When it comes to exercise, many women are stuck in a vicious cycle. To shift the pounds society tells us need shifting, we need to move. But moving will make our bellies wobble and our thighs shake in a way society tells us they shouldn’t, so we don’t do it, and carry on being ashamed.
According to Sport Wales, 576,000 women in the country do not participate in any form of physical activity at all. Just over half, 54%, of women say they’ve done at least one sporting activity in the last four weeks, compared to 63% of men. It’s a similar story across the UK.
Asked why they shunned getting active, women and girls said they lacked confidence, feared judgement or simply thought they wouldn’t be any good.
Jin Osborne, fitness instructor and ambassador for Sport Wales’ new #OurSquad campaign, said everyone had their issues with weight.
Happier version of you
“I feel like we put too much on pressure ourselves to try to look a certain way. Sport shouldn’t be about looking like Instagram models, it should be about being real, and having a realistic goal about your body. I want to inspire women not to want to look like other people but to want to be better, healthier and happier versions of themselves.”
Puberty and self-doubt
It’s taken me the best part of 20 years to break out of my own vicious cycle. At school, I was part of the netball team, the cross-country team, the basketball team — don’t get me wrong, I was never any good, but it was fun.
Then puberty and self-doubt hit. Suddenly I had lumps and bumps where no one did. There was no way I would look like the others in that tiny netball skirt, and what kind of 13-year-old has a sports bra? I stopped.
It wasn’t easy walking into a gym, three stone overweight, almost 20 years later. Like those in Sports Wales’ research, I lacked confidence, I was scared of being judged and I didn’t think I would be able to do it.
But thanks to my own Our Squad of ladies (hat tip to the team at Fitness First, Brighton!) I am fitter than I have ever been, and crucially, am finally happy with who I am. Not because of the way exercise has made me look, but because of the way it has made me feel.
Much like the Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, Our Squad is about recruiting the sisterhood to be part of a virtual support network. Because we all have a responsibly to help each other.
Elite role models
The good news is we are in no short supply of positive role models. Elite female athletes are leading the way. They are riding a wave of success, thanks in no small part to the efforts of England’s cricket and football teams. Some are even commenting on a ‘golden age’ of women’s sporting prowess, but more needs to be done to stop girls bunking off PE because they think they look fat in shorts.
While England’s female football stars are getting paid around £30,000 a year for their Stirling performance (at the time of writing the team had made it through to the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup), their male counterparts are receiving eye watering sums for doing… well, worse.
“The money comes from TV rights, and no one wants to watch women play football,” we are told when we decry such a disparity.
What does that tell girls about the value of their role models and their contribution? Maybe it’s about time we started watching each other.