Runner’s face: When beauty culture gets stupid

If you follow trends in makeup at all, you know that lately the big thing is contouring.  Contouring is where you basically use makeup that’s both lighter and darker than your skin tone to give the illusion of more defined cheekbones and things like that.  Contouring has been around for a while, but I blame the Kardashians for the face that we’re rapidly approaching Peak Contour.

Anyway, I haven’t really gotten on board with contouring because I have really strong, defined features and so I just don’t see the point in making them even MORE defined. This is particularly true in the couple of years since I picked up the intensity in my training and also improved the quality of my diet.  I wouldn’t say that I’m skeletal but I’ve definitely leaned out to the point that my already-pronounced bone structure is now basically a gigantic set of cheekbones these days, so contouring seems pretty much pointless.

So imagine my amusement when I read an article dissecting about the beauty scourge known as “runner’s face.”  Runner’s face is basically the “gaunt, skeletal look you end up with if you run for fun or fitness,” a terrible affliction that can conveniently be treated through injectables like “hyaluronic acid fillers,” which luckily for those of us with disposable income can be attained at your friendly local plastic surgeon’s office.

To summarize:

  1. Women should do exercises to get skinny;
  2. Then when we get skinny and thus start looking “gaunt,” we should inject shit in our faces to plump them up again;
  3. Then we should blend brown powder on our freshly-injected faces so we can go back to looking “gaunt” again.

Or, you could just be like me and Tracy at Fit is a Feminist Issue and not give a fuck.

The thing I find most frustrating about this is how it clearly illustrates all the stupid, contradictory ways in which all of these beauty standards manifest themselves. Like, the standards can’t even be consistent in their demands.  It’s basically just “you suck, so buy our shit and maybe you can suck a little less!”

Look, I enjoy beauty products and I think makeup is fun.  Anyone who is friends with me knows this.  I didn’t attain VIB status at Sephora by accident, okay?  But I also know that a lot of goes on in the world of beauty is basically the promotion of a very specific kind of youthful, Eurocentric, upper-class aesthetic that most of us cannot attain without an investment of time, attention and money.  Being into beauty and makeup and skin care can be enjoyable, but if you uncritically accept every single message flung your way, it can also be really fucking demoralizing.

I also have a huge problem with this expectation that the most important thing a woman can do is cultivate her appearance so she achieves that aesthetic, even if it means curtailing her participation in the activities that give her life.  This expectation is put out there with the implicit understanding that who matters most in a woman’s life is not the woman herself but all of the people who have to look at her.  Damn straight, I have a problem with that.

I don’t particularly feel the need to take the money I work very hard to earn and hand it over to a plastic surgeon so they can fill my face full of god knows what that will most likely just leave me looking vaguely plasticine anyway. I’m certainly not about to stop running, that’s for sure.

I actually like my runner’s face.  I have runner’s face because I have been working really hard at becoming the best athlete I can possibly be. I’m healthy and I’m strong and I’m fast.  When I run, I feel like a goddamned cheetah. A bit of hollowness in the cheek area – which, might I remind you, is also considered desirable as evidenced by all the fucking contouring kits now available – is a very, very small price to pay for the deep existential pleasures I get when I lace up a pair of shoes and pound out miles in the early-morning hours before work.

For what it’s worth, I’m all about wearing sunscreen and sunblock, which I will admit is partially out of vanity and partially because I try to do what I can to limit my risk of skin cancer, which is a very real concern seeing as though I’m an endurance athlete who lives in one of the sunshine-iest states in the United States.  But all of the shit about injectables and fillers and what have you?  I’ll pass, thanks. I’d rather use that money for a new racing kit or a pair of running shoes.

Okay, rant concluded.


43 responses to “Runner’s face: When beauty culture gets stupid

  1. I love your point that first they encourage us to get skinny, and then getting skinny becomes the culprit because we look gaunt! So true. I thought it but forgot to mention it in my post. Rant on!

    • I was already thinking about this because I was supremely annoyed by all the email promotions I’ve been getting for contouring kits, and then seeing all of the “runner’s face” junk just made the realization click. Because srsly, beauty industry, pick a fucking lane already.

