I really don’t care if you think I look pretty when I run

A few weeks ago I was reading Facebook comments posted beneath an article about street harassment faced by female runners, and one comment in particular jumped out at me, from a man who wanted to know what was so wrong about letting a woman know she looked good while she was out running.  I commented and suggested that while I can’t speak for other women, I know that when I’m out for a run, pretty much the last thing on my mind is whether or not a passerby finds me attractive.

Anyone who runs with me knows that I tend to be gross when I run. I get incredibly sweaty – no “glowing” and “glistening” for this broad. My face also turns a lovely shade of eggplant.  I wear no makeup, just smears of sunblock and BodyGlide.  I spit when I run.  Like, a lot.  Brian says he can identify me from a distance based on the way I spit.  And perhaps grossest of all – I blow snot rockets.

I ask you, does this sound like the behavior of a woman who cares at all about looking pretty?

There are actually a lot of times when I do try to make myself myself look nice, and those times are marked by some fairly obvious signifiers.  I’ll probably be wearing lip gloss or lipstick, my hair will be brushed, and I’ll be adhering to, at the very least, a baseline of good manners (i.e. I won’t be spitting in public).  I’m not saying that I’m suddenly cool with random drive-by comments just because I’m wearing lipstick, just that there are usually some pretty clear signs that an effort at prettifying myself has been made.

Because here’s the shocking thing – and I know this will blow your hair back, so hold on to your butts – but not all of us care about looking pretty all the time.  (A lot of us don’t even care at all!)  Sometimes we just want to go out in public and do our thing and not have to be reminded that there is still a segment of society that looks at us primarily as decorative objects meant to pretty up the place.

One of the things I love best about running – and really about any physical activity at all – is the experience of feeling totally and completely alive within my own body.  Josey at the Span of My Hips wrote a brilliant post a few months ago about gender, embodiment and weight lifting, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it since then.  She does mention that women are conditioned to do a lot of cardio, which doesn’t really lend itself well to feeling present in your body, but I would add that for me, running – especially running outside – is a very centering activity that requires focus and presence, which is why I found her words relatable to all aspects of my athletic practice and not just those involving barbells.

Anyway! When I am running, especially when I’m doing a tempo run, where I’m running fast and towards the upper edge of my abilities but not so much so that I feel like I’m going to puke, it’s one of the times when I feel most free within my own body.  It is one of the most glorious feelings, heightened by the fact that I don’t have a single clue how I look while I’m doing it. I don’t feel inhibited by self-consciousness. I don’t think at all about how others must see me when I run past them on the trail (because the truth is, they are most likely too wrapped up in their own business to pay me any mind). I just know how running makes me feel, and how it makes me feel is pretty damn great.

So while the man mentioned in the first paragraph may feel as though he’s doing a good thing by sharing his appreciation for the way women look when they are out for a run – and some women might actually appreciate that too – for me personally, I’d rather not hear it.  I’m not out there to look pretty.  I’m out there to run.

31 responses to “I really don’t care if you think I look pretty when I run

  1. Yes! I run for myself, not for others and their perception of how I look.

    One thing I would add about street harassment while running is that it can be really startling. I have a few loops in my neighborhood that I use for shorter runs. My neighborhood is low traffic, so usually there is not much noise. And then – some dude honks at me and it is jarring (as horns, when used properly, should be)! I have nearly fallen a few times. So there’s that too. But the biggest reason i dislike it is that it is yet another reminder that guys feel the right to assert their opinion about me all the time and frankly, I don’t want it. I’m not soliciting it simply by being in public.

    • “But the biggest reason i dislike it is that it is yet another reminder that guys feel the right to assert their opinion about me.”

      This is what it boils down to for me, regardless of what I’d doing, how I look, etc. Just because I am out in public does not mean you are entitled to invade my personal space with your opinion.

    • That’s a really great point, about the startle factor. It just takes one wrong step to seriously hurt yourself.

      “But the biggest reason i dislike it is that it is yet another reminder that guys feel the right to assert their opinion about me all the time and frankly, I don’t want it. I’m not soliciting it simply by being in public.”

      And a big yep to this.

    • I love this blog post and this comment! It’s hard for me to pinpoint WHY people honk and yell at runners. Y’all said it better than I could!

