When Women Wear Bruises to Work


shes got legs 660Bruises aren’t standard business attire, apparently, but some of us didn’t get the memo.

One June afternoon, Katie’s boss quietly cornered her in her finance-department cubicle. She had noticed bruises on Katie’s legs.

I know you say you’ve been mountain biking a lot lately, her boss whispered, but if there’s something else going on — anything you’d like to talk to someone about — please know that I’m here for you.

Katie blushed, and then assured her boss that it was her sport — not a battering boyfriend — that was to blame for the black and blue.

Katie and I had recently hurled ourselves into mountain biking with a vengeance. I had just turned 30 and treated myself to a new-to-me full-suspension bike. Katie was younger, also new to mountain biking, and we attacked our after-work rides with an almost reckless passion, desperately stoked about our new wheels.

Along with the thrilling hucks and drops, naturally, came a couple of bumps and scrapes. Early in the season, it had been easy to cover them up. I would wear dress pants, long skirts or tights to the office. But as the weather warmed, it became more challenging. Riding to the office was a pretty sweaty affair with a pair of leggings layered underneath a summer dress.

I’m not sure why I was afraid. Maybe I thought the black and blue would be a turnoff to guys. Maybe I worried a raspberry would look unprofessional with a skirt and suit jacket. Whatever insecurities nagged at me, I finally shrugged them off. Maybe simply because the summer got too hot to worry about covering up. I remember complimenting Katie on a cute, above-the-knee sundress, laughing about finally accepting our bumps and scrapes. I knew that with Katie’s irresistible dimples, razor-sharp wit, and sexy figure, bruises wouldn’t deter any suitor of value. But I never would have predicted the reaction at her office.

I was thankful Katie’s supervisor was aware and concerned for her safety—abuse should not be taken lightly. But the interaction was culturally enlightening: Scraped knees are not okay. Unless you’re seven years old. So where do we fit in, the ladies whose scraped knees come from shredding a new trail?

It’s not news that women in fashion magazines are airbrushed and unrealistic, but not even the heroines of my sports are immune to the pressure for perfection. I recently ran across a “women of cycling” calendar featuring scantily clad, scandalously posed athletes. Their bodies were sculpted works of art, but there was something in the over-sexed production that left me longing for truth. Something I could identify with. I wanted to admire these tough, gorgeous women complete with their road rash and scars.

Almost every bruise, scrape and scar on my body comes with a fond story. The dent from that tree I didn’t quite dodge, the scar from the scrappy rappel, the bump from that confoundedly sandy 5.10 sport route. They are the marks of living life passionately. And the women I want to spend my time with also proudly bear the marks of living in pursuit of adventure.

My role models are the ladies whose shins are nicked from pedals, inner knees bruised from top tubes. Whose forearms are grated from arm bars, hands gobied from hand jams. The women who rock their yard sale wounds. Life is complicated, and sometimes the path to bliss and transcendence is waylaid by rock gardens, moguls and granite roofs.

{ 35 comments…read them below or write one }

  • spot

    My bruise-covered limbs drew similar reactions when I was playing rugby. I was annoyed by the stares and questions at first, but I agree that it’s always better to ask. Besides, by asking, you might find yourself a new biking/climbing/skiing buddy!

  • Elizabeth Quinn

    This is exactly my problem with Outside’s cover and photo shoot of Lindsey Vonn. She is without a doubt beautiful, but it didn’t seem authentic to her rough-and-tumble, fearless persona. Give us all someone to relate to.

  • Whitney

    Truth! This is brilliant. I’ve long accepted my scars as story pieces (though mine unfortunately stem more from klutziness on the trails than crushing), but have also been the surprised recipient of creams and cover ups by well meaning females at work after coming in with fresh injuries…haha. Appreciated, certainly, but definitely a different perspective.

  • Jill

    Love this! So true. I always feel a little funny wearing the skirt or dress for those summer weddings with my scarred up, bruised and scraped summer legs.

  • Ted Johnson

    Good for Katie for showing showing that women are not necessarily pristine creatures adverse to cycling adventures.

    Good for her boss for tactfully inquiring into a possible darker side of the story.

    Think about the flip-side sexism here: Men who dress “professionally” are never allowed to show off their legs at work, much less their battle scars from mountain biking. In a similar workplace, a man who showed up to work in shorts (or a skirt) revealing scrapes and bruises would be asked to go home and change.

    Just pointing that out.

  • Donna Smith

    My kids endured the questions of overly protective school officials when my daughter went to school on a Monday morning after a long difficult mountain bike ride that included crashing into a small tree. School officials interviewed my son, then in 6th grade about how his little sisster’s arm got so bruised. He honestly replied that she ran into a tree on a mountain bike ride. Hmm they thought, I guess we better ask her and when they did my audacious 5th grade daughter proudly proclaimed that she crashed into a tree, the tree broke and she didn’t.

