She’s a runner. Now she’s a masters runner, but in her prime she was an Olympian. She was at the top of the top. Over the years, she retired from world-class running, settled down and started a family. Now she’s the smiling face of the Disney and Rock-n-Roll races, she prides herself on helping women who struggle with depression discover the healing powers of running, she’s a successful real estate agent and living a comfortable family life in the upper-Midwest. That’s on the outside. When no one’s looking, she’s sneaking off to Vegas to meet strangers. She answers the swanky hotel door in expensive lingerie, provides the “Full Girlfriend Experience” and heads for the envelope with giant wads of cash after her clients leave.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having Suzy Favor Hamilton’s story stuck swirling around in my head.
SFH is being very forthcoming about what she did and why she did it. She said after the birth of her daughter, she suffered from post-partum depression. Apparently, as an attempt to self-medicate, she sought the help of this Vegas call-girl ring to help her fulfill a fantasy and before she knew it, she was hooked on hooking.
As I was feeding the baby last night and brooding over this, I started to wonder why this story is so fascinating. Why can’t I stop thinking about it?
A big part of the reason is that SFH is the ultimate rule bender. As Jinger discussed recently, we all have an idea of what a runner, especially an elite runner’s life is like. We picture grueling training schedules, clean eating and early bedtimes. We all like to assume elite runners are the monks of the athletic world. While there may be some truth behind this assumption, it’s a gross distortion of the human-ness of elite runners, just like the truth is grossly distorted behind any stereotype.
While SFH is clearly not a monk, in researching her story, I discovered something about her that is very much within the stereotype of competitive women athletes: she’s a perfectionist. In this interview, she discusses how perfectionism led her to anorexia and throwing herself to the track when she realized she wasn’t going to medal in the 2000 Olympics. Many of us can relate to this feeling of never being good enough. Most of us learn to be ok with good enough, while some of us, like SFH struggle for years and the perfectionism either leads to or feeds a depression that’s already there.
But becoming a prostitute is clearly more than cracking under the pressure of perfectionism. Is a woman athlete feminine or sexy? Athletics, especially competitive athletics is a historically male activity. Are women who engage in this stuff as feminine as, say, dancers or nurses or other women who engage in more historically feminine pursuits? Might someone like SFH have felt the need to actively assert her femininity in such an extreme way, by becoming the ultimate sex object. Do you feel that being a competitive runner makes you more or less feminine?
At the same time, our culture celebrates thin toned women, exactly the type of body many female competitive runners have. We live in a superficial society where women are often valued most for how they look. An athlete like SFH who has worked her whole life to create a beautiful physique, who has fully capitalized on her body’s athletic power might want to capitalize on the aesthetics of that same body. I know when I’m in peak shape that I feel I’m at my sexiest. I love that feeling and could understand wanting to make the most out of it, especially as age creeps up and the perception that my days for that stuff are numbered intensifies. Although for me, I can get that feeling by wearing cute clothes and don’t think I’ll find myself working in Vegas any time soon.
I’m not trying to excuse SFH or even say what she did is wrong. I’m just trying to understand it.
Why do you think Suzy Favor Hamilton became a high priced call girl? Can you relate, even a little, to her experience?
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