I recently read the inspirational Eat, Sweat, Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives, by sports journalist Anna Kessel, and so much of it resonated with me that I wanted to share a few of my favourite bits to hopefully encourage others to read it. The book covers a huge range of issues from the everyday struggles of ordinary women and girls taking part in sport, to elite athletes facing gender discrimination and inequality. I’d really recommend giving this a read if you want some extra motivation to get active (and This Girl Can gets a few mentions too!)
A key theme of the book is how women and girls’ participation in sport is affected by society’s gender preconceptions, with the main goal of physical activity seemingly focused on weight loss.
“There are a myriad of reasons as to why women are exercising and competing more and more, many to do with health or fitness or losing weight. But the smart ones will have latched onto something far more valuable. That sport and exercise is fun.”
This is so true but I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realise! To make positive changes sustainable, exercise needs to become part of our everyday routines, and the primary motivation shouldn’t be to reach a certain number on the scales or drop a dress size; it should be about having fun and celebrating progress in terms of how much further or faster we can run, how much weight we can lift, how many laps we can swim, or how many goals we can score.
“Running involves a degree of pain. Even at my fittest, running still makes my lungs hurt, my heart pound frantically in my chest. I wonder – in the odd paranoid moment – if I am going to die. Of course I have come to realise that is all quite normal. But encountering those sensations for the first time can be terrifying.”
I laughed a little reading this but then realised this definitely applied to me too (and still does)! Before I started Couch to 5k I thought I could only jog for 30 seconds at a time on the treadmill; at the time it felt like it was physically impossible for me to go any further because I was so out of breath, a sensation which felt very alien to me after years of inactivity (read more on that here). Even now I still find running absolutely exhausting and often wonder how I will be able to keep going but somehow I always do!
“Physical activity should be something integral to our being alive. And it is the essential part that really concerns us here, not the bit about how many millimetres it might shave off your inner thigh measurements…
Prior to This Girl Can’s launch… “we had never been encouraged to enjoy the movement of our bodies just as they are, without reference to whether they look good or not, or whether they are on their way to losing any weight.”
I can’t believe how many years I spent being completely inactive, but I’m now very proud to be involved in This Girl Can’s campaign as an Essex Ambassador, helping to promote the endless benefits of physical activity, like the amazing feeling you get at the end of a long run when you’re really sweaty and tired but you’ve just beaten your PB!
The book then goes on to cover a range of wider issues focusing on gender inequality within sport:
“Women’s sporting achievements have long been absent from the history books. So while I learned about the suffragettes at school, I had no idea that the real reason there is no female Wayne Rooney banking £300k a week is because women’s football was banned in this country from 1921 to 1971.”
“When women aren’t paid the same as men in sport, it’s not because they don’t earn it, it’s more often than not because their sport hasn’t benefited from decades – centuries – of privilege, development and investment.”
I can’t believe I only found out about the ban on women’s football (and how popular it was before the ban) after watching Clare Balding’s TV programme ‘When Football Banned Women’. Why are more people not talking about how shocking this is? It makes me so angry that women’s football is still so underfunded and that the country’s best players have only recently been paid a salary good enough to make football their sole occupation. Man Utd don’t even have a women’s team as they chose to scrap it in 2005 (more reasons to hate them)! Read more on that here if you’re interested.
As the fastest growing female sport in the UK, and with a record 4 million TV viewers tuning into the England Lionesses’ Euro 2017 semi-final against the Netherlands, it seems like progress is slowly being made to raise the profile of women’s football, but there is so much more that could be done. I was shocked to hear from many football fans that they weren’t watching or following the tournament. Anyone who says women’s football is rubbish quality compared to the men’s must have forgotten how incredibly dull / mediocre / disappointing / abysmal the England men’s team are, compared to the women’s team who have now reached the semi-finals of a major tournament twice in a row. I know which team I’d rather watch! I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who watched it (or didn’t) and why. I enjoyed it so much (especially watching all the Arsenal players), that I’ll definitely be getting tickets to go and watch Arsenal Women this season as a much more affordable alternative to the men’s team.
I would have loved to have played football when I was younger but never had an opportunity to do so. I think back now and find it bizarre that at my secondary school for girls, we never once played football in a PE lesson. Growing up in a football-mad house I was always interested in the sport, but very quickly came to believe that it ‘wasn’t for girls’. When my Dad occasionally took me to see West Ham play, the only women I remember seeing were the cheerleaders. I wonder how my aspirations or expectations might have been completely different if I’d have been able to watch the Lionesses on TV when I was growing up.
“Playing sport makes you feel free. It makes you feel like you can achieve anything. In my life I have been too shy to chase a ball. It sounds silly when you say it out loud, as an adult. But if you think of it another way, it’s pretty serious. Because if women are too nervous to chase a ball, what does that say about us?”
After managing to run 10k last year I genuinely felt like I could achieve anything, but it had taken a long time for me to believe it (more on that here). If girls are too scared to chase a ball or get out of breath, for fear of looking stupid, worrying about what others might think, or through lack of confidence, maybe they might also be too scared to put their hand up in class, try something new or ask for a pay rise. It becomes apparent that equality in sport is so important to achieving gender equality full stop.
In summary – you should all read this book! Let me know what you think by commenting below.