  • Laura

    Love this!!! Some work environments are more forgiving than others, I think.
    Most awkward moment in my experience was a Judge I regularly appear before asking me to approach the bench for a similar discussion, after showing up to court with a black eye and cuts on my cheek and lip after insufficiently dodging a killer cross in the 3rd round of my first (boxing) sparring match. So embarrassing (because, apparently, it wasn’t enough to just get punched in the face by my opponent). Train even harderrrrr….

  • KatieSue

    Love that the heroine here is Katie! When I started climbing it was a junk show for my legs but I loved showing them off. Sometimes claiming that my scabs need air to heal so I can’t wear pants. My mother continues to be horrified. The guys I eat lunch with everyday know when spring is here and I’m climbing by the goobies covering my hands and my CEO who knows it’s my sport passes me in the halls often saying, “hows the climbing? Let’s see, show me your hands.” I’m glad I live in a time and place and work in an office where these things are ok. Life is great!

  • Amy O

    Great job Hill! Rock those heels AND those bruises! Mine are starting to turn yellow…time for the weekend!!!:-)

  • Bronwyn

    I used to rock up at work with my forearms full of bruises back in the days when I did karate, but no one ever asked me if I was being abused. Unlike a friend of mine, who got a back eye in her black belt grading and then a broken nose a couple of weeks later at her initiation. That was too much for her colleagues, who took her aside and also asked her if she was SURE she was ok….. She said the thing that got to her most was the tea ladies and the cafeteria ladies, who all seemed to think she was being knocked around by a boyfriend, but seemed to think it was nothing out of the ordinary. That was sad.

  • Wendy Williams

    Years ago my friend and I started the Strong Women, Ugly Knees Club (SWUK for short) when we noticed that kick-butt women always seemed to be covered in bruises. We were out climbing with a bunch of friends and realized all the women had banged up knees, shins, and elbows. We were the worst, so we jokingly started the “Strong Women, Ugly Knees Club.” With tongues in cheeks, we went around asking women if they wanted to join. The reaction was awesome. Women proudly told us story after story, complete with pictures saved on phones, of how they obtained each of their injuries. It occurred to us that it was easy to tell who the strong women were, because they had the knees to prove it. Feel free to post your pictures and stories and if you’re around, come join us for some SWUK adventures.

  • Judy

    At the end of a week of bouncing around J24s during San Francisco’s JWorld’s women’s advanced racing course in 35K winds, we had a bruise contest—for a purple ribbon. Bruises of honor.

  • Anne

    I had this happen! Luckily, at my current job my boss knows me well enough to (correctly) attribute scrapes and bruises to an adventure. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one working and playing hard!

  • AC Shilton

    So I have a gnarly scar on my knee from when a disk brake rotor sliced through my knee cap like a pizza cutter. Four staples and eight stitches later, I practically have the Specialized logo permanently etched on my knee. When I worked for Specialized, I did a ton of events in shorts and three (3!) separate times plastic surgeons came up to me to tell me they could “fix” me. I’d never been so offended in my entire life–this scar is a great badge of honor!

  • Lindsay

    Rock those battle wounds! But do be smart and wear protection and exercise injury prevention. All riders can benefit great from a skills clinic, but even the best riders have crashes. Protect and prevent. Be proud of what you do!

  • Claudette

    Same thing happened to one of my rugby teammates. I used to forestall all comments by telling everyone I worked for ( I was a consultant so worked for a few companies) I played rugby I was a “hooker” and I have an awsome photo that was taken and put in the local paper that I would hang in my office. The note above said “would you mess with this woman”? I was breaking away from the pack ball in hand with a look of utter determination on my face.

  • Natasha Lockey

    Yep I’ve got a story like that too – my first year in town, first year mountain biking and first year driving the beverage cart at the golf course. After the boys realized they didn’t need to beat the crap out of my boyfriend it became the weekly joke – so Tash lets see the newest bruise and hear the story! It cracked me up years later when I started coaching and my name would be up in lights advertising my latest program – all I could think of is what the boys from the golf course were thinking of the beverage cart girl with all the bruises that had finally learned to ride her bike!

  • Charlie

    Great post! Two years ago my new boss was concerned/amused by red marks all down one side of my neck. I had to reassure him that this was just my wetsuit chafing my neck during open water swim training rather than any exciting/worrying changes in my love life! He now knows that any bruises/cuts/scrapes are from enthusiastic swimming, cycling or hiking. Wear your scars with pride and keep pushing harder!

  • Wonton Hammer

    I’ve played roller derby since 2009, and started Crossfit last year. Basically, I’ve given up trying to figure out where the bruises came from but I’m assured that I did something to earn them when I find them, sometimes days later. To be perfectly honest, I worry about if I remembered to shave my legs more than I worry about how my perpetually marked up shins look when I wear dresses or shorts. If it’s something you love, you give it your all to be the best you can be at it, regardless of what people think.

