Running Shoes and Gender Roles

I’m a lot of things, but I am not a stereotypical guy. I mean, the only oil I want on my hands is for my cuticles. When people buy my wife lotion and candles as gifts, guess who ends up using them?

With that in mind, you can probably guess how I react to brightly colored running clothes–especially shoes.

Giddy Captain Picard
Unfortunately, men’s running shoes tend to be plain and subdued (read: dull and boring). Women’s shoes, on the other hand are brightly colored and fluorescent (read: awesome and wonderful).

After reading a few reviews online for running shoes, I got pretty irritated at what I read. I hope they’re the vocal minority, but from the current state of men’s activewear, I think there’s a lot of stereotyping going on about what men want to buy and wear.

Problem The First

While looking for a good deal on some Nimbus 15s, I read a lot of reviews. A lot of them were from guys who complained about the colors, which I totally get. Asics are kind of ugly no matter what, but these guys were complaining about them being too flashy.

One in particular claimed this shoe was too flashy and drew too much attention to his feet:

Asics Nimbus 16 Red
That’s absurd. It’s stupid. In person, the colors on that shoe aren’t even as bright as that picture. It’s one of the dullest and generic shoes I’ve seen Asics make. Yet this particular reviewer said it was too garish and ridiculous to wear. He said he wanted black, red, and grey with no fluorescents.

Now, that’s just one guy. But reviews on Zappos, Running Warehouse, Holabird, Amazon, and other retailers echoed what this guy said–many male runners complained that the colors on running shoes were too bright and too busy. They just wanted a shoe that covered their feet and did its job, not be pretty.

Which is why guys like me can’t find a damn shoe to wear. I want to be pretty when I want. I want to peacock my way across the finish line. And those kinds of boring, plain, grey-loving guys ruin it for me.

Because running shoe companies obviously listen to them. Because I can’t find any shoes I adore that aren’t in women’s styles, which I can’t wear because of sizing issues.

Problem The Second

I wear wide shoes. Extra wide, actually. (That’s what 4E means, if you’re unaware.) Most shoe manufacturers only make a single color scheme in 4E, and which one does that tend to be? The most generic one, of course!

For the past three years, this is what my shoes have looked like because they are the only versions of the Asics Nimbus that comes in 4E:

Asics Gel Nimbus 13 Running Shoes

Asics Nimbus 13

Asics Nimbus 14 and Albuterol Inhaler

Asics Nimbus 14 and my handy-dandy Albuterol Inhaler

Asics Nimbus 15

Asics Nimbus 15

As you can see, the Nimbus 15s are the prettiest of my shoes yet, but they’re still pretty plain. They don’t really call attention to my feet or make me feel bright and special, like I want a running shoe to do.

It’s irritating that I can’t find bright shoes to fit me. If I wanted to (or could) wear women’s shoes, I’d be fine. They tend to come in bright pinks and purples and greens–exactly what I want, by the way–because running shoe companies think only women want pretty shoes that function well, while men only care about function.

That’s a bunch of stereotypical crap.


Stop stereotyping guys as being nothing but a bunch of non-smiling, personality-missing brutes who only care about performance, beast-mode, and “getting swole.” We’re not all a part of gymrat culture, and I wish running shoe and activewear manufacturers would see that.

I realize that in the scheme of things, this is a seriously non-important issue. It’s a #firstworldproblem at its finest. But the underlying issue is what gets me.

I don’t like being lumped in with other guys. I don’t like the pervasive cultural idea of what constitutes masculinity.

I don’t like how when a man takes care of his own kid for a night, some people call it “babysitting”–that’s being a father, end of story. I don’t like seeing on Facebook about how my friends are amazed their husbands or boyfriends can do their own laundry or cook their own dinner–that’s just being a freaking adult. It’s not something to be applauded anymore than being able to tie my own shoes or put on my own pants is.

And on a smaller level, I don’t like being lumped in with other guys who only want to blend in, who won’t smile for pictures, who want to wear the plainest clothing because they’re there for function only. I want to enjoy life and express myself, and part of how I do that is through my clothes. I love wearing bright colors. It makes me happy.

