|Once I have a proper beast mode again, I am totally buying these.|
A quick recap of my general position on ladies & their running clothes:
- "If you need to insult, mock, or make disparaging remarks about how other women dress for their run / exercise, you are doing it wrong.
I'm addressing the ladies specifically because, in my experience, men are usually not the ones engaging in this behavior. Just about everything I can remember ever hearing or reading in that vein came from women, directed at women. (Sure, we've all furtively giggled at Short Shorts Guy at one point or another, but it's the rare lady among us that's actively nasty about it.)
I won't get into the infinitely more complex world of insulting/mocking/etc. lady clothes in general. I've tried writing that post (not on this blog) over and over and over again, and I can never quite get it right. But surely we can leave each other alone when it comes to a shared hobby where we're all just trying to have fun, get strong, & feel good about ourselves?"
In part 2, I want to talk about a garment that goes by many names.
Case Study #2: Booty Shorts
You've probably heard them referred to a few different ways--booty shorts, boy shorts, bike shorts, bunz, hot pants, etc. My internet research informs me that some people and brands and companies actually use these different words to refer to distinct garments--slightly shorter or longer, some closer to cycling shorts & others made more like underwear--but for the purposes of this post, I'm going to use the term "booty shorts" to refer to anything you wear on your lower body that's perhaps a bit shorter than traditional running shorts and is more or less skin-tight.
Based on some of the blog posts and forum comments I've seen about female runners and booty shorts (and it is just about exclusively female runners), you'd think that they were solely responsible for the Moral Decline of AmericaTM.
Full disclosure: I occasionally rock the booty shorts.
Left: Bad Bass 10K, July 2011; Center: Oakland Half Marathon,
March 2012. Right: Windsor Green Half Marathon, May 2012
Not in all circumstances, but often, and I almost always race in them.
The reason I'm putting that out there is because I generally don't rock the running skirts, and I want to be clear that neither of these posts are about me, my habits, or my personal opinions about the garment itself. I didn't write it because I'm concerned about what people think or say about me. (Believe me--if you can think it up, I've probably heard it before.) No; these posts are only nominally about items of clothing. What they're really about is how women treat other women in a shared sport.
Most of the grumbling I've heard & read about runners wearing booty shorts seems to boil down to a certain set of opinions:
- They're slutty-looking.
- Women only wear them to look hot/get attention, and running should be about performance/toughness/etc., not about looking hot/getting attention.
- They're uncomfortable for running and anyone who says otherwise is lying (and probably wearing them to look hot/get attention).
- They don't flatter everyone who wears them. (One person went so far as to suggest we subject ourselves to the "slap test" in order to determine whether we should wear them. I'll leave the details of that to your imagination.)
Brace yourselves because I'm about to have a field day with this. :D
We'll cover slut-shaming first just because it's such a well-documented topic and relatively easy to call out & dismiss. On the off-chance that you're not familiar with the term, "slut-shaming" refers to the practice of labeling someone (almost always a girl/woman) a slut or slutty based on her behavior or perceived behavior, or on something about her appearance (clothes, hair, make-up, body type, etc.). There is no excuse for it, ever, and it is unequivocally misogynist and destructive. Plenty of ink has already been spilled on the general topic and its implications, so I'll refer you the links here & at the bottom if you want to read more.
I can only assume that booty shorts get characterized as "slutty" (or "inappropriate" or "sending the wrong message" or whatever the code phrase du jour happens to be) because they are short and tight and thus more revealing than traditional shorts. So you might reasonably assume that any piece of clothing that shows that much skin/contour would be considered slutty, right?
Not quite. When was the last time you heard a female swimmer's racing suit referred to as "slutty" or "sending the wrong message"? Or a female gymnast? Surely those outfits leave less to the imagination than a pair of boy shorts on a runner.
