Monday, October 5, 2009

Not an object

A few days ago I interviewed Molly Barker, the founder of Girls on the Run. She, like many of us, didn't exactly love her early adolescent years. She was jammed pretty tightly into what she's coined as "the girl box." That's the place we squeeze ourselves into when we're trying to measure up to all those supposed assets a girl is meant to have--be thin, be blonde and petite (aka pretty), be sexy, wear pink, and so on. Her mother wasn't any help getting her out of the box, she was fighting her own battle with alcoholism. Then, when Molly was around 14, her mother started running and suddenly this sweaty, happy, alive woman would appear in the house, so different from the low energy drinker Molly had grown up with until then. Soon enough her mother asked Molly to join her for a run. And that time with each other on the road became the grace in their day.

No, running didn't solve everything. Molly didn't climb right out of that girl box, pumped up on endorphins from a run, and never look back. We all know, it's just not that easy. First she had her own battle with alcoholism (strangely complemented by obsessive ironman training, I guess one obsession wasn't enough, an over-achiever is an over-achiever, even if it is about addictions to alcohol and sports. I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but Molly tells me you can do 100 mile bike rides with the "shakes" from too much drinking the night before).

Anyhow, I'm digressing. While Molly's story of coming back from the precipice she ended up on is amazing, I'm saving that one for the book (oh, and also the theory we came up with about running and women's sexuality). For now I wanted to share a smaller story, that I think will resonate for many.

Molly was walking home from a meeting recently, dressed up in skirt, when coming towards her on the sidewalk was a group of men in business suits. Without waiting to see what they might do, she pulled out and went around them. Some time later that same day, as she was heading out on her run, she ran into the same group of biz-suited men. Except this time she ran right through the middle of them. Why? What had changed? As strong and independent as Molly is, there are still times when she feels like a bit of an object under the eyes of men. When she's in her skirt, in her conventional woman disguise. But once she's laced up her shoes, there's no oxygen left for that feeling. Whatever those men may be thinking (and who knows what it is); she no longer "feels" them looking at her as an object. She's free.

Yes, we all want to carry that feeling of being free to be exactly who we are into every corner of our lives. The unfortunate truth is that it can be hard. Witness Molly--who has dedicated her life to helping girls understand how the strength they feel from running allows us, enables us, to expand so much more in the rest of our lives. Even she, like all of us, struggles at times. If it were not a challenge, we might forget. We might forget what we're running for, what we've gained and all that's possible.