beauty · clothing · fashion · racism · sexism · stereotypes

Jewelry and Exercise

Do you wear jewelry when you exercise? If do, how much, and why?

This McGill wikipedia entry describes that jewelry has been used for

  • Currency, a display of wealth, and a way to store things,
  • Making clothing functional (such as jeweled clasps, pins, and buckles)
  • Symbolism (to show membership, status, political affiliation, or relationships)
  • Protection (in the form of amulets and magical wards), and
  • Artistic display (personal style, fashion, etc.)

I normally wear at least some jewelry for most of these reasons. When I exercise, I wear my fitness tracker ring (to “store” data?) and my wedding ring when I want to reduce the likelihood of being approached (a magical “protection” amulet?).

An anklet while running? Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio Copy

I’ve noticed that my (semi-) regular exercise has had an impact on the jewelry I wear these days: thin, flat, light rings and an equally thin, light, and short necklace that I don’t have to remove. However, I do replace big earrings with small sleeper hoops when I bike or curl or whatever. I don’t normally wear bracelets or anklets, and I have no other piercings (other than a tongue ring, which stays in).

You may have a different approach–you don’t wear jewelry of any kind, or you take take off some or all jewelry then put it back on after exercising. And, of course, it depends on the sport! But there aren’t any sporty people I know who leave on all their regular day-to-day jewelry on while exercising.

I wear some jewelry when I exercise because I like the jewelry I have and I lose what take it off. Also, the jewelry I wear allows me to exercise unimpeded. If I’m honest, I might also keep jewelry because I think it communicates that I am a recreational athlete.

My assumptions about exercise and jewelry

“A quick shot after getting wrapped for the boxing gloves, before the ring comes off and the gloves go on.” Photo by Sarah Cervantes on Unsplash

Somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that exercise and jewelry do not go together, that the more competitive the athlete the less jewelry they wear. Where did this idea come from? Practically speaking, jewelry can hinder performance and even increase injury risk. But I have also assumed that “serious” athletes care more about performance than appearance.

I admit to holding the converse assumption as well: the more jewelry, the more the exerciser cares about appearances. For sale these days is a bevy of “exercise jewelry” that is advertised as waterproof, sweatproof, and non-tarnishing. But do serious exercisers really go for these? The workout jewelry and charms on Etsy are cute but not all practical for the exercise they represent.

While I do not want to police what people wear, my immediate thought about the “strong AND pretty” message of workout jewelry is that it reflects what Andi Zeisler (2016) describes as “marketplace feminism”–reducing social movements and personal empowerment to beauty and fashion items for purchase.

Challenging my assumptions

Then, recently I saw a web news article whose accompanying image made me question these above preconceptions.

I was struck by the size and amount of jewelry worn by track and field athlete Sha’Carri Richardson in recent photos on the Yahoo news site. Richardson is photographed while competing at the 2022 USATF outdoor Championships at Hayward Field wearing multiple hoop earrings, nose rings, a necklace, a bracelet, and a belly piercing with a full chain (not to mention flowing hair, false eyelashes, and long fake nails). She did not qualify at that event, but later at a different international event, wearing similar jewelry she did qualify.

Photos are of Sha’Carri Richardson racing in June 2021 by jenaragon94, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Cropped photo of Richardson.

Recently, jewelry wearing, jewelry design, and jewelry store ownership have all gained attention for their historical and cultural meaning and significance for African North Americans. I do not claim to know why Richardson wears what she wears, but I imagine her exercise “look” might go beyond personal beauty and fashion choices to deeper personal and cultural symbolism. A recent article on Serena Williams mentions her wearing Love earrings in her very last tennis match as a tribute to the game, and braids with beads she wore early in her career to honour African cultural traditions.

One of the only fitness activities that stereotypically show athletes with jewelry-like “accessories” in North America: yoga practice. But appropriating prayer beads is for another post. Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash

Perhaps Richardson, Williams, and other non-white athletes wear their jewelry styles precisely to challenge dominant white-centric stereotypes of competitive athletes as de-jewelled and unadorned. Their accessories lead me, us to realize there is in fact a whole world full of athletes engaging in various types of sports and exercise while wearing jewelry and other body adornments.

Old habits, but some new thinking

I probably won’t change my own minimal jewelry-wearing habits while I exercise. But, this reflection has given more insight into what drives my current jewelry-wearing choices. Some of it is fashion, but mostly it is simplicity and convenience.

It has also invited me to confront the narrow range of imagery that reinforce what is “normal” for athletes to wear (or not wear) when it comes to jewelry. I’ll think twice about my ideas about the relationship between jewelry and exercise. Some competitive athletes wear jewelry for its social and political meaning, not (or not only) to make a fashion statement.

5 thoughts on “Jewelry and Exercise

  1. I used to run with earrings and rings no problem but riding my bike I can’t. Bugs me too much. And then in martial arts all jewelry had to be removed before going on the mat. Like you I lose jewelry and so I started opting for ink instead.

  2. Another way to “adorn” that can be personally and culturally symbolic, yet not impede exercise! Great alternative, Sam!

  3. I recently added 5 Rhythms dance into my workout schedule. And though I normally only wear my stud earrings to workout, I realized that I can wear my rings and bracelets. And—I want to. The adornment and amulet quality of the jewelry, for me, feels empowering for dancing. Tonight is my first time to try this new possibility.

  4. It really depends on the activity. I keep my small hoop earrings in all the time, but when I took aerial classes (hoop, silks and rope) all rings, watches, bracelets, anklets etc., had to be removed for safety reasons.

    When I lift weights, I take off my rings to get a better grip and also to avoid damaging my rings.

  5. This is an interesting one. I’m a jewelry minimalist. 3 rings and 1 necklace is all I wear daily. If doing yoga, necklace comes off. If gymnastics, necklace and all rings come off. CrossFit, necklace and rings are off.

    What I find interesting is people who have a qalo ring (or silicone equivalent). These are just rubber rings, a substitute for a wedding band or the actual band, that people wear. These can be worn in fitness contexts, but also in job contexts. But for folks who have say a metal wedding band, then swap for a qalo in the gym, and then switch back, what does that say about where you work out and the people you work out with (like wearing a qalo at a globo gym so you don’t have to waste your time deflecting getting hit on).

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