Femininity in Fitness

Femininity in Fitness

Another week, another reminder that women should get what we want sports wise. Well, hurrah! I mean, some of us have been here preaching just that for some time now, but two thumbs up and a high five for government ministers finally cottoning on.

Sport vs Fitness

A key point made in this piece last week was that there needs to be a ‘behavioural change’ when it comes to women’s sport. Indeed there does. But I want to kick that off by saying perhaps we can start using the term ‘women’s fitness’ as opposed to ‘sport’. Sport is great, but I think it conjures up the idea that to get active, you have to track down a team of some kind. If you can get on a team, great, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea and really, just fitness and generally getting active is the goal here. So I venture to say the use of the word ‘sport’ can actually be a little off putting in these reports. Or maybe that’s just me.

It’s OK to be Sweaty!

The original report the minister was commenting on revealed (shock! Horror!) that school age girls feel getting dirty/sweaty is unfeminine and therefore, puts them off wanting to get involved in physical activity. Yup, that’s been long established. How many more of these surveys do we need to do before someone actually starts acting on it? A huge part of the message I try to put out on this site revolves around basically giving a giant middle finger to social ideals of female beauty when it comes to working out (I present to you the Be Pretty On Rest Days T shirt and the Operation Hideous campaign). This feeling is so deep rooted in women and won’t be overcome easily. We have a long way to go and this is an area where I really feel being the change you want to see is absolutely vital. It’s up to all of us to be a living, breathing example of it. Be as sweaty and badass as you can possibly be – show the inactive women around you that it’s really not that scary. It’s up to us.

Uh oh! The ‘stay feminine’ bit

While I’m sure she’s trying to do some great work in this field, here is where the UK Sports Minister, Helen Grant, lost me:

“There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level, and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine, such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even rollerskating,” she said.

*le sigh*

For realz?

I think I speak for badass active women everywhere when I say we don’t give two craps about looking feminine during our workouts. What I’m concerned about is being as fit as possible and getting the most from my workouts. The fact that the degree to which we should remain feminine during activity is constantly in debate is massively off putting.

Can I please, for the love of all things holy, just get a good workout in without having to worry if my hair looks perfect or I’m sweating to a socially unacceptable level, or if my chosen activity is feminine enough? Can I not be defined by my gender stereotypes when it comes to my health?

I mean, not that ballet and gymnastics aren’t badass in their own right, but let’s not relegate women to just traditionally female activities. And let’s definitely not have them be concerned about looking ‘radiant and very feminine’ while working out. Being a red faced, hot, sweaty mess is perfectly acceptable (and also, the norm!).

I appreciate Helen Grant is the Sports Minister, but I’d be interested to know how involved she is in this space really. What does she do to work out? Where does she do it? Does she speak to active women who aren’t involved in traditional sports? Is she even aware of the incredible online fitness movement where there are leagues of women doing all sorts of incredible things, inspiring and supporting each other? Has she had conversations about how she can leverage that among school-aged girls? It’s really important that we have someone representing us in government who gets it.

In order for anything to change, these same old tired stereotypes need to stop being trotted out at every available opportunity. Government and local organisations need to start casting the net wider when it comes to looking for solutions. Sure, yeah, rounders and netball are great, but there are a bajillion other things women can and ARE doing to stay active. Let’s explore those and put them out there front and centre so that young girls and women looking to get active actually know they are options.

Yes, getting women active is absolutely an issue that has to be prioritised, but linking femininity to it is, in my opinion, what is holding this conversation back from further action being taken at a wider level.

What are your thoughts?

6 Responses to “Femininity in Fitness”
  1. Personally, if I’m not red-faced, glowing and with sweat dripping between my boobs, I’m not working hard enough!
    I think it is definitely worth re-looking at how to encourage women and particularly teenagers into fitness, but I do think Ms Grant is going about it the wrong way. As you have pointed out, it’s more about challenging what is attractive and feminine about working out and getting fit, rather than trying to appeal to the cutesy, girly side of things. Teenage girls need better role models, but without the media on-side, that’s never going to happen.

  2. Jennie says:

    If the thought of being able to look pretty and feminine is going to get them through the door is that such a bad thing?!
    Once they are taking part it is then up to coaches to get them to stay and see sweat isn’t an evil word.

    I actually think that the media have massively manipulated what Helen Grant said to distract from the fact they still aren’t stepping up to challenge of increasing the activity levels of women in this country. She actually went on to say “Unfortunately there hasn’t been the amount of media coverage we need if we’re going to close this gender gap.” No one went with hat as the headline did they?!

  3. Lucy says:

    My daugher isn’t keen on sport, or fitness despite (or maybe because of!) my trying to encourage her. She’s fed up of the sports they do in PE, because it’s so competitive and if you’re not one of the kids good enough to get on a school team then it seems to mean nothing.

    However she is really excited that in PE this term, she’s getting to do climbing. Loving that because it’s something new, and so different to the usual netball, hockey, tennis that they have been doing for years then there are no preconceptions about who is ‘good’ at it and who ‘should’ be doing it.

    If young girls aren’t being tempted into traditional sports, or fitness activities, then let’s give them more exciting choices! Meanwhile, I’ll be at home waiting to massage her tired arm muscles.

  4. Caitlin says:

    One of my favorite things about getting older has been becoming more confident in myself as a woman (and what I am realizing is a fairly feminine one at that), which means I don’t feel much of a need to overcompensate for all the times when I fail to be pretty and feminine and radiant and well-groomed or whatever. I know who I am, I know what I’ve got going on, and I’m not interested in squandering precious time and energy trying to prove myself to every random person I might come into contact with.

    So I have some hope for younger women who are still struggling with the (fake) dichotomy between femininity and athleticism/fitness, that as they get older they’ll see the b.s. for what it is and be less inclined to put constraints on themselves for fear of no longer being feminine or womanly.

  5. Sam B says:

    Great post. I agree completely that the pressure to look good at all times hurts women’s participation in sports. I’m (mostly) a cyclist and I tell younger women that really no one looks good 3/4 the way up a hill or sprinting off the front of the pack. You might look strong or powerful but “cute,” not so much. I’ve written a bit too about the pressure to look good while working out. See http://fitisafeministissue.com/2013/01/18/play-hard-look-cute-really-3/.

    Anyway, I enjoyed coming across your blog and look forward to reading more.

  6. Taylor says:

    Why is feminine and pretty/clean the same thing? I totally consider myself fem, and my sport is rock climbing. I spend most my time covered in dirt, not showering for days while camping, and dirt under the fingernails on my scratched up hands. I’m still totally a chick, and have super cute teal approach shoes to prove it.