March 13, 2018
In the immediate aftermath of this years International Womens Week where the fight for equality continues and with lots of recent talk about the power of launguage, in todays blog by Stacey Taylor we look at an often unnoticed aspect of fitness marketing and how it is not very helpful when it comes to empowering women and girls to play sport.
I am Stacey and I live in South-East London with my spouse and two boys, eight and four. I juggle the demands of family life and a full-time teaching job while making sure I get out to run regularly. I completed Couch to 5k in November 2016 and graduated to Parkruns then 10km races. Last week I took part in my first half-marathon.
Recently, at the end of a BodyPump class I was confronted by a fellow classmate’s water bottle carrying the slogan
I don’t sweat, I sparkle
I have seen this slogan on t-shirts before and hadn’t given it much thought until recently. I have always enjoyed sport, but since taking up running by starting Couch to 5k, I’m struck by the negative messages given to women and girls around me that really discourage them from being active.
According to Changing the Game, a report by The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, just one in ten girls at age 14 currently meet the official guidelines for physical activity, half the number of boys at the same age. By Year 9, 48% of girls agree that “getting sweaty is not feminine”. This raises important questions about how we, as mothers, sisters and aunts behave a positive role models and are aware of the narrative girls are given about themselves.
I myself have two sons and parenting them has highlighted to me how frequently girls are limited by expectations of them; the expectation to be pretty – remember sparkle, don’t sweat. Soft play parties where the girls are in tutus, tights and party dresses? Not the easiest clothing to the scale the heady heights of the rope ladder. The boys have no such limitations and have the freedom to climb and gallop, unhindered by their clothing. As an educator in a primary school I am struck by how school uniform is one of the first ways we limit girls’ physicality. School shoes for girls are impractical and, in some cases, dangerous – numerous times I have seen a girl unable to run across a playground because their ballet pump has fallen off. School skirts make sitting on the floor tricky unless you want everyone to see your knickers. If we want girls to see themselves as strong and able as boys, then we need to dress them in clothes that allow them to take part.
Even toys marketed towards girls encourage them to be inactive and focus on their outward appearance. Just watch the ad breaks between children’s programmes and you’ll see “girls’ toys” that are pink and involve “being friends” or co-operating in some way to be liked. There is no motivation to be competitive or get dirty.
If we want girls to participate in sport, then we must be role-models that show them being feminine isn’t the goal in life. I get significantly more satisfaction from running a personal best than dressing up. Sadly, we are fighting against a diet of Snapchat filters and Twitter influencers who present girls and young women images of perfection which don’t involve looking like corned beef (which I regularly do after a particularly gruelling long run).
When I started Couch to 5k I was a size 20 and shuffling around my local area in a pair of old trainers and yoga pants. My confidence grew as my running time increased and I started to worry less about what I looked like and more about how practical my running kit was. Soon I was slogging around my local area in running tights, not caring if my bum looked big. Running made me think about what I and my body could DO, not how I should be for other people. That is a gift. Nowadays I always wear my TFTR buff because it keeps the hair and sweat out of my eyes – that is far more important to me than if I’m looking hot in a pre-race selfie.
In Changing the Game, 37% of girls surveyed said that they were motivated to be active because their mother/step-mother is active. I try to be visible for the girls I work with, sharing my running exploits in class and in assemblies about resilience. If they can see women of all different shapes and sizes enjoying physical activity, then maybe they will see it is something they can do too. It is important for boys too – my sons see me as strong and capable and in future they will accept women’s bodies as they are. In fact, once my son challenged a friend at school who said boys were better at running than girls. “No actually, my mummy can run a lot further than my daddy.”
At weekends I’m always struck by the number of men I see out taking part in recreational sporting activities such as running, cycling and football. We must be visible. Let’s get out to Parkrun, on the streets and into running clubs. Let’s share our successes and our challenges with our children and their friends.
Loved this post. A lot of this stuff is quite insidious and goes under the radar unchecked, or worse still is met with “oh stop moaning” “it’s just a slogan” “don’t read so much into everything” responses because language is powerful, as is imagery…it all has an impact on participation.
Running is full of slogans “lapping everyone on the couch”. “slow as a turtle running through treacle” “a mile is a mile no matter how fast you run it” some of them are more helpful than others but they matter.
When it comes to clothing, as a mother of a 5 year old I often shop in the boys departments so my daughter can have slogans that say “Genius” or “Adventurer” rather than “Princess” and “Ain’t I cute”…and just for the record, I never sparkle when I sweat…I sweat, and go red in the face and properly stink, just like most other runners.
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