It usually takes me a couple of days to unpack my bag from a race weekend. Like paying bills or installing computer updates, I know it’s something I should do right away but, you know, don’t. Pulling out my slightly stewed layers of spandex and jackets, I note the remnants of racing littered throughout my duffle: A protein bar wrapper here, a safety pinned number there, and, inevitably, a completely un-cleanable, yet altogether brilliant puff of shimmering, silvery glitter.
For being so shiny and magical, glitter is a surprisingly contentious subject in our sport. For some, it’s the representation of the spunk and spice of the American women, one of whom’s nickname is actually sparkle chipmunk, and the energetic spirit they aim to embody. For others, it’s a secret weapon, a disguise, that helps us transcend ourselves and do great things on the racecourse. For others, still, it’s a mere frivolity, presented as an excuse to not take racing seriously or a sexist image of women in sport. Some say it’s girly, or messy or just not their thing.
To those people, I want you to know, I see you. I respect your point of view. You are also wrong.
There was a time in my life that I, too, believed that glitter was dead. I considered myself too mature, too old, too serious to believe in its magic. The other women with whom I raced didn’t wear it, and they wore their countries’ colors on their suits. It was hard enough finishing near last, I didn’t want to attract attention along the way. I wanted to be taken seriously as an athlete–to be the spotlight, not the disco ball–and felt that getting to the line free of the glint of races past would help me do that.For a handful of different reasons (not limited to but represented by my lack of glitter), I tended to take myself the most seriously, which just didn’t go that well.
And that’s the trick, isn’t it? Taking what we do seriously without taking ourselves too seriously. Going for it, pursuing something with all of our energy, but allowing ourselves the space and forgiveness to make mistakes and also take chances. To remember that skiing is what we do, not who we are. In a way, that’s what glitter is to me, a contract I sign with myself before races that says I will go as hard as I can and earn a smile at the finish line. It’s visual proof that while my actions show that I’m taking my skiing seriously, I’m not taking myself too seriously.
And, sometimes, it’s not enough. Honestly, and unfortunately, glitter isn’t actually magic. It doesn’t harness the physical power to push you harder or make you faster, but it can connect you with others who do. In the pre race ritual where we pass the glitter amongst our teammates and friends, we connect each other to the same cause. We unite our individual performances and create something shared, so that the successes of our teammates are felt by all, and the failures hardly noticed. In this way, we get to be both the spotlight and the disco ball, both the source and the reflection of light to everyone around us.
And then there’s the sexism thing. I’ve had people ask me if I thought that putting glitter on my face for racing reinforces a trend that focuses on looks and holds back women in sport. I have two issues with this idea. First, it seems to connect glitter to girliness, and girliness to foolishness. The fact that a conceptual link between the feminine and the frivolous even exists is a problem. Glitter is not heavy. It cannot hold us back, just ask the World Cup podium (#mic #drop).
Second, I know plenty of men who wear glitter. It connects all of us. I would even go as far as to argue that men like shiny things as much as women (egad!). Men are people, too! Let them wear their damn glitter.
And the very best thing about glitter, as I discover every week, is that unlike our memories, our spandex or our kick wax, it never fades. It always twinkles and glimmers, it sticks around in your hair and your jacket pockets, emerging at the oddest times to remind you what a gift it is to be a ski racer. To be part of a community coaches, athletes and supporters who work so hard to create a culture that lets us shine.
I’m all about it.