The empowering reasons why female athletes are wearing makeup during the Olympics – For The Win
Shannon Rowbury will be easy to spot when she takes her mark for the 1,500 meters in Rio. She’ll be the one wearing bright red lipstick.
The color is striking at first. Why would a two-time Olympian wear makeup to run four laps around a track? She’s not the only one. Many female athletes on Team USA glam up their uniform.
You can be a strong, athletic, courageous woman and you can wear lipstick.
U.S. women’s soccer player Ali Krieger calls her mascara “war paint.” U.S. gymnastics captain Aly Raisman says a touch of eyeliner gives her confidence. Rowbury wears a hot pink or deep red lip to honor her late grandmother.
No matter the personal reason, there’s one common theme each woman shares when it comes to putting on their face for the Olympics: self-expression.
“You can be a strong, athletic, courageous woman and you can wear lipstick,” Rowbury said. “I like being able to be all those things or try to help inspire young women to be all those things. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s a form of expression, especially in track and field where my uniform is provided by my sponsor (or the USOC). I basically have my uniform and my shoes and there’s not a lot of expression that’s allowed and there aren’t many ways to show your personality.
“I like that lipstick is a way that won’t detract from my performance and it puts me in my happy place before I start the race.”
Added Raisman: “I think it’s kind of cool to have that sort of badass feeling that you’re doing your sport and you’re really strong and powerful, but at the same time, you can feel really feminine and beautiful. I think for me, having that combination is what makes me feel really confident.”
Women have been bringing style to the Olympics and sports in general for years. Figure skater and gold medalist Dorothy Hamill sparked a hairstyle movement with her bob at the 1976 Winter Olympics. Gold medalist and world-record sprinter Florence Joyner had those form-fitting bodysuits and six-inch fingernails. Serena Williams has her own clothing line.
And men do it too. Russell Westbrook’s before-and-after game fashion has become an NBA staple, and Paul Pogba has a different crazy hairstyle nearly every game.
I think it’s kind of cool to have that sort of bad ass feeling that you’re doing your sport and you’re really strong and powerful, but at the same time, you can feel really feminine and beautiful.
Women are held to a different standard, though, and many have fought back against those who suggest they should look “pretty” while competing. Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson is speaking out about how commentators discuss women — including in this interview with For The Win — and an NBC announcer offended millions during the Sochi Olympics by discussing makeup worn by downhill skiers — some of the fiercest and most courageous athletes at the games.
Rowbury, Krieger and Raisman don’t view wearing makeup as succumbing to public pressure.
“It’s kind of this look good, feel good, play good mentality,” Krieger said. “I do feel empowered, I do feel good. Mainly I think it’s because our games are on TV and people see photos or videos of themselves. I think I would do this for any other job, so why not do it when I play soccer? Because it is my job.”
Krieger guesses she started wearing makeup during games after the 2011 World Cup which coincided with the rise of social media. She doesn’t wear it for practice, but she and some USWNT teammates put it on before important games.
“If I’m rooming with a teammate who also wears makeup, we’ll get ready at the same time, turn on some music and get in our game day mode together,” Krieger said, comparing it to getting ready to go out on a Saturday night.
“I’m going to work and I want to look good,” she continued. “You’re not only representing yourself, but U.S. Soccer.”
Rowbury isn’t a daily makeup person, usually just wearing it for dinner dates with her husband. But when she was younger, the two-time USA Outdoor 1,500 meter champion would pilfer through grandma Nonie’s drawers at their house in San Francisco and dress up in her costume jewelry, gloves, scarves and of course, makeup. Nonie loved pink, Rowbury says. Pink lipstick and blush that she paired with blue eye shadow.
“She was just such a sweet woman and for me, she represents unconditional love and was someone who was extremely tough but also had a very feminine side,” Rowbury said. “And I love the fact that women today are allowed to be more than just one thing or another. Putting on the lipstick is a whole series of memories and important concepts and ideas for me.”
Nonie was also the one who convinced Rowbury to become active as a kid. First, it was dancing in kindergarten. Running came later in high school. When Nonie died in 2011, Rowbury wanted to honor her through sport. So a few years later at a meet in Paris, she wore lipstick like grandma.
That race was where Rowbury first broke four minutes in the mile, clocking a personal record 3:59:49.
“My grandma was of the generation where you got dressed up for important events and in my life there’s not much that’s more important than getting to go out and represent my family and my country in these races,” Rowbury said. “It’s a nice way for me to kind of keep her memory alive.”
Now buying lipstick has become a hobby for Rowbury, who is thinking of wearing Chanel’s classic “Red Pirate” in Rio.
Makeup is more common in gymnastics than track and field or soccer since it’s a performance sport, but Raisman doesn’t go overboard. The three-time Olympic medalist used to wear blue eye shadow to match her leotard when she was 12 but now just puts a little bit of blue liner in the corner of her eyes.
“It’s a patriotic touch and makes me feel confident knowing I’m representing USA,” she said. “And it’s kind of a fun, relaxing thing. It makes me feel calm and it’s a distraction before the competition.”
Raisman said during the 2012 London Olympics, the “Fierce Five” got ready together in each other’s rooms in the Olympic Village, bonding over hair buns and makeup.
“We had one bathroom for five of us to share,” Raisman said. “We got mirrors in our rooms and I think we all did it in my room and we borrowed each other’s makeup, which is kind of gross, but at the same time you don’t really care. It’s the Olympics so you might as well.”
Krieger and Raisman say most of the feedback they’ve received from fans on social media has been positive. It’s usually young girls wanting to know how they do it or where to buy it. But Rowbury receives backlash from time to time for her lipstick.
She doesn’t care.
“It’s important to open people’s eyes to the fact that you can be an athlete and still be into fashion,” Rowbury said. “I think before the two were considered mutually exclusive or something. But that’s definitely not the case.”
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