A defense of skimpy running clothes

Image borrowed from RunningSkirts.com

A few months ago, I bought a couple of pairs of New Balance compression shorts that are only slightly less revealing than bunhuggers.  I guess you could call them boyshorts.  Anyway, I bought them after admiring the way they looked on other female runners.  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.  The lack of fabric was freeing, and as it gets super-hot here for several months out of the year, they also helped my body stay a bit cooler than they would have otherwise if I was swaddled in baggy shorts or, even worse, running capris.  (Nothing against the running capri, but I’d rather let the world see my cellulite bounce about than wear them while running in August.)  I feel like my legs have the ability to move faster and to stride longer when I run.  I love them, and you’ll have to pry them out of my cold dead hands if you want me to stop wearing them.

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.  Putting aside the fact that I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to do and wear things that make you feel sexy, the idea that wearing short shorts or a sports bra might actually be more comfortable for some women seems to be foreign to these women.  I thought about that this morning while reading a post from B.J. Epstein at the Huffington Post entitled “Objectifying Women: The Latest Olympic Sport.”  In it, Epstein – who admits up front that she has only a passing familiarity with athletics – writes:

And why do female runners wear tighter, shorter shorts that show their every curve than male runners, who may wear skin-tight shorts sometimes but are also seen in looser, airier outfits? If the reason has to do with air resistance and speed, then presumably men would demand those slinky outfits too.

She goes on to question why female gymnasts wear so much make-up, why sports bras seem so thin and why all body hair is waxed from the athlete’s bodies.  (As for the last one, I’m just going to volunteer that if my body was going to be displayed prominently on global television, I’d probably get my ladyjungle waxed, too.)

There seems to be this ongoing obsession with the fact that a lot of female athletes are choosing to wear clothes that are revealing, as if we are single-handedly setting back the cause of feminism and womanity and progress and unicorns and kittens by opting for something tighter and shorter than the male athletes.  I recent read an interview with Olympic beach volleyball player Kerry Walsh in which she expressed exasperation at the questions she gets about the fact that she and her partner, Misty May-Treanor, wear bikinis when they play:

We’ve been asked pretty aggressively, why would you ever choose to wear a bikini and it makes sense. It’s not as dramatic, but it would be like asking a swimmer to swim with shorts and a shirt on. It gets in the way. I’m really grateful for my uniform, I’m really comfortable in it at this point and again, I’m out there being an athlete, I’m not out there being a sex symbol. I think it’s a beautiful thing, the body in motion, and it works.

I think that a lot of the female athletes who choose to dress in this fashion would tell you similar things – that we dress this way because we feel most comfortable this way.  Frankly, I can’t wait for the day when I feel comfortable enough with myself to run in just a sports bra and shorts.  Clothes are kind of a pain in the ass; just ask any woman who takes off her bra and pants the second she walks in the door after she gets home from work.

There’s another angle here, too, which is that people seem to want to know why women don’t dress like their male counterparts, who tend to wear longer, baggier outfits when they work out.  The idea seems to be that we should be dressing more like them if we want to be considered equal as athletes.   Well, what I want to know is why men have started wearing longer, baggier clothes when they compete.  Male athletes didn’t always used to wear manpris when they played basketball:

And they didn’t always run track and field in the equivalent of long bike shorts:

And hello?  Need I remind anyone about the Speedo?

And lest you think this is a historical relic reserved only for the 1970s and Europeans, allow me to disabuse you of that notion:

This guy, Eric Hall, is a top triathlete who competes in my area.  I’ve actually seen this man in person, and he’s a fantastic athlete.  He’s not the only one dressed like this.  Another top local triathlete wears a pink Speedo when he competes.  How’s that for shoving gender stereotypes right up everyone’s asses?

And need I remind everyone that the men who used to compete in the Olympics used to do so whilst naked?

If we are going to hound people about their choices of clothing when they compete, let’s be fair about it.  If we are going to badger female athletes about their choice of competition apparel, we should also ask men why they feel so uncomfortable wearing anything that shows a hint of skin or body shape.  I can’t be the only one who has noticed that men’s sports clothing has grown longer and baggier over the years.  Even in baseball, the pants that used to be tight are now loose and wrinkled around the ankles.

Yet why do I never hear people asking about this?   I’ll tell you what I think.  I think that the reason why changes in men’s sporting apparel go without so much as a raised eyebrow is because the choices of straight cis men are consistently held up as the ideal standard of behavior for all of humanity.  When women do not meet that standard, for whatever reason, our behavior is subject to criticism.  If we prefer romantic comedies to action movies, it’s because we are silly little weak-minded bunny rabbits.  If we choose to wear clothes that are revealing, we are contributing to the sexualization of all women and/or we are trying to get the attention of straight men.  And so on and so forth – you get my point.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wearing revealing clothes when competing in sport, just as there is nothing inherently wrong with wearing clothes that cover more skin.  So please, can we stop talking about bun huggers and sporting bikinis and sports bras as outerwear as if they are the harbinger of doom for all womanity?  As a female athlete who chooses to dress in this way, not only do I find the implication misguided, but I also find it downright insulting.

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100 responses to “A defense of skimpy running clothes

  1. Yep.

    I am a capris/long-bike-shorts fan for my bottom half, but I would love to feel mentally comfortable running or practicing yoga with just a sports bra (or two) on top. I do this when I practice at home, and it is *so nice* to not have to worry about what is (for me) an extraneous item of clothing. My shirts get caught on body parts when I twist, fall down during inversions, and ride up all the time.

    And I’m in an area where it’s really common for men to both run and to practice in-studio yoga with or without shirts on. I mean, obviously, it’s not Schrodinger’s shirt or anything — each individual man is either wearing or not wearing a shirt at any given point in his workout time. However, even in public places — gyms, yoga studios, outside — it’s not a big deal either way.

    At this point, it is socially a pretty big deal if I run with no shirt on (ask me how I know), even if I am still wearing a sports bra (or two) — and therefore am technically more covered up than are the dudes running shirtless.

