I hate sexism. I also hate exercise. I don’t loathe sport quite as much as misogyny or misandry but the feeling of anger is still there. Tell me that a woman’s place is in the kitchen and I’ll be filled with rage but tell me a woman’s place is on the sports field and you’ll find me raiding the fridge for comfort food. Of course, I’m sure Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign is inspiring many women to do activities they’ve always feared were too “masculine” to enjoy but I can’t help but shake my head at their adverts. It’s not because I disagree with their message but simply because This Girl Can’t.
Exercise is not something I’ve always hated but as I grew up and became conscious of how awful I was at every single possible sport, I became jaded. This Girl Can may be encouraging women to keep active no matter what their size or confidence level but it misses the ability issue for me. Its joint venture with the British Mountaineering Council reads that “Anyone can climb” – yes, that’s right “anyone” – wait for it – “even if you’re scared of heights”. Try telling that to the girl whose first attempt involved getting just two rungs up on a climbing wall before freezing and panicking she was going to be left dangling a whole foot off the ground forever. That girl was me, aged 11 and I’ve never considered climbing since.
This pathetic school trip episode was not a one-off and my reputation as a no-hoper was always there in the dreaded P.E. lessons throughout my school career. I did try sport but each time I was met with humiliation. I joined the school football team with naïve enthusiasm but I was never picked for a match, apart from coming on as a substitute for 3 minutes in the final game of the season as a token gesture. I also took up skateboarding because I wanted to be like Avril Lavigne – I couldn’t move one step forward, let alone do an ollie. I even fancied a bit of parkour (before I knew what it was called) but ended up falling off the first wall I tried to jump and landing face first in the playground. Over time, exercise became something I could only equate with embarrassment, injury or both.
However, there were sometimes – some very rare times – that I did find enjoyment in keeping fit. Towards the end of school when we had less instructors forcefully bending my body in half because “You must be flexible enough to just do a forward roll!” (Spoiler alert: I’m not) and more freedom to do whatever we wanted in the gym, I found an interest in spinning and step aerobics. Unfortunately though my lack of rhythm and confusion between left and right meant I was still bottom of the “fun” class.
This Girl Can’s aim is to say that “judgement is a barrier to overcome” but even defeating that obstacle leaves me with the very real facts that I am painfully unfit, poorly co-ordinated, ill-balanced and dreadfully slow. The next time I see a campaign to get more people into sport, I want it to feature someone as useless as me. I want to see an out-of-breath woman with arms flailed in an awkward attempt to catch a ball inevitably flying towards her face. That woman is the kind I can relate to. Until then, I’ll stick to walking because when it comes to exercise This Girl Can’t. Or maybe just can’t be arsed.