Inactive Equals Lazy?

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Yesterday I ended up in a conversation with another blogger about use of the word lazy when it comes to physical activity. Stephen had highlighted how media outlets and even UK Active (a non-profit committed to improving the health of the nation through promoting active lifestyles) uses the term lazy when talking about engagement in physical activity - the active become the 'fittest' and the less active become the 'laziest' - but are people who are less active really lazy? Or are people falling back on a cliched stereotype of lazy because it is easy? 

There are a myriad of reasons why people don't participate in physical activity - they're embarrassed, they've had bad experiences in the past, they're busy, they don't know how to access activities, they're intimidated, they don't believe physical activity is 'for' them, they don't have the resources to access it. The list goes on and on, and all these reasons are underpinned by some pretty hefty social issues as well. I am forever saying that participation is complex, and that's because it it. It is not as simple for many people as lacing up their trainers and going for a run, and to say people are lazy for not doing so is ignorant of the impact of privilege - parents who encouraged an active lifestyle, resources to access facilities, confidence to walk into a gym or a class, time and freedom from other commitments. However, until there's a move away from reductionist perceptions around participation we aren't really going to make true progress, and I'd urge everyone to consider the language they use, lets facilitate rather than shame.

if you want to know more Stephen had written an excellent article, which you can find here.

Women's Sport Week

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Women's Sport Week is upon us, a week dedicated to celebrating the amazing achievements of women in sport and inspiring more women to get active. It's about raising awareness of opportunities for women in sport, encouraging more people to watch women's sport and triggering debate to help more women reach their potential through sport.

In the UK fewer women than men participate in sport (Active Lives Survey, 2017), and there has been a plethora of research and campaigns in this area, not least Sport England's flagship This Girl Can campaign. However, while gains have been made, and the gap between men and women in terms of participation is narrowing, progress is still slow. So what's going wrong?

Having spent the last couple of years obsessively reading about this issue the best I can say is that there are no easy answers. The relationship between women and sport participation is complex, underpinned by deeply embedded ideologies and still something of a hot potato when it comes to sexism and gender roles. Sport isn't always an easy choice for women, particularly not in a society obsessed with body image, and it is not enough to tell women that sport is an option for them - you are still telling people to cross a pretty major threshold in terms of gendered behavioural norms. 

Exploring the rhetoric of choice and inspiration which statutes campaigns such as This Girl Can and #WePlayStrong, Simone Fullager and Jessica Francombe-Webb challenge us around the idea that while on one level these campaigns are fantastic and inspiring, on another they detach personal choice and freedom from the gender norms that pervade our society. It's fine to say 'ignore the patriarchy', but ideas about what roles men and women fulfil are deeply embedded, and for many women they will affect how they see their capacity to participate in sport and the level of inclusiveness they experience. We need to go beyond inspiration. We need to change the story. 

One of the reasons I think running has been so successful in attracting women and helping them build active lifestyles is that it isn't a feminised version of a 'male' sport. More often than not men and women run alongside each other, 'women's running' isn't a watered down version of the 'male' sport, we all run the same miles, we all run for ourselves and at the level most people participate there isn't any competition. We're inspired by our mates who've run marathons, we find tribes in all sorts of places and we push forward together. Yes, many of us ran our first miles alone and in the dark (I know I did), but confidence comes quickly in running, before we know it we're pushing our limits and our bravery grows. I would argue that we need to look at the success in this area and see how we can make it grow more widely, that we need to drop the ideas that women want or need certain things to participate and think differently, to remove gender from the conversation and normalise movement for everyone. To reach out and support those who are being brave and cheer them on, and lead by example as people who are open, honest and love life. 

I make it sound easy. It isn't. There are deeply ingrained barriers in society that need to be overcome, and it's unlikely those are going to shift in our generation, but let's chip away, let's be pioneers. There isn’t a route map. Instead ‘we need to be guided by women’s voices, and analyse how their experiences are shaped by the many depends of contemporary society’ (Fullager and Francombe-Webb, 2014) paying close attention to how physical activity is gendered if we truly want to engage more women in sport.

