A Message To Anyone Worried About “Unglam” Race Photos – Movement Labs

A Message To Anyone Worried About “Unglam” Race Photos

So there is a blog post floating around the Singapore running blogosphere that’s making me twitchy.  Basically, the post provides four tips to help folks (ladies, specifically) avoid “unglam” race photos.  The author suggests:

1. Wear some make-up.
2. Tie your hair back.
3. Wear sunglasses (to hide slit, shut, or sunken eyes).
4. Smile.

Now, the author is a race photographer, and I have no doubt that he hears a lots of complaints from runners who are dissatisfied with their race photos.  For better or for worse, I think this gentleman is trying to help – he is responding to the way so many of us see ourselves, and our race photos.  Thus, although the post raises my feminist hackles, it is a manifestation, not the root, of the problem.  So rather than give the author a hard time, I would like to address all you ladies (and gentlemen) out there who are dissing your own race photos:

Think about why you run.  Do you run to have FUN?  To feel STRONG? EMPOWERED? HEALTHY?  AWESOME?  

Whatever your reason, I’m gonna wager that it isn’t to get a gorgeous race photo.  Because honestly, if you want “pretty” photos, then get cleaned up, hire a photographer or grab a friend with a camera, and have at it.  Easy peasy.

I am in the business of fitness.  Run With Holly is all about helping folks grow stronger, powerful, fitter, and more confident.  These things are truly beautiful.  The misguided thought that we must conform to the narrow societal expectations of beauty in the midst of activities that make us stronger, more powerful, and fitter…is rubbish.  [These societal expectations are rubbish to begin with, but I can only fight one battle a day, OK?]

So for starters, let’s dissect these four recommendations:

1. Wear some make-up.

No, please don’t wear make-up, if only for the sake of your pores.  This is Singapore, and I’m quite sure that NO make-up exists that’s waterproof enough to stay on your face during a sweaty run.

2. Tie your hair back.

OK, I’m on board with this one, albeit for practical, not aesthetic, reasons.

3. Wear sunglasses (to hide slit, shut, or sunken eyes).

You can’t control whether your eyes look shut, slit, or sunken – wear sunglasses if you want, but only for protection from the sun/wind/rain.  Feel free not to. You don’t have to apologize for your eyes, or the position of your eyelids at the precise millisecond the photo is taken.

4. Smile.

If you’re working hard, gritting it out, and feeling the burn – don’t feel obligated to smile.  Did any of you tune in for the NYC Marathon yesterday? Did you see those huge grins on the faces of the elites?  Hmm…yeah, me neither.  Sure, if you notice the photog and want to flash a smile, go for it. But if you are focused on your race – then by all means, focus on your race. Personally, I LOVE pictures of athletes looking intense and focused – I think THAT is beautiful! 

What I’m trying to say is that the race is YOURS to run, in your way and on your terms.  And I truly, truly hope that those “terms” include running for yourselves, for your health, to enjoy time with friends…  So have fun.  Work hard.  Be free.  But do not, under any circumstances, let someone else tell you what you “should” do for the camera while you’re running and racing.

This isn’t always easy, I know.  We are often our own worst enemies.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall into the trap sometimes, too.

But when you have doubts, you show those “unglam” race photos to an athlete friend/trainer/coach – or heck, send ’em to me.  I bet we’ll see determination, strength, and athletic beauty – in the wrinkles in your forehead, the grit of your teeth, the bunching of your top, the sweat pouring everywhere.

To keep myself honest here, I’m going to grab a few of my recent race photos, all courtesy of Running Shots.  I haven’t carefully chosen these – they are all the freely available race photos of me, in which I’m large enough to be seen properly.  Do note that, in all photos, I am NOT wearing make-up or sunglasses, and I’m only smiling in one.

This one is easy to post; it's my fave!

This one is easy to post; it’s my fave!

At the top of a stair climb.  All I wanted to do was breathe.

