Last week there was a piece in the Evening Standard that sparked a fair amount of frustration. It was called 11 tips for acing the London Marathon this year. Most of the advice was pretty innocuous, getting your marathon kit sorted, making a killer playlist and mixing up your training routes to keep things interesting, however there was one tip that made me prickle...
The marathon takes place in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands of people. You might have a finish line to cross but you do not want to look like a troll doing so.
'You do not want to look like a troll' - ouch. I will be upfront, I don't wear make up when I run, but I have no problem with people choosing to. I love that in her book Running Like a Girl Alexandra Heminsley talks about picking out a bold eyeliner that makes her feel like a boss for her first marathon, and that Charlie had special nails done for Boston tomorrow. However, I am very clear that this should be a choice. There should not be the expectation that you need to look a particular way (un-troll like) or use make up when you've just run more than 26 miles. Hell each time I've done it what I look like has been a million miles from my mind, which was more pre-occupied with the sense my muscles were being torn from my thigh bones....
Many of my friends shared similar views when we discussed the article on Facebook:
No I do not need sweat proof make up to run a marathon in and I don't care if I look like a troll after I have just run for approx 5 hours straight. As well intentioned as it may be I find this absolutely infuriating.
A lot of people do care though! It's about choice and you'd be surprised how many people I have see wearing makeup on my marathons.
Is this for real?...!
What a load of bullshit. The tone is so off - of course plenty of woe choose to wear make up when they run (I'm one of them) but that does not mean that without it people are going to think I look like a troll...Oh and it goes without saying that even if they do think I look like a troll then naturally their opinion matters the square root of fuck all to me.
This shit can die already.
I'll absolutely be wearing makeup to run London (and have thought about which mascara etc I'll use) but the tone of this article is awful.
I don't like the expectation that a woman needs to wear make up for a marathon so they don't look like a "troll"...by all means wear make up, but don't let it be because society "expects" it.
We don't place this sort of judgement on men when taking part in sports, so why is the media doing this to women? URGH.
The comments on Twitter were similar, with the overwhelming sense that ultimately there's nothing wrong with wearing make up to run in, but that the tone of the article was somewhat off - something I pointed out to Phoebe Luckhurst on Twitter, who wrote the piece. Phoebe's view was that the comments in the article really weren't meant to be taken seriously. I can see where she's coming from. Sometimes it's easy to make a statement that ends up landing awkwardly. However, it got me thinking about why we think comments like this are positioned as light hearted, especially in relation to women in sport.
Gender ideology in sport is pervasive. I would argue that modern sport is a symbol of masculinity that creates a powerful form of sexism in society. As a result women's participation is deemed inappropriate and unwelcome outside of narrow parameters designed to protect the interests of men. While historically the exclusion of women has been based on biological facts, it can be argued that social and cultural ideas around gender roles and behaviour in society play a greater role. Ideology around gender is problematic and impacts on how we think about our selves and others, creating inequalities.
There's quite a bit of research out there which looks at how women in sport are portrayed by the media. You only need to flip through the back pages of a paper to see that women's sport tends to attract (a lot) less media attention, and the coverage is typically sexualised or puts emphasis on the athlete's personal life over their athletic achievements, which serves to emphasis ideologies about the role of women in sport, trivialising achievement. Women in sport are expected to abide by female appropriate behaviour - such as making sure they don't look like a troll when they've just finished a race! The media arguably erases any women who chooses to act in a way that society would construe as 'unfeminine', which makes statements such as Phoebe's become acceptable as light hearted banter, even though they shouldn't be.
The relationship between women, sport and gender ideology is a complex one that merits further investigation. However, as a generation of women in sport we need to push back and advocate for choice. Comments like this shouldn't be accepted and articles need to be built around the freedom to choose what's right for you. Let's change the tone of the conversation, let's change sport for women.
Many thanks to Fleur for inspiring this post, and to all the UK Fitness Bloggers for getting involved and sharing their thoughts.