*image courtesy of RunnersNeed*

You Do Not Want To Look Like A Troll

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Last week there was a piece in the Evening Standard that sparked a fair amount of frustration. It was called 11 tips for acing the London Marathon this year. Most of the advice was pretty innocuous, getting your marathon kit sorted, making a killer playlist and mixing up your training routes to keep things interesting, however there was one tip that made me prickle...

The marathon takes place in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands of people. You might have a finish line to cross but you do not want to look like a troll doing so.

'You do not want to look like a troll' - ouch. I will be upfront, I don't wear make up when I run, but I have no problem with people choosing to. I love that in her book Running Like a Girl Alexandra Heminsley talks about picking out a bold eyeliner that makes her feel like a boss for her first marathon, and that Charlie had special nails done for Boston tomorrow. However, I am very clear that this should be a choice. There should not be the expectation that you need to look a particular way (un-troll like) or use make up when you've just run more than 26 miles. Hell each time I've done it what I look like has been a million miles from my mind, which was more pre-occupied with the sense my muscles were being torn from my thigh bones....

Many of my friends shared similar views when we discussed the article on Facebook:

No I do not need sweat proof make up to run a marathon in and I don't care if I look like a troll after I have just run for approx 5 hours straight. As well intentioned as it may be I find this absolutely infuriating.

A lot of people do care though! It's about choice and you'd be surprised how many people I have see wearing makeup on my marathons.

Is this for real?...!

What a load of bullshit. The tone is so off - of course plenty of woe choose to wear make up when they run (I'm one of them) but that does not mean that without it people are going to think I look like a troll...Oh and it goes without saying that even if they do think I look like a troll then naturally their opinion matters the square root of fuck all to me.

This shit can die already.

I'll absolutely be wearing makeup to run London (and have thought about which mascara etc I'll use) but the tone of this article is awful.

I don't like the expectation that a woman needs to wear make up for a marathon so they don't look like a "troll"...by all means wear make up, but don't let it be because society "expects" it.

We don't place this sort of judgement on men when taking part in sports, so why is the media doing this to women? URGH. 

The comments on Twitter were similar, with the overwhelming sense that ultimately there's nothing wrong with wearing make up to run in, but that the tone of the article was somewhat off - something I pointed out to Phoebe Luckhurst on Twitter, who wrote the piece. Phoebe's view was that the comments in the article really weren't meant to be taken seriously. I can see where she's coming from. Sometimes it's easy to make a statement that ends up landing awkwardly. However, it got me thinking about why we think comments like this are positioned as light hearted, especially in relation to women in sport.

Gender ideology in sport is pervasive. I would argue that modern sport is a symbol of masculinity that creates a powerful form of sexism in society. As a result women's participation is deemed inappropriate and unwelcome outside of narrow parameters designed to protect the interests of men. While historically the exclusion of women has been based on biological facts, it can be argued that social and cultural ideas around gender roles and behaviour in society play a greater role. Ideology around gender is problematic and impacts on how we think about our selves and others, creating inequalities. 

There's quite a bit of research out there which looks at how women in sport are portrayed by the media. You only need to flip through the back pages of a paper to see that women's sport tends to attract (a lot) less media attention, and the coverage is typically sexualised or puts emphasis on the athlete's personal life over their athletic achievements, which serves to emphasis ideologies about the role of women in sport, trivialising achievement. Women in sport are expected to abide by female appropriate behaviour - such as making sure they don't look like a troll when they've just finished a race! The media arguably erases any women who chooses to act in a way that society would construe as 'unfeminine', which makes statements such as Phoebe's become acceptable as light hearted banter, even though they shouldn't be. 

The relationship between women, sport and gender ideology is a complex one that merits further investigation. However, as a generation of women in sport we need to push back and advocate for choice. Comments like this shouldn't be accepted and articles need to be built around the freedom to choose what's right for you. Let's change the tone of the conversation, let's change sport for women.

Many thanks to Fleur for inspiring this post, and to all the UK Fitness Bloggers for getting involved and sharing their thoughts.