This image of Palestinian runner Woroud Sawalha has exploded on Tumblr as a feminist symbol, with Sawalha hailed for easily winning in a sporty abaya while the other runners wither despite conforming to fascist beauty standards at the 2012 London Olympics. The problem is this photo isn't from the Olympics—and Sawalha isn't winning, she's getting lapped.
One post hailing Sawalha's modesty has almost 61,000 notes. The author of the Tumblr site GirlGrowingSmall says in her bio that she's "buckling down" to lose some weight. She found Sawalha inspiring, writing:
On the left, a woman in just short of her undies running. On the right, a woman in layers of loose clothing, completely covered except for her face and hands. And the woman on the right is in the lead.
We see so many pictures of runners in the U.S., the U.K., and elsewhere in which women are running in attire resembling that of the blonde woman. But there are other options out there. If the woman on the right can run in that with such a lead, so can you. Don’t feel like you HAVE TO workout in a sports bra and short shorts. If you want to, good for you. If you don’t, good for you, too. All that matter in your workout attire are comfort and safety. Everything else is personal taste.
I just love that the other runners look like they’re struggling so much and she’s just totally calm and out on a casual jog
She is running in a long-sleeved black shirt and tights, in the middle of summer, outside. And she’s still in the lead.
Others wonder whether she's fasting, as the Olympics fall during Ramadan. The few myth-busters are drowned out. Here's MattySmith:
Just to make everything clear. The girl on the far left, Yuliya Rusanova of Russia, and Pamela Jelimo of Kenya (middle) are over lapping Woroud Sawalha at the World Indoor Track Championships.
That competition was in March in Turkey. Sawalha's time in the qualifying heat for the 800-meter race was 2:51.87. She finished last. The winning time was 1:59.80. Rusanova and Jelimo came in third and fourth.
Sawalha is not an icon of feminism because she rejected short shorts. She's a hero because she's trying to compete in athletics despite cultural mandates that she wear a uniform that's, well, not aerodynamic, and because she's competing for Palestine. There are no facilities where Sawalha lives so she has to train abroad. She's one of five Palestinian athletes competing in London. The popularity of this post shows some of the weird narcissism that's part of American girl culture. Just because our biggest problem is that people harshly judge thigh jiggle doesn't mean that's the biggest problem for women everywhere else.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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