By Alison Conway
The French author Yann Moix made waves when, in a recent interview with Marie Claire, he announced his sexual preference for young women. “The body of a 25-year-old woman is extraordinary,” he said, “The body of a woman of 50 is not extraordinary at all.” The response was swift and ferocious. French women, notable for their public celebration of the sexual pleasures they continue to enjoy as they get older, sent witty and biting responses to Moix’s Twitter account. He was reduced to begging women to stop sending him pictures of their asses and breasts.
The picture I would send along, if I could find a punchline that would translate well into French, is a photo of me running. These days when I find myself listening to a jerk, I want to say, “Let’s take it outside and put on our sneakers.” This fantasy has a pre-history. Once, a long time ago, my neighour responded to her son’s teasing of his sister by having the children race around the block. The younger sister won, handily, and her brother stopped teasing her. Twenty years later, upon hearing I’d won my age group in a triathlon, my friend’s son asked how it felt to win the “old lady” category. I looked forward to running with him in a half marathon a couple of months later, where I made sure I beat him.
It seems particularly important to hold on to this fantasy as I pace myself through my fifties. Now is the time when, apparently, I become invisible. Now is the time when no one on the street will catch my eye or give me the stare from across the bar. I might as well be a house plant at the dinner party. Funny thing is, I don’t feel like a house plant. More like the fire blazing in the hearth.
When I line up for a race, I am jumping out of my skin with excitement. The rush of adrenaline has a lot to do with it, of course, but there’s a more intimate moment occurring, as well. When I stand at a start line after training for weeks or months, I am finishing something I have started, a journey filled with good days and bad days, self-doubt and hope. I have made myself vulnerable, opened myself up to my body’s needs and pleasures, and I have listened. I’m not sad about my desires, as Moix confessed he is about his. I take delight in them and understand that I am where I need to be, at the right time, whatever the outcome of that particular race on that particular day.
I know that for some people, running is about mastery, about disciplining the body, turning it into a tool for achieving some kind of cultural ideal of performance or appearance. But for many of us, I’m convinced, it’s more like good sex than a plunge into the cold pool. I see the pleasure in the bodies of my running friends, the sweaty grins and ferocious appetites. I love the way runners carry themselves, their strong legs eating the ground they cover. Sexy!
Recently I finished a half marathon, then circled back to the finish line to cheer for a friend. There, I watched younger men raising their arms in victory as they crossed. And I was happy for them! But I was also happy to think that, at 54, I had beaten them. It wasn’t a point I needed to make to anyone in particular. It is a point that needs to be made more generally: The body of a woman of 50 is extraordinary. It has covered so many miles, and it knows so much. It has lived in the crosshairs of cultures that want to demean and control it. Nevertheless, it remains a force to be reckoned with.
“I’m a bit too dangerous,” sings Lion Babe, “treat me like fire.” Yann Moix, when you’re ready to lace up, I’ll meet you at the start line.
Alison Conway teaches English, and Gender & Women’s Studies, at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. She spends her free time running the beautiful hills of Kelowna, BC.