Empowerment through Athleisure

Athleisure: “a style of clothing worn as athletic apparel but also suitable for casual, everyday wear”.

So I’m having a great week, just started a new job in a cool young startup and things are going well. I promised away this holiday weekend, as my sister needed a babysitter for my two adorable, sweet nieces – no problem. My partner could also use some attention and energy and on top of all that, I’m working hard to grow my website into something significant. But all of this is normal for the average 21st-century woman.

I’m lucky enough to work for a company now that prizes our comfort over formality; therefore we are allowed to wear jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, etc. on any normal day in the office. I am no short of elated by this fact. My hunch is that this might have something to do with the fact that I’m working for a tech company, in a time when programmers are known to code barefoot and in sweatpants. Naturally, we want these tech geniuses to feel relaxed and concentrated in order to do their best work, and by default, this extends to the rest of the team as well (as far as I can tell).

Not having to worry about if my pants are formal enough to meet the dress code, I can finally relax, stop worrying about how I look and actually concentrate on doing my work! Yippie!

Even more surprisingly, is the fact that I now find myself in a tech role (tech/customer support, to be more exact). I suppose this was inevitable. But for a one-time philosophy major, turned business graduate, even I am taken aback by this new characteristic of my work.

But I’m not the only person these days who finds themselves, unexpectedly, in a technology-dominated position. Nowadays, more and more jobs are becoming tech-based. Sales trips have been replaced with Salesforce, local operations with global, and almost anything can be accomplished from behind a computer screen. But what does this mean for our wellbeing? Well, certainly that some of us are getting used to the reality that is it ‘normal’ to spend upwards of 8-10 hours a day (or more) sitting, working on a computer.

As more and more people adopt such a working style, the effects on our collective health should not be underestimated. I believe these modern sedentary habits must be actively and consciously counteracted by a sustained effort to move our bodies daily. Exercise, in the era of online social networks and virtua reality cannot be overlooked.

Instead of getting on our computers when we come home from work, we must force ourselves to take the dog for a walk; play with our children at the park; go for a run or hit the gym with a partner or friend. Join a fitness class; if you can’t afford one, organize a regular group session in your circle of friends.

Which brings me to athleisure.

Today, in order to best prepare myself for the weekend ahead, one of chasing a toddler around the house and changing a never-ending supply of dirty diapers, I put on my yoga pants and a loose cotton top. I wore this to the train station, where I took the train for 2 hours to my sister’s home. This outfit, I’ve realized, while slightly risqué compared to my normal clothes, does so much more than improve my level of comfort while sitting on the train.

I believe there is more to this athleisure trend than meets the eye. It’s not about laziness or lack of self-care. It doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to dress myself, or which clothes are appropriate for everyday life in our society.

Athleisure, or the concept and ability to wear comfortable, health- and fitness-oriented clothing in a socially acceptable way, is in and of itself a mentality. It is about standing up to authority figures in society who arbitrarily tell you how you should dress, think, and act. It is about a commitment to your health and wellbeing, among all other things in your life, including your work responsibilities.

Take shoes for example. The traditional dress shoe one might wear to work, or really any woman’s shoe other than the sneaker, is often designed in such a way that will leave the wearer with foot or back pain in the long run. Common ballet flats, or the even more perilous heel, do not support your health and physical wellbeing. They fail to provide the basic support and stability our feet need to move painlessly through the world.

I am coming to realize, that something as simple as the shoes on our feet makes a powerful statement about how we choose to live our lives. Do we give in to society’s pressure to look a certain way, compromising our comfort and health in the process? Or do we take a stand, and wear comfortable shoes, in order to get the most out of our daily walks and realize the maximum level of health possible? In older, simpler times, perhaps this was not an issue, when family walks after dinner were the standard anyway, or when there was no question of getting physical activity while on the job. In the times we are living in today, however, these things matter.

When I decide to wear my sleek, lightweight, well-worn trail-running shoes, which provide minimal, yet sufficient support in order to provide my feet with a natural experience while walking, running, or hiking, I feel empowered and enabled to live a healthy lifestyle. I feel in charge of my body and where I’m going. They are dependable and durable, unlike so many other shoes for women, so I know I don’t have to worry about broken straps, blisters, or foot pains due to flat soles. They empower me to get a great workout even while walking, activating muscles that other shoes most probably cause harm to. Meanwhile, I can forget about what I’m wearing and concentrate on making the most out of my day and taking care of my priorities.

For too long, women have had to be obsessed with what they wear. When it comes to clothes, I have often wished I were a man, or could simply dress like a man. All shoes, pants, and tops seem to cooperate effortlessly together in the men’s section. As a woman, however, we are constantly judged by men on our sexual attractiveness; and likewise by women on our fashion sensibility. It not enough to simply dress ourselves, as is the case for so many men. We need to buy nice/expensive clothes, plus shoes, purse, and jewelry to match; make it appear effortless, and ensure that our clothing is in the right color, size, and shape to perfectly flatter our figure. We have to find just the right balance of attractive and likable, which falls somewhere in between the slutty disgrace (too much sex appeal) and the hobo look (not enough).

So many days, like many other women, I leave the house feeling extremely uncomfortable and dissatisfied by my clothing or appearance; when my dress pants don’t fall just the right way as they’re expected to; when an XS shirt frustratingly still seems to douse me in fabric to the point where my shape is unrecognizable; when I don’t have the right socks to match my shoes to match my belt to match my jacket to match my shirt and pants. Don’t even get me started on make-up!

Athleisure offers women a way out of this frustrating conundrum of what to wear every day. It’s simple: throw on an outfit from your favorite fitness-wear brand, which has been designed and produced to match and look great and will not leave you with any uncomfortable hangups throughout the day. More than that, you might actually feel empowered and excited about picking up the groceries after work, chauffeuring your kids around all day on Saturday, or working overtime to build that website for your most important client. You can do all this and so much more, in athleisure, with ease. Many women already know this and are kicking butt as we speak!

But I’d like to share one last thought with you on this fitness-wear trend. While I feel hugely confident and happy in such clothing, I also experienced a certain level of increased self-consciousness while at the train station in my yoga pants. Was I wrong for being there, doing that? Why were so many people looking in my direction? Can everyone’s eyes please just leave me alone and let me get on with my day in peace? Thank you.

It’s a strange sensation to feel simultaneously empowered, but also scared.

Scared that my outfit might provoke one of the people within my radius to do something crazy; to follow me home or even worse. When I’m just trying to catch my train; trying to go for a walk or shopping or have lunch with a friend; I am not inviting you to stare at me.

People should have the right to wear whatever they want without being made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe. More than that, we should all have the right to wear clothes that support our health and wellbeing. This is so important for women, who embody the life force that keeps this planet spinning! We have important things to do, so please don’t make us question what we are wearing, or sacrifice our health in order to cater to your idea of beauty. Our time and energy is so much more valuable spent on other things, like raising the next generation, building the socially conscious companies of tomorrow, or leading a global movement towards a healthier way of life for all ✌❤

Share your thoughts with us on this matter by using the hashtag #respecttheyogapants, looking forward to hearing from you!


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