January 22, 2015 at 7:32
Posted by Rachael Woolston
If you haven’t seen Sport England’s campaign, This Girl Can, where have you been?! Now almost a week old, it is the comments on YouTube and national newspaper editorial that has been more revealing than anything else…
Since we launched Fitbitch over five years ago, we have been championing women in sport, encouraging those who have come to us to get fit and to lose weight to focus on a goal, whether a 5km Parkrun, a triathlon, obstacle race or even a marathon.
Niney-five percent of those who start with us say; ‘Oh, I’m not one of those sporty women,’ or ‘I’ve always been rubbish at sport,’ I can’t run/bike,’ and variations on that theme. An equal number admit that one of the major draws of Fitbitch is the fact that it means they can exercise in the morning when no one can see them because they feel so self conscious.
Of course, this is not every woman’s experience. Me? I’ve never had a problem with playing sport, even going up against the opposite sex. Sweat, jiggle, grimace? I don’t care because I’m so used to playing sport it is as natural a part of my make-up as playing football is for many men.
But I am in a minority. And hopefully not for long.
Over two thirds of the women who start with us have gone on to ‘compete’ (sharp intake of breath, can we say that women like to compete?!) in a huge range of events and loved it.
So, we salute Sport England’s campaign for hopefully encouraging lots of more women to do the same. With their campaign, they have tapped into how most women in the UK feel when it comes to sport and exercise in general. To show them that women of all shapes and sizes can play sport and enjoy it, is inspiring. And sport truly does have the incredible ability to empower.
Yet, the extent to which there is a disconnect between this reality for women and men has been highlighted in the comments on the Youtube video right through to national newspaper editorial.
Two days ago, The Times columnist Kevin Maher had this to say.
‘The genuine ideological crisis at the heart of this campaign is the suggestion that sport will offer you a gateway out of yourself and transform you wholly as a person. This is simply not true. Sport is good, I play sport. But I am still me when I play it.’
This is because playing sport is a given for men. From the school playground, right the way through to adulthood, playing sport is just another form of socialising, like going to the pub. For the majority of men, they are so used to the transformative effect of sport and exercise they no longer even register it.
But for so many women, who may have stopped exercising, let alone playing any form of sport when they were girls, the power of sport to transform how they feel about their body, confidence, and self worth is huge.
Sport and exercise is truly liberating. And the fact that so many men can’t even understand the need for this campaign speaks volumes.
How can we expect to appreciate our bodies for what they can DO and achieve when the fitness industry touts the female body as a sexual object? It’s time to take a stand
Everywhere you look nowadays, from women’s fitness magazines to the millions of female personal trainers on Instagram and Youtube fitness videos, there are so many female fitness ‘professionals’, clad in hot pants, and barely there sports bras.
Whether it is a personal trainer photographing her tightly honed abs, or a trainer on a video channel such as Body Rock TV, the focus is the same. How a woman looks, not what their body can achieve through exercise (and I’m not saying that the men’s fitness industry is much better).
I’ve worked journalism for over 15 years and I understand that images have been used to market to something or someone for years and that will always be the case. In the fitness industry, images are used to help inspire and motivate someone to get fit. ‘Work hard, and you too can look like this,’ is the sell in.
Taking aside the fact that looking like the images you see also requires dietary regulation boarding on the extreme, most mages are no longer even inspiring.
It started with the ‘Strong is sexy,’ slogan born from the CrossFit movement. I found it disturbing that so many people across the world thought that telling women to look a certain way, even if it was swapping muscles for being skinny in a bid to look sexy, was empowering.
But in the last five years, the sexualisation of women’s fitness has got even worse.
Everywhere, the female fitness form is presented similarly to those in a lads mag. Worse, it is aimed at us women, as something that we should aspire to be like through exercise. And what is disturbing is that it is not just publishers (with one eye on a different market for financial gain) but many personal trainers themselves.
Perhaps Instagram and YouTube are partly to blame, where success is measured by how many views and likes you get, helping to fuel the posting of images that are more porn than pull up prowess.
The saddest thing of all? This will only turn away so many women from accessing exercise. And it will give rise to a whole new generation of young girls, raised on the idea that we should exercise to create an unrealistic body shape that is not really about anything but living up to someone else’s ideal of who and what we should look like.
Of course, most people’s reason for starting to exercise is to look better. And there is nothing wrong with that motivation. We all want to look our best. But even aside from the sexualisation of fitness imagery, STAYING inspired to be fit comes from enjoying exercise. Hanging on to the image of a honed six pack or shapely bottom as motivation will last as long as a diet based on drinking maple syrup and lemon.
Not ALL personal trainers and fitness companies are the same. There are some incredibly, inspiring women in the fitness industry who train and inspire by what they choose to do with their fitness gains, whether that is to compete in running, cycling, triathlon, boxing or just to be a fit, well balanced woman.
But to those personal trainers who post endless photographs of their tummies, bottoms or breasts, enough already.
Be an inspiration for what your workouts can help your bodies achieve. Not what you look like.