I don’t want to hear how sexy – or not – I look when I’m running, thanks
Bare Minerals can shove its campaign using frat boys to cheer on female runners with signs like ‘You look beautiful all sweaty’
When I first started running, I lived in Pitsmoor – a spectacularly ropy district of Sheffield. I hoiked on some tracksuit bottoms and a sports bra that I’d probably owned since before I had proper bosoms. I pulled on a T-shirt and laced up my ancient PE trainers. And, with the timorous demeanour of the non-sporty person attempting something sporty, I headed out of my door and down the street at an unthreatening clip. Fortunately, my neighbours must have sensed my self-consciousness and come out to defuse it, because here was the man from the corner off-licence, standing in his doorway and shouting: “You look great!” And here was a man waiting for a bus, hollering: “Keep it up, love!”
Cheered by such support, I churned out several more laps and entered the next available half marathon. Except – oh, haha, no I didn’t. I stumbled home miserably, scorching with humiliation, feeling like a tubby gobbet of flesh bound in elastic fibres. I threw my trainers in the bottom of the wardrobe and didn’t get them out again for several years. Now cosmetics company Bare Minerals doesn’t want any runner to go without this special validation of her desirability, so it has launched something called the Go Bare campaign, which involves gangs of frat boys spectating at half marathons, cheering on female participants with signs like “You look beautiful all sweaty” and “Cute running shoes”.
Well … thanks for that guys, although to be honest I’m amazed you bothered. One thing I’ve never been struck by while running is a shortage of volunteers to critique my hotness. From the beepers and leerers hanging out of car windows to the moped-riding little tit who took time out from his pizza delivery round to bark at me (because it was important for me to know that he considered me a dog), my journey from couch to 42K has been punctuated by all too many men who’ve been all too willing to let me know whether they’d put me on the do or do-not list. Making a special effort to bring this stuff to race day seems an unusual way to hawk foundation.
Because if I’m running a race, it’s not so I can get an index of my bangability. It’s because I want to run 13.1 miles or 26.2 or however many it takes to push me over the finish line, and during that time I will be gross. I will sniff and spit and sweat and grunt and piss in chemical toilets fouled by hundreds of nervous runners ahead of me. I will hurt, with the dull lactic ache of constant propulsion and the flayed sting of blistered feet. If things go really well, I might be sick. And I won’t care about how any of it looks, because all I want is to get to the end. At no point during any of this should the question “Does a frat boy want to prod me?” be invited into my brain.
I took up running in part because I was anxious about the way I looked. This isn’t particularly exalted as motives go, but I don’t think it’s that surprising when we live in a culture that scrutinises appearance and sees a slumpy buttock as a moral failing. This was the surprising thing: once I’d started running regularly, I realised I didn’t care that much about how I looked. For as long as I could remember, I’d judged my body on aesthetic standards and found it wanting. Too stumpy of leg, too big of thigh, too sturdy of calf. But now, I started to appreciate my body for its function, and it turned out that it was actually pretty rocking.
No, I didn’t have the fragile and dangling limbs of a confused foal, but – to my surprise and delight – I could crank out mile after mile at a respectable pace. How perverse that I’d spent decades damning my legs for not looking like they’d sprouted impossibly on another body, and now I was delirious to find that they could do the perfectly workaday leg thing of transporting me between two points. Running was a flit from all the bizarre ideas I’d developed over body image.
It is not a welcome development when some powder shark drags up a horndog army to tell women that the real race isn’t for your personal best, but for the position of Most Desirable Ambulant Vagina 2013. So Bare Minerals can shove its stupid makeup – it might give me acne if I wear it when I’m running anyway. And it can stick its idiot placards up its idiot placard wavers too.
Like all the best things in the world – eating, laughing, having monstrously good, wallpaper-tearing sex – running is much better if you don’t have to think about the way you look when you’re doing it.
[Woman running via Shutterstock]