Photo Credit: Chase Javis
While answering questions for iVillage’s current Walk On Rock On Community Challenge, I received this one from reader Ginger:
"I do have a question for you and I want your honest opinion. How big is too big to work out (in public) wearing just a sports bra and how old is too old? Is there a line somewhere that shouldn't be crossed?"
Her Q is especially in need of an A now that the temps are starting to rise and working out in sleeves can be sticky and uncomfortable, no matter what your size. (I’m slim but sweat like Michael Jordan while exercising.) Plus, 'tis the season of cute tank tops, sundresses, jean skirts, and even, for some freaks of nature who actually enjoy this sort of thing, bikinis. It’s hot out here (or is it just me? Har har.) And yet, there’s this intense societal pressure to cover everything up unless our skin is tan, taut and it’s not stretched over an untoward amount of flab.
A few years ago, UK columnist Kira Cochrane wrote a piece for The Guardian about the perils of being overweight in the summer. Here's an excerpt: "The other thing that makes us hotter than the average Joe is that, when it comes to clothes, there is lots of cultural pressure for fat people to cover up…This pressure isn't such a problem in the winter, when we can happily throw layers at our body, like a stripper in reverse: vests, tops, cardigans, hoodies, anoraks, job done. Down below, there's the option of trousers, and also, for women (and the more adventurous men among us) that wondrous invention: tights… Come summer, of course, and it's goodbye to tights and layers, and hello to a constant calculation of how much you can get away with wearing. Too few clothes, and you run the risk of being scorned, or, worse, pitied for your excess flesh. Too many, and you will burn up suddenly, shamefully, like a sausage in hell. And so I found myself on Sunday, in a Topshop changing room, trying to decide whether I could get away with a white cap-sleeved T-shirt. Did the sleeves finish far enough down my arm, or was there just too much of my wonderful, rippling upper-arm cellulite on show? I finally decided that the T-shirt would be absolutely fine - with a cardigan on top. And thus I resigned myself to another sweltering summer.”
She wasn't asking for pity -– just the right to wear a freaking tee shirt on a sweltering day without worrying if her heavy upper arms will somehow offend passers-by.
So, here’s what I told Ginger when I answered her sports bra question:
"Oooh, Ginger, that’s a doozy! I was once part of a panel discussion about cleavage on the Today show, where we talked about the age cut-off for showing too much skin up top. Someone said age 60 should be the limit, or when the skin on the chest started to get very wrinkly; someone else said women should be able to rock their cleavage into their 90s if it makes them feel good about themselves! (I hope my grandma isn’t reading this, though ) That said, your question is even trickier because in our society, breasts are idolized, while excess flesh and age are not. People can be judgmental and cruel when it comes to anyone who doesn’t have the "perfect" body, and showing skin seems to invite people to offer their unsolicited, unwanted and often unfounded opinions. Whereas too much cleavage might elicit some doubletakes, it’s not uncommon for a woman -– of any size -– wearing just a sportsbra while walking or jogging outside to wind up on the receiving end of catcalls, whistles, or gross remarks from idiot men. It doesn’t matter if we’re skinny, curvy, or obese; younger or older.
But the fact is, working out makes you hot and sweaty, and if you’re walking outside for the Challenge in the summer, you may crave the freedom and open air-ness of a sportsbra. I don't blame you one bit. Maybe there's a garment that falls in between a sports bra and a tank that will help you keep cool but also provide some coverage to discourage asinine comments? I'm not suggesting we need to cover up and live our lives in fear of disgusting strangers, but your workout will be so much more enjoyable without catcall or lewd comments, no? I know Champion has a really cute empire-waisted tank with a built-in sportsbra that’s popular.
If you choose to just wear a sports bra, more power to you. You shouldn't let your workout be ruled by the fear that other people aren’t as comfortable with their own bodies as you are with yours."
What do you think? Should there be an age or weight limit on exercising in sports bras? Or wearing a sleeveless top or shorts, for that matter? Do you -– consciously or subconsciously -- expect heavy people to cover up more than their thin counterpart come summertime? And if so, why? Chime in below.