Recently I had one of those ultimate clothes-clear-outs. I have just moved back home after University and my wardrobe simply won’t fit the momentous amount of clothing I happened to ‘need’ that time in 2nd year when I forgot that I have SO MANY CLOTHES.
The past 2 days of ‘life cleaning’ have most importantly taught me about STOPPING THE PURCHASING but I also happened to stumble upon a collection of sports clothes from my teenage years (because as you’ve probably got by now throwing things away isn’t really my forte). As a pretty competitive heptathlete and tennis player my wardrobe was heavily filled with the usual trackies, shorts and hoodies.
But the thing that struck me above all else were the piles and piles of tanks and sleeveless tops. And in a country which usually doesn’t lend itself to shoulder-baring weather this is probably quite a unique collection.
The reason for this incredible, and by now slightly smelly, collection of tanks was the crippling teenage fear of sweat. It was the same fear which sent me out to buy expensive maximum strength deodorant and to wear dark coloured cardigans even when I was boiling hot in school.
“I’m no scientific expert but I’m pretty sure that perspiration is just a natural outcome if you do any sort of jumping or running about.”
In my head sweating was an embarrassment, a reason for other people to laugh, and being a rather sporty young person an unavoidable fact. So, in order to disguise my active, perspiring self I would uniquely wear tank tops – reducing the arm pit to clothing contact to a minimum. This became a problem when I took up the sport of golf at 17 where wearing a tank top goes down about as well as shooting a person! To avoid embarrassment I wore jumpers even on the hottest days and chose specific sweat-disguising colours if I absolutely had to wear a polo.
But why all of this shame? – I’m no scientific expert but I’m pretty sure that perspiration is just a natural outcome if you do any sort of jumping or running about. And I know exercise is good – so what’s the problem?
Sweating represents that we are doing that fantastic, wonderful thing that is exercise. But in a 2015 report by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation 48% of secondary girls questioned said that they felt sweating was ‘unfeminine’. And if that wasn’t bad enough a significant amount of year 9 (13-14 years) female students felt that getting muddy and dirty was all a bit too masculine.
This is clearly hugely problematic if we want to keep our girls playing sport. Something in our society has got to change allowing the message to get to teenage girls that getting sweaty and red faced and muddy and having our hair messed up and our make up running down our face is amazing and wonderful and means that our bodies are doing amazing things.
“48% of secondary girls questioned said that they felt sweating was ‘unfeminine’.”
Whilst campaign’s like This Girl Can certainly help, we need something which is directly targeted at teens. We need strong, powerful young women telling and showing us that sweat and messy hair and mud are good. That the female body can work damn hard and that is blooming amazing. This is where sponsors and television broadcasters must step up to put women like this in front of us on a regular basis on social media, advertising posters as well as our TV screens. These people need to infiltrate the Instagram accounts and Snapchat videos of our wonderful teenage girls – they need to be cool enough to attract attention and to then redefine what cool means.
Another way we can help is by improving changing facilities in schools. It seems completely ludicrous to my current self that throughout secondary school I would do PE lessons, sometimes at 9 in the morning and then I would put on my uniform and go to class without showering. In fact none of us EVER showered. Mainly because school showers were disgusting pits of mould and cold tiles with no place to hide. In a time where we couldn’t look at each other in underwear there was 0 chance that we were going to strip off and shower together.
I realise that there is no easy fix, especially in dated school buildings where 70 girls all need to change at the same time but if schools took the situation seriously they would be equipping girls with more than just a nicer showering experience. They will be teaching girls that it is possible to fit exercise into your morning or your lunch break and then get on with your day. It will teach them that when taking part in sport you should be focusing on what your body can do not keeping your hair neat for maths class later.
Sweating is only the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems which we face with teenage girls in sport. I have already written about how we can improve sport in schools but how about, for now, we all be a little bolder and a little more proud of our sweaty selves!