I was five years old when I discovered my dad’s stash of pornography in the laundry bin in my parent’s bathroom. It was my fault. I was implicitly told I was not allowed to use the bathroom in my parent’s bedroom. I disobeyed. But I had no idea of the horror stacked inside the frayed hamper. I stared with wide-eyed disgust at the images of women with their legs splayed open and men using their penises as swords, stabbing and penetrating women in their vaginas, mouths anuses. As I peeled apart the sticky pages, I saw these women, with their mouths opened like little O’s, faces distorted in what I interpreted as pain. Page after page I saw women’s bodies objectified. Breasts. Stomach. Collarbones. Ass. All of their bodies, taut, tanned and flawless, existing purely for the pleasure of men.
“Stacy, where are you?” my mom called.
I frantically shoved the magazine back into the frayed bin, with the hundreds of others which were stacked at least three feet high, cutting my hand on the shards of bamboo that had unraveled, allowing the horror of its contents to be revealed. My hand bled, an outward display of the laceration I felt upon my soul.
“Here” I called back to my mom.
But I was no longer “here”. I was changed forever in that moment. I couldn’t unsee the objectification of these women. I learned in that moment that in our patriarchal society, women are valued solely for their how they can fulfill the male idea of the ideal female beauty. Television. Movies. Magazines. School. Home. Family. As Dworkin states, “Women are reared, and often forced, to conform to the specific requirements of ideal beauty, whatever they are at any given time,” (Location 2120).
While I was introduced to this concept through my early viewing of pornography, unfortunately my witnessing of the objectivation of women didn’t stop there. As I grew older, I saw women and girls in my magazines Sassy, Seventeen and Tiger Beat objectified in the same manner as Hustler. They may have been wearing clothing, but the underlying message was the same: You exist for male pleasure.
As I blossomed into adulthood, I had a long and painful journey to become a runner. This journey was marred by insecurities, shame and self-hatred towards my body. Similar to when I was a child, I looked to magazines for insight and noticed that female runners were depicted in the same manner as those women in the pornography magazines. Instead of her body on display sans clothing, she was sheathed in materials to call attention to those same body parts that were on display in the nude. A push up sports bra to accentuate her breasts. Short shorts to call attention to her ass. Pink compression socks to emulate the school-girl sexually objectified persona. These women, primarily thin, white, cisgender, straight and upper-middle class, were communicating a clear message.
Just as the pornography magazines communicate, rhetoric on running focuses on women conforming their bodies to fit into the hegemonic normative ideal of beauty maintained by men. The sport has become yet another way for patriarchal society to control a woman’s body and objectify her for male sexual pleasure.