Running for the wrong reasons

About two weeks ago, Sean and I went to Memphis to pick up a friend’s dog, hit the library, and purchase, among other things, swimsuits for our upcoming trip to the beach. Shopping for clothes, swimsuits in particular, is an unpleasant experience for me. I feel a lot prettier if I never look in mirrors, especially changing-room mirrors. Sean thinks I’m just beautiful, and he tells me so excessively, but that isn’t enough to counteract the predominant cultural messages that I’ve been subject to for a quarter of a century.

On the outside, I look like a feminist: I have comparatively little hair on my head and a comparative lot on my legs and in my armpits*. Most of the time, I can be a feminist on the inside, too. Feeling bad about my body in a changing room, I felt worse about my character. The self-loathing I was experiencing was two-fold:

  1. Heavens, my butt is rather unattractive!
  2. How dare I betray my ideals by hating my fairly healthy and by all accounts perfectly-nice-looking body!

I came out of the changing room more or less whimpering, detesting my insides and my outsides. Because I wasn’t happy with the way I looked, I resolved to start running again. Because I couldn’t stand the idea of basing a decision on hating my body, I retracted my decision. Taking back the decision didn’t address the initial feelings, so I came back to running. I went through this cycle a couple of times, going round and round with myself.

About two weeks ago, I started running again. I ran cross country in high school and liked everything about it except for the, y’know, actual races. I haven’t resolved my feelings about the decision, but I’m embracing the fact that it makes me feel better about myself: I feel good about my resolve, my health, and my strength when I run, not just about my body. We live in the prettiest part of Arkansas, so I always see something strange or cool or wonderful on the road (I saw a wiggly lizard this morning). I’m happy with the decision, but I’m uncomfortable with my motives. I’m exploring those feelings and disclosing them to gain some perspective, and hoping that my motives will eventually shift away from my looks and toward my health and happiness.

If I’m being honest here (I’m really trying!), I want to look good without working at it, and I want to feel like I look good (who doesn’t?). However, putting effort into my appearance based on other people’s ideas of what “looking good” is works against my efforts to make the world a better, more inclusive place. It’s a dilemma. I haven’t resolved it.

A few cleanup thoughts:

  • In certain social situations, I think it’s okay to want to look “normal.” Any event where someone else in particular is supposed to be the center of attention (weddings, funerals) is a good place to put away the funny hats and don a bra.
  • I don’t always disapprove of putting effort into my appearance: I think it can be fun to try to feel like a work of art and to use clothing and accessories to send a message. Most of the time, though, I just want to be dressed comfortably and functionally.
  • This isn’t a pity party: don’t tell me I’m beautiful because I wrote this post. You’d be missing the point.
  • running in the morning (when it’s not 100 degrees) is the bomb because a) then I don’t dread it all day and b) I get to feel great about myself (Yay! I ran today!) all day long. This is the great secret of people who actually exercise.

One of the greatest things that anyone can do to empower women and girls is compliment them on something other than their appearance. Maybe if the world hadn’t emphasized my looks over my health and strength, I’d be running for the right reasons.



*Women with hairless armpits always look a little strange to me.

9 thoughts on “Running for the wrong reasons

  1. “One of the greatest things that anyone can do to empower women and girls is compliment them on something other than their appearance.”
    That is SO true. And I can’t help but wonder about this obsession our culture has with the removal of body hair to the point of women trying to look (IMO) like pre-pubescent girls. Kinda creeps me out. Why is that attractive to so many men?

  2. Have you seen the new Verizon commercial? It is pointed but speaks to that point up there. I’m glad someone is addressing it large scale! I love the closing words of this post Keely. I have resolved that my exercise regimen is a mix. I love feeling healthy, and exercise makes me feel good. So I do it. But, I would be lying if I claimed that as the only reason. But, I think that even if the original motivator was not the most positive, if you are finiding joy in it, you are now running for the right reasons! Yesterday on my run with Ro, I found 2 little free libraries, a GIANT community garden, a mural of a cyclops baby on someone’s personal garage, and an albino squirrel. That short 3 mile journey around Matt’s neighborhood in Minneapolis gave me so may things to be excited about! And it probably wouldn’t have happened if I were not running, so I am thankful for whatever motivation sparked it 🙂

    • We were so bummed when we missed you on Saturday! Danny and Nancy swept us off to the lake earlier than expected.
      Until now, I hadn’t seen that commercial. It’s great (and depressing), and it’s quite a leap to Verizon as a product, which is kind of confusing.
      I want to see a mural of a cyclops baby! I get to see lots of snakes and deer and cropdusters, but nothing that unusual. Running does make me feel good (read: badass), and it gives me an excuse to go exploring. That’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of what motivates me. Writing about it helped me shake off the ickiness quite a bit, too. Go self-expression!
      Enjoy the community garden and the libraries! I hope Roma doesn’t enjoy the albino squirrel too much.

  3. I think many people our age suffer the same dilemmas. Like you I have short hair (actually mostly blue at the moment), hairy legs and a feminist attitude to life. But that programming is hard to get rid of and I’ve definitely ended up having a moment where I felt less than Vogue pretty… and then felt guilty about it. All I can do is keep trying and make sure I’m not the person judging people on how they look. I’ll be looking out for ways to comments on how clever, brave, generous, witty and exceptional my female friends are when I next see some of them.

  4. Well, in better news, you’ve inspired me to finally stop shaving. I realized that I’ve spent 13 years scraping my skin with a razor for no good reason. So thanks for that.

    • Rock on! Something I’ve just learned in the past year is that not shaving just to not shave is still allowing yourself to be controlled by society’s expectations. Shave if you want, and don’t shave if you don’t want to. The most feminist thing a woman can do is exactly what she wants.

  5. Pingback: Running for the right reasons | chasing piggens

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