Out There: Girly Girls

To female runners, sometimes being properly coiffed means having a ponytail — a sweaty ponytail. Illustration: N.C. Winters

Can women run and still be considered “real women?”

“So what can I do for you today?”

The young hairdresser snapped a black cape around my neck and ran her fingers through my hair. Fresh out of beauty school, she was enthusiastic to wield her impressive arsenal of shears and brushes.

I almost felt guilty as I muttered my request: “Just take a few inches off the bottom.” I smiled sheepishly. “My ponytail is starting to annoy me when I run.”

“How ’bout some layers?” she asked excitedly, eager to put her skills to use. I wrinkled my nose. “Bangs?” I shook my head. “Highlights?” My eyes widened in fear. What’s the point of such hair trickery? My hair is tied in a ponytail for six and a half days a week.

“You’re running around and sweating all the time,” she said with a sigh. “Don’t you want to feel feminine? Sexy, even?”

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According to most women’s magazines, I should want this. I should care about smoky eyeshadow and the perfect push-up bra to make men say, “Wow!” I should know the best spa in my town and schedule regular pedicures and massages for relaxation.

But I’d rather find a bra to keep me from saying, “Ow!” during a half marathon. Pedicures are too much time (and money) spent apologizing profusely for my calloused heels and black toenails. I once cut a massage short because the therapist wasn’t hurting me enough — I want the sharpest elbows in the massage studio, and I want them wedged in my IT band until I cry, please and thank you.

My 30-year-old version of dress-up is exactly like playtime when I was 6 — fun, awkward, and it ends with my cleaning up the mess I’ve made in the bathroom. Just like my younger days, when I’d stand on tiptoes to apply my mom’s lipstick in the mirror, I have no clue what I’m doing. Hand me an eyelash curler, and I’ll shrug. I’m much more comfortable with a foam roller.

And you know what? I feel feminine. Sexy, even.

Have you watched a woman run? Have you seen her smile when she crosses the finish line? Have you heard her laugh when she realizes she set a PR?

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We are women. We run. We wear our hair in ponytails. We knock out a quick 6-miler, eat a few cookies and still fit in our skinny jeans. We are comfortable in our own skin. We relish the grit of competition and the serenity of a trail all to ourselves. We cheer on our fellow racers, even when we’re passing them. We feel bulletproof after a speed workout. We sweat, and we look damn good doing it.

The idea that painted toes and highlighted coifs makes for a “real woman” seems ridiculous to me. Perhaps it’s time for a new ideal of femininity.

I’d like to propose the sweaty ponytail.

This column first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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