    • Okay first of all, how much do I love that you wrote “Schrodinger’s shirt”? Nerd humor is the best. The best!

      Now I want to know how you found out it’s a big deal if you run without a shirt on. Because seriously! You had sports bras on!

      • Oh, I just decided that it would be okay to do one morning after I had purchased nifty new spray-on sweat proof sunscreen. Yeah, the yelling from people in their cars…

        On the plus side, the sunscreen worked fabulously.

      • UGH! Street harassers make me go all FEMINIST HULKSMASH. Sorry you had to deal with that, but yay for the quality spray-on sunscreen! Silver linings and all that.

      • Update: Apparently all is well if I run sans shirt (but plus sports bra) with my boyfriend.

        Which, I mean, yay for not having to deal with street harassment then.

        But, um, only because then, I am seen as under the protection and/or ownership of a man. What the actual fuck.

  2. Wear what you want! It only becomes pornographic because you’re a woman, which is all the more reason to wear them. If people are uncomfortable with the thoughts provoked by seeing you in the shorts, that’s a personal problem. Not everything that’s revealing is meant for sexy time; unless you’re running around in a bustier or lace, you’re entitled to whatever gym gear you want.

  3. Once in a while, I go running with some male coworkers, and when it’s super hot, they always strip down to just their shorts. I always wish I had the confidence to run in just a sports bra and shorts on days like that.

    I think it’s quite a complicated issue, because there’s no question that both function and fashion dictate the cut of athletic clothing for both men and women, and for women, there’s always an element of pressure to look sexy included in fashion. (And for men, I think there’s a similar pressure to look “tough” or “masculine”, which probably explains some of the recent trend towards baggy stuff.) But at the same time, a lot of my workout gear is tight or revealing, and it’s not about being sexy – it’s about not boiling in the heat, or having things that don’t chafe or snag on things. I think you’re right that there’s essentially a double-standard here – men’s choices in workout apparel are assumed to made for reasons of practicality or comfort, whereas women’s choices are always assumed to be dictated by external forces.

    • My husband and I talked about this post a little bit and he made the point that a lot of the baggier clothes men wear seem to be influenced by urban/hip-hop styles, so yes, I totally agree that fashion plays a role in things. But you are right, people just assume that the baggy stuff is all about comfort and practicality, which it could very well be, but I doubt a lot of those dudes would still be wearing baggy shorts if we were living in the 1970s for instance.

      • I have seen this with younger people. I think your husband is right. Fashion goes in cycles. At the moment, if a man isn’t dressed like a slob and overly baggy and you are fit, sadly many younger people might suspect your gay. And if that isn’t the look your shooting for you might change your attire. At least this is my experience.

  4. One day, when I can wear a normal sports bra and not a super-dee-duper one, I will TOTALLY run in just it. I don’t like to be hot, or feel constricted when I’m moving, and my current ensemble of t-shirt and shorts does that. The shorts bunch, or stick to my thighs those screwing with my stride, or causing me to constantly fiddle with them, and my shirt annoys the crap out of me. PLUS, the stomach is one of the most efficient cooling areas of the body, so exposing it keeps you cooler. “Cooler” is like magic to my ears.

    • Okay, between your comment and a few of the other ones on this post, I’ve decided that I am definitely ditching the top when I run outside for the next couple months. Because you are right – that cool air on the tummy is SO NICE. I unzipped my tri suit while running today and all of that air on my stomach helped cool me down quite a bit. It was still hot as the dickens but hey, any little bit helps, right?

  5. I think you’re right on about everything here, BUT I have to de-lurk to argue that there is something to the hyper-sexualization of workout gear. I get really hot really quickly when I work out, so I like fairly short shorts and a tank top; I absolutely appreciate where you are coming from. But I recently went to a giant sports superstore (in London), and I could *not* find a single women’s tank top in the entire 7-story building that wasn’t cut in such a way as to exaggerate the breasts and hug the (tiny) waist. There is absolutely no way I would be comfortable working out in a tank top made for clubbing. A lot of them also said “Golddigger” which is apparently a brand. I walked away empty-handed (next time I’ll just shop in the men’s department, where I will have the opposite problem of everything being too big) and highly annoyed. I really did feel like a party/porn aesthetic had invaded women’s workout clothes, and I didn’t appreciate it one bit. So what I guess I’m trying to say is that it’s not cool when there isn’t a variety of workout gear for women to suit our variable needs.

    • I totally did a double-take when I came across the word “Golddigger.” OMG! I hate that word so much. I’m sure I would have ragestroked everywhere if I had seen that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that, although the Juicy Couture sweatsuits were popular for a while and of course, Victoria’s Secret has decided to put the words “Pink” on the butt of its athletic gear, but those seem to be worn more for fashion and not so much for actual sport/fitness. (Thank heavens for small mercies.)

  6. I run in just a sports bra and running shorts whenever the temp is above about 60 degrees and have for years. It is much more comfortable to move without a shirt, and not as hot in the summer. I don’t know why more women don’t do this. I’m in decent shape at age 51, but so what if I wasn’t. I dress for the weather, and for the sport, not for some false sense of modesty.

  7. Thank you! I wear a bikini while swimming laps because:

    1. one-pieces are indecent on my long torso
    2. I can buy the bottoms in a different size from the top. Also, it’s actually a lot easier to find a nice top according to my bra size that’s more supportive and buy bottoms elsewhere from a different brand that I find supportive.
    3. I can pee more easily!
    4. If one gets old I can replace it instead of having to replace the whole suit.

    In terms of appearance, I really could care less. I go at off-hours to the pool as is so there’s normally hardly anybody there to see me in the first place. Rather I find the “skimpy” workout clothes more comfortable.

    DH, on the other hand, would fit society’s male definition in that he wears baggy clothes. But it’s comfortable for him and he prefers not to invest in nicer workout clothes being that he’s more of a casual athlete than I am. So instead, he normally wears old clothes that are now too big.

    Ultimately we do what works for us. When I was younger I used to wear baggier clothes and found them quite aggravating (especially when running!) because the shirts would flop around and I felt like I was constantly adjusting them.

