It started with several comments from male coworkers.
“Your hair is showing.”
“Your shirt should be longer.”
“Your nose ring draws attention to your face.”
This sexual harassment, disguised as ‘brotherly concern’, permeated into my subconscious. It took about two years of ‘helpful guidance’, but it wore me down. Slowly, my wardrobe went from bright colors and patterns, to black shapeless abayas. Instead of coming to work every day in clothes that reflected my inner beliefs, I wore armor to silence the critics. My mood also shifted. Each day as my wardrobe marched onwards into darkness, so did my headspace.
One day, I confided in a coworker that I had agreed to lead a project that was impossible for me to fit into my schedule. He extended an invitation to attend a running club on Aramco’s residential camp. I rolled my eyes, and politely declined his invitation.
“I’ll be there at 8:00 PM. Please try to come. You’ll feel better.”
His offer struck a chord. Feel better. I needed to get a grip. I felt myself slipping away, but I didn’t know how to stop it. I decided to show up and simply call it an experience.
After spending at least an hour agonizing over my outfit, I decided on a long sweatshirt, my favorite exercise leggings, and a bright blue scarf.
When I arrived, I braced myself for the gloss over. The up and down examination of my choices. The scrutiny. After a few minutes, the group stood in unison and took off jogging around the soccer field. Not one to be left behind, I started off after them. My lungs burned. I furiously pumped my arms. Sweat pooled on my skin in the soggy night. The bright lights illuminated the soccer field into daylight. I left my self doubt in the blackness that surrounded us. The coach called, “Kaaaaaate”.
What?” Was I doing it wrong? I braced myself for criticism. For a correction.
“Good job”. His goofy grin stetched across his thin face. He held up his lanky arms and gave me two thumbs up.
“Welcome to Joud Running.”
I’ve since welcomed back my colorful wardrobe. There is just as much judgement as before. The difference is now, I’m running by the criticism — too tired and accomplished to care.