I have only seen two truthful images of everyday women in sport in the media.
- The moment in the This Girl Can commercial where the swimmer adjusts her bathing suit over her butt. Nothing is more familiar to a woman in a swimsuit than this adjustment.
- The photo of the sweaty neck on the cover of Eat Sweat Play by Anna Kessel. Everyone who has ever sweat knows the feeling of bits of hair sticking to your neck drenched in sweat.
That’s not to say I haven’t seen images of professional women in sport in the media, but when it comes to real women doing real sport and exercise, these two images have nailed it.
I bought Eat Sweat Play after going to a talk by Anna Kessel at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival (I ran 10 miles to get there so had my own authentic sweaty neck to meet dress code) and after hearing Anna read the chapter about getting changed after gym class as a teenager I was hooked. The book does such a good job balancing speaking the truth about what it is like to be an active girl and woman and highlight how far we still have to go. Most importantly I think it points out that while it’s popular and trendy to be seen as active and #fitfam (ugh) on Instagram and in glossy magazines decked out in Net-A-Sporter high end kit, there is still a lot of less glamorous work to do to get all women comfortable sweating and playing.
Her chapter on periods is the best. YOU GUYS THERE IS ALMOST NO ACTUAL RESEARCH ON HOW SOMETHING THAT WOMEN EXPERIENCE EVERY 21 DAYS EFFECTS THEIR PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE IN SPORT. Like not even with elite athletes! I’m not a huge fan of the way sport tends to do things for elites then filters it down to the rest of the population, but wouldn’t UKA or British Cycling want to know a bit more what happens to their gold medal athletes bodies and how they can tailor the training to it? Forget marginal gains, we’d be talking menstruation gains!
To steal a great quote in the book from Caroline CriadoPerez, “Luckily I’m old enough and feminist enough to ignore the cat callers.” I feel the same way. The barriers to women doing sport bother me but I get more angry about their effect on women as a population rather than me, hence why my comebacks tend to include a lecture on misogyny and their male privilege (tough when you’re out of breath running the other direction…). I don’t think it’s fair for every woman to have to grow a thick skin if they want to be active and Anna does a great job dissecting what this actually means for the general population.
When I read a book I fold over the page when there is an especially awesome quote I think I’d like to go back to. Eat Sweat Play has more than any other book I’ve read recently. Thanks Anna for writing it and thanks to the women out there eating, playing and sweating,