    • Yes, whatever works for us. I can see legitimate arguments made in favor of all different kinds of clothes. I’ve just found over the years that I prefer fewer clothes.

      Also good call about the ease of bikinis for swimming. I have a two piece that I wear when swimming (like, actual swimming, not splashing around) and it’s nice not to have to peel the whole thing off when I use the bathroom. Plus, like you, I have a really long torso and most one-piece suits give me a total wedgie when I wear them.

  8. i don’t often respond to a blog but i want to say thank you for this. amen. i don’t sweat easily and often overheat (which can trigger a migraine for me). the less i can workout in the better. but i often worry that people feel like i’m wearing less because i’m trying to be attractive (which really is the LAST thing i’m thinking about). i hate that i have to think about this at all. i thought everything you said was right on.

    • Yeah, when I’m out training, looking hot (like, sexy, not temperature wise) is about the last thing on my mind. I mean, unless someone is really into red faces and sweat and spitting and the occasional curse word.

      Also I find it pretty awesome that you work out even with this particular health situation. Tough as nails, you are.

  9. Just happened to read this the first day I decided to run in my sports bra and shorts for the first time. :) I don’t have the rock hard abs that some athletes do but who cares? – the extra ventilation felt FANTASTIC. Critics of practical skimpy clothing should try running a couple miles in 95 degree weather and see how they like carrying the extra sweat-soaked fabric.

    • I am pretty sure the critics have never actually tried to do that, because you are right, if they had they would totally take it back!

  10. Thanks for this post! I run in 3″ split shorts. Everyone else I see around here wears capris or other longer shorts and every now and then I wonder if I should be self conscious, but then I realize how uncomfortable I’d be if I did that, and I forget about it. I’m just trying to exercise comfortably, and if anyone has hang ups about it, that’s their baggage, not mine.

    • Dude, split shorts are so classic and so hardcore! Maybe this is just my own personal bias showing but whenever I see someone in split shorts I’m like “there’s a serious runner.”

      Also:

      if anyone has hang ups about it, that’s their baggage, not mine.

      This should be everyone’s motto for lots of things, not just running shorts.

  11. I’m convinced the reason for men’s clothing changing has a lot to do with the male gaze- looking at other men’s bodies as they perform physical activity? That’s gay. Men are afraid of this, and compensate by swathing themselves in excess fabric.

    As for us women- we’re damned if we cover up and damned if we show skin.

    • That’s so sad, but I suspect you are probably on to something. It’s one of the many ways in which I feel bad about the limitations of traditional masculinity. So much perfectly normal stuff becomes off-limits because you might be seen as “gay” or feminine or whatever, and dog forbid that happen. It’s a shame, really.

  12. I hate the heat with a passion so I run in just a sports bra and capris any time it’s over 50 degrees or so. I may need to upgrade to the shorts since you gave them such a rave review!

    And this may sound weird, but running without a shirt makes me run faster. There’s something about being exposed that makes me feel accountable… Like If I am going to decide its ok to run in just a sports bra I better be able to show that I’m a real athlete. It’s motivating.

    And finally, I have no shame admitting that I like having an opportunity to flash my abs. Like all other fit chicks, I work hard for them and I’m proud! No reason to keep them sheathed.

    Love the post Caitlin, keep it up!

    • Thanks, Emily! I definitely think that if you are comfortable in a sports bra, you might find the shorter shorts have the same kind of appeal for you. Like I said, the only thing I experienced was at first feeling like I’d forgotten to put on pants, but after I got over that, I really liked wearing them.

      Also, I totally don’t think that feeling faster when you run shirtless sounds weird at all. One of the qualities I look for in my running clothes is the psychological sensation of being fast and sleek, because I’ve found that my frame of mind and my body’s performance are deeply connected. I think this is true for pretty much every athlete, so it makes a lot of sense to me that you’d take extra motivation from what you wear (or in this case, choose not to wear).

  13. Wish running was a big thing when I was young, and I’d have worn short shorts too. My only comment is that the girls who wear bikinis and play volley ball on the sand, I just feel eeeeek how do they keep the sand out of you know where? Looks like too little comfort to me. Sorry to be a naysayer.

  14. If you want to avoid skimpy running clothes, just come out to the third-annual Caliente Bare Dare 5K, which takes place Sunday, Sept. 30 at the Caliente Resort in Land O’Lakes. Our field is typically 38 percent female – slightly above the 35 percent rate of typical 5K races – and two thirds between the ages of 22 and 45. See nuderaces.com and baredare5k.com for details.

  15. I love this post! Honestly I think it says that a woman has worked hard for her body and is proud of what she worked for and just wants to be comfortable when she wears less clothes to work out. When a woman doesn’t want to sweat because she is worried about ruining her make-up or dose not want to get down on the ground because she dose not want to get her clothes dirty. Then Houston we have a problem.(random side note: a few years ago there was a stir when basketball players started wearing black socks in the NCAA, its interesting what things can stir up talk).

  16. For me, longer shorts are a matter of practicality– my thighs are no joke and anything much shorter than knee-length rides up and my thighs chafe. I’ve tried shorter shorts in the past and they’re lovely and cool but it doesn’t work out well. And my sports bras don’t look like sports bras, they look like, well, heavy-duty granny bras. But let me say, if it was practical, I’d be rockin the bun-huggers with you. I have jealous.

  17. AMEN! I live in Oklahoma, where our summers are regularly above 100 degrees + humidity, and my roller derby team practices in an un- air conditioned warehouse. For practices or outdoor skating, there’s no question: I rarely wear more than my tiny little booty shorts and a sports bra (and all those sweaty pads!). For games, I know some women who skate in looser, longer shorts, but for me all that fabric gets in the way and really throws off my stride and range of motion. Sure, I look fantastic in my short shorts, but that is truly a secondary concern to the way my clothing allows me to MOVE. If it weren’t for uniform requirements, I’d skate games in a sports bra and just right my number on my back with sharpie (I do that for scrimmages regularly!).

