Dump the Dance Costumes on the Course

by kevbalance Comments (7) Articles


by Carolyn A. Smuts

 “All y’all here in California are so serious about running.  Nobody on this bus is smiling.” A few weeks ago, I ran a marathon in Ojai, California.  This particular course enjoys a reputation as a top-notch Boston Qualifier, the Boston Marathon being the Holy Grail of marathoning, of course. The nameless guy next to me on the bus went on to explain that he already qualified for Boston 2015 but flew to California from Oklahoma in hopes of bettering his qualifying time. Obviously, he takes the sport seriously.

As I rode to the start, I looked around and saw all the usual suspects—the woman wearing a trash bag for warmth, the gear-head guy with the newest top-of-the-line Garmin and trendiest shoes, and the barefoot guy with the hipster beard. This ain’t my first rodeo and I’ve learned most races around the country (and around the world, for that matter) boast the same characters, only names and the garish spandex change from one location to the next. Like it or not, most of us fall into one of these stereotypical categories.  One type of runner I did NOT spot amidst the sea of anxious racers was the tutu-wearer.

 Thank God.

Most races, especially ones that have open registration or goofy themes (no pun intended but I’m talking to you, Disney) attract another running stereotype—the runner in the tutu.  Invariably though, I find the tougher the race, the fewer the cutesy outfits.

 I love running. I think it’s fun.  I want others to think it’s fun.  So why do I care if people wear silly stuff at a race?

Let me clarify.  I really don’t care what anybody wears when they run, but deep down inside, I think all runners-marathoners and ultra-marathoners especially-are bad-asses.  The sport is synonymous with mental toughness and physical strength so why, for the love of God, do women feel the need to negate their bad-assness with a frilly dress?  To me, it’s the equivalent of saying “I’m a runner but I’m just a girl—don’t take me too seriously.”  It’s like a pre-made excuse for a sub-par performance.  Stop it!  Respect your training and respect yourself as an athlete.

courtesy of Carolyn Smuts

Controversy on this topic raged earlier this year when SELF magazine ran an article bemoaning tutus on the race course.  Unwittingly (and without permission) they included a photo of a cancer survivor captioned with a snarky remark about “froufrou skirts” not helping anyone run faster.

Turns out, the unwilling poster child in the photo was not only a cancer survivor, she also owns a company that makes tutus-she has a big stake in the pro-costume fight, a fact that was ignored by the thousands of people who raged against the magazine for somehow being “pro-cancer” in their anti-skirt stance.

Predictably, SELF backed down apologetically and the high-profile incident that curiously made national news garnered $8000 in donations for the hapless caption victim which, to her credit, she donated to charity. “Tutugate” (as she refers to the SELF article and its aftermath) proves there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Still, it seems foolish to make a moral issue of costume wearing.  Articles that appeared shortly after “Tutugate” implied the cancer survivor/running skirt mogul created her company solely as a charitable endeavor.  Nope; her own website belies this claim. She is a successful businesswoman with a skirt company.  The bottom line is, SELF was right—skirts don’t make you run faster and they are not bad people for saying so.

Here’s the thing-I’ve participated in tough runs with the best athletes, male and female, in the world. The races where people respect the sport and respect themselves there is nary a tutu in sight.  In fact, the more respect the event commands, the more functional the outfits.  Comfort is king and fashion is left to people who find their worth in what they wear, not what they do.

…The more respect the event commands, the more functional the outfits.

The highlight of my day is when I take off my makeup, trade my heels for my Asics, and run. Dropping my “cute” outfits in favor of running gear makes me think about my strength, my ability, and my endurance.  How can you focus on any aspect of a great run when a poof of scratchy nylon rubs just a teeny bit of flesh off every step you take?

Running is an opportunity to thumb your nose in the face of our appearance-driven world if only for a few hours. In almost every other aspect of life—career, relationships, social situations—there is understandable pressure to present yourself a certain way, but when you run, that should be the last thing on your mind. Results matter.

 To be clear, I respect ANY person who attempts any kind of run.  It is a tough sport—one of the toughest. (I DO love the running shirt slogan, “My sport is your sport’s punishment.”) Can’t we just give it the respect it is due?  Running changes people physically and emotionally; that is powerful!  Embrace it!  Love it!  And just say “no” to tulle. That stuff chafes.

Carolyn Smuts is a freelance writer and an age division-competitive runner. She lives in Huntington Beach, California.