At the top of a stair climb. All I wanted to do was breathe, and not puke.

In a painful place...

In a painful place… But look at those leg muscles!

I'll admit there's a part of me that doesn't want to post this one.  But this was actually a pretty good race for me, and I actually have a positive memory of the race, in which I felt fast and strong.  I let the photo remind me of those feelings, rather than of how unflattering I think my shorts look.

I’ll admit there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to post this one. But this was actually a pretty good race for me, and I ran feeling fast and strong. So I let the photo remind me of those feelings, rather than of how unflattering I think my shorts (shirt?) look.

And that’s my collection of recent race photos.  I may not love them all, but I definitely love what they represent: A fit, healthy, strong body that can do amazing things.

So the next time you open your mouth (or brain) to criticize your race photos, think twice.  Redirect that energy into the following gratitude:

Dear Body:

Thank you for being awesome.


If you want to read more, I suggest checking out Fit & Feminist’s thoughtful and insightful recollection of her journey toward accepting her race photos, which she writes about in Learning to love – or at least like – my race photos.

[Edited to add: GCA has a few choice words of her own over at Why I’m Proud of My Unglam Running Photos.]

Let’s be very general today: Any thoughts on this topic?  What would you like to add?  What have I forgotten/gotten wrong?

What did you do this weekend that made you feel strong/empowered/freaking awesome?

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  1. Grace November 4, 2013 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    Sorry, who is this race photographer? Because that post makes me mad enough to kick him the next time I spot him during a race. Or at least have one pretty little race photo of pretty little me flipping him the bird. I know you’re trying to be nice, but I have had enough of this B.S!

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 5, 2013 at 4:16 pm - Reply

      You’re right – I’m treading pretty lightly, and didn’t call him out very hard. Hardcore feminists would probably even call it teetering on the edge of “blame the victim”. But if we (as a sport, as a gender, as a community) don’t start changing what WE are saying about ourselves, it’s pretty unreasonable to expect anyone else to change. Plus, I had you to come at it from the other direction. 🙂

      • Grace November 5, 2013 at 5:31 pm - Reply

        Yeah, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Sadly. I think we’ve got to do both – change what we say about ourselves, and call out people saying really stupid things. If only it wasn’t such a waste of time and energy…

        • Holly @ Run With Holly November 6, 2013 at 12:15 am - Reply

          I disagree that it’s a waste. Look at the discussion this has started, and the people who have been reached with the post. Not all will change the way they think, but some might.

  2. misszippy November 4, 2013 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    I almost gagged when I saw the “wear makeup” recommendation. Seriously, I roll my eyes if I see someone wearing make up at a race. My favorite, though, was an old master’s swim team swimmer who used to show up with full make up for those workouts. Killed me!

    Yeah, it’s not about the photos!

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 5, 2013 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      The make up thing is ridiculous to me. Although I must admit that, back when I lived in Rochester, I was volunteering at a triathlon, and laughed to myself at a woman in transition whose face was all made up. [I think my head made some uncharitable comment about “compensating for something”.] Turns out she was actually a local talent, who just got her Ironman pro card last year.

      Don’t judge a book by its cover, on all fronts…

  3. Debbie @ Deb Runs November 4, 2013 at 11:01 pm - Reply

    Actually, my favorite picture of the ones you posted above is the one of you with the male runner next to you. You look so completely in the zone!

    I will admit that I often wear lipstick when I run (not bright colored though). I put a thick layer of sunscreen on my lips, let it soak in, and then layer it with lipstick so I don’t lick it off.

    The race pictures that I don’t like of me are the ones where I have both feet firmly planted on the ground and it doesn’t look like I’m running! 😉

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 5, 2013 at 4:20 pm - Reply

      I enjoy that the “running” photos you don’t like are the ones that don’t look like running photos.

