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For hundreds of women, OKC Hot Girl Walks offer movement, togetherness

Wheeler Park is full of color, but it's almost hard to see through the 103-degree heat. Blue leggings. The sharp August sun. A neon pink shirt. Sweat beads. Yellow details on a pair of navy sneakers.

On a sweltering Wednesday evening, nearly one hundred women in athleticwear gather near the Wheeler Ferris Wheel. They’re here for Oklahoma City’s Hot Girl Walk, a weekly meet-up of women centered around a two-mile stroll.

A bit after 7 p.m., feet press onto the pavement, turning right, then continuing straight.

Last August, Kendra Haslam organized the first OKC Hot Girl Walk. Now, theInstagram page she runs for the community has more than 7,000 followers.

“I honestly just wanted to create a space where we could move our bodies as women at no cost,” Haslam said.

She hosts a gathering nearly every week. Most are walks. Sometimes Haslam coordinates other events, like yoga or cycling.

But, for most of the OKC Hot Girl Walk participants, exercise is just one part of why they attend.

“There's no pressure to walk a certain speed or wear a certain thing or anything like that,” walker Adrianna Belles said.

“Look a certain way either,” Hallie Buhl added.

The two walk next to each other today, toward the middle of the group. Belles and Buhl went to college together and reconnected recently at a Hot Girl Walk.

Around them, women are deep in conversation — some best friends, others meeting for the first time. Nearly all say they feel safe exercising in this group.

“My head's not on a swivel,” Payton Shreve said. “I'm not worried about everybody else around me because I feel more comfortable with a big group than I do by myself.”

Women’s apprehension about exercising outside is prevalent; gender, along with race and class, strongly influencespeople’s fear of crime and level of comfort in public spaces.

That’s due to gender roles that enable men to perpetrate street harassment and diminish women’s autonomy,according to legal scholar Deborah Thompson.

“In isolation, each comment and leer may seem like nothing more than a trivial annoyance, a fact of life in a boorish urban environment,” Thompson wrote. “But when multiplied by man after man, day after day, week after week, year after year, street harassment profoundly affects a woman’s life and liberty.”

Women’s fear can be abarrier to public participation, even for acts as seemingly mundane as taking a walk in the park.

Walking together is resistance to that discomfort.

“It's nice seeing a bunch of women get together to do something that is a pretty easy thing for men to do,” Litzy Soto said.

And people attending OKC’s Hot Girl Walks are empowered by the group.

“I feel like we’re unionizing,” Ashley Pierce said.

The dozens of women walking draw some attention. About a mile in, a man along the trail remarks, “Hey, I love a parade. My own personal, just for me”

The path rounds, revealing the Wheeler Ferris Wheel again. A sunset falls onto the river, temporarily turning it orange.

After tonight’s walk, women stick around, gulping water and enjoying the OKC Hot Girl Walk community even after its title event concludes.

Because, after two miles on the trail, OKC’s Hot Girl Walks become a little bit less about walking and more about who you’re doing it with.

“We're all just here doing the same thing, having the same goals,” Michelle Nguyen said. “It's nice to just turn around and talk to someone new, make new friends, and bring old friends together too.”

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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