Surely an elite level athlete and coach should have plenty to write about to inspire change? But, this day is not about me. It is about encouraging all women to be strong, without either sounding like a self centered egomaniac or a bra burning feminist.
I wish I could write a post as inspiring and creative as Pavement Runner's Yes, I can post a few weeks ago. If you have not read it, you need to check it out! Unfortunately, I am not that empowering, so instead I thought I would tell you about my experiences.
Last week, I read lots of incredibly inspiring stories from women who had struggled with (and always will) eating disorders. Some posts almost brought me to tears, and I realized how important of a topic this is. Sure, I have close family friends and know many athletes with eating disorders, but I was unaware of just how many people it affects. Kim from Busy Bod posted some facts on a post that were absolutely shocking. Here are just a few:
- Of elementary school girls who read magazines, 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight
- 42% of 1st-3rd graders (6-9 year olds) want to be thinner
- 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat
- 70% of 18-30 year olds don't like their bodies
- 50% of girls use unhealthy weight control behaviors
- skipping meals, fasting, smoking, vomiting and taking laxatives
This HAS to change.
As part of the National Eating Disorders Awareness week, La Salle showed a documentary called Branded that was premiered on ESPN in 2013. To those of you who have not seen it, I highly recommend it. The documentary focused on the way female athletes are viewed. Many of the athletes featured: Anna Kournikova, Danica Patrick, Lolo Jones have been criticized heavily in the media for flaunting their sex appeal, when in fact that is often what the sponsors are interested in. Female athletes are not given enough recognition for being good athletes. This is one of the major reasons that women's basketball is often rejected; it does not fit with how our society wishes to view women even though they are incredible athletes.
For any athlete (or person in the media) to be able to make a living off what they are good at, they must try to extend their brand, create relevance, and news, to keep people talking when they are not playing. This was a point brought up by one of the speakers in the documentary, and the problem is that for women, sex appeal is a huge part of that: it is what keeps half of the population interested.
There was a panel discussion afterwards, where one of the speakers said that we are not living in a mans world, but looking through a mans lens. I thought this was a great way of putting the message across. There is an unease, maybe even a fear of a strong women by many, and the easiest way to overcome that fear is to trivialize these women until she too, breaks down. The final concluding point was that if we are climbing a mountain to bring equality to women, we have come a long way, but we are only midway; there is a long way to go before we can reach the top!
I got to thinking that I am a female role model. I am in the top percentage of female distance runners in the US (or the UK), I have a reasonable twitter following, and a blog to let my voice be heard. I realized that I am not doing enough to help females reach equality, especially within the sporting world. If I am not trying to make a difference, then who am I to expect us to move any higher up that mountain. Like the famous quote from Gandhi says "Be the change that you wish to see in the world", I should use my voice to reach out to people, while I still can.
I am going to make this into a Thinking Out Loud Post to join Amanda, these thoughts were inspired from the Branded documentary.
I hope this does not come across as preachy, and I hope I do not seem arrogant, but I just want to use my voice (well, my writing voice, but you can hear my British accent telling you this if you wish) to be a leader, and inspire change as best I can.
If I was going to inspire change I would tell you.....Since I first started taking my running seriously, I have come a long way. It has taken years and years of consistent training, doing the little things, and believing that I am good enough. Like the women's equality mountain, I have a long way to go before I reach the top of my athletic mountain. I WILL run for Great Britain, and I WILL run a marathon in a time I consider to be up to my potential (I would hope around 2:30). You too can reach the top of your mountain, if you just believe.
If I was going to inspire change I would tell you......I would like to think that I am evidence that you do not have to be glamorous to be good, you do not have to look like a model to compete, and at the end of the day, running is one of those sports that finishing will always be pretty ugly. If it isn't, then you really shouldn't be doing it as you aren't trying hard enough. I have never been someone who cared about what I looked like as I crossed the finish line. I always just wanted to go out there knowing I gave it my absolute best and the result took care of itself. Through that I earned a scholarship to University in America, 11 DII All-America Honors, PRs I would have never dreamed of, and running for Saucony!
If I was going to inspire change I would tell you.....the people who truly matter, the ones who care about you love you for who you are. For being that wonderful person that you are with all you have to offer. They are the people who will support you no matter what. They are the ones who will be most proud of you for succeeding, especially when going against what society tells you to do. Care about what they think, not what those who do not matter think.
So lets change this perspective, lets prove that women's currency is no longer going to be how attractive they are. Lets show that through sport we can be an inspiration to the younger generation, and show our strength. We are in this together, and we can climb the rest of the mountain as a team.
In what ways do you try to inspire change? What do you think can be done to help the equality of women? What do you think about how female athletes are portrayed?
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