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7 Responses to Dump the Dance Costumes on the Course

  1. Lisa says:

    Thank you! Could not agree more. Respect the the distance, respect yourself and the other runners participating.

  2. Joe Navas says:

    Oh, how I wish I could be a girl just to go find a race in Cali that current board member of the No Fun League, one Ms. Smuts, is running in, just so I could dress like the San Diego Chicken - with a Mr. Met head, no less - and drop her like a bag of seriously proper running gear for seriously proper runners.
    It’s not even so much for her cliched, uptight rant, but merely for her audacious gall in using the phrase, “this ain’t my first rodeo.” I imagine she also knows full well that it takes two to tango, and that she’d like everyone to please understand that while she was in fact born when the sun was shining, it was not on the day preceding the one we are currently enjoying.
    As a runner, I can let it all go like a breeze up a skort. But as a writer, it chafes my chuff to no end.

    • Ray says:

      Joe: Every rodeo needs a clown.

    • Cat Loring says:

      Hey Joe, why would you need to change your gender to come to California to dress up like a chicken to race Carolyn. Sounds like maybe you think only women can dress up on the race course. If a man did it, no one would take him seriously. Maybe that’s part of her point. I look forward to seeing you run in your chicken outfit against Carolyn in her serious runner attire and see how far you can really go sweating away in a costume with full Mr. Met head.

  3. Amanda W says:

    I was not going to write a response to this, but this was retweeted again and so this had to be done.

    First, Cat Loring, let’s not bring the male/female gender argument into this as the author has already made sweeping implications about women who want to wear tutus in a race (and yes, specifically WOMEN ie author states: “for the love of God, do *women* feel the need to negate their badass-ness with a frilly dress? To me, it’s the equivalent of saying “I’m a runner but I’m just a girl—don’t take me too seriously.” It’s like a pre-made excuse for a sub-par performance.”).

    More specifically the author implies, that we are trying to conform to a gender norm and societal expectations AND that our dress indicates the level of respect (or apparent lack thereof) we have for ourselves as athletes (Author: “Running is an opportunity to thumb your nose in the face of our appearance-driven world if only for a few hours” and author states “Stop it! Respect your training and respect yourself as an athlete.”).

    These implications that these runners have less self-respect and respect for the sport are not only false, but rude and elementary, demonstrating an extremely low awareness for gender identity and self expression — but most importantly the entire feminist movement.

    Women have fought and still do fight not to be made fun of for “dressing like boys,” or “dressing like men.” So now, here is this author making fun of women dressing “like girls” or wearing costumes by making statements that dress choice in a road race is indicative of not only self respect but performance outcome? (ie: I point to the author’s statement “results matter” as if these so called “costumes” actually affect results.)

    Let’s stop for a second to settle some things with our author here…she wants to know how anyone could concentrate on good running with a tutu scratching them. Well, if a tutu is NOT distracting you from running well, can I ask…what is? Even at age 40, your 10k through marathon times are only enough to boast you an “age division-competitive runner.” (http://storage.athlinks.com/racer/41430492)

    Let me take one more jab…”there is nary a tutu in site” (you know, when she’s in serious races with the best male and female athletes in the WORLD)…are you even close enough to what could be considered the front of the pack to see the woman in tutus crushing you? Because I know a lot of woman much faster than our author here…who rock a tutu when they run and have qualified for Boston several times (you know, Boston, the “Holy Grail of marathoning,” as described by our author).

    Okay, but let’s step away from just poking fun at everyone here because we could go at this all day. Every single argument in this article is not credible and worst is uneducated and ignorant. I understand it’s an OPINION piece, but it’s a deeply offensive opinion piece and the author does little to recognize gender dynamics at play here, especially over her fervent attack on the tutu and women.

    Her statement “I don’t care what people wear” (while writing an article berating what people wear and judging them for their clothing choice), is the equivalent of saying “I’m not racists - I have black friends, but let me just say this about black people” — If you have to clarify that “you don’t care,” then it probably means you are sounding like you care (or else you wouldn’t feel the need to clarify) and if you sound like you care, you probably care.

