13 March 2011

Women and Fitness: Battling the Body or Feeling Great

 9.5 km - 57.33 min - 9986 steps - 5ºC, cold, light rain.
'Feeling Free',  by Alexander Deineka

What women really want?

I live deep in the sticks, there aren't many runners on the road, but two women neighbours run regularly with their dogs. One with a fox-terrier and the other with a golden retriever. I've always thought they run to stay fit or to keep those pounds off, but apparently it's not what's on women's minds when they run.

I was pleasantly surprised, amazed in fact, when I read the wonderful rant in the Guardian by Homa Khaleeli accusing the fitness industry of sexism in how they present exercise to women.  Here are a few excerpts from the article, which I think is one of the most insightful pieces I've ever read on running, and exercise in general:

'Women's Fitness this month will help you to "Lose half a stone now!" and get a "Flat tummy fast!" Zest insists you "Get the body you want", which is of course: "A flat tum for life, drop 10 inches fast, be 7lb lighter."
'The message to women is clear; what matters is not your health or enjoyment, but your weighing scales.
'But for most women who exercise regularly this is a side issue. Instead they rhapsodise about how exercise makes them happier and proud of what their bodies can achieve. One sporty friend tells me: "I feel more energetic, it gives me a clearer head. There is nothing like a lunchtime run for forgetting how annoying your colleagues have been all morning, and getting the day's deadlines in perspective. And I am a genuinely nicer person when I have cycled to work." My colleague Rachel Dixon, who regularly writes about fitness, agrees: "It's the buzz that you get from it that makes it addictive. No one is going to be committed enough to go just to lose weight."

'The "get thin" tack hasn't even worked on the 80 persent of the UK women who are not doing enough exercise to maintain their health, according to Sue Tibballs from campaign group the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation. "It feels like all the negative energy we put into trying to control our bodies with diets, corsetry and surgery is driven by not liking ourselves – we are really undoing ourselves at the moment by battling our bodies."

'Yet when women exercise regularly she says, they become evangelical instead, because their focus has changed from what their body looks like to what they can do.

'Men are typically expected to enjoy sport and exercise – from kickabouts to cycling, but for women the idea that exercise is a chore done to improve our looks is omnipresent. When online feminist magazine Jezebel posted an article on how exercise changed the way women thought about their bodies, it was inundated with responses. One poster wrote: "There is an indescribable feeling of power – like a secret I have with myself – knowing that under my clothes there is a strong body, one that can jump, punch, kick, lift, climb, swim, and run really fast."

That's exactly what I've been writing all these years about running with dogs – enjoy, don't suffer. Thanks, Homa, I've found a soul-mate!

Follow the link in the text to read the article in full.
The picture by Alexander Deineka (oil on canvas, 1944) is from deineka.ru.

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