Sunday, April 10, 2011

Motivational messages for women kind of suck

Yesterday morning, I ran 8 miles through some of Boston's western suburbs as part of my training for the onslaught of races and relays I'm putting myself through this year. The route was simple and scenic, but not without a series of unforgiving inclines in Chestnut Hill. I was forced to reach into my arsenal of motivating mantras and repeat silently to myself, "Shut up legs! Pain is weakness leaving the body! Kill this hill!"

For me, running (and kickboxing, and cross-fit, and power yoga) is as much a mental exercise as a physical one. The feeling of triumph of mind over body is intoxicating, and a simple sentence reaffirming that feeling is the ultimate motivator. If it's printed on the shirt you're wearing, that's even better.

Well, if you're a guy, that is. In a quest to find a shirt with the aforementioned classic Marine Corps slogan "Pain is weakness leaving the body," I found hundreds of men's styles in rich, bright colors with the slogan set in thick, bold type. Refining my search to just women's shirts, I found a spate of baby doll tees and camisole tank tops in pink, white, and pastel blue with the slogan set in various cutesy typefaces. You know, because it's such a warm and fuzzy sentiment.

Though I'm not sure which is worse; taking a current slogan and, essentially, making it more infantile (thanks a lot, t-shirt designers) or coming up with a new slogan perpetuating gender stereotypes and reinforcing traditional ideas on how women should behave.

In a 2008 (it's a little old, but I think it's worth mentioning) article in Women's Health, readers offered their own personally motivating mantras. They were generally great, but one in particular caught my eye: If you don't focus on your ass, no one else will." Um, and then you will die fat and alone surrounded by cats, or something? How is it actually intrinsically motivating to strive to conform to society's standards of attractiveness? Why must the end goal of every motion we make need to be looking hot in a bathing suit?

I found the fact that this quote came from an associate editor at Women's Health, while all the other good empowering stuff came from "regular" women, very interesting. Women's-interest magazines have a vested interest in keeping us insecure, and quotes like "I am strong beyond belief. I am powerful beyond measure," from Abby Ruby (of Boston!) don't sound like they come from a place of uncertainty. Women are badass too; it's about time the media stop talking down to us.