In a study for the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation, teenage girls around the age of 14 expressed a self-conscious discomfort in exercising, and a lack of interest in PE. This was because sweating was seen as “unfeminine”, and girls were too paranoid to exercise in front of fellow, male classmates.
The alternative, female-friendly exercises put forward were Zumba dancing and rollerblading. Rollerblading? This isn’t the 80s, we’re not going to whiz around with knee-high socks holding a balloon.
If girls are to stay delicate or “feminine” when exercising, then of course the idea of them doing a highly energetic, rough, and muddy sport is going to become laughable. The idea of women looking elegant 24/7 is usually perpetuated by magazines such as Cosmopolitan, where exercise is depicted with a slim girl in a high ponytail doing yoga.
These are the same magazines that ask you to get a “summer body” and overrepresent young, thin women. Because of course, having a toned body is only a seasonal thing. As soon as October hits, by all means buy all the Mr. Kipling you can get your hands on, and then some tracksuit bottoms. And a sewing kit.
As for sweating, it is necessary folks, you’d dry out otherwise. I’m sure we’d all prefer to look puffed with a mottled, florid complexion instead of running around looking like a flapjack. But what was also mentioned was teachers’ lack of encouragement for girls who were less capable at sport. Now, I’m reasonably atrocious at most sport. When I run my lungs feel like an empty Tesco bag being smacked with a stick. I’m also reasonably scarred from PE lessons in secondary school. Wearing unwashed socks which have to be removed like peeling foil off unsalted butter, as a girl with the legs of a greyhound outruns you in a game of rounders, is never a confidence-boost.
But come now, you may have landed head-first into that sand-pit, but at least you tried. Slide tackle that girl who elbowed you in the face during netball last week in a game of footie, and feel better about yourself.
The lack of female sport culture is partly to blame for girls not finding the motivation to fully throw themselves into PE. For women who are as woeful at sport as I am, it’s usually being left behind in PE classes that is the kiss of death to an interest in sport. So get that pink velour tracksuit messy and muddy, those drawn-on eyebrows will only cascade away in a torrent of sweat.