Which brings us to the heart of what slut-shaming based on clothing is really about: "Publicly or privately insulting a woman because she expressed her sexuality in a way that does not conform with patriarchal expectations for women" (Slut-Shaming vs. Rape Jokes, Choices Campus Blog). It's not how much of her body she's revealing in absolute terms; it's that 1) she's showing more than the person doing the slut-shaming expects or is comfortable with in that particular situation, and 2) when a woman does that, the default position is to sexualize it--to assume that she's dressed the way she is in order to express her sexuality. To quote Amanda Marcotte from her fantastic Slate XX Factor article If You Don't Want Girls Judged by Their Hemlines, Stop Judging Them by Their Hemlines, "Telling women to cover it up is just as surely a form of sexual objectification as telling women to take it off. Either way, you're reducing a woman to her sexuality instead of considering her as a whole person. Either way, you are looking at a woman and instead of seeing a full, complex, and multifaceted human being, all you see is ALL TEH SEXXX."
|Sluttin' it up at the Olympic Marathon Trials, obvs. Put some pants on, YOU ARE RUINING AMERICA!!1!1|
Those outfits are expected and normalized. When dressing a certain way is the norm and possibly even a requirement, there's no reason to assume a woman is dressed the way she is to express sexuality; she's supposed to wear that. But if it's not the norm, if she did choose it of her own free will, then nevermind any other possible reason she might have; the default assumption is that she's doing it to show off her body and get sexy attention.
This is no more evident than in responses from the booty-short haters to women who claim that they wear booty shorts or boy shorts or buns or whatever because they just like them or find them more comfortable (ie, they don't bunch up, stay in place, don't chafe as badly, feel lighter / less bulky, are thinner & cooler, we're used to them from college, or they just feel svelte & speedy). More often than not, the haters express deep skepticism--that cannot possibly be true. You MUST be lying, to cover up your good & proper shame about trying to look hot at a road race.
(Olympic beach volleyball players Kerri Walsh Jennings & Misty May-Treanor know something about this conversation. I also love that their response pretty much comes down to, "We're not the ones making beach volleyball about sex; you are.")
Believe me--people are imminently comfortable in *plenty* of items that I find or suspect I would find utterly miserable. Overalls. Granny panties. Chokers. Gladiator sandals. Ski bibs. Collared shirts. Mittens. Spanx. You will not find me wearing these things. But if someone else tells me that they could happily live in collared shirts and overalls for the rest of their life and be perfectly comfortable, there is just no rational reason for me not to take them at their word.
Not unless I am heavily invested, for some reason, in believing something else.
Girls, I wish I could tell you that wearing longer, looser shorts would guarantee your fellow runners would approve of your appearance. But it just isn't true. As finallyfeminism101.com points out, "As long as gendered slurs like 'slut' continue to be weapons casually wielded against girls and women by both people from all walks of life, any female who acts in a way that another person doesn’t like is at risk for being slut-shamed." (FAQ: What Is “Slut-Shaming”?) To quote Hugo Schwyzer, "The cards are stacked against you. You cannot win, at least not if you define winning as dressing and behaving in a way likely to win approval (or at least decent respect) from everyone."
That, alas, is the world we live in.
Of course, some women do wear the booty shorts because they like the way they look and/or it makes them feel good about their bodies and/or they want attention from others. Which brings me right back around to the same response I gave last time to people who accuse women of wearing running skirts to look feminine and cute.
So what if she's wearing the booty shorts to look hot and sexy and/or get attention from guys/girls/everyone? Who cares? Is it a crime to look sexy as hell and run a sick PR at the same time? Should we be arrested for being like, "Yeah; I just crushed 26.2 and I'm lookin' super hot. NBD."?
Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones knows something about that. In an August 2012 article, the NY Times pointed out that sure, Ms. Jones may be possessed of "exotic beauty" and has been invited to do sexy photo shoots for several magazines, but c'mon, guys; she "barely made the 2012 Olympic team." Apparently Lolo missed the memo declaring that you can be sexy & attractive or taken seriously as an athlete, but if you seem to be accomplishing both at once, someone will be along shortly to take you down a notch (ie, by pointing out that you barely made the Olympic team, ie, you pretty much suck. Seriously, what kind of an insult is that?). I guarantee you that if she had the same level of talent and accomplishment but hadn't gotten so much attention for her looks, the Times wouldn't have ripped her to shreds the way they did.
Women can be two things at once. Not everything is either/or. This is a battle women have been fighting for decades; if you're not going to help, the least you can do is not actively undermine those of us who are trying.
And, as with the skirts, there is also implicit here the issue of what running is "about" and what we "should" be focused on and thinking about when we're running. "You're running, you're not 'supposed' to look cute / feminine / hot / sexy / whatever right now. Running isn't 'about' that." Again, let's remember that we are not the judge of what someone is "supposed" to be focused on while they're running or what running is "about" for them.
