by Meghan Bruce
After a race, once the sweat stops, you’ve told some people how it went, you’ve found your official race results, you’ve uploaded it from your Garmin, there’s still one thing left to look forward to: the race photos. “Looking forward” isn’t exactly the terminology that is applied before seeing them for most people, more like “anticipating.” In my opinion, however, it’s fun to relive the race one more time, and see it as others might have on the sidelines. It’s also amusing to see exactly how ridiculous you might have looked in that final push to the finish, or the weird things you didn’t know you did on the start line or mid-race.
Race photos aren’t posed. They aren’t always pretty. We don’t always smile or wave, or even know a picture is being taken. Our clothes aren’t always lying the way we thought they were when we started the race, and our hair is never the way it was before it became soaked in sweat. The other night, I stumbled upon a gallery of professional photographs taken at the Perfect 10 I hadn’t known existed. I began looking through them all and it made me excited to see that more moments were captured from that day than I had thought! I shared a few finish photos of my friends with them, thinking they would be just as excited to see them too. Of course, I would not have shown them the photos if I didn’t think they were pretty good.
How I define pretty good: looking like you’re finishing strong, not making a ridiculous face (or, making a ridiculous face, if you’re the kind of person who would want to laugh at yourself). The outcome was surprising: one of the friends told me she was horrified by the photo, and went on to comment about the specifics that made her hate it so much. I was really surprised by this, since I didn’t think it was bad in the least, but apologized and tried to convince her she looked fine. Though, I understand how people have their issues with certain things and there’s no convincing that will make a difference. She went so far as to have the photographer take the photo down from the site.*
On my run today, this really got me thinking. Lauren Fleshman wrote a blog post last week that went viral (280+ comments!) called “Keeping it Real.” She addressed the issue of manipulating women’s body images in magazines and the like by putting a different spin on the common response (which is usually embrace your health/those people aren’t real/those people aren’t healthy/love your own body, etc.) and used herself as an example. Lauren recently had a baby, yet was on the runway with Oiselle during Fashion Week mere months later. She got loads of comments about how awesome she looked post-pregnancy. In her post, she talks about how she was flexing the entire time, and included candid photos in which she looks quite the opposite (aka, pretty average). Lauren is a pro runner whom thousands of female runners look up to. Even when your role models are professional runners, not supermodels, it is easy to get discouraged and compare your own body to theirs. Instead of, why doesn’t my face, or chest, or stomach look like that? it’s, if I looked like that, with more muscle here or less muscle or fat or whatever there, would I run faster? A lot of this mind chatter surfaces in runners when they look at race photos- and Oiselle’s Fashion Week photos, for that matter.
I remember reading a Runner’s World article years ago by Kristen Armstrong. She said that we are most beautiful when we’re doing what we love. As it applies to running photos, it isn’t exactly true. I can’t say I look better in a race photo taken at the finish line than I do when I’m posing, smiling, wearing makeup and my hair down. But it’s a different kind of beautiful, and it’s the one that makes the difference in the world. Think about it: often, running is a time when you are free from all the emphasis people put on appearance. There isn’t a question about how to wear your hair besides making sure it is out of your face. There isn’t a question about the clothes you are wearing as long as you’re comfortable moving and sweating in them. There isn’t a need to put on makeup if it’s not already on, because you’ll be moving past people you might see too quickly for them to notice much of your face. If you’re not feeling great that day – sluggish, bloated, swollen, whatever – everyone has their moments, even the best of the best – it doesn’t matter, you’re going for the run because you want to, and you know you’ll feel better as you go. There are still plenty of people sitting in traffic, or just generally noticing you run by, who are jealous of you and the fact that you are running in that moment.
Race photos aren’t always “good.”
You’ll see ripples in your quads.
You’ll see stretch marks on your skin you didn’t even know existed.
You’ll see wrinkles on your face.
You’ll see squinting eyes.
Some things will look bigger than you thought. Some will look smaller than you thought. Some will look stranger than you thought.
Folks, this is the human body in motion. These things mean you are moving. To capture a body in motion for a fraction of a second is to freeze the tiny, mini-motions that make up the act that is running. Race photos, especially those taken in the final stretch when you don’t see a photographer at all, are some of the most uniquely “beautiful” images possible: they capture the fierce passion, drive and determination that is central to what it means to identify as a runner. Don’t worry about if “that’s what you really look like.” Of course you don’t have to think that; we don’t classify what we look like as that split second during a period of extreme exertion. But understand that each time you share your race photos with others, post them for others to see, buy prints, include them in your blog, even just look at them and not say anything bad about yourself in your head, you are contributing a little dose of real to a world contaminated with fake. I’m not just referring to airbrushing, photo-shopping, and unrealistic body images, but also to the times we hide our passion, what makes us truly happy. It doesn’t matter if you run fast or run slow. It doesn’t matter what your race photo looks like. It is a beautiful photo because it is a snapshot of you, defying the norm: being yourself and loving it, regardless of what it looks like.
*Note: This runner whom I speak of (who may even be reading…) is entitled to her own opinion about her race photos and has every right to ask for their removal. I think no differently of her as a result. The discussion merely gave me the idea to write this post addressing the issue in general.