  18. Love this post! Sometimes when I lead my group through local running events I’ll wear a tiara and tutu just to keep things fun – of course, being a 6’7″ man probably makes me more of a spectacle than does justice to the skirt, but I wear it anyway and if anyone wants to judge me for it, all I have to do is flash them an upper piece of thigh and the whiteness usually blinds them enough to shut them up ;)

  19. Women tennis players are wearing shorter and shorter skirts, and I, as a man, have no problem with it. Or sports bras on runners.

    Men’s baggy fashions can be partially traced to hiphop culture and the Michigan basketball team of the early 90′s.

  20. Thanks, this post inspired me to leave my shirt at home on this morning’s run. Kind of a big deal, as I’m not a slim lass and don’t think I’ve ever bared my midriff in public before! To be fair it was 4.30am so there was hardly anyone up and about, and my sports bra is of the armour-plated-strap-em-down-could-stop-a-tank-round type, but baby steps ;)

    I’m a very visible minority in the country where I live (blonde-haired white in Japan) so I get stared at pretty much whatever I do, so why not. Apart from my hair trying to tie itself round my arms, it felt cooler and more comfortable.

    • abigailsnails good for you!! i think that’s a huge step and as somebody married into a japanese family i know it’s no small feat there to be “daring.” but i also know summers there are no joke so i think it’s a wise move!

  21. I’ve been known to run in a sports bra and shorts in really warm weather, but especially during hot road races. I pin my number to the waistband of my shorts and if cups of ice are available at the water/aid stations, I cup a bunch in my sports bra. The ice on my chest cools my core and the melting water running down my torso is very cooling. I don’t do well in temps over 70F, so this tactic saves my bacon! Hooray for the functional over the decorative :)

  22. If it makes no sense to any of you, then here is a valid reason… Human’s are sexual creatures and I would prefer not to see your breasts or ass hanging out of your clothing. Don’t say “you just need to control your urges, it isn’t our responsibility”… It actually is your responsibility as much as it is mine. I would ask that you control your urges to get as close to naked as possible in front of me and I will control my sexual urges…

    • Or else what, Ryan? If we decide to run around in our sports bras, are you gonna rape us? Is that what you’re saying? Because that’s what it sounds like to me.

      I bet you think you sound very logical and reasonable, but you don’t. You sound like a psychopath, and I hope you live on a desert island far away from any other people. I’d hate to think of what you’d do to women who dare to *gasp!* wear bikinis in front of you. You’ll refuse to control your Big Bad Sexual Urges, and it would be all their fault, right?

      I hope you realize that most men are not like you. I somehow manage to run around my neighborhood in short shorts and a sports bra – which is still incidentally more than a lot of guys wear – and I haven’t been raped or even hassled. Pete, who commented earlier, even helps organize a run in which all of the participants are naked. By your logic, men should be raping women left and right at those things, and yet I’ve never heard of such a thing happening.

      Like I said, you’re a psychopath. Please remove yourself from human society immediately.

      • Wow, aggression and inferring where there was no implication, sounds like a feminist to me…

      • Your comment was nothing but aggression, and if you can’t see that, then you have a serious issue. Now quit commenting on my blog or else I will block you.

      • First, there was no aggression in what I was saying. I was just pointing out that human nature does exist. Second, If I don’t agree with you, you block me. Sounds even more like a feminist!

      • Ryan —

        Caitlin stated a boundary — “quit commenting on my blog” — in her own space. By commenting again, you deliberately disrespected that boundary. That’s rude, uncivil, and more indecent than running in my sports bra could ever be.

      • I haven’t overstepped any bounds. I simply don’t agree with the feminist mind set of “I am better than a man because of …” You may not have explicitly said this, but I know it is what you believe because that is the cornerstone of the feminist faith.

      • “You may not have explicitly said this, but I know it is what you believe…”

        AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

        Thanks. I needed that laugh today! :D

      • who has thought that was feminism was about since archie bunker? good grief. “” You may not have explicitly said this, but I know it is what you believe because that is the cornerstone of the feminist faith.” sounds like “inferring with no implication” to me…

      • so ryan it seems to me your response is slightly irrational. we’re talking about LESS revealing clothing than people wear at the beach (where people actually DO want to look sexy) and yet we ALL manage to control ourselves. Here we’re talking about wearing “skimpy” clothing in order to be able to do our workouts in greater comfort and more effectively. For me it’s actually a health issue (greater heat equals greater likelihood of a migraine – even in air conditioning and my migraines often end with me in the hospital). So if I have to weigh my need for comfort versus your struggle with your sexual urges I really think that my needs win. Honestly I’m a little concerned with your sexual urges if they’re so strong that a chick in running shorts and a sports bra sweating, in no make up, and not even checking you out is an issue at all. As for the comment about the “feminist” to me it seems that you got on here not for dialogue but to shut down dialogue and be condescending – you clearly already have a stance about feminism. In that case perhaps this is the wrong blog for you. There are lots of ones that will confirm your belief system. I’m sure you can find them. Good luck to you.

    • Ryan, you are responsible for your own sexual urges, you fool! Go home and tug one off like a responsible man. This sort of antifeminist rhetoric makes me sick and embarrasses me to know that we are of the same gender. Grow up!

  23. I’m glad I read this entry. During my last two runs, I lost the shirt during part of the run (as in I just held it while running for a few miles until I cooled off). I’m just not good with heat. I also still (and might always) have “flabby mom tummy” after having my son a little over a year ago, but at least I’m out there running. I do need to get an opinion from someone close to me and see if the Moving Comfort bra color “Bronte” looks like it matches my skin tone because I think I may have freaked someone out today. Oops! Thanks for writing this, Caitlin!

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  25. But what about my right NOT to have to look at buns and navels when watching athletic competitions? Why can’t the shorts just be 1-2 inches higher at the waist and 1-2″ lower at the butt? That WILL NOT make a difference in how you feel or run. I still believe that these women are putting looks above everything — including how uncomfortable they make other people feel. Come on — it’s not for performance — you just want to look sexy! Admit it.