One blogger actually had the gall to claim that "slutty" running outfits like booty shorts/boy shorts/buns "lower the tone" of the races she participates in.
No, my sweet little angel face; you are lowering the tone by slut-shaming your fellow runners. You are the one badmouthing other women who are hurting no one. You are the one seeing sexuality everywhere you look and turning an event that should be about good-natured competition and/or getting strong and/or being social and outdoorsy and/or just plain having a good time into Project Runway. You are the one sending the message that a woman showing more of her body than most others around her can't possibly be anything but sexual and the rest of us best forget about what makes us feel comfortable or fast or strong or attractive & cover up before someone passes moral judgment on us too.
The slutty booty shorts are NOT the problem here. Deal with your shit.
Finally, let's address the "Booty shorts are not flattering on some people" argument.
As with all opinions, you absolutely get to have yours. But do think twice, please, before you inflict it on others.
And, since this particular opinion--booty shorts are okay for YOU but not for YOU--is far from innocuous and neutral, I want to wade into it a little more deeply.
Let's call a spade a spade. When people say the booty shorts are "unflattering on some people" or that some women "shouldn't be wearing them," they're making it clear that it's not the shorts that are the problem; it's the bodies of some women who choose to wear them. Which is already starting to feel a bit ookie. Rock-like, moderately-proportioned rear and thighs that look more or less like the girls in the Nike ads? Booty shorts approved. Pooching too much or in the wrong places? Not enough thigh gap? Visible cellulite? More than 12% body fat? NOBODY WANTS TO SEE THAT. (Because really....when people say, "Those shorts don't flatter her," what they're really saying, usually, is "Nobody wants to see that.")
So let's talk about the damage that is done by the "Nobody wants to see that" construct. (This could be a dissertation--and probably is somewhere--so I'll do my best to keep it concise.)
Just about everyone recognizes that the society we live in has created a canon of what is attractive / beautiful / sexy / etc. etc., and we're inundated with it every day in a thousand different ways (billboards, TV, movies, magazines, ads, clothing models, etc.). Even if you actively understand that that's what's happening, and even if you do your best to fight it or ignore it, it's incredibly hard not to fall into the trap of believing that certain physical characteristics are objectively attractive / beautiful / sexy, and others are objectively not.
Remember how in the running skirts post we talked about how women have historically been expected to be kind, gentle, demure, subservient, etc., that in some ways those things have become emblematic of what women are "supposed" to be like? Well, for a bunch of historical and athropological reasons I won't get into here, the same thing applies to beauty and attractiveness. Just as women have historically owed it to society to be kind, nurturing, polite, and deferential, we have also historically owed it to society to be physically attractive.
Put those two things together, and we have a situation where women who don't match what we've all been taught is attractive and sexy are seen as breaking the social contract they have with society as women. That is where "Ew, nobody wants to see that!" comes from. We tend to give women a little bit of a pass (but not much) if they have the decency to at least hide whatever it is about their bodies that doesn't measure up, but when she doesn't hide it, when she puts that part of her body out there where other people have to see it, society and history have conditioned us to feel kind of betrayed. She isn't holding up her end of the bargain, and she's not properly ashamed about it. The nerve.
So the next time you catch yourself thinking, "She shouldn't be wearing that" / "She doesn't have the [body part(s)] to pull that off" / "Nobody wants to see that," maybe ask yourself why her body inspires in you the reaction it does, what you'd prefer she wore instead, and why.
(For more on this topic, I highly, highly recommend "Modesty Culture and the Fear of the Confident Woman" by Dianna E. Anderson. I totally heart her blog.)
And finally....Let's just remind ourselves for a moment how HUGE a problem body hate and body image anxiety is for women in general, even those who do look like the Nike ads. While it's heartbreaking to me that so many women initially get into running and other forms of exercise for that reason, I am happy they are here. I hope it helps them find a way to feel good about themselves and their bodies that is based on what they can do and what they accomplish rather than how close they are to looking like a Nike ad.