  2. Oh my gosh. I’d been seeing the term “runner’s face” around the internet for a few days, but I hadn’t looked into it because I was frankly completely uninterested in the most recent development in how women are never good enough. I had, however, been speculating a little, and figured that runner’s face was something about having “weathered” skin from being exposed to the elements *or whatever.* Turns out, it’s even dumber than that. Even dumber, AND more contradictory. Go home, Purveyors of Impossible Beauty Standards, you’re drunk.

    • It’s like they really cannot make up their mind about what we should look like. I think the default is that whatever a human woman looks like is WRONG.

  3. I thought “runner’s face” was a facial expression, like “resting bitch face”…I never read an actual description of it….so thanks? (for the clarification)…signed, skeletor ( my nickname during race season)

  4. Truthfully, when you first posted the Guardian article I thought that “runner’s face” was something akin to what Pheobe does with her arms in the Friends episode “The One Where Phoebe Runs” because I guess it was more believable to me that people would make fun of the faces one might make in public when they run rather than fret over some perceived gauntness. Good lord, this is just as bad (if not worse).

    What’s even more insidious about it isn’t even the concern-trolling for those who have this “affliction,” but what it’s telling anyone who takes up running and does not get so-called “runner’s face” because they aren’t necessarily built that way to begin with. Trying to maintain that runners look like X, swimmers look like Y, weightlifters look like Z, and so on and so forth only perpetuates the myth that athletes (both serious and amateur/hobbyist) can’t come in all shapes and sizes.

    • Oh man, good point about how this contributes to the idea that there’s a specific way that an athlete looks. Not everyone who runs a lot ends up with a thinner face. I happen to one of those runners who does, but it’s definitely not a universal thing.

    • That’s what I thought, too! That it was about, like, grimacing as you cross the finish line or something and people — gasp! — seeing you make an unpretty face, LOL.

  5. I get using make-up to contour when you’re a performer and onstage, like I did when I belly danced, but for everyday? Nope, no thank you. As for the “scourge” of runner’s face…yeah, another way to convince women to hate their bodies.

    • It’s an unwinnable game, so I vote we all go play a different one. Preferably one that doesn’t involve making people hate themselves.

  6. Contouring is fascinating to me because it’s astounding how different someone can look with makeup, but I always like women’s natural faces better. With contouring, they look lovely but like they belong in a magazine, not real.
    I’m not a makeup hater. I wear three kinds of makeup most days when I want to look nice. But I don’t want to reshape my face. I don’t need to fit a specific beauty standard or have perfectly sculpted cheekbones or hallowed out cheeks. I have a runner’s face and body and I like it the way it is.
    Also, I love your summary.

    • Yeah, on one hand I think contouring is really interesting in terms of how it can really change a person’s face, but on the other hand, the way people use it to change faces is often the same: narrow the nose, sculpt the cheekbones, sharpen the jaw, etc. It almost promotes a homogenized facial structure.

      And yeah, seeing someone do full contour in daylight is really, really weird. I’ll be happy when this trend passes.

  7. Same goes with the competitive bodybuilding industry, for bikini and figure classes especially. Get down to 10% body fat, lose your breasts, now go get implants. Drives me bonkers. There are many things that deeply disturb me about that sport…this gets me the most.

    • It’s possible, but as I mentioned to Alison, this sadly isn’t the first time I’ve heard about it.

      Honestly, I think I’m tired and overworked and cranky, and shit is getting to me in a way that it normally doesn’t. :/

  8. I was unaware of this new gaunt face trend, but that’s not surprising. While the way you worded the ridiculous circular logic is not surprising, it makes me so very sad. Coming from someone who, in their 30s should know better and still falls prey to this crap (which is why I try to block it all out in the first place), I find this so disturbing. I’ve worked so hard – and continue to work at – putting my head down, doing the work and focusing on fitness gains, rather than physical ones (because I’ll be damned if my body listens to my pleas to “look” any differently). Every so often when I’m satisfied with my progress, I make the mistake of looking up again, seeing all of the maddening mixed messages to look a certain way and end up taking a few steps back. Sigh.

