80% of girls give up playing sport by the age of 13. By the time they’re 14, only 12% of girls get enough physical activity. 23% percent of women say school PE put them off activity for life. Engaging young girls in sports isn’t easy; they feel that they don’t have enough, or any, sporting role models. If they’re not ‘sporty’ they get left behind and left out. They have to get changed in soulless communal changing rooms when they’re at their most self-conscious about their bodies. They’re taught that healthy = thin, so keeping active is all about looking good rather than having fun.
This mirrors almost exactly my experience of physical activity as a child and I was one of those who gave up sport by the time I was 13. I wasn’t sporty, so the teachers didn’t focus on me. I didn’t want to get changed in front of everyone else. I didn’t want to get sweaty and look a mess for the rest of the day. I didn’t want to do yet another ‘orienteering’ lesson in the rain. I didn’t want to do dance when the boys got to do football. My PE teacher clearly hated her job and spat poison at anyone who couldn’t cartwheel or touch their toes (important life skills, the lack of which hinder me to this day…). It was a poor foundation in physical education and gave me no motivation to keep fit or participate in any sports and it’s a problem that clearly hasn’t improved much in the decade since I left school.
So, when I decided to get fit as an adult, it had to be on my own terms. Like many people, I had a false start. Mine involved a few half-hearted sessions on the treadmill and cross trainer followed by a year of an unused gym membership draining my already barren student bank account. Thank the universe, then, for Jillian Michaels and her 30 Day Shred for kick starting my new found love of keeping fit and getting sweaty.
After about a year of home workouts, I graduated to the gym and started lifting weights and it’s one of the most positive steps I’ve ever taken for my own confidence, body image and sanity. Having the ability to deadlift more than my own body weight makes me feel invincible, just as seeing how strong my shoulders look when I’m doing pull ups makes me feel powerful. I can look in the mirror and see a strong, healthy body. I still mercilessly pull myself apart from time to time but I can soon distract myself with a quick bicep check. (Anyone else do a pre-shower flex from time to time? No?).
From the very beginning, women in sport have had to prove that they’re good for more than needlework and sudden bouts of hysteria:
Baron de Courbetin is the man widely acknowledged as being responsible for establishing the modern Olympic Games in 1896. Despite him saying it would be an ‘abject sight’ to see women throwing a ball and that they looked more natural clapping, women somehow managed to take the necessary co-ordination needed for clapping and use it for sports such as tennis and sailing a mere four years later at the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris.
After being told by her coach that a marathon was too far to run for a ‘fragile woman’, Katherine Switzer went ahead and became the first women to run the Boston Marathon anyway, registering under a gender-neutral name. She had to fight off the male race officials to finish the race.
The women’s England football team is currently ranked 4th in the world whilst the men’s is ranked 10th. This has been achieved in the face of lower salaries, less investment and less media coverage.
Time and time again, women have proven their worth in sports and yet the inequalities between genders are still rife. Today, there is no minimum wage for female road cyclists. Women aren’t allowed to compete freestyle over 1500 metres at the Olympics despite there being ‘no good physical reason’ for them not to. Women compete over three sets at Grand Slams, whilst men compete over five.
Despite what the sporting world, the media, the education system and the world at large is telling us, women aren’t delicate or weak or useless. We are capable, worthy, strong and we can be the role models that we once desperately needed.
Keep scrolling for my top 5 activewear picks for a killer workout wardrobe with an ethical edge…
Finding activewear with a wholly sustainable or ethical edge isn’t particularly easy, but these brands have been chosen based in their use of sustainable materials, or partnerships with movements and foundations that are making a difference.
- Sports Bra, From Clothing, £29. From Clothing use ethically sourced, organic fabrics for their products.
- Tank, Colombia Sportswear, £30. Colombia Sportswear work with HERproject.
- Hoody, Uniqlo, £29.90. Uniqlo is currently working with the United Nations Refugee Agency.
- Leggings, Teeki, £35. Teeki produces zero waste in its printing process and utilises recycled materials such as plastic bottles.
- Backpack, Stellasport for Adidas, £33. Adidas release annual sustainability progress reports outlining the steps they’re taking for human rights, use of sustainable materials, water efficiency and more.
*Stats from ELLE and Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. Baron de Courbetin quote from Jacky Fleming’s wonderful book ‘The Trouble with Women’.