Inspiring more than one generation

Research carried out by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University showed that nearly 80% of adults were failing to meet government targets for physical activity.

A study by University College London researchers found that only 38% of girls were achieving the recommended hour of physical activity each day.

A 12-year study of more than 300,000 people by the University of Cambridge suggested that a lack of exercise could be killing twice as many people as obesity in Europe.

18 months after the London Olympics, the number of people playing sport once a week had increased by only 200,000.

In England, the prevalence of obesity among adults rose from 14.9% to 24.9% between 1993 and 2013.

Yikes.

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But hang on. In England, 75% of women said they wanted to be more active.

Hold the flipping phone. Is that a beacon of light I see upon the very bleak horizon?

Happy Tina Fey

Yes, some of these statistics make bleak reading, but it’s the last one that gives me hope. If 75% of women want to be more active, then something needs to be done to inspire them into action. The This Girl Can campaign has kickstarted something brilliant, but it will take time to see how successful it has been. The Olympics tagline was “Inspire a Generation”, but what I want to know is – why just the one?

The reason I’m writing this post is because I was inspired today. I took the last session of my Women’s Beginners’ Running Group this evening, getting five women of all different ages to run 5km around a very hot and very busy Parker’s Piece. And they all did it, pushing themselves harder than I thought they could in the conditions, and all coming in between 30 and 36 minutes, sprint finishing with serious strength and guts. I was so unbelievably proud of them, and I felt inspired by their commitment to trying something different and difficult, especially given the comedy geniuses who liked to shout tips at us, run with us, or copy our warm up. Seriously dudes, we get one of you every week. Come back when you have something unique.

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Warriors.

And so it got me thinking. It’s down to us to inspire each other. To inspire our friends, mother, siblings, daughters. I’m inspired by the women around me every day. By my Zumba instructor and friend Lucy who with her endless energy encourages dozens of women in and around Ely to dance their backsides off and not care what they look like doing it. By my incredibly talented friend Eloise who has worked so hard and dedicated so much of her life to her dancing which has led to her starring in the McQueen show. By my friend Sam who after just a couple of years of running ran the London Marathon for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in memory of her dad. By my boss Karen who pushes her mental strength to its limits by running 24 hour endurance races. By my sister.

And it’s not just the people I know. It’s people like Jessica Ennis, Jo Pavey, Paula Radcliffe, Nicola Adams, Kelly Holmes, Victoria Pendleton, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Denise Lewis, Amy Hughes, Katie McDonnell, Lucy Gossage, Chrissie Wellington, Kacy Catanzaro, the two crews who rowed on the Tideway (and therefore on an equal footing as men) in the Boat Race for the first time and people like 92-year old Harriette Thompson. And I’m barely scratching the surface here. These are just the people I’ve thought of off the top of my head.

But we need more. We need more women’s sport on TV. We need more campaigns like #WSW2015 and This Girl Can. We need to stop belittling ourselves and letting women be physical cliches. In short, we need less of this:

Bridget Bike Fail

And more of this:

Strong Runner

We need to be inspired into action and given the opportunity to try new things. And I genuinely believe that there is a sport out there for everyone. Women should be giving things a go and be encouraged to do so. How sad would it be if someone never found that sporting passion, whether it be netball, sprinting, ultimate frisbee or fencing?

I feel a bit like I’m brain dumping here and pointing out the flipping obvious. But next time you go to your bootcamp class, or see an advert for archery sessions, or decide to sign up for your first 5k like my running group girls, why not pick up the phone and tell your friend/mother/daughter/sister about it? You might end up turning a flicker of interest into an all-consuming flame and then they may go on to do the same thing, a ripple effect of igniting passions. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

This Girl Can – With or Without Makeup

To celebrate the inaugural Women’s Sport Week, I’m going to focus my posts this week on women in sport and the topics around this, starting with my thoughts on the “This Girl Can” campaign by Sport England and other partner organisations that launched back in January.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, the campaign focussed around a National TV advert that showed women of all ages, cultures, shapes and sizes giving it their all in sport. Take a look:

When it launched, I remember getting into a debate with someone on Twitter who asked “why does it have to be about how women look?” I suspect it was images like this that prompted her question:

This Girl Can 2   This Girl Can 1

And you know what? I got her point. I can see that she was trying to point out that how you look shouldn’t matter in sport, that it shouldn’t even be mentioned in this campaign – after all, would this be mentioned if the campaign were aimed at men? In a dream world, makeup and appearance wouldn’t be one of the (to be fair, many) focus points of “This Girl Can”. But the problem is, 40% of girls feel self-conscious about their bodies during PE, and 26% say they “hate the way that they look when they exercise/ play sport”. These are horrible statistics, and the fact is that too many of our girls are dropping out of sport once they leave school, and concerns with how they look is a key part of this.

This Girl Can 3

“This Girl Can” can only really tackle the problem as it stands now. If girls and women are not exercising because of concerns about how they look, then this needs to be addressed in the campaign, and their fears need to be allayed. They need to know that exercise is not synonymous with looking “bad” or “silly”. You can sweat with lipstick on if that’s what floats your boat, or you can go utterly beetroot after a run like me. How you look simply doesn’t matter, so you should do what makes you feel comfortable.

A report by the Commons Health Select Committee showed that two thirds of women do not exercise for fear of being the one “struggling at the back”. I find this to be another terrifying statistic, especially as I know that whether you’re standing at the front or the back of your Zumba or Circuits class, or whether you struggle to clap on the beat or you’re only lifting 1kg dumbbells, no one is going to care. They’re all too busy getting off on that endorphin high and wiping the sweat out of their own eyes. The fact that you’re there means you’re giving it a go, and no one worth knowing is going to judge you for that.

The thing I’ll be interested in come January 2016, is seeing what percentage of women are now taking part in sport. With more and more female sporting role models elbowing their way into male-dominated sports media and campaigns like “This Girl Can” and “Women’s Sport Week” being launched, I hope that more women will make sport as natural a part of their day as cleaning their teeth, and not give a tiny rat’s arse how they look doing it. Then maybe in five years’ time we can have campaigns with no mention of how a woman looks, because we’ll be so used to their sweaty red faces that it won’t even occur to us to mention it.

And just on a final note don’t tell me that these women right here don’t inspire you to give it a go and not once consider how you look doing it. I know they do me, sweat and all.

This Girl Can 4   This Girl Can 5