Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On Jockstraps and Bras: Gendered Language in Fitness Reviews

So remember when I (jokingly) wrote that one of the reasons I was enjoying getting more fit was because I knew it upped my chances of surviving the zombie apocalypse? Well, now I get to put it to the test! I'm signing up for a Zombie-themed 5k in October (just in time for Halloween). It's a 5k with an obstacle course and it includes running away from zombie volunteers who are trying to take away your flags (like in flag football; you get three of them). If you make it through the obstacles and the course with at least one flag left, you're a "survivor" and eligible for prizes. If not, you can still finish the race, but you're a "zombie."

It sounds fun, and it sounds motivating because it's going to challenge me to get in shape in new ways. I know that I need to work on upper body strength in order to be prepared for the obstacle course and that I need to work on running faster.

All that to say that I need some new fitness gear. I've started working out several times a week, and the clothes that I'm using are mostly cheap and not holding up all that well. In particular, I want to make sure that I have some good sports bras.

So I, of course, turned to the internet, which holds all the answers about everything, you know.

Except "How to catch up on my laundry." I'm disappointed in you, internet. 

If You "Must" Buy a Black Bra--Geez, What's Wrong With You?

While searching for "best bras for running" one of the first sites I came to was this article from Runner's World. I scrolled to the bras in my size, and was surprised by some of the descriptions.

There's the Luluemon Athletic Ta Ta Tamer (I'm not making that up). Its selling points? It "comes in flashy colors—turquoise, melon, deep purple, or, if you must, black—and features removable pads that help add shape." The primary focus is on how it "nicely keeps the boob form" while you are doing intense exercise. In other words, this is all about how you look while working out, not about how you feel. There's no mention of support, comfort, anti-chafing features.

Similarly, the Nike Swift U-Back is described as "stylish" and comes in "dark purple, royal blue, mango, and three more subdued colors." There is a quote from a user who mentions the broad straps and adjustability, but the focus of the review is--again--on appearance.

There are some other bras reviewed that have more focus on utility, but I found the tone of this article disappointing for a site that's supposed to be about fitness. I care much less about how "cute" a piece of underwear is then how well it's going to function during a workout.

The Manliest Drawers Of All 

Curious, I wanted to see how Runner's World talked about men's clothes to see if it had the same focus on appearance. While looking for articles to compare it to, I came across this one about underwear for runners. It includes women's and men's reviews, so I can have a direct comparison of the language in the same place.

The first thing I noticed was the way the language of the reviewers was described. For all three types of underwear reviewed by men, the reviewers merely "said" whatever it was they said. For the women, however, one reviewer "gushed" and another reviewer "loved."

Women--we just get so much more excited about our undies.

All of the reviews in this article did a much better job of focusing on utility than the sports bra one did, but the women's reviews did go out of their way to point out the drawbacks of visible panty lines and whether a particular pair allowed the reviewer to still feel "feminine." I saw no such discussion of the perceived masculinity of the men's briefs.

One Size Fits All?
But they're just so . . . manly!
Overall, the men's reviews had fewer subtle mentions of attractiveness and more focus on function. I don't think it's any coincidence that women often report feeling intimidated by male-dominated weight rooms. Men's exposure to fitness advice (while still having an aesthetic dimension) includes a much more nuanced inclusion of power, agility, and strength. If women are being told--even in spaces that are supposed to be dedicated to fitness--that our path to fitness must be lined with colorful bras and cute, feminine underwear, we're ultimately being told that fitness is all about appearance.

But I doubt the zombies give you a pass for looking nice.

Photo credits: tamburix,RogueSun Media


  1. (1) It really says something about me that the notion of a race in which you are chased by fake zombies who capture your flag -- that sounds terrifying to me.

    (2) Do tell when you find some good running equipment, because I really need to get back into exercising and I don't think I can stomach bra hunting.

  2. If you find a good sports bra let me know. I'm rather chesty and I have never found a sports bra that gave any kind of support. I get far more support from my Fredrick's and Victoria's Secret's bras, but I hate getting sweaty in those.

  3. For tips on how to get rid of the laundry mountain the place is flylady.net. ;-) Horrendous looking site, but she knows how to keep her laundry in check. B-)

    I think I have to go and make the same comparison on some Swedish sites. If I find anything interesting I will report. :-)

    1. I'll check out fly lady. I need all the help I can get! Let me know what you see when you compare the Swedish reviews. I'd love to know if it's similar or not.

  4. Now, to be fair, if I ever did find an effective sports bra (where "effective" = adequate motion control minus chafing or stabbing from the bra itself), I would totally "gush" about it.

    Alas, I am still waiting for that to happen.

    1. Haha. Yeah, that might be worth "gushing" over!

  5. I wear a 42 DD and when these came in they are a little small. I think a 44 would have been better. They are soft and I am sure as I lose weight they will be even better. For for those who buy Playtex 18 hour bras please get a size larger around. Other than that, it is great.