      And while lipstick isn’t my weapon of choice, at the very least your lips don’t really sweat, so it won’t be running down your face and into your eyes in 5 minutes. Probably the most harmless choice possible. 🙂

  4. Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama November 5, 2013 at 1:41 am - Reply

    Holly, LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS! Especially, the note of gratitude to our bodies. I don’t think I’ve ever had a glam race photo. In fact, the uglier they are, they harder I was working. I wear those unglam race photos like a badge of honor. And make-up? Ba ha ha ah ha! Don’t make me laugh! I rarely wear make-up in everyday life. There is no way I’m putting in the effort just to sweat it off!

  5. Char November 5, 2013 at 2:54 am - Reply

    How ridiculous! It’s a race not a fashion shoot so why would anyone even think of wearing make-up? One of my running friends recently ran the Melbourne marathon and his photo was amazing. There was no smiling, no make-up and his hair was limp with rain. But what was beautiful was the expression on his face – the gritted teeth, the sense of elation in his achievement, the clenched fist. Those photographers are there to capture moments like this.

    • Grace November 5, 2013 at 6:08 am - Reply

      Haha, Char, I posted the exact same thing on his blog: ‘it’s a race, not a fashion show’. I mean, this is totally insulting to any serious runner.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm - Reply

      I love those moments! Both you – and Grace – have sent a very concise but direct message to the photographer in question: You’re shooting a race, not a fashion show!

  6. JoAnne November 5, 2013 at 3:58 am - Reply

    Thanks for this post. I love it.

  7. Sophie @ life's philosophie November 5, 2013 at 5:37 am - Reply

    I read a similar article somewhere (I think maybe in Runners World) where some US morning TV host had the same advice about wearing makeup! Seriously?? The only time I have ever worn makeup while working out is if I go to the gym straight after work and I forget face wipes. What an absurd piece of advice. One of the beauties of running a race is the pure grit and determination that is shown on our faces. Embrace the awkward running photos!

  8. Sheila November 5, 2013 at 5:49 am - Reply

    Love this….I have some pretty awful pics. I just go with the “jump awkwardly and look like you’re having fun” – this has yielded some gems and some disasters!

  9. Jess November 5, 2013 at 6:12 am - Reply

    Ick it is so sad that women worry about this, because clearly there are some who do. Sad that women would be encouraged to wear makeup and cover their eyes and smile rather then enjoy their race! I actually think you look amazing in all your photos. If you had perfect makeup and a cheesey smile in every photo I wouldn’t be reading. Pretty sure you couldn’t actually be competitive with yourself and run a marathon and have perfect makeup.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm - Reply

      I can’t even APPLY perfect make-up in the first place (and don’t even bother trying in Singapore anyway), so that is a moot point for me.

      “If you had perfect makeup and a cheesey smile in every photo I wouldn’t be reading.” Thanks! 🙂 Strong, tough female figures: UNITE!!

  10. Karen@ La Chanson de Ma Vie November 5, 2013 at 7:25 am - Reply

    I love race photos, and not because I look great in them all. I’ve had some UG-LY ones, but I love how they always reflect how that race felt for me: joyous, determined, exhausted, angry. Everything. Personally, I think that candid race photos are the best, no matter if you’re wearing makeup, sunglasses or a smile.

  11. Elle November 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    Fit and Feminist wrote a post about “looking pretty” for race photos: http://fitandfeminist.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/learning-to-love-or-at-least-like-my-race-photos/

    I love race photos that capture the intensity and concentration of athlete.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm - Reply

      Hi Elle, thanks for stopping by!

      I actually linked to Fit & Feminist’s post right a the bottom of this post. She’s the one that first got me started thinking about this topic awhile back, before I read the misguided “advice” blog post more recently.

  12. Alyssa November 5, 2013 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more! I am infamous (ok with my family and friends, but still) for my ridiculously terrible race photos. But I am not going to PR but putting on makeup and smiling prettily! If I am running hard, I will look like crap – oh well! Makeup is for like…..going out on the town. It’s a special occasion thing in my book haha.

