Can we get over our hatred of women wearing activewear already?



Is our cultural dislike of gym tights rooted in misogyny?

Today I wore a pair of multicoloured fitness tights, a singlet and my trusty Asics to Woolworths. As my weak biceps barely managed to carry my groceries back to my car and beads of sweat appeared on my upper lip, I realised that my outfit was not entirely reflective of my fitness prowess.

If I am being honest, I rarely visit the gym and I don’t often go for a run. Sure, a slow walk with a cappuccino while chatting with a friend, or even perhaps a quick ten-minute ab workout on YouTube here and there, but I wouldn’t categorise myself as an athlete.

But if you were to peer into my closet, you would perhaps wonder if the clothes were owned by fitness influencers like Steph Claire Smith or Chloe Zsep. I have an abundance of workout tights which I rotate through, plenty of tank tops and a sturdy pair of joggers which carry me through most of my days.

I have more tights than jeans and far more sports bras than regular ones. I also know that I am not alone, as many of my friends often do activewear when we meet. Activewear is a booming market. High-end Australian brands like Camilla and Marc and Viktoria and Woods have begun incorporating an ‘athleisure’ range into their clothing lines as the demand for spandex has exploded.

Brands like Cotton On have become a favourite among young womxn for peddling affordable athletic attire which imitates that look of Lululemon and Lorna Jane. Better yet, ethical athleisure brands like Nimble have expanded the market so we can now purchase a pair of multicoloured leggings guilt-free.

Yet the rise of the cult of activewear has not been without criticism. Womxn (like me) who dress in activewear to complete the most menial of tasks are often met with the clucking of the tongues by older generations or fashionistas. This was most obvious when the viral YouTube video Activewear poked fun at womxn who wear their Puma leggings or Nike crops to buy more activewear or catch the bus.

In 2016, former Racked fashion editor Kerry Folan penned an article arguing that wearing athletic wear is “an assault on manners”. Folan argues that the way we dress sends a message to the world around us, and wearing comfortable clothing is synonymous with being lazy or lackadaisical.

Athleisure is often at the receiving end of the most stinging insult that can be levelled at something or someone in the twenty-first century: ‘basic’. To be basic, as observed by Repeller, is to be a “cheap, self-amused person” who loves wine and yoga pants.

Womxn wearing activewear puts a bee in many a bonnet. But so too does womxn wearing short dresses. Or womxn wearing band merch, as there is no way they could know Nirvana (only one of the most popular and influential bands in music history). Womxn wearing heels can also be a no-no as “smart women” are no longer wearing them.

I can’t help but think that the cultural dislike of activewear is in many ways misogynistic. Words like ‘feminine’, ‘tidy’, ‘neat’ and ‘unattractive’ are thrown around in discussions surrounding activewear, but I thought we all collectively decided some time ago to not judge people on what they choose to wear?

My boyfriend is never criticised for wearing board shorts or football attire while shopping, leaving me to assume browsing aisle three of Aldi only has a dress code for womxn.

And while dress codes are important in many scenarios, womxn are too-often criticised for wearing activewear in their spare time. When I am running errands or enjoying the company of my friends, I want to be comfortable and practical. I want to enjoy my time without worrying about the clothes on my back.

Our forward-thinking, 21st-century values appear to be abandoned when we discuss the activewear phenomenon in relation to womxn. The idea that we should behave or dress in a certain way to appear more credible is so very backward, yet we allow it as a reasonable argument when discussing the place of exercise gear in a womxn’s wardrobe.

In summer, when I find it impossible to find something comfortable to wear, I will wear my tank top. When I’m in a rush I’ll pop on a pair of exercise tights and hoodie. I don’t think I am lazy nor unfashionable, but some days I want a straightforward clothing option.

So while activewear may be loathed by those who have never felt the magic of wearing tights to the movies, or a pair of runners to climb the stairs at university, I will wear my ‘basic’ clothes with pride. After all, I am a “self-amused person” who likes to drink wine.

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