Women's Athletic Catalogs Meet Reality

I posted a Facebook status update a few weeks ago that described a certain athletic shoe company’s latest commercial for women’s running shoes. It features an uber perky, rosy cheeked, clothes peeling, stripping supermodel joyfully running into the shower, presumably after long, hard run. She is so happily oblivious that she gets in the shower with her running shoes still on. Geez, I hate that! You know when you skip into the shower after your run and literally forget you are wearing shoes?  What a workout buzz kill.  Anywho, missing from this woman…errr, girl really, are any traces of an actual run; no sweat beads, no sweat stains, not a wildly out of place strand of hair to be seen stuck to her porcelain face. And trust me, I have seen this thing frame by frame by frame. By. FRAME.  All  courtesy of a jaw dropping 16 year old boy and his father, who have stood frozen in front of all of her 55 inch hi-def glory, remote control in hand…play, pause, play, pause, play, pause. Good GAWD already! Yes, it’s a half-naked woman!  Move on.  But seriously, I come in the house all the time from a run looking JUST. LIKE. THAT. Ok, well, in the Saucony commercial slash dream sequence playing in my head, then, hell yea!,  I look just like that. AIso in my dream,  right before my morning run,  I took an old wooden pallet and turned it into a kid’s play deck, I baked a 7 layer cake using eggs I foraged from my chicken coop, I changed the oil in my car, and I canned some pickles. All by 7 a.m. Yep, in my Saucony dream I am also totally kicking some mother runner sustainable living ASS. In real life, not so much. And all the other mother runners I know? The ones I run with, have done quick 5Ks and grueling marathons with? Hey newsflash Madison Avenue, we are REAL. As in, not airbrushed.  We have real bodies.  And guess what? Now pay real close attention here athletic shoe and apparel marketers-  we are moms and we buy LOTS of things.  We pretty much buy everything our family needs, including the stuff we personally need.  We also buy athletic clothes, sometimes even fancy stylish ones, though not a necessity, we sometimes buy new running garb as a reward to ourselves for doing a race, or really, for getting out the dang door in the morning.   And we are smart and brand loyal. Like very brand loyal. We want, we beg, we are pleading for you to show us real women wearing them.  And chances are over the next 12 months I will purchase four pairs of running shoes, new running shorts, a sports bra, a hat, a running tu-tu, running socks…….are paying attention now?

I used to, USED TO, think the only thing better than pulling a new yarn catalog out of the mailbox was pulling out a new, glossy, women’s athletic wear catalog.  Look! Batik running tanks! Gigantic Hawaiian flowers on running skirts!  Stretch to fit organic, bamboo, moisture wicking, recyclable, running capris that take you from the gym to a meeting!  Maybe it’s because I am getting older, or maybe because I cannot physically and mentally relate to some of the images staring back at me, but now I flip through the pages and often sneer. And don’t get me wrong.  I am fit.  I run, I bike,  I play tennis, I chase little boys. So when I should feel like I could pledge their fitness sorority, I really don’t.   On the contrary, lately I find myself outright laughing at the perfect insanity of some of the pictures.