When we criticize what a woman is wearing in a way that is connected to how her body looks, we need to recognize that we could be making it harder for her to stay in the sport. We could be making it hard for others who may have just recently made enough progress with their body image to go, "Hey, if she can wear that and feel good about herself, maybe I can too!" We could be making it harder for a woman who is right on the brink of trying out a sport like running but is self-conscious about putting on running clothes of any kind. By quietly saying about some other woman who doesn't look like a Nike ad, "She should *not* be wearing that," we may be confirming her fears that no, the sport of running is not welcoming to to everyone, and yes, she will be judged for the way her body looks and how her clothes look on her if she doesn't get it just right.
(Seriously...I have had at least half a dozen conversations with women where they've basically said some variation of, "Oh, I could never start running/do yoga/go to the gym/whatever. I'm too fat/not athletic-looking enough for workout clothes. People would make fun of me." Frankly, if someone is going to make comments that contribute to women continuing to feel this way, I don't think we can be friends.)
So what does this all come down to? In a lot of ways, the same things as the running skirts discussion. We need to:
- Be careful about the assumptions we make about people based on something as superficial as clothing.
- Be careful about bringing our own stuff to someone else's situation & projecting it on to them (and aware of when we are doing or find ourselves tempted to do this).
- Think about (or, at the very least, be aware of) all the cultural baggage behind those assumptions & projections & realize that a lot of it is rooted in some pretty nasty sexism.
- Remember that none of us are the supreme authority of what running is "about" for anyone but ourselves.
- Think about the long-term consequences of voicing our opinions on running clothes for a diverse community of runners.
I get that some of this may be stuff we're not all used to doing or thinking about. I have faith that we can get there, though, with practice.
**Post-script:** Just a quick reminder about the ground rules in terms of commenting: 1) Feel free to respectfully & thoughtfully express disagreement, and 2) don't be a dick. I won't delete a comment just because someone has a critical question or different point of view (I have gotten some interesting & poignant comments that did just that!), but I will not abide ranters and pool-poopers that insist on making things tiresome for everyone. Of course you guys are the coolest, and I've never yet had to resort to that. :)
Read Part 3: The Tizzy Over Toplessness.
References & Further Reading:
- FAQ: What Is "Slut-Shaming"?, from Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog. A basic overview of what slut-shaming is & what its effects are for people who are not familiar with the term.
- What Is Slut-Shaming?, by Linda Lowen @ About.com Women's Issues. Another good overview that emphasizes how slut-shaming doesn't necessarily have anything to do with a person's sexual behavior.
- Slut-Shaming vs. Rape Jokes, Choices Campus Blog. "When a woman enjoys her sexuality without hurting anyone else, but someone finds out about it, the response is to insult her, shame her, bring her down and make sure she never does it again. But the response to rape, and 'jokes' about rape, which trivialize and normalize violent, traumatic and sometimes life-threatening acts against women is--somehow--to laugh?"
- 'Slut': Gender Policing As Bullying Ritual, by Elizabethe C. Payne @ The Huffington Post. "As kids approach adolescence, increased value is placed on gender conformity and heterosexual desirability....A significant portion of the expected gender conformity for girls includes managing relations to and with boys. Social worth for girls becomes less determined by their individual accomplishments in arts, academics or athletics, and increasingly they are evaluated by their success in attracting, maintaining and regulating the attentions of boys in "acceptable" ways. Girls straddle an often unclear line in appearing sexually attractive (desirable) and receptive (thus not "gay") yet unavailable (not "sluts"). Girls who cross the line, appear to have crossed it or are rumored to have crossed it are marked as transgressing gender norms and disrupting moral order."
- If you want a world that respects women, stop slut-shaming them, by Nico Lang @ Thought Catalog. "This isn’t about Miley Cyrus, Angelina Jolie, Kristen Stewart or Hillary Clinton, but a society that expects different things out of men and women — one that enables toxic masculinity and blames women for not being good enough. If they just behaved differently, it wouldn’t be like this."
- If You Don't Want Girls Judged by Their Hemlines, Stop Judging Them by Their Hemlines, by Amanda Marcotte @ Slate XX Factor. "Telling women to cover it up is just as surely a form of sexual objectification as telling women to take it off. Either way, you're reducing a woman to her sexuality instead of considering her as a whole person. Either way, you are, to quote Maya Dusenbery of Feministing, "looking at a woman and instead of seeing a full, complex, and multifaceted human being, all you see is ALL TEH SEXXX.""
