant post a few months ago about gender, embodiment and weight lifting, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it since then. She does mention that women are conditioned to do a lot of cardio, which doesn’t really lend itself well to feeling present in your body, but I would add that for me, running – especially running outside – is a very centering activity that requires focus and presence, which is why I found her words relatable to all aspects of my athletic practice and not just those involving barbells.
Anyway! When I am running, especially when I’m doing a tempo run, where I’m running fast and towards the upper edge of my abilities but not so much so that I feel like I’m going to puke, it’s one of the times when I feel most free within my own body. It is one of the most glorious feelings, heightened by the fact that I don’t have a single clue how I look while I’m doing it. I don’t feel inhibited by self-consciousness. I don’t think at all about how others must see me when I run past them on the trail (because the truth is, they are most likely too wrapped up in their own business to pay me any mind). I just know how running makes me feel, and how it makes me feel is pretty damn great.
So while the man mentioned in the first paragraph may feel as though he’s doing a good thing by sharing his appreciation for the way women look when they are out for a run – and some women might actually appreciate that too – for me personally, I’d rather not hear it. I’m not out there to look pretty. I’m out there to run.