November 5, 2014
Did you know that in the UK two million less women than men exercise?
Now that is a pretty big difference really isn’t it.
Some recent research led by Sport England might be able to explain this massive gap with a report that reveals that 75% of women in the UK fear being judged over their appearance or lack of ability and it is this which is deterring them from playing sport, and we can all relate to this right, because ultimately we don’t want to look silly do we girls?
I often write blog posts about fear, as I know first hand how it can hold you back.
- 5 and a half reasons why coming last is OK
- How to lose parkrun fear forever
- What are you afraid of?
- Tough Mudder 2014
But to explore this further I have been doing some research of my own over the last couple of months specifically about the barriers to running for larger women, and my interim findings correspond with the findings from Sport England, with 76% of responders reporting that feeling self-conscious was the no 1 barrier to participation, followed by concerns about being too slow (56%) and then by finding kit that fits (48%)
So what do we do about all of this?
We know that as a country we need to get off our backsides more and integrate physical activity of any kind in to our already stressful and busy lives, but how do we as women prioritize this and get over that crippling fear that secretly hides inside of us all?
I tell you how…we need to normalise sport, and not just for women who are or look sporty, we need to stop promoting sport in lifestyle magazines as being oh so glamorous and accept that its hard work, it makes you sweat buckets and look a little funny, but ultimately it is good fun and Jennie Price, Chief Executive of Sport England (yes we actually have a women heading up sports policy in this country)…agrees with me.
On Thursday last week I spent the day at Lords Cricket ground in the company of the UKs most influential sports women at a conference called Transforming Sport, organised by the Department of Culture Media and Sport, and Women in Sport a charity celebrating its 30th anniversary of inspiring women and girls to take part in sport, on and off the field
It was one hell of an event I can tell you.
There were of course the faces you might recognise from the sporting world, Claire Balding, Judy Murray, Jacqui Oatley and Chrissy Wellington no less, but there were also some highly influential women who play a less public role in the industry, heading up sports organisations or working in the media or for commercial companies that fund sport, the minister for sport Helen Grant, the Chief Executive of the Youth Sports Trust Sue Campbell and Alison Kervin the first ever female sports editor from the Mail on Sunday to name a few.
Its funny, we often think that sport is a mans world, and in some respects it still is, led by committees that I have heard described as male, pale and stale…look at proffessional football pundits for example, and running clubs too are a prime example of this with committies lacking diversity of all kinds, but things are changing slowly and women are becoming more vocal in their desire and ability to lead from the front.
The event for me revealed just how complex some of this is, both at elite level and in terms of what is going on locally, the stuff that affects the majority of women I am trying to reach through my work. Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton spoke so eloquently about not having female role models within her sport and being frequently told to be less girly “get a grip of your emotions if you want to get anywhere” or words to that effect. She also confessed to being quite rubbish at other sports which made me laugh a bit.
For the majority of us we have no intention of ever winning a medal or representing our country, yet we still insist on quantifying our ability in that sport before committing fully, we only want to do things that we are good at because somehow thats all that matters.
When I asked the ladies on my Facebook page if elite athletes like Jo Pavey, Rebbecca Adlington and Jessica Ennis inspired them to do more sport, the overwhelming response was NO. They told me they were more likely to be inspired by ordinary people just like them, friends, family members or neighbours, and even complete strangers on the internet, so people who are not the best of the best in fact.
Going back to that idea of being rubbish at sport, let me think for a moment about the long list of sports I love doing that I am a little bit rubbish at
- Step Aerobics (and boy am I crap at this)
- Ice Skating
- White Water Rafting
- Horse Riding
- Golf (crazy golf anyway)
Do you see my point? We don’t need to be the best…we just need to give it a go.
This whole blog came about because I thought the idea of a fat girl running a marathon was unique and maybe a little bit funny, it turns out it’s not that unique as there are thousands of us fatties across the world enjoying this sport, and there is nothing remotely funny about a larger women wanting to enjoy sport.
It seems like there is a shift happening at the moment though, with key figures starting to take note of what is going on with our “Too Fat to Run?” campaign, and I even got a mention by MP Barbara Keeley who was chairing a panel discussion at the conference. She told the audience that she followed someone called @fattymustrun on twitter to which a number of women shouted “she’s here, she’s here” much to my embarrassment.
If I knew I was going to be identified so publicly I would have done my hair properly that day, but also I probably would have spent the majority of the day worrying about it, worrying what others think. Crazy hey, what are us girls like?
The fear of embarrassment, the fear or ridicule and the fear of being rubbish are not exclusive to big women, they live inside our heads and can be changed with a little bit of faith and determination. I remember so clearly when I first started running cringing every time a bus went past, or if there happened to be a bunch of teenagers in my path just in case they laughed at me or thought mean things about me, but I kept going out there facing those fears because my fear or just giving up and admitting defeat was greater.
In the spring you will notice a big marketing campaign in the UK called This Girl Can being rolled out by Sport England and various partners, showcasing real life women enjoying sport who don’t look like your typical sports women. They are encouraging us women to employ an “I will if you will” attitude and to put aside our fears and simply give sport another chance.
Lets hope that this publicity drive equates to more women actually taking up sport, and that the fundamental mindset shift of “you don’t need to be sporty to enjoy sport” starts to happen up and down this country, you never know the big corporate sports brands might even start to take note and offer running kit in sizes to fit us all. We can only hope.
If you are a women based in the UK with a BMI of 25+ who enjoys running then please contribute to my vital research by filling in this simple survey.