Should you mix exercise with glamour?

02:54, May 22 2013
Katherine Jenkins
GLAMOUR GIRL: Katherine Jenkins after running the London Marathon.

Last month Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins did something she thought was meaningful: she ran the London marathon in memory of her late father who died of cancer. In doing so, she raised nearly $50,000 for charity.

But instead of being praised for her efforts, the singer was blasted by a columnist in the UK press, for being "fame hungry". Why? Because the 32-year-old mezzo soprano was "perfectly groomed every step of the way," thanks to flawless "biscuity maquillage", "lashings of pink lipgloss", and a "silvery manicure" topped off with Prada sunglasses.

Naturally, there were over 200 comments defending Jenkins, who responded on radio saying: "My one motivation on Sunday was to remember my dad to raise money for a good cause and the rest of it is pure nonsense." She also tweeted the columnist in question saying lip gloss was actually "Vaseline... handed to us by St Johns (sic) Ambulance".

While Jenkins is not a household name here, her story raises an interesting point. Why do we criticise women who wear make-up while exercising? Why do we label them as superficial 'glamour-pusses'? And does it even matter?

Technically it shouldn't. Surely people engaging in (and promoting) exercise should be more to the point.

And yet, when a woman wears mascara or blush during a workout it opens them up to criticism, be it a shifty side-eye at the local gym or in Jenkins's case, a verbal beating in a national newspaper.


"I think some of the backlash comes from the idea sport is supposed to be an arena in which appearance doesn't matter," says writer and social researcher Rachel Hills, whose area of study includes gender and sex.

"[Exercise] is meant to be about what your body can do, not what it looks like, so when a woman rocks up to the race looking like Katherine Jenkins did, it jars. It seems inappropriately vain."

Fairfax beauty writer Natasha Hughes wrote an opinion piece following the 2008 Olympic Games that mirrored this sentiment.

In it she denounced Sally Pearson's silver hoops, Anna Meares's diamond-encrusted bike earrings and Stephanie Rice's fluoro studs. "Sport is about great physical ability, focus and achievement (that is, winning) but now it also seems to be about accessorising for the cameras."

On the contrary, certain female professional athletes love to inject personality into an otherwise unglamorous arena. Serena Williams, for example, revels in her appearance on the tennis court almost as much as her backhand. British long jumper Jade Johnson once said: "I'm an Olympic athlete but I'm also a woman and I love to be feminine. I love makeup, lashes and getting my hair done so I look good on and off the track." Closer to home, Leisel Jones made it a ritual to paint her talons different shades of Essie nail polish before every race.

And 'made-up' women competing in say, synchronised swimming or rhythmic gymnastics dodge disapproval entirely because glamour is part of fabric of the sport (or quite literally, the costume). It's only when women like Katherine Jenkins rock up to compete in a less visual activity that they get labelled as "dolled-up" or as Hills says "inappropriately vain".

So where does this leave the average gym-goer: can exercise and glamour ever work together? "The reality is that most of us aren't going to look glamorous when we have sweat pouring down our face after a workout," says Hills. "And I think it's nice to have a space of respite from the pressure to look constantly Facebook profile-picture ready."

But if a coat of mascara provides a hit of confidence before you mount the cross-trainer, then embrace Nike's motto and just do it. On the flip side, if you find yourself critiquing someone else's eyeshadow instead of your own workout, it may be time to speed up your treadmill, because maybe you're not working hard enough.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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