This week is the celebration of International Women's Day and we love this day at FEAT. This is always going to be a potentially controversial topic to write about, but it really shouldn't be. Being the feminist advocates that we are here at FEAT, we think the recognition of inherent social inequalities is incredibly important to discuss.
At FEAT we are lucky enough to have a group of incredibly strong, determined women from all wakes of life, moving along the path of health and wellbeing. This is true in both our client base and our incredible trainers. As a business, we tend to attract people who are continually striving to become more engaged human beings in all areas. It just fits with the model, you don't get up at the crack of dawn to run around a park and do lots of burpies, if you're not engaged with your progression as a person in all capacities.
When I am looking at areas of improvement, I will always first look inward and ask; "what responsibility for change can I take and what influence on this change can I have?" We are incredibly powerful people and there is nothing out of reach for us to change. So, for me, the first fight for equality starts with the fitness industry and what cultural standards are being set here.
I am a big believer that the physiological disparity between Males and Females in the world of strength is NOWHERE near as big as we think. In fact, only on the extremities of the bell curve should we be seeing big differences in strength between males and females. For the general population, females should be as strong as and in far more cases than we actually see, stronger than their male counterparts. So why is this not the case? There are many layers to this including image, learned behaviours, the language of fitness, poor comparison examples and aggressive role modelling.
Unfortunately, prior to the book ‘Strong is the New Beautiful’ by Lindsey Vonn, the fitness industry as it stands, rarely encouraged women to be strong. The first image of physical strength and prowess in our society is often related to big 'Arnold' biceps. Understandably, this is not appealing for many people, male or female. I love the saying, "get strong, not big", meaning focus on overall strength and movement capacity rather than aesthetics.
Can I just say, I find it fascinating that our societies definition of female beauty tends to idealise the small, child-like female figure? With many models in fashion magazines being very small and they fear to put on muscle mass. Why I find Lindsey so inspiring (other than being the most successful Alpine Skiers of all time, male or female) is that she has a very well constructed idea about fitness and it is all based around movement function or strength training.
It is very common in the fitness industry to correlate girls lifting weights or doing heavy kettle bell work etc, with the image of them becoming bodybuilders. In my time as a trainer, it is incredible how many conversations I have had with women wanting to tone up but not put on muscle like a bodybuilder. This is incredibly challenging as the term 'Toning' comes from a phase in a bodybuilders training program where they start to shape their muscles ready to be shown in competition. So by definition, they are actually trying to gain muscle mass, it is just in proportion to certain targeted areas.
For me, Lindsay is a great example of someone in the industry really reshaping how we look at strength training for both women and men. This is really important in shifting our learned behaviours or monkey see, monkey do. For all of us, this battle links back to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the simple fact that the female brain develops quicker than the male brain and they come to understand this lifestyle earlier. Essentially, females develop into functional social beings several years before males.
When you look at a preschool playground, everyone is running, jumping, rolling, falling and playing together. Not only is their imagination unlocking the world of play, it is also helping develop the human body for what it is going to take on over the next 90 odd years. There is no real concern for the social construct of gender, they are just doing what the human body is designed to do - play through movement and have fun.
If we are to fast forward to our early teen years and look at what is happening in the playground. You will start to see the correlation of 'boys being boys' - playing rugby or soccer or fighting on the oval - but why are girls (and obviously this is not all girls) not engaging in the same capacity. The female brain matures faster than the male brain. In this maturing process from an earlier age, they understand what is being asked of them in the school environment. We are told by our teachers if you can sit still and quiet you are a better student, where if you have the energy to burn and want to get up any time within the 6 hours you are hyperactive and a bad student. So as girls generally come to understand this earlier than boys, they are missing out on these physically formative years of movement in regards to strength. The jumping around becomes less, they don't play with movement as much outside of sport time and become more perceptive of the media around them, defining what is ladylike and what isn't. As you are going through puberty many of your hormonal processes are being set, additionally, our movement patterns are being set. If you engage with what society wants with you, 'to sit still', then we see a lot of underdeveloped muscles. I should mention this is more apparent with all children now and certainly isn't isolated to females, it is definitely a growing concern.
So am I really just saying we should all move more? YES!
The incredible thing about what we do at FEAT is that we are continually looking passed these stereotypes and perceptions. I am always blown away that everyone is down at training chasing the same thing, wellness, a positive part of the day and community-based training.
Together we aspire to push past the barriers of perceived limitations and in doing so we can empower others to step out of these 'social norms'. It is in this place, where you are no longer carrying the expectations of the world around you, as you walk around in this connected state, rather than mindlessly following the path set before you, you can start to build your own way. In doing so you are liberating those around you to feel strong enough to do the same... This is something we at FEAT are incredibly passionate about and are always happy to talk over at a coffee club!