    Did you ever stop to consider that some women running in custom or tutus feel just as empowered crushing men and women alike in a skirt, as you do in your asics? Did you ever pause for a second and think perhaps she wants to run fast and adhere to her definition of beautiful while she does it just as running in whatever awesome running gear you run in does for you? Maybe, I feel just as free in my tutu as you do in your fancy pink Nike singlet? Maybe a costume makes me feel bold and different and allows me to do what I need to do out on the course -Or maybe it’s just that you’ve never experienced the functionality of a tutu over spandex shorts so all the men and women behind me don’t get a good look at my butt cheeks hanging out since women’s spandex really aren’t made for the “average” girl, but rather some ideal that Nike decided would be a good design.

    Let’s move on…”Women in tutus negate their badass-ness”? Not only is this not a word, but way to direct this specifically at women who dress a certain way. Again, am I the only person who sees this as a serious disregard for gender expression? This is utterly disgraceful and a serious example of the girl-on-girl crime that perpetuates women as a less privileged class in our society. Seriously, what is your issue? Are the 70+ mile weeks I (and my fellow tutu wearing friends) log not enough for you? I have to dress how you want me to as well for you to respect me as a female athlete and take me seriously?

    So let me get this straight…I have men (and women) in the work place telling me to wear tights, judging the make up I have on and how short my skirt is or how tight my dress pants are or how low cut my shirt is..and I have girls (or just you) out on the athletic fields (so to speak) judging me because I’m not dressing athletic enough for you?

    It’s time for a nice anecdotal break…in my first marathon, I ran 2:57 in a frilly wonderfully colored tutu and stopped only twice to drink two beers. If my dress and my fueling choices make me less “badass” consider this in regard to your logic…the stop watch does not discriminate against costumes or jerseys or skin color or gender or age and that’s the most badass and pure thing about running. When I crossed the line and when any men and women alike in costume and NOT in costume did so in front of me, they ran faster than me…they probably trained harder than me and they might even be more talented than me.

    I’m sorry to say this, but based on this opinion piece (not how she dresses) the author sounds a lot like a 2:55-3:XX marathon who takes themselves a little too seriously. Are you running in the Olympics? No. Okay…then get down here with the rest of us and enjoy this “party on the pavement.” It sounds like you could learn a lot from your costume clad brethren and sisters. Support your fellow runner but hey also, thanks for letting me know I had a built in excuse for that 2:57 - I didn’t realize I could go around telling people “Yeah, I mean, I ran 2:57, but I did it in a tutu and that’s like an auto excuse for sub-par performances bc jeezeee..serious chaffing the entire way…couldn’t concentrate on ANYTHING! Imagine if I had just dressed like a “normal” runner? Whatever that means. I’d probably have run in the oly trails!” (The last quote is meant to be read with extreme sarcasm and sense of self loathing).

    I’m going to close with the author’s own words “There is understandable pressure to present yourself a certain way, but when you run, that should be the last thing on your mind” — when I run that is the last thing on my mind…I don’t care to look like an “elite” or look like a “serious” runner and I don’t care if you think I’m cute in my frilly skirt…or to conform to some stereotype of “weird runner trash bag wearer” — I wear what I like and I expect others do the same..I wear what I think makes me look beautiful and athletic and sometimes that’s a frilly tutu and sometimes it’s my team’s jersey, but NEVER do I look to my right or look to my left and think “Look at this runner in the pink skirt, look at the runner in the Nike singlet, look at that runner with the fuel belt, look at that runner with the Garmin…they must be this or they must be that or they must not respect themselves.” Because then I have lowered myself to living in a constant mental state of our “appearance driven world,” judging others based on their clothing choice, their tattoos, their piercings, or their lack thereof of all those things, making gender assumptions and lifestyle assumptions based on an article of clothing.

    Respect the distance - not the dress.

  4. Steve says:

    Wow. Who would have thought a short opinion piece written in the snarky, conversational style someone might read in Runner’s World or Running magazine would provoke such rancor? Look, I understand this is the internet, but already we have seen both an angry offer to race in a chicken suit and a sprawling, 15 paragraph long diatribe complete with tenuous accusations of misogyny and racism. And it’s only been a few days.

    Whether you agree with the author’s main point (if you dress up silly for a race, you look, well, silly) or not, it’s important to remember she never once stated that wearing a tutu ever made anyone run slower. She merely said it never made anyone run faster.

    Did she say she cares if someone dresses up? No. Did she say they should be banned for doing so? No. Did she say she thought they looked ridiculous? Yes. Is she allowed to think this? Apparently not.

    I say beware the open minded that only offer what they turn away.

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