I took the plunge to ditch the top and embrace the sports-bra squad quite early on in my running career. It was (rarely for the great British summer) absolutely boiling, and I was also pretty unfit meaning I turned into a giant sweat-ridden beetroot after about two minutes. Having the breeze against my skin (as opposed to a sticky vest) added to the sense of freedom running was beginning to give me, and it helped me manage temperature. I was usually running in deserted farmer’s fields and rarely met other people, so my own comfort outweighed any self-consciousness, and it just wasn’t something I thought too much about.
Since then I have moved house and regularly run in very populated areas, which on hot sunny days are bustling with families, dogs, cyclists and other runners. Which has made me think a little bit more about my summer running attire. I wonder what people think of me as I run past: are they judgemental of my body, or do they think yes, good for her – This Girl Can! Do other women look at me and think I’m not thin or athletic enough? Does anyone find it inappropriate, or worse, offensive? I wonder about all these things as I run along. At least all this wondering takes my mind off the hard slog of running in the stifling heat.
I wanted to get a sense of other people’s perceptions, so I posted a question in last week’s UKRunChat on Twitter:
Nobody came out to declare they felt it was offensive attire, although this may have been for fear of Twitter Attack. However, there were a few that felt it ‘unnecessary’, as wearing a vest was really not that hard. I’m not sure if that was a thinly veiled vote for ‘inappropriate’, and I don’t completely disagree, but if running in a sports bra makes you feel comfortable, why not? Sports bras or small crop tops are the standard uniform of professional female runners, so I wonder why is it so different for amateurs like us: is the difference our running ability, or is it, more likely, our bodies. Professional women runners are usually thin and toned with straight and (obviously) athletic figures. Maybe this is somehow less sexualised than another woman with a curvier figure and more obvious hips and breasts running in exactly the same clothes. Is that why it is more socially acceptable?
Either way, the Twitter responses seemed to centre almost entirely on body-image, with the vast majority of women saying they just did not feel confident enough to run in their sports-bras. Sometimes this was because of unwanted weight, other ladies didn’t feel they were athletic enough in some way. I was expecting this of course, but I didn’t anticipate quite how widespread it would be, and this made me feel really sad. I thought a few people would be put off running in such skimpy sportswear in case they attracted unwanted attention. But it seemed most women were so worried about not being attractive enough in some way, that it hadn’t even occurred to them to worry that other people might think the complete opposite!
I am not a particularly confident person, particularly in respect to my appearance; I would never, ever consider wearing a bra crop-top out in normal life for instance. But when I run, I feel completely different: I feel strong, both mentally and physically, and immensely proud of what my body can achieve. Running in my sports bra helps my body feel connected to what I’m doing – I can feel the wind rushing against my stomach, and the sun on my back. I feel lighter and more free.
Of course, not everyone has any desire at all to run in a sports bra, but if you do and for some reason feel that you can’t, then this is my message to you:
If you run, you are a runner. Your body is amazing, and it is ok to be proud of it. You should not feel ashamed of yourself in any way.
A slight addition: Since posting this article, I’ve received a few negative comments on social media – particularly commenting on the fact that the ‘girl in the photos’ is slim and athletic anyway, and implying that therefore the message of this article is somehow less worthwhile. That girl in the photos is me, it isn’t some random person. That girl has struggled with body confidence for most of her life, particularly weight-related. Other people’s perceptions of your body don’t always match your own. I guess this article might be more powerful if I was larger, with more jiggly bits and a bigger bust- maybe it would make more of an impact. But I don’t hope that my size doesn’t take anything away from my message.