The last few months I have been thinking nonstop of what it means to be an athlete, specifically a female athlete. Full disclosure, I do not know what it is like being a male, so many of the things I discuss in this blog may be relatable to males but I am speaking solely from a female’s perspective on some of the issues we face.
I have noticed, possibly because of social media or maybe it is just more obvious through social media, that as amazing it is to see and hear about women taking care of their bodies and doing incredible physical challenges, so often the focus is more on what the woman looks like (including the clothes that she’s wearing) and not the things she does. For example, I remember just five short years ago I didn’t even know what workout clothes were. My workout clothes consisted of anything in my closet that had not yet been demoted to pajamas: old t-shirts, horrible sagging shorts, old white cotton socks, etc. But then the workout apparel world exploded. Not only was I in shock about how much good workout clothes can help performance, I also for the first time got excited about getting dressed prior to going out for a run. And this is fun! I love shopping for workout gear, and sometimes those new pair of running tights are just what I need to get get out the door. All to say I’m not suggesting that caring about what we look like and how we feel in workout clothes are a bad thing, but I also want to be very honest in this post about some of the pressures women get from others and themselves to look their best and smell their best even while sweating.
When I lived in New York for a few years any little bit of concern of what I looked like or smelled like at the gym went out the window. I was training hard for my first ultramarathon and ran nonstop outside and in the gym daily. Laundry was much less convenient and I had limited workout clothes because most of my belongings were still in San Diego. Because of this, I had only a few items to circulate through my never-ending sweat sessions. Thus, instead of wasting money and time constantly washing clothes, I just didn’t. I stuck to my routine of doing a wash every week and that was it. So every day when I returned from my workout I would literally wring my clothes out (disgusting but true) and hang them out to dry for the next day. I wore the same exact workout outfit every day for that week. Now, some may argue hygiene complications etc., but I managed just fine. I’m sure I smelled horrific but I wasn’t running to look for dates; I was running to sweat, to clear my head, and to be good to my body. What I looked and/or smelled like was not on my radar.
In New York, especially in the winter time, this was all easier. I was wearing clothes that would cover much of my body but in San Diego, it’s a different story. I was so bothered about the fact that when I moved back home suddenly I noticed the unflattering way my running shorts cut at my thigh, my armpit hair that I always neglected, my greasy hair, and yes even my hard nipples. For a while I attempted to address these sudden “setbacks,” and then, just like that, I got over it. I was wasting too much time and energy worrying about things that had no bearing on my life whatsoever. Truth be told, women tend to be very critical of themselves and, yes, of other women. I would never really think about what a male thought of me because frankly I just didn’t care, but I would think about what a female thought of me. Did I look a mess? Was my hair disgusting? Did I seriously just have a conversation with her with remnants of my hard boiled egg still in my teeth? But as I began to allow myself to not be concerned with how I appeared, I also stopped caring as much about how others saw me. I have flaws—lots of them. I have hair in places I wish I didn’t, I rarely shave my legs, almost daily I talk myself out of washing my hair (I’m just going to work-out later right?), no matter how muscular my legs are they still look flabby in the right shorts, my nipples have a mind of their own and are constantly hard in the most uncomfortable situations, and my arm hair never stops growing (last week we found a hair that measures about two inches long, I’m letting it grow). All of this to say, women are not physically perfect, some hide it better than others; but there will always be something about ourselves and yes, someone else to criticize. So who cares? Who cares if someone is wearing workout shorts that are super short and they don’t have the most amazing butt (guilty!), who cares if someone is wearing sweats or their boyfriend’s old t-shirt to the gym, and who cares if you’re not going to be featured on the cover of Runners Magazine.
I believe that we have an obligation to one another and to ourselves to be better than all of this. It is constant work and various bodies are glorified depending on the season, but we don’t have to cosign to what the media sells us about women. Women are beautiful, because of the stretch marks, different sized boobs, no toenails, sunspots, fat in places we wish we didn’t have, and all of the other characteristics that make us women. It is not up to me to decide what is beautiful for you, but it is up to all of us to be a bit kinder and more compassionate to one another. How we are to ourselves and what we say about others has a direct impact on our life. Seeing the best in ourselves is never a bad idea, and seeing the best in others, awkward hard nipples and all, well that’s just a gift for us all.