Running clothes in a Muslim context

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When we were considering moving back to Senegal, a very wise woman (hi, Karen!) told me that I might have a hard time finding appropriate clothes to wear while running. I’m really glad she said that because I could have very easily, in my own oblivious manner, just kept on keepin’ on in what I wore in France. But her comment made me pause and really question how I could keep running in a culturally appropriate way.

Somewhere between my post-partum physique and a stack of old maternity t-shirts that hit about mid-thigh, I stumbled upon a possible solution.

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After a morning run, I crossed paths with my neighbor, a very respected older woman who is the wife of an imam (religious leader). I’ve asked her cultural questions before and she’s always answered with grace and honesty. I explained that I was going to be buying some new running clothes and wanted to know what guidelines she’d suggest. She very wisely asked, “What it is that you want to communicate?” I replied that I wanted to dress in a way that was appropriate for a married woman in this culture. She smiled and nodded approvingly, so I figured that we were on the right track.

She looked me over head to toe: running shoes, mid-calf leggings, mid-thigh length maternity t-shirt that was loose and flowy in the body, but fit normally at the neck and shoulders, sports bra showing a little.

And then she said it was good. So I pressed further.

“But these pants? Maybe I should buy looser ones that aren’t tight and fitted?” She looked me over again (and checked out the rear view) and said, “No, the leggings are fine as long as you have a long, loose top. It’s not too sexy like this, so it’s good. If you wear a shorter top that doesn’t cover you HERE (gestured to booty and thighs), you need looser pants. But looser pants will be a hindrance when you run, so this is better. You can wear this and it is still modest.”

Phew.

Now granted this is Dakar, and a pretty upper class area of Dakar even. But this woman is the wife of an imam and I’ve only ever seen her in dressed in full boubou, musoor on her head, colle around her shoulders, bijoux on her hands, high heels… so she’s someone I’m ready to take advice from on these matters.

With this in mind, I think I’ll be buying on of these running ‘skapri’ next.

I did a quick poll of other runner buddies in Senegal and here’s our collected wisdom. Please feel free to add, agree or disagree. We’re all in this thing together!

– Clothing that would normally be considered too fitted/short may be more acceptable when you are doing sports.

– Choose loose-fitting clothing that cover shoulders, mid-section and thighs.

– When possible, run early in the day when less people are out.

– Wear an oversized “jogging”, which is the local term for outfits that the girls wear here for gym classes.

– No tank tops or shorts.

(Erin and Aleyna, I would love to have your thoughts and suggestions!)

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6 thoughts on “Running clothes in a Muslim context

  1. This is really interesting, thanks for sharing. I’m curious, is it ever appropriate (as a married woman) to wear a tank top? I remember we used to wear them all the time…but maybe it was different because we were single?

    Also, I find it comforting I’m not the only one still wearing maternity t-shirts! (they make super comfy sleep shirts. Geez..lthat sounds sad just writing that. Maybe I need to go shopping.)

  2. Something that I have done that I think might be ok as well is a wearing something tied around the waist to cover the posterior better. I bought some long sleeve shirts at the Monday Market for that purpose (instead of bulky sweatshirts). I got the impression from my traditional neighbour that it was a suitable alternative, but I should check again.

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