Play hard, look cute!

That was the actual piece of advertising copy on a sports bra I almost tried on. Hot pink and very pretty. I wasn’t put off by the slogan, the hot pink,  or by the pretty. I passed on it because it was padded and I’m no fan of padded sports bras. But I am curious about the role looking good while working out plays in the lives of girls and women.

Think about my yoga pants post. A number of people responded to my criticisms of Lululemon’s 100 dollar yoga pants by noting how good they looked wearing them and how looking good inspired them to work harder. To be fair, they also noted that they were extremely durable and worked well.  As if “they make your ass look great!” is a knock down argument. (Okay, maybe it is.)

Or have a boo at this article on Huffington Post, Cute Workout Clothes Are The Key To Getting You Off The Couch And To The Gym, which is basically just a before and after slide show of gym-goers and other exercisers with new and improved workout attire. “Ditch that ratty tshirt and run in this instead!” You get the idea.

“Exercise can be a chore. Like laundry, it’s another thing on the to-do list that we’d rather not do, but we kinda have to. In an effort to make working out a little less painful (on the eyes, at least), we searched for the cutest workout clothes out there.”

So looking good clearly matters to all sorts of different people, with different definitions of good.

I’m not immune to this. I have hot  pink running shoes, and I could have bought black. I smile when I put the pink shoes on and I actually like the way I look in work out gear, especially my cycling clothes. I have a serious soft spot for fun cycling clothes. I don’t own the bike jerseys pictured here but I’ve admired them from afar. It’s easy for me to workout without make up since that’s my usual state of affairs, except for lipstick which comes with me everywhere, even on very long bike rides.

In the comments on an earlier post, a reader asked why can’t girls and women have fun with our femininity?

And I agree. Playing with gender can be a lot of fun. Playing with one’s appearance can be a lot of fun. But for it to be fun, for me, it has to be optional.

Have fun with your appearance, sure. But it’s a bit of a double edged sword because looking good while working out raises the bar. Maybe this time it’s for fun but next time you’ll think you can’t go to the gym if your favourite outfit is in the wash or if you’re having a bad hair day.

What’s fun today too quickly becomes tomorrow’s necessary condition. If it’s obligatory, in my books, it’s rarely fun.

I started colouring my hair in the 80s, the era of cotton candy punk. I had pink, blue, purple streaks in my bleached blonde hair. And it was a blast. Until it became a chore and then I stopped.

I’d also like some spaces, some times and places, in my life, where I don’t have to worry about what I look like. A mirror free zone. Camping has long been that for me in an extended way but I like little mini-bursts of that throughout my week. And physical activity has been one of those places of refuge.

I just worry there is so much pressure on women to look good at all times that it quickly moves from fun to obligation.  A quick google search turns up, Look Hot While Working Out! (cosmo girl), The Secrets to Looking This Good While Working Out Cosmopolitan, NY Mag’s Stylish Gym Clothes to Get You Racing to Workout, a wikihow called How to Be Sexy While Playing Sports and even WebMD isn’t immune with Look Good While You Get Fit.

So if it’s fun and motivational, great. But if turns into one more place where you feel there’s a bar you need to meet before getting out the door is acceptable, then maybe it’s time to pay attention to athletic values rather than aesthetic ones.

So dress cute if that’s your thing. Me, I’m doing my bit to keep the bar low. I’ll be be bringing standards down in my grey tank and whatever capris or shorts were on the top of the clean pile. I don’t wear make up or jewelry to the gym.You can thank me later!

It’s a big tent and there’s room for all of us.

And hey, here’s Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. Doesn’t look like she’s wearing make up or stylish athletic fashion either!

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