  26. I have enjoying reading others’ perspectives regarding exercise clothing. I can understand how women would want to run without a shirt; in warm weather I usually prefer running without a shirt. I too wish that men and women could wear whatever they felt comfortable in without the fear or judgement of others. As a male I too would like to wear short tight fitting shorts and swimwear(as many olympic runners) to reduce or eliminate chaffing, but most men and women in our society feel this is too revealing and inmodest.

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  28. I used to run in knee length capri pants. Yeah – yeah – I know. Then I switched to shorties from Victoria Secret – at the urging of my husband. OMG! I have NEVER looked back. They are “attractive” / comfy and FUNCTIONAL as a runner here in Florida. I get hooted at / honked at …. I don’t care – I’m hooked to my tunes on Ipod and the 34 miles a week I run flies by.

    I will never wear anything else – if I can, I’ll even go shorter. I really don’t care what others think. Wear what fits your body and helps you move freely. SHORTIES ARE In :)

    • Fellow Florida runner! You understand! I’ve found that I get so uncomfortably warm during the hot part of the year that any potential embarrassment is vastly outweighed by the comfort of bare legs. And word on the iPod as a personal harassment deflector. Obviously, it doesn’t keep people from saying things, but my philosophy is that if I can’t hear it, it didn’t happen.

      • Yes Caitlin – I completely understand. And it’s GREAT when someone tries to “pick me up” on a run (rollin’ my eyes) – I just point to the head set, politely smile and run a little faster – LOL

        My workout clothe are sweated (is that a word?) up when I am done. I’m not just another pretty face out there prancin. I work out as hard as I’ll get out – and if the sweat in my VS Pink outfit doesn’t prove it – then enjoy the view :)

  29. You know what? I absolutely agree! Even though i’m not a feminist (I’m not an MRA either; so don’t worry), i think that it’s an absolutely stupid theory that long baggy “hip hop” fashions are “masculine” fashions, while short shorts are “too girly”, as some people seem to imply. I take issue with this, because as a contemporary metrosexual man who is witnessing the sad state of affairs of contemporary men’s fashion, i would NEVER EVER be caught dead in:

    1. Board shorts
    2. Capri pants
    3. Baggy shirts

    So somehow i’m less “masculine”, because i choose clothes that actually FIT and showcase my hard-earned body? I mean, i’m all for individuality in fashion, heck i’d even support the right of boys and men to paint their toenails and don skirts/kilts/dresses, and i personally feel that the male body is being sorely under-represented in our sadly homophobic patriarchy. I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know there is an imbalance in the fashion world between men and women. Simply put, the men’s fashion media (e.g. GQ and their hyper-prudish “style rules” that ensure all men are completely covered up identical conformist corporate uniforms) seems to be stuck in the repressive 1950s, when a man who decides to show even the slightest bit of fashion individuality (e.g. Jared Leto) is bombarded with old-fashioned 1950s sexism. (Jared Leto was GQ’s “worst dressed man of the year”, and apparently “dresses like a dick”, as they so eloquently put it)
    When i visit the men’s department, i feel like i’m taking a trip back to the 1950s. The men’s department doesn’t have any “fun” things, e.g. dressy sleeveless tops, togas, short shorts, heels, tights, and anything i would really love to wear. Just sleeved shirts, jackets, long pants, ties, vests and flat shoes. Dapper and old-fashioned, but not really suited to my more… “Flamboyant”, “sassy” and “daring” persona. I guess it’s cuz the vast majority of Western men are too scared of being considered “gay”, which is why they don’t really want to stand out, be brave, and express themselves thru their clothing, hence the extremely repressive lack of variety in men’s sartorial choices.
    But no. Please DONT make me wear any of the aforementioned garments! The whole point of dressing up is to show off my physical beauty, not conceal it. I wear tight tees, plunging V necks, low-cut tank tops, short shorts, speedos, but NO baggy clothes. And if they made DRESSY sleeveless tops, i would SO ditch the wifebeaters! I love flaunting my Grecian form, and all the sensual visual goodness it represents! And i’m not gay. I just love the attention,I from both straight women and gay men, as difficult as it is to explain why… I just love “feeling beautiful”; does that make sense? (My straight guy friends don’t understand but my gay ones do)

    Great post by the way :D

    • Christopher: I agree with your statement, “i think that it’s an absolutely stupid theory that long baggy “hip hop” fashions are “masculine” fashions, while short shorts are “too girly”, as some people seem to imply” But, it is my experience that is exactly the perception in the general culture in the US. Robert Downey JR can get away with it. But otherwise, your Clinton Kelly. I would much rather dress like Clinton than Adam Sandler does most of the time.

  30. I run for my university (both track and XC). Our standard uniform for the former is a sports bra/tank and bun huggers, and for the latter a shirt and bun huggers. A couple of years ago there was a change of athletics director and he introduced mandatory shorts for XC. They lasted just one season because the (female) runners demanded a return to buns, first as an option then as standard issue. The reason? Once you get over the self consciousness, bun huggers are way more comfortable, as well as being more professional-looking, than boy shorts.

    Several people here have said that the attire or behavior of straight cisgender men is often held out as the ideal and we should not feel pressurized to copy it. For instance I dislike the undercurrent of feminism that says wearing skirts and dresses, heels or makeup is ‘selling out’ or that being straight, loving a man, getting married or having children are somehow unfeminist. It’s the same here: just because I run in bun huggers doesn’t mean I can’t be top of the class in a law major.

    • Thank you so much for commenting. I’m much more interested in the perspectives of women who actually run than those who stand on the sidelines and tsk at us for not meeting their ideal standards of feminist perfection.

  31. live in denial of male sexuality all you want…but reality is – the skimpier the outfit on women – the greater the eye candy for men; if you want to be skimpy, exercise at a women’s only place; and yes, men need to keep their shirts on, and wear modest shorts

    • You are obviously entitled to your opinion, but most of this society disagrees with you. Maybe you should consider moving to Saudi Arabia? I hear many men over there share your opinions about the human body.