- Stop telling girls their hemlines are too short, by S.E. Smith @ XOJane. "The hyperfocus on what girls are wearing with a healthy heaping of judgment sends precisely the opposite message, underscoring that girls should be constantly concerned about what they are wearing and who might be judging them for it."
- A Defense of Skimpy Running Clothes, by Caitlin @ Fit and Feminist. "A few months ago, I bought a couple of pairs of New Balance compression shorts that are only slightly less revealing than bunhuggers....I won’t deny that I felt a little awkward the first few times I wore them out for a run, like I thought maybe I looked like I’d forgotten to put on my pants that day, but once I became acclimated to running in them, I found I preferred them to all of my other running bottoms....I’ve become so attached to my teeny little running shorts that I can’t help but feel a bit miffed whenever well-meaning fellow feminists point at them as evidence of the sexualization and objectification of female athletes."
- Your Body Is Never the Problem, by Hugo Schwyzer @ hugoschwyzer.net. "Have you noticed the way this works yet? If a girl is thin, she’s accused of being “anorexic”; if her weight is higher than the cruelly restrictive ideal, she’s “fat” and “doesn’t take care of herself” or “has no self-control.” If she wears cute, trendy clothes she “only wants attention” and if she wears sweats and jeans, she “doesn’t make an effort.” If she’s perceived as sexually attractive, and—especially—if she shows her own sexual side, she’s likely to be called a “slut.” If her sexuality and her body are concealed, she’s a “prude.” As you’ve probably figured out, the cards are stacked against you. You cannot win, at least not if you define winning as dressing and behaving in a way likely to win approval (or at least decent respect) from everyone."
- For Lolo Jones at the Olympics, Everything Is Image, by Jere Longman @ The NY Times. "Judging from this year’s performances, Lolo Jones seems to have only a slim chance of winning an Olympic medal in the 100-meter hurdles and almost no possibility of winning gold. Still, Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign."
- Lolo Jones and Her Pretty Girl Problem, by Brande Victorian @ Madame Noire. "The crux of Longman’s article is Lolo had no right to make us interested in her if she wasn’t going to deliver the goods, better yet the gold. I think this backlash is proof of one simple thing: when you’re hot (because of your looks and your skill) everyone loves you, and when you’re not, the praise and the recognition fades as though it was never there."
- Real Women, by Hanne Blank. "There is a phrase I wish I could engrave upon the hearts of every single person, everywhere in the world, and it is this sentence which comes from the genius lips of the grand and eloquent Mr. Glenn Marla: There is no wrong way to have a body. And if your moral compass points in any way, shape, or form to equality, you need to get this through your thick skull and stop with the “real women are like such-and-so” crap."
- The Unapologetic Fat Girl's Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts, by Hanne Blank.
- Pictures of You, by Michelle Allison @ The Fat Nutritionist. "I’m thinking today about body image. My body image, to be specific, and the way I feel when suddenly confronted with photographs of myself taken by other people, showing my whole body."
- A Love Affair With Gravity, by Michelle Allison @ The Fat Nutritionist. "Since I started doing this crazy accept-my-body thing eleven years ago, there has been a series of ups and downs with my own body image. I go through good times, I go through bad times. Sometimes really, really bad times. Over the years, the good times get longer and the bad times get shorter. What doesn’t change, though, is the amount of pressure on me — on all of us — to look a certain way. To be feminine, to be light-skinned, to have smooth hair, to fit into straight-sized clothes."
- You Are Not Too Ugly or Too Fat to Exercise, by Emily Heist Moss @ Role/Reboot. "Too many people, women especially, get caught up in how they look while they exercise. Instead of focusing on feeling strong and getting stronger, women worry about the jiggle in their upper arms, the pooching belly, the muffin top edging over lycra pants. They worry about their hair, or their makeup, or that other people will think they are too out of shape to exercise."
- Modesty Culture and the Fear of the Confident Woman, by Dianna E. Anderson @ Faith and Feminism. "There’s an expectation in modesty culture that a woman’s body will be attractive, and there’s a sense of betrayal that ripples through men when a woman is immodest but not embodying the “ideal” standards of attractiveness. This is what happens when modesty culture teaches that women’s bodies are dangerous simply because they exist as female shapes...When men fail to experience attraction – particularly when a woman does not fit the culturally created standards of attractiveness, eg, white, thin, cisgender – the reaction becomes one of 'no one wants to see that.'"