Sprinting in downtown Manhattan is one weird hobby of mine. Weaving through small flocks of commuters and tourists on a concrete strip along the East River may not sound like the most restorative of morning rituals, but for me it has become a sort of meditation. I'll take off from the same place, run until I feel like I'm flying, like I've transcended this crazy city, stop to catch my breath, take in the view, then walk back to do it all again. While less than comfortable, these 40-second bursts remind me that momentary aches are fleeting, nothing a moment of rest can't resolve. The routine has helped me deal with life's anxieties and build confidence in my ability to fight through the small stuff. I find power in the notion that I can create my own start and finish lines, too. The thing I enjoy about these mornings most, though, is that they feel like a shiny, no-strings-attached gift to myself.
But sometimes, other people manage to take it away. Some mornings, I'll walk back to the starting point, face red and breath wavering, to the tune of strangers, almost always men, saying "Wow, you're so fast" or "Damn, you're so athletic."
Most of the time it doesn't bother me. As long as they seem to be coming from a place of genuine respect, I actually find these comments nice. As someone who used to struggle to run a mile without wheezing, I shrug them off as reinforcement of how far I've come. But with the addition of a few words, I've felt under-the-breath comments transform into something violating and derogatory.
When praise is followed by remarks like "that's hot" or "I like that," the act of running becomes less about me and more about people's valuations of me. It's moments like these, when men look at my body in the context of their lives—and feel emboldened enough to express that—that have made me a feminist.