  2. I agree. Actually, I’m one of those who almost never worries about how I look, but running certainly does not make many people look great from a beauty contest sort of perspective. On the other hand, there can be something pretty wonderful about how everyone looks when putting out that sort of effort.

    About the guy and his comment: I have decided over the years to try to take comments as they are intended. If someone just tosses out a friendly variation on “Lookin’ good,” I try to hear it as positive – he’s properly impressed that I am running. And I just keep running. Sort of like if someone opens a door for me. I just smile and say thanks. (I also open the door for guys if I happen to get there first.)

    On the other hand, if the comment is more of a cat call, and you happen to spit in his general direction (purely by accident, I am sure) it would be hard to blame you.

  3. Well and really, let’s not allow these guys to be disingenuous, the “but I just want to tell you that you look pretty! That’s all! Why you gotta be so annoyed about it?” uhh-huh, like one is just seized by the loveliness of a sunset and must address it. Sure. No, these are guys interested in FLIRTING and engaging in your attentions for that purpose. The reason women get annoyed is because there is no socially acceptable way to extricate out of that situation easily and therefore it is the social equivalent of the small child tugging on their parent’s sleeve going “look at meeeee!” It thoroughly distracts from what you’re doing and then suddenly it is All About You (ie, the guy flirting) rather than what you set out to do (work out). So, unless you think it is entirely acceptable to just start flirting with women when they’re busy doing something else all the time, leave off doing it when they’re running.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this too. In my case it is because I walk my dog for a couple of miles every day. I have some pretty heavy duty gear because I live where the weather can be severe, and we walk regardless of rain storms or blizzards. I wear a travel belt contraption that I have stuffed with everything from poop bags, to treats, to a spare leash, with a flashlight and carabiner hanging off it. I’ve also added some safety lights because it gets dark so quick, and our drivers aren’t very good at looking for pedestrians. So basically, I look like Nanook of the North… with a Batbelt. There is a part of me that is very conscious of the fact that I am not pretty in these moments, and then I think – why do I care? I’m not out here to look pretty, I am out here taking care of my dog, and I will do it in the most comfortable, convenient and safe way possible. But I still think about it – what kind of society do we have where I feel like I have to look cute while cleaning up dog poo?

  5. Reblogged this on Det Onda Goda… and commented:
    This is so true, can’t we just be for a while? Not be beautiful och nice? Just stubbern and filled with will power?

  6. I’ve read quite a bit of stuff on female runners being harassed and catcalled, and without wanting to sound reductionist, am wondering how much of it is a cultural thing.

    In close to three years of running outdoors, I haven’t heard/seen any woman being harassed while running. Women here (Singapore) run in a whole range of outfits – there are Muslims with headgear covered up from their necks to ankles, and people in sports bras and shorts. The majority are in tanks and shorts, and in all shapes and sizes.

    On my longer weekend route, there are a lot of white guys running and cycling, but I’ve never heard a thing from them either.

    It’s a good thing women can run here in public unharassed…just thought it was interesting considering how much of a problem it is elsewhere.

    Just for context, the Western media usually calls Singapore a ‘conservative’ society, but women here dress pretty much like those in any other big city, and somewhat more revealing stuff is common.

  7. Great post, really hope a lot of men see this and learn to hold back the next time they feel like doing something like that, we appreciate the compliment and all, but there’s no reason to be complimenting someone who’s clearly out for a run, not a catwalk.

  8. One of the nice side benefits of being a tomboyish, middle-aged, fashion-oblivious lesbian, is that it’s rare I get any flirtatious attention when out running (or doing anything for that matter). In the rare case I get a glance or a compliment, it’s usually so benign I find myself feeling flattered.

    But I’ve noticed when I’m out near women who look more conventionally Pretty or Hot, the shit they have to put up with is unreal. I can see why the attention can feel like a form of hostility, because so often it seems to come from a predatory place. Ick!

    • As a tomboyish, young, fashion-oblivious lesbian, I’ve found that I occasionally attract what I’ve heard called the other side of street harrassment, or street dismissal, when out running – guys fake-flirting with me and then laughing and nudging their friends over the idea that anyone could want to flirt with me, or just looking a bit disgusted by my sweaty, red-faced lack of prettiness. Definitely not discounting the irritation and sometimes outright horribleness of the supposedly positive comments, but I wanted to share my slightly different experiences! I forget for most of the time that my appearance is something that I’m supposed to care about, but it’s still painful to be treated like this.