  13. Tekko November 5, 2013 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you for reading my little article. Generally I agree that if you are into running, how you look shouldn’t be the issue. But let be honest, there are many runners who want to look good and i don’t see what wrong with that. There are also serious runners at that who can look glam while racing. From my experience both as a runner and photographer, there are many people who want to run and look good too. That why they splurge on beautiful attire, etc. What I hope to achieve was to give some tips for those who wish to look good. You ladies who are against the idea, it a free world. You are entitled to your views just as much as others are entitled to theirs and you should respect that rather than go on a crusade.

    And finally, I have an earlier post on ladies with wild hairs, are you also going to dis me about that too?

    And oh, you look real good in those photos you posted. Hopefully we can bump into each other one day while on our run and we can say hi.


    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 6, 2013 at 12:13 am - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by and chiming in, Tekko. As I’ve said in several forums, I will reiterate: I think there are two things at issue here, and separating them is critical for productive discussion of either:

      1. The fact that people are saying/thinking/worrying about how “glam” their race photos are in the first place (and/or what “glam” really is). It is THIS issue that I tried to address in my blog post (note the title). Yes, my post was prompted by your post – but I did not publicly attack you, personally – and correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t really think that I ‘dissed’ you anywhere in the post – and I’m curious to know which part of my post you found disrespectful. [I may have dissed your MESSAGE, but not YOU.] In fact, I tried to come up with the most charitable explanation I could for your post – that you wrote it in response to comments and complaints you received (sounds like this was actually the truth). Then, I proceeded to write something of a “pep talk” for ladies and gentlemen alike, encouraging them to embrace their fitness, their bodies, and their strength – and photos that showcase those elements, even if those photos don’t meet society’s criteria of “glam”. Thus, although your post provided the impetus, it was far from the focus of my post.

      2. The second issue, which I touched on briefly on Facebook, but not in my blog post, is the tone of your original blog post. A direct quotation: “The other thing that I noticed was that most ladies look very unglam in their running photos.” BAM. With that sentence, you just imposed YOUR concept of “glam” (which, according to the photos you showcase, means skinny, smiling, and looking at the camera/wearing sun glasses) onto all of us. YOU became the judge of who is, or isn’t, glam. Then, you clearly implied that those of us who don’t meet your criteria of “glam” should do something about it: “But for those ladies who are honest enough and admit that they do look unglam in their running pose, here are some tips on how to look glam:” In short, whether or not you intended it to, your message came across as: This is glam. You aren’t glam. Do something about it. I’m quite certain that this is the attitude that really bothered GCA.

      Women (and increasingly, men) get bombarded by this kind of message every day, from all sides. Frankly, it’s exhausting – and most of us are tired of being judged and ‘advised’ on how we should look (or act, or think). This is true in general, but especially so when we are participating in activities that we do to have fun, stay healthy, be active, and gain strength. Glam is not the focus (for many of us) – but yet, with your comment, you have jumped in and MADE it the focus. It’s not enough that we look glam for work and dates; now we also must look glam when we do our workouts. Yes, the more vocal among us may step up and speak out in protest. [I claim to speak for some, and possibly many, but certainly not all, women.]

      I actually think that what you meant was “For those who WANT to look more glam, here are a few tips”. With just a slight twist of phrase, you now sound like you are actually offering advice, rather than judging us. I may not agree with your glam standard (or the advice you give to get me there), but at least now, I feel like I have a choice. If I’m happy with my photos and don’t feel like they need any “glamming”, then I don’t care, and you don’t care, and we all go about our business. If I want to look more glam, I can read your advice, then choose to take it, or not.

      Perhaps the difference between telling us, and giving us a choice, sounds subtle to you – but I can assure you that it is ENORMOUS. I share this lengthy response because I recognize that this is a challenging topic to address respectfully and gracefully, and may not be obvious from your perspective. I’m not trying to lecture you – I’m actually trying to explain how some of your female friends, relatives, and yes – strangers in the blogosphere – may read your words, and how you might choose them just a bit differently in the future, for increased clarity.

