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A recent study by Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation says more than half of girls are put off by PE classes in the UK. Interestingly, the research found that eight year-olds did similar levels of activity with about 60% of boys and girls saying they did at least an hour of exercise five days a week. However, by the time children reach the age of fourteen, only 31% of girls said that they exercised regularly; meanwhile, 50% of boys continued to exercise regularly.
So, what happens between the ages of eight and fourteen that turn girls off exercise? The study found that most girls do want to do more exercise but have been put off by PE classes with some saying they did not like exercising in front of boys and were not confident of their sporting skills.
These answers depress me so much. I understand that teenage girls often feel awkward about their bodies. It’s hardly surprising considering how much a body can change during puberty; I can remember being self-conscious of my body as a teenager because I was a somewhat early developer and I looked different to many of my friends. In fact, this self-consciousness stayed with me until relatively recently when I started exercising regularly, which has taught me to respect and love my body for the machine that it is, not how it looks to other people. For me, part of the joy of exercising is that I get to be out and about in the world with no make-up on, huffing and puffing and screaming (yes, I once got frustrated on a run and screamed out loud; I scared a cyclist passing me) and generally not caring what other people think of me. It’s a time when I don’t have to care how I look and what other people think of me; it’s incredibly liberating.
Which is why encouraging girls into exercising more and taking up sport is so important. Although making PE lessons more appealing to girls is a step in the right direction, I am concerned that it will reinforce gender segregation, which is hardly going to help that problem of girls being afraid to sweat in front of boys. Exercise shouldn’t be limited to a couple of hours a week in school; it should be encouraged in all aspects of girl’s life, not as a tool to lose weight, but as something that can give them confidence, teach them new skills and make friends. And even give them an excuse to not look good and not care in public.
Girl Museum Inc.