    • I think you’re sort of missing the point, which is that — despite your preferences for how men “should” dress while running — men don’t “need” to wear shirts or modest shorts while running. In most areas where I’ve run, men can in fact wear whatever they damn well please without running a significant risk of harassment or assault. The same is not broadly true for women.

  32. Long live good healthy sport!
    I’m a guy and absolutely love running in skimpy shorts on hot days…
    I almost exclusively trail run, so I never have issues with traffic or crowds.
    However, I have, when running in the city, been bugged by losers (that’s what they are). You’d be surprised at how weak and ineffectual these sad cases really are. Guys like Ryan are probably sucking exhaust fumes (hence the stupidity).
    You know the guy thing about baggy or loose clothing isn’t so bad for normal everyday wear (I tend to wear loose jeans and comfy t-shirts at work and stuff like that). But for running, the less the better. I have natural sexual urges that I easily control, and I sense that most women appreciate a good hearted approach to what it is we really want to do: run.

  33. I’d say if women have the right to wear anything and be looked upon as normal, then men should also not be judged when walking around with a boner. I mean men cant help it!
    Btw, This could be why as women clothing grew skimpier, men clothing grew more baggier.. Just saying.. :P

    • I don’t think it’s a question of judging men who might walk around with boners. It’s more about men’s boners not being an excuse to shout out things like, “I’d fuck that!” or, “Cover up, you fat bitch!” when someone is running in a sports bra and shorts.

      • Hmm, Women can wear anything and even if it makes men uncomfortable, it’s okay. Right? I mean Making a man uncomfortable is his problem right? I mean when men stare at women it’s the guy’s fault for making her uncomfortable. He’s a pervert for looking! Women wearing skimpy clothes making men uncomfortable? He’s a pervert! Sad, :/

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  35. I am a runner and a women and have a fit body. I understand the comfortable issue however i disagree with the attire. I agree with the question comment the fact that Men are visual is a no brainer and it does not make them a pervert. It is sad to me as Well. I am not saying We have to be in turtle necks and sweats but I am saddened that We as women often complain Men are rude sexual perverts but fail to take any responsibility as to What We are choosing to wear. We as women might think We are in control of What We are wearing but in my opinion the real perverts and sexually charged Men are thrilled you are dressing for them.

    • 1. Men are not the only people who are visual. Please do not perpetuate this myth that men are the only ones who like to look at other people, because it’s nonsense.
      2. I have no problem with men looking at me and even having sexual thoughts about me. What I do have a problem with are men who think that because I am dressed in a certain way, that this gives them license to touch me or speak to me. This is not the case.
      3. If a man does see me dressed in a certain way and think that is an invitation to harass or assault me, then the responsibility for that lies solely with him. He made the decision to harass or assault another person.

      Honestly, all of this is Decency 101. I find it a little baffling that we (generic we not you and I) continue to have this conversation. At what point do we say that it is the responsibility of the man to keep his hands to himself?

    • That’s it, isn’t it Caitlin? I’m a guy (man, whatever…)that’s is 42… People often guess my age to be anywhere from 22 – 31. I feel and look young and I feel that some women love the feel and look of sexy attire. PASSION! I would never in my life assault or just plain old act foolish in the way that has been mentioned. And yes, I do have sexual thoughts about women. How can I not? Mostly I feel it’s an issue of being cool and not blowing it.

  36. What I found most interesting, after reading your post and the HuffPost you’re commenting on, is that you’ve both been trolled by misogynistic jerks. Amazing how anytime a woman says anything in public, and particularly any kind of point that might be labelled feminist from any point of the feminist spectrum, it is immediately attacked by trolls. So irritating.

    I see your point on the clothing issue (sorry–followed the link back from your FB page and thought it easier to comment here), but I think there is some complexity here that is being missed. For one, all people choose clothing that reflects not only their own identity, but larger societal norms. I mean, punks may be dressing in a way that’s considered unconventional, but they’re still dressing basically in the western uniform of pants+shirt+shoes, not gourds on their penises and large palm leafs in their hair, as they might be wearing in another time and place. That goes for all of us. I try to express myself in my clothing, but I’m conscious of doing so within the constraints of my time and place, culturally speaking. This goes for athletes too, of course, as you pointed out with the changing trends in male athlete’s clothing. However, I do think it is fair to point out that the sexualization of women’s bodies has been running amok for about 15-20 years now (how interesting that the more powerful women become in society, the more they are expected to look like fit sexy porn stars 24/7), and I think it’s also fair to point out that this has influenced the type of clothing available to women generally, including fitness clothing. When I was in highschool (in the early 90s), women’s fitness clothing consisted of bike shorts at mid-thigh length and cotton t-shirts. These may have been impractical for the reasons you pointed out, but it’s the uniform I grew up in and it’s still what I’m most comfortable in. And it does seem to me that the trends in female athletic clothing parallel the trends in women’s clothing in general, to have more skin visible and tighter clothing, not all of which is performance-based. Regardless of why individual women choose to wear a piece of clothing, the overall trends in what manufacturers and retailers choose to make available is in support of a particular version of femininity that nowadays includes a nearly mandatory imperative to “be sexy.”

    I totally agree that women should be able to wear what they want, what they feel comfortable in, what works for them, and that this should not be seen as encouraging any kind of behaviour in the people around them. But to me this is a separate point from looking at the ways that women in general and female athletes in particular are expected to Look Sexy as part of the total package of being female in modern western societies. And it’s not a personal criticism of women, or of female athletes, to point out those cultural forces and trends. (The HuffPost writer missed this too, I think.)

    I love what you’re doing. It’s so great to see women pushing fitness for women for reasons that are good for women, instead of whether or not it makes for an appealing visual experience for any men who may be nearby.

    • Hey Andrea, thanks for your comment. The interesting thing is that if I had written this post say, now, instead of a year ago, I probably would have gone more in-depth with regards to what you are talking about, but as it was I was mostly just venting my annoyance at a woman with no athletic experience acting as though she knows better about what female athletes should wear than female athletes themselves. But I think your overall point about the sexualization of everything regarding women is valid, and thanks for making the comment.

