by Jennifer Green
Everyone knows that exercising is important. It’s therefore infuriating that when women try to be active, sometimes we have to battle against certain attitudes. Attitudes that can make us feel like we have less freedom to do the sport and exercise we want to do.
A few years ago I got seriously into the traditionally male hobby of weight lifting. I had always been active so I was less concerned about losing weight and more concerned about getting strong.
I worked hard. I kept an eye on my form, deadlifted and squatted my way up to lifting my body weight, and then more. I went to a near-empty gym in Telford at 6.30am every morning and put in exactly as much effort as the half-dozen or so men around me. No-one really spoke to me but it was hard to care when I was concentrating on trying not to drop 40kg on my face (my bench has always been my weak spot).
Which is why I was so surprised when one of the middle-aged men I had seen around the gym for months came up to speak to me one day, and started his conversation with “shouldn’t you be in the spin class with all the other girls?”
Shocked, and barely believing what I was hearing, I replied with something along the lines of “no, I’m alright here thanks.”
His friend came over, probably surprised that one of the boys club had finally spoken to me and fancied having a bit of a nose at our chat, and asked what we were talking about. The gym floor was quiet, we could all be heard. I took my opportunity to stand up for myself.
“Your friend was just explaining to me that because I’m a girl I should be in a spin class with all the other women, not out here lifting weights.”
His friend had the common sense to be shocked by this and looked at the first guy like he was surprised to hear him say it. Guy number one went red, mumbled something that was probably an attempt at a justification and busied himself about loading up his bar.
This Girl Can
This, sadly, is a real life example of exactly why we need campaigns like This Girl Can.
The England women’s football team are currently through to the semi-finals of the 2017 European Championships tonight and are still struggling to be taken seriously by many football fans.
If these elite athletes are still having to fight against sexist attitudes to be taken seriously what chance does a ‘normal’ woman have?
The This Girl Can campaign aims to counteract the fear of judgement that puts many women off being more active and enjoying the health and other benefits of regular exercise. Fear of being judged for not looking attractive, for having bodies that wobble when they run, for sweating and falling over their own feet whilst trying to Zumba.
The decline in physical activity amongst women starts when girls are in their teens and start to become aware of their femininity and societal pressures around this.
Many women have overcome these concerns and I’m sure would tell you that as soon as they got started running, or going to the gym, they realised these fears were unfounded. Mothers, Aunties, PE teachers and Coaches are working hard to show young women that getting fit and strong and being good at a sport is no longer restricted to the boys. That women have exactly as much right as men do to get sweaty and aggressive and wobbly and muddy whilst having fun and improving their health.
Towards the end of my session that day, the man that so offended me came over and apologised. Apparently he didn’t mean to imply that I shouldn’t be lifting with the men. I graciously accepted and we developed a ‘nod at each other in passing’ sort of truce. I hope that one day, This Girl Can will end because we simply won’t need it any more.
Until then, we continue to need a campaign to motivate and empower women into being physically active.
If you are feeling inspired by England’s Lionesses tonight, the This Girl Can campaign has tons of ideas for helping you to start being more active.
If you would like more personalised help or to find out what activities are happening in your area, you can always talk to our Healthy Lifestyles Team by calling 01952382582.