      [And incidentally, I am on a “crusade”, as you call it. But mine is to help people get healthy, gain confidence, and feel strong. It has little, if anything, to do with you.]

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 6, 2013 at 12:23 am - Reply

      And if you’re photographing this weekend, I’ll certainly be out cheering at Great Eastern. Look (listen?) for the loud ang moh. And in honor of this discussion, I believe my sign read, “STRONG is BEAUTIFUL”. Perhaps I’ll see you out there!

  14. Allison November 5, 2013 at 11:42 pm - Reply

    Loooooooove this! I basically look homeless when I leave the house to work out, and I don’t care at all.
    No make up, hair in ponytail, and the desire to lose myself on the road.

  15. Tekko November 6, 2013 at 8:48 am - Reply

    Hi Holly,

    Fair enough. I didn’t realise my post came across as telling the ladies what my idea of glam should be and how they should look. It was never my intention to dictate or set the tone for such things. Agreed I could have phrase it better. Therefore, if I had come across as sexist and offended the ladies out there, I do sincerely offer my apologies to everybody.

    I won’t be shooting for RS this Sunday. Still fearing for my life from your friend:( but I will still be there. Hope to see you.


    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 6, 2013 at 9:39 am - Reply

      Tekko, genuine thanks for taking the time to read, consider, and reconsider this issue. Particularly after some heated back-and-forth, I respect and admire you for reconsidering your words, realizing how they could be misread, and apologizing. That takes humility and courage. So thank you.

      This kind of stuff gives me pause all the time – especially with regard to feminism: What do the words say? What does the tone say? How could that be interpreted (or misinterpreted)? It’s complicated for women to navigate; and probably even moreso for men. So thanks for listening, and responding.

  16. Paul November 8, 2013 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    I have a confession to make when it comes to race photos. As running in races is still relatively new to me (just doing it for a yr +), I was never really comfortable with my race photos initially. Especially when I got ‘tagged’ by well-meaning FB friends and my photos get published to all my other FB friends.

    I always go ‘OMG! I looks really fat in that one!’ or ‘I looks terrible in this one!’

    But then again, I’m not one of those who like to post photos of myself all over the internet, so it took me a while to come to terms with how I looked in those race photos. Gradually I come to accept them for what they are. Just a moment in time of a race captured in time by well-meaning photographers who sacrificed their own time and money to take photos of strangers, sometimes under the scourging sun and drizzling rain.

    So with that change in mindset, I come to appreciate my race photos more. Especially those that showed me puffing, grunting or looking intense. Yes I think they are beautiful and I’m grateful for them.

    So there you have it. A guy’s prospective of race photos.

    • Holly @ Run With Holly November 8, 2013 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing, Paul! I’m enjoying the process of hearing everyone’s stories, and how each person is (or is working toward) embracing his/her race photos.

      And it sounds to me like you are a terrific example of what I would like to see happen (in Coach Holly’s Perfect World!) – folks come to see their race photos – and everything that those photos represent – in a positive, rather than harshly self-critical, light.

      [And if you really want to, I think you can opt out of the tagging, if someone else tagged you. 🙂 ]

      Haven’t seen you over in blog-land for awhile – you running any races before the new year? One of the upcoming trail adventures, Stan Chart, etc…?

  17. Meagan November 9, 2013 at 5:57 am - Reply

    I have a special talent of not looking like a human being in my race photos. I tend to be making some strange face (not even a cool, intense, gritting-it-out face), my head is usually slightly cocked to the right, and the photog is good at catching me during the part of my stride where my thigh looks the biggest. But like you said- I don’t race for pretty pictures. I do wish I could get a few of them removed from the Brightroom database, though…. 🙂

  18. […] big soggy), and was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response it received.  After last week’s “glam” kerfluffle, I wanted the sign to remind all the ladies out on the course that their physical and inner […]

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