Thursday, March 27, 2014

Of Olympic Sweaters , Tutus, and Running

So while the first 2 blogs back were written with energetic new year enthusiasm, this one was more like pushing an air conditioner up 3 flights of stairs. You know you have to, but oh, it is so heavy. This has been written for more than 7 weeks…but today I needed to revise and publish in light of Self Magazine mocking a brain cancer survivor in progress for running in a tutu, placing tutu wearers on a “BS Meter” as perpetrators of a “lame fad” .   Yes. I needed to revise & publish today.

Did you see the official US Olympic opening ceremony uniforms? Way back in February...did you see them?

They are all the greatest kitschy moments of early 80s nouveau country patriotic chic rolled up into one Flagtastic knit celebration of a sweater.  If they had a faux Amish child or a goose with a slate blue bonnet, they would be an absolute time capsule.

They are awfully awesome.
Everytime I think about them, I chuckle.

And you know, as much as I chuckle about them, even now, nearly 2 months after the opening ceremonies, I see Ralph Lauren might be a genius.  As every other country came in to the Sochi arena in variations on svelte athletic clothing ala a Nike showroom, the US contingent came bounding in with jubilant energy, making a Great Entrance in that Fandango of Flagtastic Fabulosity.  There was NO mistaking who the US athletes were.

Admittedly, I kind of like weird clothing. For someone who wears black yoga pants and a plain fleece of some sort most of the time (or conservative and serious teacher clothes), this might seem improbable. But I find funny clothes weirdly empowering.

When I ran my first half marathon (and second and third), I had to wear the argyle skirt, and a blingtastic headband. And armwarmers that say “If Found On Ground, Please Drag Across Finish Line” .  
I might not be fast, but my clothes are FESTIVE.  Same thing for the Turkey Trot this year, I wore a Turkey on my head. Santa 5K? A bedazzled t-shirt and a Santa hat.  Had to do a last minute number at our Coffeehouse last year? I pulled out an Uncle Sam hat and I was good to go.

And you know, these silly outfits make people happy, which is contagious. Happy strangers yelling, “HEY, great skirt!” as you shuffle by, or “Love the turkey!” as you sip from a plastic cup at a water station…well, it just makes me smile (and in the case of running, forget just how unpleasant running often is).

In hindsight, I think Ralph Lauren secretly knows this Power of the Somewhat Amusing Outfit. Make your competitors laugh so hard that you get a head start? ;)  Of course, when the Amusing Outfit is used to represent your country, and worn by like, 400 athletes next to you,  that makes a STATEMENT, but…those sweaters (and their matching hats) are so awfully awesome.  I am REALLY hoping one ends up on clearance somewhere. $595 is just too much.

There is something very freeing and empowering about Committing to Silly Outfits.

I have only just started to be open to this kind of commitment in real life.  Ok, so a LONG time ago I had an embroidered Alice in Wonderland Disney shirt I wore a lot .  And I did wear a paper American flag in my jacket lapel for years. And ok, so I wear a Squid of Power named Sassafras and a small silver elephant named Rodney.  And I do love things with crazy patterns, when I’m not wearing variations on black.  I get you, Ralph!

And after seeing the brouhaha which erupted today after Self magazine mocked runner Monika Allen for wearing a tutu in the LA marathon…  (read the story here)I am realizing more why silly clothes matter.

Self has kind of apologized. Ish. Mostly because Monika is a cancer survivor in progress, she ran that marathon in that “froufrou” (Self) tutu WHILE ON CHEMOTHERAPY. And she makes those tutus for Glam Runner, to raise money for Girls on the Run, a group dedicated to getting 8-13 year old girls out and running and making healthy choices.  The editors of Self (helped by the viral ire of facebook and the interwebs) have sort of realized that maybe they were jerks.

But they don’t seem to understand that their jerkiness goes WAY beyond the fact that this mighty lady in the Wonder Woman shirt and tutu is a cancer patient and works tirelessly for young women.  By snarkily commenting that the tutu wearing runners are part of some BS lame “fad”, the writers at Self place themselves firmly in the middle school shallow hierarchy of Cool As Defined by Someone’s Narrow Version of What You Should Wear, or how you should look, or how you need to present yourself to be able to participate fully in life.

THAT is what they should be apologizing for.

I just spent several days substituting in middle school.  Trust me, the shallow hierarchy of cool really should Stay in Middle School…as I beat a hasty retreat back to high school. Phew!

See, I’m a little sensitive because I carried my lowly place on the hierarchy of cool with me for a long, long time.  Let’s just say that a gangly, weird haired, glasses wearing, uber Caucasian, freckly gal who likes musical theater and sci fi didn’t quite have a place on the ladder, if you know what I mean.   And people were not afraid to let me know that I looked like a nerd. For years I let my insecurities about my appearance have way too much of a hold on my brain. 

