Girls & Fitness
Earlier this week the BBC reported on a study done by the WSFF (Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation) which found that basically, as girls mature through their teen years, they become less interested in exercise. A depressing find, sure, but hardly surprising. Needless to say, the article caused much online debate, with many women relating to the struggle to be active as a teen. It seems rather shocking that the PE classes we all remember with a degree of horror, have changed very little. So, what can be done?
Through conversations on Twitter the day the article came out, there seem to be a number of common themes.
1. Memories of poor PE classes
This is a serious issue. I’ve lost count of the number of grown women I’ve met who don’t exercise now due to bad memories of their attempts to be active in PE class at school. Being picked last for a team, made to feel as though you’re not good enough, ignored if you didn’t have the skill – all that can crush someone’s confidence and carry into later life with devastating effects.
I’m sure we all experienced this and no doubt it still goes on in schools now. The kids who show exceptional skill in PE are given all the focus and extra attention. Quite simply, everyone needs to be encouraged and included in PE regardless of ability. We should be teaching the kids with good skills to encourage and mentor the ones who are struggling. That’s the beauty of physical activity, especially when it’s a team sport – we’re all in it together working towards a common goal. So many life lessons can be learned from this scenario if it’s played right.
3. PE classes are boring!
That’s the nitty gritty of it right there. When I was at school, PE basically boiled down to netball, hockey or laps. There is a huge variety of new and exciting forms of exercise that young women could be getting involved in at school (the BBC’s instant suggestion of Zumba did cause an eye roll though). How about self defense? Pilates? Body Pump? Distance running – training them towards a half marathon or marathon with a project like Team Bangs on the Run (yup, shameless self promotion there!) Call in outside instructors who do interesting classes at gyms – ones that focus on strength, fun and awesomeness.
4. Gender segregation
Many women recounted tales to me of how they wanted to play football in school but weren’t allowed, being put on the netball team instead. We need to stop these silly gender stereotypes. If a girl wants to play football, let her. And let her play on the boys team if she so pleases. Although admittedly, many of the girls in the WSFF study said they felt uncomfortable exercising in front of boys, so this is something that definitely needs to be looked into. It’s not as simple as having girl-only PE classes either.
5. It’s seen as unfeminine to sweat
This was what a lot of the girls in the survey said and who can blame them for thinking so? Feminine beauty ideals are shoved down our throats on a daily basis through every media outlet possible. Sports/fitness events that are aimed at us always seem to have some sort of beauty tie-in, be it a free blow dry after a run (’cause, you know, we should never look too unkempt) or a goodie bag full of beauty goodies – we are constantly made to feel as though when it comes to fitness, we should get it out of the way and get back to the pretty as soon as possible. I personally make a point of traveling home in my sweaty workout clothes after a class, my face all flushed and my hair all messy. I think it’s important for young women to see that. I just worked out and I still look cool, I feel awesome and I’m confident enough to bear my beetroot red face for all the world to see. I’ll be pretty on my rest day, thank you very much! Think about it, how often do you see ‘the lads’ in a pack on the train in sweaty kit and shin pads going home from football practice? I bet they weren’t handed a tub of hair gel and told to pretty themselves before boarding the train.
6. Peer pressure
So much of what teens do is based on what their friends do. If their friends deem it uncool to work out, that mentality spreads quickly among the friendship group. No one wants to be the one who steps out of line and makes an unpopular move. Way to solve this problem? Easy – incorporate social networking into exercise. There are plenty of ways to do that – all sorts of apps that make exercise more social. Technology is our friend! Let’s use it!
The findings of this WSFF report are basically why I started this site in the first place. There isn’t a form of media that represents women in sport in a positive way. I wanted a site for women who train hard and love exercise and can preach its positive benefits beyond the physical. The girls in the study complained of there not being enough female role models in sport – well chicas, let me point you towards the Street Athletes section on this very site – regular chicks doing badass things in fitness every day. It’s up to us to set an example, start mentoring these girls so they have a more positive outlook on fitness and body image in general. We can make these changes if we work together.
What other things do you think need to change for teen girls to get more into fitness?