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  10. I think it really is an indicator of how entitled men feel to a woman’s time that a woman *clearly* engaged in a workout (running, sweating, snotting) requires a comment, cat-calling or not. It’s like they literally do not realize that I am not working out for their benefit/engagement/viewership.
    I do indoor rock climbing, and there’s no way on earth that I look attractive when I’m flushed bright red, I’ve been hanging from a V3 – I’m not terribly great at the climbing part haha! – but clearly upside down, focused on my route, and I’ll get comments about ‘looking good’ and the like. It’s distracting, it’s annoying, and it’s really really obvious you aren’t complimenting my mad skills.

  11. I know the exact article you’re speaking of and the comments left me flabbergasted- the # of people, mostly men, who just didn’t get what the big deal was or that it was an issue at all, as well as the # of women who were wanting to have some random stranger holler at them while driving by “because no one’s ever cat called me before”. I was so taken back and I wrote something like 15 responses and just kept deleting them before clicking “send”. I run for me and me alone, not to give anyone a show on their commute to work.

    • And one last thing that has stuck with me since reading those comments on that article- a woman stating that whenever someone honks or screams at her while running, she uses that as motivation to get away from them. We shouldn’t run with fear or the need to be running away from anything (other than our own personal problems).

  12. Reblogged this on Skymama65's Blog and commented:
    Reading the thoughts of other strong women inspires me, and those willing to to use the word “Femism” and who describe themselves as “Femists” are definitely worthy of my time and attention. It was Fear and Hate within a patriarchal society that pushed the idea on us that Feminists are ugly, hairy, stinky man-haters. So many young women today, including well educated women, have fallen under the weight of the misconception that being a Feminist is a dirty thing. Yet if you ask a woman if she believes women should be paid equal wages for equal work, or if she should be respected when she says, “No”, and whether she has the right to live free of being beaten, abused and terrorized by a partner or spouse, or if she should be “allowed” to decide for herself whether she wants to carry a pregnancy to term– without any conditions (like being forced to submit to a vaginal probe with a sonagram dildo) and without false propaganda to try to scare her into making a decision that isn’t what she really wants– she is likey to say “Yes” to most, or all, of those. And thus, without realizing it, she has agreed to the very things that Feminism fights every day.

    In 2013 there were more than 600 new laws created in this country to specifically limit a woman’s right to make decisions choices that affect her body and health. Do you know how many laws were created that affect a man’s rights? None. Zero. Nadda.

    I’m not a man-hater. In fact, I rather love them, and I love what what can transpire between us! But, I do feel there is an inbalance, and that we, as women, are still subordinated to men. And it has to change. The dichotomay of male/female is a delicious, messy, fun human experience, but the rules and roles have got to become balanced in such a way that we each, male and female, can respect each other, and allow each other to make choices that support our individual needs and rights. And that, my friend, is what being a Feminist is all about.

  13. I was once cycling up one of those lovely North London hills with my daughter in the child seat she had over grown six months ago, when a man cyclist in a full gear and wrapped in lycra overtaking me asked if I was actually going to pedal all the way up. Of course, it was our daily school/work commute. “Fucking. Hell. You. A. Fit. Thing.” ‘Fit’ in its original sense is the word you might be looking for, especially when I overtake you. If I look pretty I’m definitely not training very hard.

  14. Thanks for this sentiment, which cannot be repeated enough, until everyone (men & women alike) “GET” it. Somehow, I think we’ll be repeating it for a long time….

    Tangentially, I actually feel somewhat relieved when I get all red, sweaty, and gross looking – simply because I think it’s less likely that anyone will make any kind of honk/beep/comment/advance, so I won’t have to bother fending them off.

    I be gross, you be crude, you stay away from me, we all win….

  15. Amen! Whether I’m on the trail or in the gym, I could care less what others think of how I look. I workout for me, not to impress some dude whose too stupid to keep his eyes in his head.

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  18. The amount of energy expended on this topic suggests to me that “not taking things personally,” may be helpful. Those who “offend” are reflecting who they are to the world–let them. It’s not about you, it’s always about them. You might even forgive them for the “world they live in;” and be appreciative of yours. Blessings to all.

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