Jen, you asked for it. Be careful what you wish for…it’s a long ‘un!
Historically, I’ve gone several rounds of either defending or attacking running attire.
Round 1 — High School Girls versus Easily Shocked Matrons of Smalltown, USA. During the first part of cross country season and the last part of track (or, when the temperature climbed over 85 degrees), most of the distance runners ran without shirts on. With the exception of one or two girls who were hoping to attract a boyfriend and maybe an occassional fella who just wanted to show off his skinny distance runner physique, the motive for this scandalous action was performance-based. (1) It’s hot. (2) Running without a shirt is cooler. (3) Case closed.
Boys without shirts? No problem. Girls without shirts? Someone call the superintendent! Enough phone calls came in that the girls were ordered by the assistant principal to wear shirts at all times. Just the girls. Thanks for the fairness and equality, folks. For the first couple of weeks after this, the AP would stand outside the school and wait for us to return from our run…checking to see if shirts were on. He eventually got tired of this, and when one day the guys stole our shirts (Being so outstandingly clever, we took them off when we were out of sight of the school and hid them behind a hay bale. This was too good a practical joke opportunity for the guys to pass up on.), forcing us to traipse through the school in sport bras and shorts, the AP didn’t say a word.
I woudn’t have minded the shirt rule if the boys were treated the same way. It was being treated differently that got under my skin. That battle was a big deal at the time, and I celebrate its victory now by…well….wearing a shirt. There’s something be said for the safety of a lone female runner, and a whole lot to be said for how much my stomach doesn’t need to be seen in public. Eek. But at the time, it was (for me) a significant victory for womankind.
Round 2 — Megan versus College Track Coach. Let’s talk for a moment about buns. Hip huggers. Spankies. Running briefs. Track briefs. Bikini wannabes. Whatever you want to call it, the ridiculous spandex underwear that many collegiate women distance runners are expected to race in. My spandex underwear even had mesh, see-through sides. Lucky, lucky me! Ask Coach why you have to wear the spandex underwear instead of shorts, and he’ll say, “Because the rest of the team is wearing it.” But Coach, why does anyone have to wear it? “It makes you look faster.” Why does it make you look faster? “Because all the other teams are wearing it.” But why is everyone wearing it? “Because it makes them look faster.”
And this is when my brain explodes from the sheer, mind-numbing illogic of it all. Auuuuugh!!! Who?!?! Who decides that I have to wear spandex to look fast? Who decides that unavoidable wedgies and showing crowds of strangers more skin then I’d ever want to reveal makes me a better runner? WHO??? I think it’s a conspiracy. I don’t know what the point of the conspiracy is, but the fact that the fellas aren’t wearing “buns” tells me all I need to know. Spandex. Doesn’t. Make. Me. Faster. Don’t expect me to buy the “wind resistance” theory, either. If that was actually true, you’d see long distance boys wearing buns…and it would probably be a scary sight. Something that would permanently scar the retina. Oof.
I ended up losing this battle, but a freshman runner carried on in my stead and eventually convinced Coach to let the entire team choose what they wanted to wear. Many do wear buns, but some (like J. Jo) get to wear shorts. Hallejulah.
This brings me to Round 3, which isn’t really a “round” at all because it doesn’t directly affect me. It is, however, something I’m especially perplexed about and have been wanting to have a nice rant about for awhile. So, please bear with me. Or quit reading if you are particulary enamored of…
Round 3 — running skirts. My initial feeling about a running skirt is that there is no such thing as a RUNNING skirt. Perhaps there is a “jogging” skirt, or a “look cute while exercising” skirt. But a running skirt? No sirree Bob. Does not compute.
I know that I should just let this one go. No one is making me wear a running skirt. I certainly don’t want to detract from the enjoyment that anyone else might get from wearing a running skirt. I just get this feeling…like with the buns…that it doesn’t make logical sense. What’s the point? Does it reduce chafing? Is it cooler? Or is it just a fashion statement? (Sidenote: Scott predicts that I will be wearing a running skirt by the end of the year, because any time I am so adamantly against something I usually end up liking it. See Exhibit A: the ipod. He may be right, but I can’t see it. For now…I rant.) I personally have a problem with the whole “fashion statement” line of thought because I’d rather wear my old, beat-up t-shirts out to get sweaty than a cute, color-coordinated outfit. I’m cheap, and lazy, and this is the best use for race t-shirts that I’ve come up with so far. I don’t expect everyone to think like me, but this whole running skirt thing has really surprised me. Why, why, why?
A dream I’ve had throughout my running career is to be taken seriously as an athlete. While I’ve had a tremendous support system over the years (see Super Fans), there have been enough instances of inequality or stereotypical views at one extreme or the other to motivate me to achieve more even as they hurt my heart. An elderly gentleman telling my parents that they had a “nice-looking pair of boys” (In his defense, my hair was cut in a bob at the time. It was the last time I’d have short hair.) Stupid, immature boys yelling obscene things at me from the sidelines. People recommending that my mom NOT let me run in college because I’d turn “butch.” Girls only getting to race a 2 mile when boys run a 5k. A teacher telling my brother that I’d better enjoy running during my early years of high school because eventually I’d get “big hips and slow down” and not be able to win races. People assuming that I would stop running (and quit college!) just because I was getting married. Being told that I have to wear a shirt when I run because I’m a girl.
They’re little things. Careless (if hurtful) comments from people who ought to know better. There are two different extremes to work through, and both are extremely wrong. (1) Girls aren’t athletes. They’re too delicate, or non-competitive, or undisciplined. They won’t work as hard as guys. They might be able to compete when they’re younger, but eventually their bodies will betray them. This train of thought usually relies on the fact that the fastest men have better times than the faster women to prove their theory. (2) Athletes aren’t girls. Extreme competitive activity will turn girls into lesbians, or make them infertile, or both. I’m not even going to argue with this one. It’s too stupid.
What does any of that have to do with running skirts? It’s harder to prove to some people that women can be athletes then it is to prove that women athletes retain their femininity. I think this is why I’m so antagonistic about the running skirt. It feels like a step backward to me, because I’ve usually gauged my “athleticness” by doing what the boys do. If they get to take their shirt off, I want to as well. If they get to run a 5k, then count me in. Does wearing a skirt make me a better runner? I have a hard time seeing it. It might make me a cuter runner, but I think I’m afraid that it might somehow make me look like a less serious one. (Sidenote: I was going to have this whole wonderful point about the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, where women got to compete in the 800m for the first time. Half the field collapsed, and distance races were eliminated for women for almost 40 years because competitors were too “fatigued.” I had this idea that they wore skirts …but all the photos I found of those Olympics show shorts so I’m fairly certain I made it up. It would’ve made a great point, but it’s not historically accurate. Phooey on that.)
End rant about the running skirt. I feel better now. Ladies, be proud to RUN LIKE A GIRL any way you can. If that means a skirt, then get a skirt. It just doesn’t for me.