I must have been the only one incensed by the topless photos in the Glamour magazine included in my Nike Women’s #WeRunParis race-pack because I didn’t get any retweets when I snarked about it on Twitter. One of the cover articles exhorted women to “Make Peace With Your Sex,” complete with the hashtag “#freethepussy. I’ve been in Paris ten weeks now, most of that time spent on my own, in my own head. While I’ve cherished the solitude, there’s no doubt it’s turning me into a grumpy, old feminist. Seriously, Nike? What does Glamour, the saucy edition française no less, have to do with running 15km through the City of Light?
I signed up for this run back in April, back when it hit me like a sack of T45 flour that every boulangerie and pâtisserie within a 10-block radius of my apartment would need to be duly sampled. I figured, having 15km in the calendar would push me out the door for the occasional loop around the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Jardin des Plantes. My favourite add-on is a linear out and back that takes me along les berges de Seine, past Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, then back through the Tuileries and around the Louvre pyramid before crossing back to the left bank. More often than not, I walk the last 500m to my flat because I’ve opted to power down at Gerard Mulot to grab a financier aux framboises as my reward.
Last Sunday was race day. I’d picked up my race-pack earlier in the week and was dismayed not just by Glamour, but also by the peach and neon race shirts. Who on earth would ever wear these?
It turns out, everyone. Arriving at the race, I realized not only was I one of just a handful of the 12,000-plus women who didn’t wear the shirt on race-day, I was also older. Much, much older. I tugged my visor a little lower over my crows-feet and tried to look more gamine in case someone spotted me and raised the alarm. Hey, who let in that lady with the sun damage who obviously received the smallpox vaccine as a child?
Mesdemoiselles, are you ready? That’s what the male M-C was booming at us in the starting gates. Oh for Pete’s sake. I’d already learned about this in my French classes. However halfheartedly, France is trying yet again to phase out the ridiculous, olden-days distinction between Madame (married woman/unavailable) and Madamoiselle (unmarried, indisputably virginal). These days, the only females on whom anyone should be using the honourific “mademoiselle,” are the ones with Hello Kitty stickers on their kick scooters.
Allez les filles! So hollered the male voice on the loudspeakers as we pelted out onto the course. Go girls! I wanted to be outraged, but fell short. Against my better judgment, the words gave me a little lift, the same feeling I’d get in my 20s when I got carded at the liquor store. The end of youngness seems so much more imminent these days, even as I try to shrug it off. I might have been riled up about Glamour magazine in my race-pack, but that didn’t stop me from wishing my thigh meat looked more like that of the young runners crowded around me in the start zones. And I confess, I leafed through Glamour the day before the race, under the pretence of improving my French. Had I not done so, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be affronted by the topless photos, nor learned five new French words for vagina, nor acquired the knowledge that Gwyneth Paltrow has started cleaning her uterus at a spa in L.A. that offers vaginal vapours. Or that’s what I got out of the article. My French is really coming along.
I realize that women’s-only athletic events are a clever marketing gimmick for corporations like Nike. The thing is, women are good at doing things together. They like doing things without boys. How strange and lovely to run past pods of men waiting on streetcorners to cheer on their girlfriends, to pass fathers, sons, and daughters eagerly scanning the throngs and holding up signs that read “Allez Maman!” Standing among all those buzzing young women clumped together like ripe apricots for photo after photo at the starting line, I could see that none of them were worrying about whether they were thin enough or pretty enough or good enough in bed. They were just there to run. I felt a lonesome surge that was part-sisterhood, part-mother-hen. How age-appropriate.
I finished faster than I expected, buoyed no doubt by the youthfulness misting the streets (or, more likely, my stubborn reluctance to finish behind a sports-bra-eschewing, 21-year-old). I wandered around for a while in the finishing area. I love this part: completing a race, listening to my heart congratulate itself and my legs act all bashful and surprised. Ah shucks, we had no idea we still had it in us. I had no girlfriends here with whom to celebrate, no goofy group selfies to snapchat, so I started to make my way back towards the metro. The walk took me past the last 500m of the race, wave after wave of peach-and-neon breasts quaking towards the finish line.
I couldn’t help myself. I’m here, after all, to practice my French. “Allez-allez!” I cried, feeling a catch in my throat at the sight of so many women toiling along together. “Allez-les-filles!” Every now and then I spotted a woman with as many years under her sneakers as I have, maybe more. Women like me whose girlish hearts and heads, figuratively speaking, lag decades behind their long-suffering knees. For these I shouted the same cheer, only louder.