I have been toying with speaking on this issue for a month now, but I have decided I would finally blog about this after a conversation with a friend.
After reading about Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation’s recommendations to encourage more young women to remain interested in sport, I did go off on Twitter about it.
If you haven’t heard/read about it (article here) some of the recommendations included Zumba classes and rollerblading which made my blood boil. There was also mention that girls felt that being sweaty was not feminine. This rang true with what I remember the girls at my school feeling like which prevented them from participating in activities. But do you think Zumba and rollerblading are a way of changing those imo negative images of fitness? Because I don’t!!
There is already tons of terrible imaging for staying healthy in the industry. Photos of perfectly made up women in Lycra without an ounce of sweat, smiling at the camera while holding a 0.5kg dumbbell is not the way forward, so to enforce this terrible stereotype with Zumba and rollerblading is atrocious. The emphasis on exercising to lose weight is also a very negative and damaging undercurrent to fitness.
The article also touched on some schools only paying attention to those girls who excelled at sport, and I could see why those that weren’t so good would feel like giving up. But this is not true of all schools, I know some very good schools and teachers who are inclusive to all and try to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
As a Black woman, it amazes me how many women/girls don’t exercise due to the fact that they “don’t want to sweat out their hairstyles” when we as a race are more likely to have diabetes and heart problems. I remember reading an article on this very subject around a year or so ago, to much annoyance, I cannot source this article to share with you.
But what broke the straw on the camel’s back for me was when UK Athletics Head Coach, Charles van Commenee allegedly stated that Jessica Ennis was ‘fat’ (I should point out it was later on denied by him, but by then the damage was already done.)
In the year that sport has been put under the spotlight with our Capital hosting the biggest sporting event in front of the rest of the World, it is a catastrophic failure that this was even brought to the forefront. Women have enough to worry about as it is without this nonsense. This is a perfect opportunity for our young women to see the likes of Jessica, Perri and Paula on the International stage doing their thing, sweating and working hard to achieve their dream of standing on the top step of the podium with a gold medal adorning their necks. Encouraging our women to shake off the attitude that fitness is about weight loss and believing that wanting to be healthy means being strong mentally and physically even if they themselves don’t want to become a World class heptathlete or sprinter. Being comfortable with being sweaty during that workout, and as Bangs says worry about being ‘pretty on rest days.’ (For more on that badass mantra, her blog Spikes and Heels can be found here.)
This should encourage a new wave of young girls seeing those women as role models and possibly getting into sport to become the next set of great female athletes our country has seen, because let’s face it there aren’t many we can hail from the UK.
Thankfully growing up, I was active without even realising it. My mum would always take us to the park. I am hyperactive so now I am a parent I can see that she was doing this to tire me out, and for my siblings and I to get exercise. I do not know what a calorie is even if it walked up to me and slapped me in my face. Our diets were basically healthy; crisps and chocolate were scarce in the house, but with moderation we did have some. Every day before this five a day campaign, we always snacked on fruit and veg if we were hungry. My mother has never been on a diet. Ever. I see this as a huge problem for my friends as it seems those that have ‘issues with weight/diet’ are those that watched their mothers counting calories or trying the latest in fad diets that DO NOT WORK!! please don’t think I am attacking your mother if she did, but please make the connection for yourselves.
If we are to turn this negativity surrounding sport/fitness around, we definitely need to change the industry to reflect this and remove the emphasis on weight loss and calorie counting. Mothers of girls STOP following the latest detox diet of lettuce leaves and fad shakes and start eating proper and healthy meals and take your children with you when you go for a jog, bike ride, swim at least once a week so they can see you working out and getting sweaty. I understand a lot of us parents use this time to get AWAY and have a break from the kids, but maybe one of those workouts you could take them along with you?
Outdoor exercise needs to become more prevalent (yes, I am from the UK but by staying in when it rains – we are never outdoors!!) and get a little dirty. If it means getting dirty with your partner, so be it!