beauty · femalestrength · feminism · soccer · stereotypes

Sweat First, Glow Later

I was talking to a woman the other day about that wonderful feeling of working up a good sweat on a run, when she interrupted me to say, “You mean glow, not sweat.” Aack. I remember the expression from growing up. Horses sweat.Men perspire. But women merely glow. And no, I absolutely did not mean glow when I said sweat. I didn’t even mean perspire. 

Woman’s face illuminated in glowing sparkles.
H Heyerlein on Unsplash

In fact, I really, really meant sweat. The idea that women should only glow obstructs our progress, keeps us docile, fragile and dependent, and interferes with our strength. Can you tell I hate that expression? Even if it’s used as a euphemism, I don’t like what it implies. 

Back in the days when I practiced law, I would often go to the gym at lunch (in the same building as my office, because they liked to keep us close). I didn’t have a lot of time, so I’d make the most of the Stairmaster (my fave workout then) and arrive back at the office still red in the face. My office mate was perplexed. Why did I want to get so overheated? Answer—I loved the feeling. Secondary answer—I was working in a shark tank and needed an outlet for the pressure. Fast forward more than twenty-five years, I still love to sweat, even though I’ve bailed out of the shark tank. I love giving everything I’ve got, leaving it all on the road. To reach for an ambitious goal, to try as hard as we can, to go for it; that kind of effort requires sweat, metaphorical for sure and very possibly actual salty drops on our skin. The notion that women should only glow (which we know was meant not just actually, but also metaphorically) is offensive. The fact that science says women sweat less than men is a biological fact, not a matter of Victorian etiquette.

What happens if we try so hard that we break a sweat? What are the purveyors of that expression scared of? Our potential? Our strength? That expression (I will not repeat it) contains an implicit criticism of female effort as unladylike (you can imagine how much I love that word, too). The expression says to women, “You should not have ambition, or if you do, you must go about achieving your dream in a seemingly effortless fashion.” Ambition is not effortless. Why would we even want it to be? Then we wouldn’t have the satisfaction of achievement; the desire to spread our arms in a glorious moment of woohoo. 

Megan Rapinoe with arms outspread in the World Cup stadium

Speaking of which, I’ve noticed multiple pictures of US soccer star Megan Rapinoewith arms outspread in a defiantly powerful pose. I realized that I was judging her as a little arrogant with that pose and even though you didn’t know that until I told you just now, I’m going to take back that thought. Women don’t get as physically expressive about their personal victories as their male counterparts. Look at how Brandi Chastain was pilloried in 1999 for taking her shirt off in a moment of exultation when she scored the penalty kick to win the World Cup. She’s framed that sports bra and hung it on her wall. As I write this, the US team has won their semi-final game and is slated to play in the final the day after this piece publishes. Rapinoe didn’t play the game, because of a hamstring injury. I hope she plays on Sunday and that she has cause to spread her arms wide with triumph.

Let’s all spread our arms just a little more often, even and especially if we’re wearing a sweaty sports bra. Chances are we will be glowing for the rest of the day!

9 thoughts on “Sweat First, Glow Later

  1. Occasionally I glow – usually after I’ve done something I’m proud of, like scoring a point in ultimate frisbee or doing work that receives praise. When I’m actually exercising, especially if it’s hot outside or I’m working hard, I get pretty obviously sweaty. Sometimes I even drip! Although I don’t always love my sweat, I do appreciate that my body is trying its best to keep me cool.

    I’ve read before that fit people sweat sooner and more than less fit people at a similar exertion level. I like to think (perhaps a little bit optimistically) that part of why I sweat so much is because I exercise a fair amount! 🙂

    1. N=1, but I find the bit about sweating sooner and more to be true. As I have gotten fitter, I also find more and sooner to be true in my non-active life. I haven’t ever glowed, though. Just sweat. Less than my male partner, but still a heck of a lot. I’ve learned to tolerate it more, too.

      Mina – all of this post had me nodding my head. I’m done with the shrinking and diminishing. I’m here to take up space.

      1. Yes! Let’s take up space!! (My last reply was for emily and accidentally posted as a reply to you. Apologies.

    2. Exactly! Our bodies are being efficient when we sweat!! Mine sometimes feels overly efficient, given the amount I sweat 😅 Plus I like that the laughing emoji is as close as we get to a happy sweating emoji.

    3. Exactly! Our bodies are being efficient when we sweat!! Mine sometimes feels overly efficient, given the amount I sweat 😅 Plus I like that the laughing emoji is as close as we get to a happy sweating emoji. And glowing is for accomplishment!!

  2. Yes. This is so true! Everything that men and women are taught from a very early age says that men are supposed to be powerful, take up space, confident, etc, etc, etc, while women are told to be feminine, small, and dainty, and to take up as little space as possible. This is about making men bigger than they are and more important, and women smaller and less important–and it’s disgusting.

    I went on a day trip to Catalina Island yesterday, which is about an hour off the coast of Long Beach, CA. On the ferry ride back, it was a full boat, so I was stuck sitting next to a guy. You all know the whole manspreading? That’s exactly what he did, invading my space with his legs and his elbows.

    The expectation for a woman in that situation is to shift over and make themselves as small as possible. I didn’t–not this time. Instead, I sat the way I wanted to and waited to see how he would react. He didn’t really. Did it mean that we bumped elbows a few times? Yes. Did it mean that our legs ended up touching? A little, but to me, I wasn’t going to back down. My personal space is my personal space. Why should I give that up, just because he’s a man, and I’m a woman?

    Some people probably thought I was being rude, but I think that it’s sad that there’s such a double standard.

    1. I am so happy to read that you too up some more space in the face of manspreading! You weren’t rude, you were not backing down, as you said. Big difference. Unfortunately, we are counseled to back down so often, that it feels like women’s politeness depends on us ceding to others. Sigh.

      1. Yes, that is how I feel. Women are expected to be submissive, and any woman who does not is basically a bitch. Having a direct and independent personality has gotten me into a lot of trouble in a world where women are not expected to to be either of those things. And I am not as direct and independent as I feel I should be. I, too, am affected by the stereotypes, and so in short, it is very hard–not just in facing up to others stereotypes, but even mine own that are so ingrained. Thank you for your reply. It helps to have other women in solidarity with these things.

      2. I so hear you! And agree. I struggle at times with a feeling that I’ve submitted. Though more often I’m considered “too loud” and “too opinionated”.

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