  • Dagmar

    Ah, yes. I used to get ‘funny’ comments from the suits when wearing my adventure backpack to work. I have a compass attached to the shoulder rim, and guys would joke about me ‘being afraid to get lost in the elevator’. My colleagues would ask if I colour coordinated my bruises with my outfit. All harmless really, but it got old very fast.
    My like-minded friends and I like to call the scars and bruises ‘medals’ – and that’s how I feel about them. Thanks for sharing!

  • Derbydoll

    Rock the bruises after work. If they are gnarley enough to draw concern cover it with pants or hosiery at work. I have scars from surgery on injuries and I tend to use self tanner to make them less noticeable . Even so if it were a distraction for clients and coworkers then I would switch to opaque hose or pants. It is unprofessional in conservative environments as is visible tattoos.( I only get tats in places I can cover easily.) Sorry, but hot weather is no excuse. Men have to wear pants to work every day. If you want to be taken seriously in the workplace get with the program.

  • Lindsay

    This is a great article…I walk into work every week with bruises on my chest and collar bone from power cleans and people look at me like I’m crazy. Then I tell them it’s from cleaning a barbell and they develop a whole different level of respect. It also makes me feel badass. Embrace those bruises!

  • Kate

    I train in Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu–I am covered in bruises all the time. My co-workers are used to it by now but when I’m out and about, I see people notice.

    Generally, I don’t mind, but it can be a drag with summer weather. Now my black-and-blue shins are on display, too.

  • Yvette

    As a SAHM I get a lot of looks when I drop my kids off at their private school or go to the super market. I just laugh because I even get the weird stares when I leave the gym for the market to grab a few items because I have a ton of chalk on my hands (and every where else) and am all sweaty.. lol. I have had people ask me if I’m “OK” looking at me crazy but I’m fine with it. I laugh and tell them what I do and they give me the wider eyed “You’re crazy” look. But I don’t care. I love crossfit like I love culinary. So I’m use to the weird stares because of my hands being messed up or the way I am dressed.

  • Je

    LOL, my bruises are showing today as well. I can only blame the bike for some, the rest are on me and my natural grace, with support from aspirin therapy!

  • Emily

    Sally Hansen makes a great “leg makeup” that’s kind of like liquid pantyhose…. Once it dries it really doesn’t rub off on any fabric (at least in my personal experience)!!

  • Uma

    I like gravity sports… a lot. I’m a decent intermediate mountain biker. Technical descending is my strength and I love making the guys work hard to catch me. Last week I completed my first 6 hour MTB race and had a mechanical on the third lap; I had to run the bike in 5 miles to get it repaired. That entire time the pedals and bike were bouncing against my legs, leaving me bludgeoned a few days later. It didn’t stop me from getting back after it the next day. Or the day after. Or from wearing a skirt home or shorts that week or even now. I don’t think of my battle wounds as badges or medals, they are just sh*t that happens when you are engaged in full contact living. But when I go in to teach yoga on Monday mornings, if there are a lot of new people or visitors, I make sure to explain the bruising on my arms and legs so there’s no concern. What’s really interesting is the assumption most people make about me: that I self-abuse or don’t treat my body right. But that’s just it: pinning my heart rate, riding the razor’s edge—this IS treating my body—AND my mind—right. Each person has to decide their level of acceptable risk. People see the bruises and cuts and sprains after the fact, but what they will never know—unless they are doing it themselves—is the glorious moment of being in that state of flow, where ego dissolve and all that remains is shredding/climbing/moving/breathing/etc. To me, there is absolutely NO difference between downhill mountain biking, rock climbing and “yoga”. I choose it ALL.

  • Abe

    As a mountain biker myself, bruises are NOT a turn off and fitness IS a turn on. I wouldn’t call my bruises thrilling stories, more the low points of the story and ride. Mountain biking is lots of fun. It can be a solo experience, one with your dog or many friends. There are now thousands of amazing trails. Gooseberry Mesa is the most fun trail I’ve ever been on, biking.

  • Sophie

    I’m happy to read about the bosses and co-workers who are caring enough to ask. I take that as a good sign that we can start (re)building a society where bruises and scars are from living fully and in your body, a system with the capacity to distinguish between good and bad bruises. Personally, I live in a city (Seattle) that decided looking professional was less important than showing our tattoos, comfortable clothing, or souvenirs from playing outside. It’s been working out well for us as far as I can tell

  • pam

    My 68 yr old biking friend and I – both women – were at the store today looking at bandages and debating the merits of various treatments for road rash. Then we started comparing scars.

  • Laura

    I love this, thank you for writing this. I’m pretty new to MTB and have in the past month taken a half dozen spills on the trails, my worst being today which added 7 or so new bruises to the melange of aging bruises already waning. I made the joke to my husband (a police officer) that it’s going to be harder and harder for him to convince people he’s not beating me. But I think you’re right to just wear what you want, bruises be damned. But it made me feel a lot better to know I’m not the only girl on the trails taking her fair share of bumps and bruises.

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