      I do have to say that I get frustrated by the way patriarchal thought takes something that is inherently benign, like short shorts or bikinis or, really a lot of things, and turns it into this tool of oppressiveness. That shit pisses me off endlessly. It’s bothersome to me that a choice like wearing short shorts – which may have started through a trend toward sexualization but has been embraced because it’s also pretty practical for a lot of us – is so loaded with all of this grodiness. (And I don’t mean feminist critique. I mean douchebags like the ones on this comment thread who act as though tiny shorts give them carte blanche to be rapists.)

      I have seen some female athletes who resist the trends and do choose to wear longer and/or baggier clothing, such as pretty much every female basketball player, marathoner Desi Davila and CrossFitter Kris Clever, but they do seem to be a rarity among female athletes.

      Regarding fitness clothes in the 1990s – I remember when my high school volleyball coach procured some tight spandex shorts for all of us to wear, saying that’s how real volleyball players dressed. We, being teenage girls, were mortified. Fast forward 15 years and that’s how it seems like all volleyball players dress, even the junior high-schoolers on club teams.

      • Oh, completely. Clothing is neutral. In many societies, people just did not have clothes–or what they wore covered basically nothing–and somehow you did not have all these men running around, raging out of control with all of their biologically-wired impulses etc. And a lot of these debates sound eerily like the ones from a hundred years ago, about young women wearing dresses that showed their neck or their arms or their ankles, and how distracting that was for the poor boys who couldn’t help staring. I can’t help but think that a hundred years from now, the whole conversation about what women are wearing now is going to seem equally silly.

  37. It’s all about self confidence and comfort. I have run tri’s wearing high cut speedo style swimsuits before. Not as comfortable when on the bike. I mainly run now wearing split running shorts or short shorts as some call it. Even though the shorts have a liner in them, on windy days, the flaps can open up wider then you want showing more then you want. A female runner that I ran with one day wore a pair of nice late 80′s style running split shorts was a little timid when the wind was blowing from our sides. She had a good with it. The split style looks sporty then the long shorts or the tight bun huggers of the female runner.

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  39. I totally agree about women wearing what they want. I’m big around the bust and hips and tiny in the waist and do tend to carry fat no matter what and wear whatever mars me happy. Being a competitive dancer since I was 3, I understand. In dance it comes down to being able to see technique, important when so much can go wrong. With baggy pants I might not be able to see a student landing a jump on straight legs, something that wrecks havoc on joints. It’s also a safety hazard, if someone gets caught on something it can end tragically. So wearing proper clothes is a must. 
    My problem lies with clothes that are sexy. Not that I’m a prude, but sexualizing sports annoys me. Here we are, working to improve ourselves and what’s more important to some is how hot we are. I’m proud of my body, but want to be known for abilities rather than boobs. And being a children’s dance instructor I find it crazy to have kids in revealing outfits covered in lace, zebra and sequins. Especially with my youngest group (ranging from 3-6), I always have something that covers them, just because I find it’s unnecessary to have kids shaking their booties in 2in skirts for adult strangers, from the general public. It’s hard when I see others in our age division twerking and wearing lace bras. Big fat no. And I hate dance moms (the show) for normalizing that in the community. But we do dress them up and use some makeup. I tell the girls it’s a costume, because as dancers we portray a character and tell a story with our bodies.
    But the problem is its hard to keep out. As a big busted girl I find it hard to find clothes that fit my waist and tummy and don’t ride up my hips or risk having me spill out of. And it’s one thing wearing just a sports bra (or two!) to the gym, but its inappropriate for teaching. We have a dance supply store that everyone in my small town shops at, including the girls from most of my classes.  I found a problem with even them changing now to what’s in demand. The had a line called Arabesque. Stocked sizes from toddlers to adults, boys and girls. Nice clothes that I could work in. I recommended it to everyone. Sadly, It became discontinued. Now come the start of the season I noticed a disturbing trend. More and more kids are coming in baggy sweats falling down their bums and teeny tiny bras. There were kids with SEXY written across there butt and chest! It got to the point we needed a written dress code. I asked my assistant instructor where this clothing was coming from and she informed me in was the new line at the dance store, called (cringe) Hawt Danca’. Being me, I raced down there to see it. Sure enough, teensy little neon shorts and padded sports bras, ranging from tots to adults. I questioned the owner, and they shrugged it off and simply told me that it was what sold. I talked to the normal sales attendant the next day and she informed me that the shop switched hands, and they were selling the ‘dance moms’ style outfits that people requested.
    Makes my blood boil. It’s that that should be scolded, not REAL athletic wear. Sorry for such the story, i just needed to rant. I know you much be busy but I’d love your opinion on the matter.

    • I am cringing at your description of the dance clothes being worn by young girls. If a grown-up woman wants to wear those things, that’s one thing, but a little girl? Oy vey. It makes me freak out for any possible daughters I have. Are there any other options at all?! I danced when I was a kid and, maybe it’s just because I lived in Utah, but all of this stuff that you are describing is so foreign to me.

      I do think that you and some other people have a good point about the way sexiness has become normalized for certain kinds of athletic clothing. I think that is really problematic. I guess for me, my issue is that I have a hard time with the fact that wearing short shorts or a sports bra is automatically seen as sexualized, even though I am most likely dressing that way because it is incredibly hot and muggy outside and having bare skin keeps me from feeling like I’m going to bake from the inside out. But I also recognize that this is just my preference, and that women should have the option to dress in whatever kind of clothes they feel most comfortable and/or appropriate in.

  40. I just stumbled upon your blog and I appreciate your intelligent and amusing approach on female athletes. I run in skimpy yoga tops and booty shorts because I live in a climate where the temperature often hits the triple digits and the humidity rises easily above 50% in the summer, so to hell with anyone who’s trying to check me out or judge my fashion choices. I’m just trying not to smother myself in my own sweat.

