I was asked to give a presentation to teenage girls on physical activity at the WOW – Women of the World festival in Perth recently. The festival is a national initiative celebrating women and girls, and looking at the obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential.
I was told I would have around forty 15/16yr old girls in each session. Now that is a hard audience, especially when I am there to inspire them to be physically active. It’s all well and good me standing in front of a room of girls and telling them they have to be physically active, but how do I engage with them? Especially when modern life does not make it that easy to be active.
I started by telling my story…….
I was never the sportiest at school, always in the B team or not at all. I definitely suffered from not having a proper PE teacher for most of my school life. An art teacher stood in and did aerobics with us. I decided to tell the girls about some negative comments I have had through my life.
- I was once called ‘thunder thighs’ when I was about 15. I can remember exactly who said it and where it was said to this day. Why is it you remember the negative forever, but never the positive?
- Whilst in the army and through my training every report ever written about me said robust or strong; not always something you want to hear as a young woman growing up. However, that is something I am now proud of. I am strong and robust and would not have been able to do the things I have done without being that way.
- At university a guy in my year said to me “so that’s what a rugby prop looks like in a dress” and this was a dress that I thought I looked really good in……I never wore that dress again.
- I have had boyfriends who wanted me to wear high heeled boots or shoes so that my legs would look longer/better.
Now, my legs… Here is the thing, for a huge amount of my life I wanted to have lovely long skinny legs. But I don’t. I have, as my Dad would say, “good strong legs”, but growing up I hated them.
Shopping for knee high boots just kills me as my calves are quite big. Can I find boots to do up over them? Never! It has taken me a long time to learn to love my amazing legs, because that is what they are, ‘AMAZING’ I have run hundreds of miles on these legs, they have taken me up mountains all over the world, run or walked over most of Scotland, they have cycled me thousands of miles and they are still going strong.
All the comments and negativity that I have had in my life about my body shape in the end have just made me stronger and more determined, but it has taken a while, almost 40 years in fact.
Being a teenager is tough, your body is going through changes that aren’t necessarily pretty or comfortable. Body hair, periods, growth spurts and emotions all gang up together to make you miserable and very self-conscious.
I asked the girls:
- Who doesn’t exercise because they are worried about getting sweaty and smelly?
- Who doesn’t exercise because you don’t want your makeup to run/smudge?
- Who doesn’t because it takes too long to do your makeup and hair afterwards?
- Are you worried that you will look stupid in front of others?
- Who does PE at school and who makes excuses? If you make an excuse why is that?
- Do you like doing PE with boys?
This brought about quite a bit of discussion which was great. It was really good to hear their thoughts and reasons for taking part, or not taking part.
I then asked the girls in the room who was confident about their body shape?
I found the result quite disturbing. I asked this question to about 120 girls in total and only 10 girls put their hand up. What is the world and social media doing to our girls that they lack so much confidence?
I finished by saying this:
Well I would just like to say from standing here and looking at you all in the room, you all have the perfect body, you are all amazing, and your incredible bodies can, and will, do amazing things for you.
If I got through to just one girl in each session then it was worth it!