No naming names here, so let’s hypothetically take the latest catalog from, ooooh, let’s call it “Women Play.” Great. I can play. I play a lot. I am sure I can relate. Inside front cover stands a  bronzed, sun kissed woman in maybe her late 20’s? She is carrying….wait a sec….is that a kayak slung over her shoulder like a feather?  Next to her is a long quote about a ‘typical woman who plays.’ ”She’s the mom with her son in a stroller getting her run in.” (OK, I can relate) “She is learning how to swim at age 50.” (OK, awesome. I often work with  senior citizens so you go girl) “She is an athlete and she probably looks a lot like you.” Stop. Hold it right there. This lady has no creases or lines on her skin. None. Her arms so toned and defined I suspect they photo-shopped Dana Torres’ upper body in. Her hair is perfect, and she is on the beach no less. Who the hell has good hair on the beach? And I have never, EVER,  seen large, chunky, glittering gold sand sit on someone’s thigh like that, and I live in Florida.  On the next page another lady is leaping over a waterfront cement wall. No joke.  Leaping over a wall. And get this, nothing is sagging. Obviously, this particular photo was taken at NASA’s no gravity testing facility, because how on Earth is everything, well, UP SO HIGH.  Beneath her picture are some tidbits about her. (Think cheeky convo with Playboy’s Miss July, only smarter.) She is “Dying to learn how to do a back flip on the beach.”  Hey me too! (When I was 9.) Currently I am just dying to actually SIT on a beach. Next page. Meet “Janie.” She lives on a tropical island. She is a civil engineer and yoga instructor. (Of course she would be.) She is pictured mid-air, over a crashing turquoise wave, ready to dive on to her surfboard. She has the ass of a Russian Olympic gymnast. Shoot. Me. Now.  What’s next? Might as well be “Meet Ashton. She just gave birth to triplets, unassisted and on the deck of the offshore oil rig in the Indian Ocean she was commandeering.  While pregnant, she ran 3 marathons on a treadmill atop the roof of the oil platform. During a tsunami. Without music. AND she was wearing these hot pink running pants! Only $85.00.” Oddly enough, at this point I am not ready to jump online and buy the $85 hot pink running pants. I am, however, ready to jump online and Google “Talking yourself off the ledge.”

Other women’s athletic catalogs don’t veer much from this one. All these women just look too damn perfect. So what are they really selling?  That if you buy that $50 batik tank you will instantly be able to climb rock walls with ease and stand on your head for 10 minutes? I want to be sold on something else. I want to be sold on the feeling that only I can get, for doing only what I can do. Look, I know these companies can’t have a catalog full of regular moms, leaving for a run with dirty, uncombed hair, mismatched socks, wearing their old turkey trot t-shirt dabbed with a spot of maple syrup and covered in spilled coffee from breakfast earlier. They can’t really highlight her face, that is probably expressing worry, doubt, and the higher order thinking required to process this week’s carpool logistics nightmare, along with the never ending deluge of to-do lists dancing in her head; buy milk, wash t-ball jersey, send thank you card to neighbor, shave legs, make dentist appointment. But I want to think that if they did, it would indeed look like that. Because that it what I look like.

So my advice to running shoe advertising executives would be to make a commercial like this:
Start out with several clips of all the real work, the real physical work moms do every day; Rising before everyone else to finish laundry, preparing breakfast, packing lunchboxes and backpacks, mediating fights, fetching balls out of trees,  returning emails, giving presentations, hauling cranky kids around town to school and sports practices, volunteering, and possibly working a full time job.  Scenes of a mom actually doing the hardest job on Earth, trying to be everything to everyone. Then flash to her on a solitary run. It’s silent. Just the sound of her feet hitting the pavement.  No flashy and perfectly fitting running outfit, no out of reach pace,  no kayak slung over her shoulder, or wall to scale. Just her, diligently focused, smile gently. Satisfied.  Caption on the screen will say, “And this is the EFFORTLESS part of her day. She found her strong. Have you? #FindYourStrong.”

That’s it. Simple. Ditch the stripping supermodel and go with that. Then call me and tell me how many shoes you just sold. Because that is the real picture, the genuine reality of moms on the run. And you know what? Sometimes reality actually doesn’t bite. Especially when you run to bite it back.


Eve I-Ate-Your-Damn Apple said...

Her face is also remarkably less red than my face is for the hour or so after I finish a run. And her hair, so damn perfect!

Lisa Rangel said...


Marcy Holder said...

Life in the trenches. Why don't we celebrate it. Love this piece!

Bets said...

Just found your blog (came in though a FB link to your 70's summer post -- which was hilarious and SO true). Love your writing and agree with you wholeheartedly on these unrealistic catalogs, but oh how my heart sank when you used "50-year-old" and "senior citizen" in the same breath. YIKES!! I'm about to turn 50 in a few months and that one stung, LOL!

Connie, age 50 said...

I am right in there with Bets: I just turned 50. I work out 5 days a week, lift weights, and chase 2 kids under the age of 13. Holy cripes woman! You need to look around you and see what 50 looks like for real. That was pretty harsh.