Today The Telegraph published an article, by Rebecca Holman, under the banner of ‘women’s health’ critiquing the way the fitness industry has progressed over the past few years: moving from women just ‘going to the gym’ into ‘training’.
It was an article that really riled me, and I know it angered a lot of my fellow ‘fitnessessy’ friends in the Twittersphere.
Most of the article pissed me off – how she writes Lululemon as if it’s two words, and saying the women are getting into ‘doing iron men’ (some of us might be, ahem)… but there are a few particular things she writes about which bothered me massively.
1) The idea that exercise makes us more “obsessed with the shape of our own bodies – and everyone else’s”.
This is bollocks. I openly admit that I ‘train’, that I love to exercise and love getting strong and faster. I train with, and swap training secrets and stories with some amazing women – and what they look like does not bother me in the slightest. We don’t compare the size of our thighs, of our biceps or moan about our looks. Our friendships are based purely on our love of training and the amount of FUN it is.
I go to parkrun and run with people who are all sorts of shapes and sizes; I go to a weights class on a Friday with people who are all sorts of shapes and sizes; I go swimming twice a week with people who are all sorts of shapes and sizes. Do I care, or even look at whether these people, particularly women, are larger or smaller than me? No, I don’t. I am only focused on what I am doing, because I am exercising and training to make ME stronger and faster: I am training for my wellbeing, and constantly comparing myself to others is a waste of energy that I could be using to get an extra couple of seconds off my PB.
2) The idea that exercising has become a “swindle of epic proportions”.
Yes, it is possible to buy a yoga top for £80. Yes, you can spend hundreds on race entries if you want to. It is very possible to spend ALL your money on your training habit, and if I could, I probably would. But you don’t have to. It’s so close minded to say that it’s always expensive. I can’t deny that yes, a decent pair of trainers may cost you upwards of £50, but they are really the only thing you have to properly shell out for. Stephanie wrote a brilliant piece on racing cheaply, and Sarah has written about being a keen exercising bean on a budget. Brands are, of course, trying to bully us all into parting with our money at every opportunity – like spending £50 on a 10K and bringing out kit that we have to have, but that’s just life, I’m afraid. Just grow up and look past the hype.
3) The idea that the muscles she’s gained from exercising is “bulk”
This makes me really, really, really angry. She bemoans that fact she’s put on 5 kilos since she’s started taking exercise more seriously, and gone up a couple of dress sizes. I’ve no idea, of course what kind of body shape she has (nor do I care) but FFS, just embrace the stronger you. I hate that she calls it ‘bulk’ too. They are muscles, and you should appreciate all that they do for you. If you’re so bothered by bulk, go and find Tracey Anderson and stop clogging up the gym. The rest of us want to get big.
4) The idea that she’s a “chump” for going running in the rain at 7am.
Do you know what, Rebecca, if that’s how you see yourself for going for a run before work, I feel sorry for you. Stop doing something if it’s making you feel so bad about yourself. Stop exercising because you feel like you have to. Stop spending your hard earned wages on a pastime that you clearly loathe so much. Don’t do 10Ks, don’t hog spaces in gym classes and stop being so bloody negative.
Exercise and training has been one of the most positive influences on my life so far: I’ve met some of the most wonderful friends, and everything about it makes be feel better. I don’t do it for others, I do it for me (Helen hit the nail on the head with this). I do exercise I enjoy: I am rubbish at dancing, so I don’t do Zumba. I don’t have loads of money so I don’t do one-to-one pilates classes.
There is a more troubling side to this article too, for me. For years, as women, we’ve been told to make ourselves better we have to be skinny and delicate. It’s now, thankfully, OK to be strong and actually fill our jeans. I am lucky that I’ve seen this as only a positive, and don’t feel ‘pressured’ into training: I do it solely because I like it and am pretty competitive, so that keeps me hooked. But if there are loads of women out there (and Rebecca seems to be one of them) for whom the gym has become a very negative side to life, that it is just something they have to do to look a certain way, it is incredibly sad and worrying.