    • For real. My climate is a bit different from yours – we usually get both heat and humidity in the upper 80s-low 90s – but the end result is still the same. As it is I have difficulty being outside in pants for more than a few minutes. I’ll be damned if I’m going to engage in physical activity while dressed that way in this heat!

  41. Pingback: Bikinis vs. one-pieces: the debate over swimsuits is not actually about swimsuits | Fit and Feminist·

  42. Pingback: A defense of skimpy running clothes. Why don't more female runners wear bun huggers? - strength, fat loss, weight training, cardio, aerobics, running, swimming, health, nutrition, sports - City-Data Forum·

  43. I am kind of curious how women’s pro running attire got skimpier over the years though. I don’t think anyone, male or female, should ever go back to baggy T-shirts, but I still find it a bit odd that women are basically running in bikinis (albeit not-so-fancy ones), though I note that some runners choose singlets.

    I actually tried to do a little research on this but couldn’t turn up anything – any ideas? Some sort of aerodynamic advantage? There’s nothing wrong with it, but I was wondering if it came out of some attempt to sexualize the sport.

    On another note, in the tropics, where I am, I’ve seen a lot of bigger women wearing their running singlets and shorts without seeming self-conscious, and good on ‘em – it’s way too hot for capris here.

    • I honestly have no idea. The skimpier distance running clothes were around a couple decades ago (at least in photos that I’ve seen of cross country runners and the like) but they weren’t quite the uniform they are now. I think it would be interesting to hear top female runners give their takes on why they wear briefs (or not, because some still do the really short shorts) because I can really only guess.

      I still wear really short shorts for 5Ks but if the race distance is much longer, I need my shorts to be longer so I don’t end up totally chafed between my thighs. I don’t know how women run full marathons in those shorts.

  44. The human body is a marvellous thing but it don’t work so well if you either starve it of water or stop the water escaping. Ventilation (for cooling) is key – and clothes get in the way of that. Maybe the pros have discovered this ?
    I’ve been looking at skirts for men (which might be an up-coming thing); about time too as it removes the chafing issue and covers bulges you may not be willing to show the world even though they’re covered.

  45. “Well, what I want to know is why men have started wearing longer, baggier clothes when they compete. Male athletes didn’t always used to wear manpris when they played basketball:”

    A: because the wimmin complain about the more sensible options. They complain about naked torsos, ‘Speedos’ and short shorts.

    It’d solve a lot of probs having no women ;)

    • I saw this interesting (thoughtful) video online. Its in French, but you can figure it out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4UWxlVvT1A

      Around the 1:20 mark, they are making the statement that a topless male runner is somehow offensive. I think that is the point they are trying to make. But, what is the difference between a topless man and a woman in short shorts and a jog bra? Other than nipples showing. I could see how some people might interpret the message that a woman can be half nekked and if the guy is uncomfortable its because he has “issues”. But, if the man is half nekked and the woman is uncomfortable, then clearly the man is doing something wrong and he has “issues”.

      I think it is mixed messages like this that make males very confused.

  46. as I guy, I much prefer to wear tighter clothes when working out. the skimpier the better. I run usually in a compressions shorts. I will wear a thong underneath so I am not “visible” but I don’t were baggy shorts over. same thing with swimming. always in a skimpy speedo. that way I can concentrate on running or swimming without feeling the clothes. I don’t really care who likes or doesn’t like it.

  47. For me, the question is more about why is there such a discrepancy? I think both sides should be able to wear what they want within the realm of decency – not just in the realm of sports either, but quoting a small handful of examples of men that ‘do the same thing’ is no where close to the extreme where practically every female ‘does it’.

    If this sort of dress really provided such an advantage, then regardless of our sexist societal norms, both sexes would be wearing essentially the same thing in competitions. However, we generally do not see this. If men’s running shorts are just as good as little boy shorts where your ass hangs out, then it comes down to choice. If the boy short is arguably better, as many women would proclaim, then men would be wearing them too.

    The reality is that overall we celebrate women wearing as little as possible to the point where some could even get away with wearing things in public that would be considered indecent in many if not most states (like pasties). (this piece is not speaking to the athletic outfits, but our society in general) We also ascribe different labels to identical actions from both genders. I’ve seen men verbally abused and legally threatened for wearing clothing no different (other than perhaps top coverage obviously) and no more indecent than a female counterpart who is completely ignored.

    You could have girls in thong bikinis jogging down the street simply being ignored or ‘checked out’, but a guy wearing shorts that, while they completely and adequately cover him, are considered by “society” to be a little too short will get called ‘pervert’ and have people threaten bodily harm or to call the police if they don’t ‘put some clothes on’. Nobody would even contemplate saying the same to the females, however, even despite them wearing less. We’re supposed to applaud them for their confidence or told to Grow Up.

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t things that swing the other way. Though, in my opinion from what I’ve seen in my 35 years on this Earth, there are far less of these that swing primarily in the favor of men.

    This is, in part, due to how much we have objectified women in our society I’m sure, but my sympathy in that regard only goes so far when women objectify themselves. Especially considering the fact that they’re the ones with all the power and privilege as a result.

  48. I know I’m late but I just want to state my own opinion and experiences. I lift weights and run about 4-5 times a week and with the hot temperatures, I take my shirt off and wear bun huggers to workout. I have ran in this fashion on the streets and I’ve gotten the occasional cat calls, car honks, and stares. I also have these things that make me stand out: I have large tattoos on my rib and thigh (on opposite sides of my body), a toned body that I’ve worked my ass off to get, and being a black female (not making this a racist thing but I do not see a lot of black running nor lift weights at the gym/area that I go to/live in. In my experience, it gets annoying as hell that I can’t work out in what I want to wear without people thinking that I’m the next twerker in a hip hop video, people thinking that I’m purposely seeking attention, and without getting the above reactions from people. I’m just merely a girl working out, trying not to die in uncomfortable ass settings. If a guy chooses to wear skimpy ass shorts, no shirt, etc, then that’s his business and not my place to judge (and all the while I will be thinking he’s working his ass off!). I hate that our society tries to define the appropriate dress code for both women and men.

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