Getting women into sports by changing perceptions
Being active is equally about physical health as it is about confidence and self-belief. As a fitness and health professional, my personal agenda is to increase women’s accessibility to fitness and sports in a way that dodges the pitfalls of modern pressures on female bodies. This isn’t about sugar free Jell-O and thigh gap; this is about experiencing life with excitement.
Kicking self-doubt to the curb
Whether it’s been a few months or a few years since your last run, it can be tough to get back out there. And with the recommended daily requirements for physical activity at a full hour – who has time for that? The reasons to avoid women’s fitness are numerous, but one I constantly see is self-doubt. Some women never had a foundation in physical activity as a child, and some have been sidelined by life stressors for years and it’s time to “restart.” Whatever the reason you haven’t been out there, everyone starts at step one sometime, whether you are four or 45.
Creating fitness routines for women
For a woman taking on a new fitness routine, the barriers can be a bit daunting. Where do I go? What do I do? Will I be ridiculed for not being in shape? Will I be embarrassed because of my body? And at the top of these barriers is a glowing image of the “Fit Woman.” That “Fit Woman” is a nearly unachievable standard set up by marketing and the media, and whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned enthusiast, we’re all looking up one hell of a steep climb while drowning in the pressure of those ideals. The first step when creating fitness routines for women is to rethink your ideal. What do you want to get out of being active and what do you need to do to get there?
For instance, what are the elements required to “go for a run?” For many avid runners, this has become intuitive, but we all had a “first run” at some point. Starting with getting the proper running shoes (should you get road running or trail running shoes?), there are many important things to consider – like using the correct form, being familiar with breathing hard and sweating, and knowing a safe route, when to turn around and go home, and when to push harder.
Changing the definition of fitness for women
What “fitness” means for women has been taken hostage: twisted and morphed into an issue far greater than “60 minutes of activity, six days a week.” “Women’s fitness” has been misconstrued into a drive for a single aesthetic. The end goal is what size jeans you want to wear, not your cardiovascular health or muscle strength. When woman say, “I want to be more confident,” and are asked what will make them more confident, “flatter stomach and skinnier legs” is the common answer I hear.
When women come to train with me, we find new experiences to have and new doors to open. Confidence comes not from a following a calorie count to a T, but from realizing your body is an incredible machine, and yes, those legs are capable of running far and lifting heavy. My clients stand up taller and walk with a little more strut because we’ve stopped the focus on losing pounds and tapped into the greatness that was already there.
The biggest chance for change is at the most micro level: How we speak and how we let others speak about women’s bodies and fitness. Words are shockingly powerful. The words that come out of your mouth and the words you let enter your mind influence our sentiments and ideologies:
“I had a muffin—I’m being bad today.”
“She’s so skinny.”
“I had to run my fat butt around the track at workout today.”
Whether it’s what we say about ourselves, what we say in front of others or what we say about a female athlete we see on television, all of this reiterates the culture that keeps women feeling pressured to achieve a body ideal.
This stuff is hard; it’s not rainbows and flowers and magic self-confidence. It’s a systematic problem; it’s an ingrained, societal issue. It’s constant work, but what I do know is that the current paradigm isn’t working. There’s no clear-cut solution, but we’ll keep working toward one until woman are relieved of unrealistic, unhealthy pressures and are empowered to use their bodies to experience an adventurous, confident life.