    • I actually have heard of it before – not specifically as “runner’s face” but as warnings about too much exercise making women’s faces gaunt – but I didn’t think anything of it until this past week, when the article showed up and I was like, wait a second…

      BTW I’m sorry if I in any way contributed to this. I was mostly making fun of how completely asinine this is, but I realize that by writing about it I just introduced a bunch of people who had never heard of the concept before to the concept, which…not good.

      • Not to worry, if there’s any outlet I’d like to hear about this, it’s from someone like you who provides a lot of good food for thought. Besides, the way you ranted made me laugh and see the situation for what it is. 🙂

  9. I’ve been a runner for 40 years and will never have to worry about runner’s face, since my cheeks are so chubby. Being 50 years old, though, means I get told that I should get all kinds of plastic surgery to look younger. No thanks. I wasn’t a super model when I was young and it never bothered me. The older I get, the more comfortable I am with how I look. The best part about aging.

  10. I mean, we really can’t win. If we don’t work out but are thin, then we’re “skinny-fat,” which is icky. If we work out, we might get a gaunt face or too-big muscles, which are also icky.

  11. Yes to all of this! Thank you for making a your points so much more eloquently than I could. “Runners face” and the like is why I’ve basically stopped reading most fitness and women’s magazines. Sigh.

  12. I have the cure to runner’s face! Follow my plan, you can run all you want while staying fat and your face will maintain a youthful plumpness. I should write a book… (Joking aside, it’s incredible how resourceful the beauty-industrial complex is at inventing new problems to sell solutions for.)

  13. “This expectation is put out there with the implicit understanding that who matters most in a woman’s life is not the woman herself but all of the people who have to look at her.”
    I love the way you’ve stated this! Rings true, hits hard, tap out!

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  15. Contouring doesn’t even work. I’ve read pieces by makeup artists stating quite emphatically that it only works when you can control the direction and intensity of lighting (i.e. stage, film), and not in everyday life. The whole thing is a scam start to finish (and like you, I like makeup). Honestly I think it’s because the no-makeup trend is the in thing right now and the makeup companies aren’t sure what else to try selling us.

  16. I couldn’t get past your bulleted list because all I could hear in my head was that episode of Sex and the City where Samantha runs into a friend who had fat injected into her face and now “CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? FAT FROM MY OWN ASS!!” is now ringing in my head.

    • I couldn’t get past it because the whole scenario filled me with rage and I couldn’t see straight. But then your SATC joke helped me calm down. 🙂

  17. Beauty culture is *always* stupid. ALWAYS. The only “cure” is not to not give a flying you-know-what what people think about how you look. It is none of their business.

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  19. I haven’t gotten to that stage yet, I’m still too fat for people to believe I run.

  20. In the end it’s all about finding a new thing for us to feel insecure about… so they can make money off of us.

    As long as people still take me for 5 years younger than I actually am (resulting in questions like ‘when do you graduate from med school?’ ‘four years ago, mam’.)…. I take it my cheekbones are fine, as prominent as they are.

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  22. Reminds me of something my EX-husband said after I’d started running regularly and was feeling generally awesome about myself. This is a direct quote:
    “You’re starting to look like a woman runner. I guess some people like that look, but it doesn’t do much for me.”
    Ladies, if you see him, keep running.

  23. This is appalling in so many ways. Not your post obviously but the one that gave it breath. So runner’s face is supposed to be less attractive than fake face? Seriously? How is it that our society has become ultra focused on looks and celebrities and social media but cannot even answer a simple history question? “Keepin up with the Kardashians” Yeah, I’d rather not thanks, real beauty is so much more than skin deep. In my own opinion Caitlin, I prefer how you look any day over that false mask they seem to believe in. Surgical treatment because you’re healthy? What the …. (sigh)

  24. It seems like today’s culture doesn’t want anyone to actually BE fit & healthy. If I hear the phrase one more time of “Running is bad for your…”, I swear, I am going to strip off my shit-and-mud-covered Saconys and smack someone with them.

    The face contouring thing is interesting to me as far as- if someone goes home with someone that has never seen them truly “naked”, are they scared when the makeup is gone? And the spanxx? And the water filled push up bra? And maybe even eye and hair extensions? Just pondering here- I guess I don’t get a lot of those things as I have been with the same man since I was 17- but I can’t help but wonder if a lot of one night stands end with a “WTF is THAT!?!?!” in the morning.

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