For a long time those insecurities kept me from trying to run. When I did start running (as a 37 year old!), I ran on a field where no one would really see me….in long baggy capris and a big t-shirt, trying to camouflage my out of shape-ness.  It took a long time (and some helpful reading) for me to realize just by TRYING to run I am a runner. What I look like is irrelevant; on race day real runners (ie anyone at the start line!) don’t care. Nobody cares how you look! 


But  sometimes, occasionally, that lying beast of ugly rears its head again.

I’ve always had more clothing hang ups than your average telemarketer gets during an 8 hour shift.   
1.      Until I was WELL into my 20s I would not wear sleeveless shirts, because my arms were so white, and freakishly long.
2.      I wouldn’t wear flip flops or sandals because my toes were weird.
3.      No yellow, I look like a dead fish.
4.      I thought I was an extra large until I was about 25… clothing I bought as a freshman in college I wore just before giving birth to my first child.  (I’m not teeny, but XL was camouflage, plain and simple).
5.      EVERYTHING I wore had to match match match. Perfectly. Like, socks, underwear, pjs…perfect match, or I’d be really uncomfortable.
6.      Yes, I was insane. And I wonder why my kids are so OCD?

This all made SO MUCH SENSE back then. But really, it was just about fear, somehow. Control. Controlling how people saw me. Being invisible or something. Whatever. It’s ancient history.  But not so far off from what Self magazine implied in mocking women who wear tutus to run.  We need to squelch joy. Real athletes don’t wear tutus.  Lame. BS. Snarkysnarkfest.

Again, MY BS Meter is going crazy.  Get me a tutu, QUICK!!

I’m glad to say I got over the sleeveless thing, I’m uber-Caucasian, so what? And eventually the sandals thing (I remember my first pair of sandals, I was so nervous about wearing them, and they were fisherman style, my toes were still invisible).  Now flip flops are my friend ALL summer, and I LOVE sandals.  
I even bought a gold sweater last year. I still probably can’t wear true yellow super well, but I might try, why the heck not?  And I try to wear things in the size that fits, whatever that letter or number may be.  Insane-o-matchy? Done. It’s too much energy.  I consider a day a win if I remember to wear matching shoes. Like, shoes that Match Each Other.

one needs a feathered headband for chemo day (2013)
Funny, too, because my second born loves sequins, animal print, neon…all fashion that screams HERE I AM!!! I think some of this is due to her visual impairment (she can see this stuff), but some is because she has ZERO hang ups about clothes. She does a happy dance any time she finds an outrageous piece of clothing to wear.   I can only get her to try ANY athletic thing by promising blingtastic fashion.  Win!

I feel like Ralph Lauren would appreciate my G’s enthusiasm for color and pattern, even if he cringed a little at her penchant for neon.  She is always true to her own aesthetic, never caring a blip about what others think.  But based on Monika Allen’s experience, I know Self magazine would not approve of G’s ebullient style. And THAT is what they need to apologize for—for limiting women. For saying we win a space on the BS Meter for NOT meeting Self’s  narrow definition of what athletes are supposed to look like. 

Real runners know that it’s NOT what you look like…it’s what you DO that makes you a runner. One foot in front of the other…you  ARE a runner. Walk breaks? Still a runner. Cramps and have to stop? YOU ARE A RUNNER.   

Mile 9, finally heading back to Philly...Rock n Roll Half Marathon 2013.
And I never put up pictures of myself. But today, I am.
Note my festive skirt. And it does make me go faster, Self Magazine. Each year I've worn it
I've shaved 2 minutes off my time--and I'm not getting any younger. snapSNAP.

Your outfit does not make you an athlete. Heck, I wore track pants for years before I ever exercised. I felt very legit as I sat on my couch. J 

And really, running is one of the most inclusive sports out there. All you have to do is show up and move. Fast or slow. Just show up and try to keep moving. Nothing else matters.  You CAN do it. Shame on Self magazine for taking a moment of celebration and mocking it because it's not how the "cool" runners dress. Kudos to Ralph Lauren for celebrating the fun and humor and joy of athletic achievement. If the greatest athletes in our country can rock out in Flagitudinous Fashion, why the heck can’t we everyday women trying to run rock a tutu?

So I will be procuring a tutu for my next race (yes, I can’t help myself, I know I’ll sign up again), I will speak out in support of the Glam Runner ladies and their awesome efforts to help girls have a truly authentic healthy self, and I will keep looking for those Olympic sweaters & hats on clearance at TJ Maxx.   Heck,  I kind of hope I’m NEVER on the hierarchy of cool, if cool is defined as bland conformity.  Bring out the sparkles and the super hero t-shirts, and let’s run on!

**As a side note, the Tutu Wearing Guy we used to see in Philly tended to finish the race in 1:30.  If that's not legit, I don't know what is. So guys, you can wear tutus, too. :)

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