But it’s incredibly hard for a guy like me to actually find stuff that fits my style. Because of reviewers and consumers like I mentioned earlier, who basically tell the clothing companies to perpetuate those same manly-man stereotypes.

I am certain that if more men’s running shoes and activewear were available in bright colors, men would buy them. We don’t buy them right now because they’re not available. Does anyone else see a bit of circular logic there, a bit of a Catch-22?

I think guys like me should raise our voices, make ourselves heard, and tell these companies that we want to run in pinks and purples and greens and yellows. We want to run across that finish line looking like we just finished the Willy Wonka Marathon.


I think we need to let them know that the boring, mirror-staring, swole-as-hell gymrats aren’t even close to the same demographic as a lot of guys who buy activewear and running shoes. Some of us actually feel confident in colors other than dark blue, grey, and black. Some of us want to be seen. Some of us want to feel pretty.

Let us give you our money for that. Please.


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  1. Des @ Finding the Skinny Geek Within

    Aww bummer for you men on poor color choices but I love that you have accessorized properly with your socks though! The Blerch rocks! Maybe on the boring shoe runs, bring out the colors with an awesome Star Wars tank or something!

    • B.J. Keeton

      I have some highlighter yellow ones, too! I constantly keep my eye out for good, seamless socks in awesome colors. I figure that if I can’t have the shoes I want, I’ll at least wear the best socks I can find. 🙂

  2. Rowan

    I guess I just have basic shoes, but I was able to pick up a bright orange shirt (and compression shorts) a few dollars cheaper than more subdued colors. And later got a steal on a bunch of neon yellow shirts and shorts, apparently because they weren’t moving. I obviously have no problem with bright color, per se. But I bought them because I am out on the streets at right around dawn and want to be seen by drivers. I kind of figured the shoes would be the same way, a convenient way to say, “Say there’s a pedestrian here.”

  3. Zahra

    Oh yeah, the gender and shoe conundrum… I have wide feet too. I wear D-width shoes. Oh, and I have a thick foot (you can forget about most high heels, just with that). There’s almost nothing in women’s shoes that fits me, and men’s shoes don’t necessarily come in models or colors that look good on me. So I’m stuck, unless there’s a magical shoe that somehow:

    – Fits my foot in width and size
    – Doesn’t look like it’s made for someone with very different proportions
    – Is cute
    – Can stand up to at least a 1-mile (sometimes 2- or 3-mile walk, but one’s the usual) walk a day, everyday, for a reasonable amount of time for the money I’m paying

    I’m ready to throw money at the problem, but not oodles of time.

    Good luck on your search for brighter shoes! (Oh, and have you heard of the Color Run? It’s 5k, not timed, but you do finish splattered with colors!)

    • B.J. Keeton

      I haven’t tried a color run. I’ve seen friends do it, but I haven’t done one because I’m pretty picky about my clothes, and I’m really worried about two things: the powder would ruin my clothes and shoes and not wash out, AND I’m worried that running in the white shirt they provide would rub me raw since I run in light tech stuff. I’m very picky. 😛

  4. Andy

    I’m fully with you on this! I always see bright flashy runners online but then when I go to the local specialist running shops they usually only have one color for each shoe and you guessed it, it’s the most generic one! You considered bright shoelaces?

    • B.J. Keeton

      That’s something I haven’t even though of–shoe laces! I need to see what kind of neon wonders I can find and relace these suckers from the dull grey and blacks I have.

      Thanks for the idea!

  5. Mike #GeekFit Sweetman

    Sign me up for the Willy Wonka Marathon!

    I can really identify with your ideas in this article…but in a different way.

    Growing up with Geeky interests I often felt like I had to hide my geek activities, but now feel like it is just who I am, and something I want to share!

    I also just bought some purple sneakers…and after reading this…I’m feeling a lot different about that purchase…thanks BJ…great article!

  6. Donny

    I’m with you on the colors. My choices aren’t too out there, but when I went to my favorite local running store there were only a few selections that applied to my feet, so I got the brightest.
    I haven’t seen anyone with the same pair (yet), and I also like that about these.


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