Growing up I was very self-conscious like any young girl, of my growing body. Being brought up Muslim I was indoctrinated to never let anyone see a speck of skin, Heck, I feared seeing myself, you are never alone, the devil is everywhere.
As I was reading Women In Sport 2017 report entitled ‘Changing the Game for Girl’s’ I resonated with many of the findings. ‘Girl’s do not like their bodies on show in PE’, from a young age I knew I was different, no one was my type of brown; the ugly type I thought.
To this day a moment in year one has always stuck with me, I had an electric blue crop top and shorts combo for PE that my mama had brought me, which I LOVED, I felt like a professional gymnast. Although, I’m still puzzled as to why she brought it, I put it down to her naivety, married at 15 and never been to school, she was in a western world and I was her baby, but she was one too, still learning.
Anyway, my dad was away abroad for his father’s funeral, so an uncle stayed over, and he came to the school for a meeting one lunchtime. I spotted him in the hallway as I was headed back to the changing rooms so I HI-5 him in excitement. However, it quickly became a walk of shame as I remembered what I was wearing. He never spoke, acknowledged or even cared I don’t think, but to me I was burning with guilt in the darkest pits of my stomach. I felt like a public embarrassment to my family and everything I was supposed to represent. Piety, chastity and Innocence. A girl of that age should be more carefree, but I always felt the worlds weight on my shoulders. An unspoken accountability.
Getting older I believed that skinny is healthy, and fat is not, the real keyword all girls need to be taught, is to be fit. Sadly, young girls and even adults are striving to be thin using shortcuts that are inevitably damaging. We need to teach women to be proud of the hard work they put into themselves, not cheated yourself into, where’s the dignity and beauty in that?
Changing in front of peers for many sparks insecurities about our differences, but we should be celebrating them not afraid of them.
The report also describes that girls don’t like the activities offered in PE, but I remember more so not wanting to participate because I did not want to be the only girl too. It was cooler to sit around and do nothing, so I chose to be a sheep because no one wants to be left out. It’s an utter shame the teachers at my school didn’t care, I guess it was less work for them and I think we can all relate too teachers focusing on the better students, which just breeds more intimidation. Toxic.
The importance of physical education needs to be better defined; going to the gym is not the only way to get fit, and other methods related to being outside are alien to younger girls who would prefer to watch a video on the internet about exercise than actually partake in it.
Also, to listen to issues that girls have and align those goals for a healthier future, some girls mentioned they would prefer all girls’ activities which would be more attractive to them. A brilliant idea for the self-conscious, the hormonal and a safe space to have fun, get fit and for girl power.
The world is also steadily declining in girl’s supporting one another, instead choosing to be in fierce competition in over whose has the best selfie. Put those energies into competing productively against a sport or for grades which can teach you a whole lot more about your strengths and weaknesses than narcissism can.
Physical education is perceived as being an unimportant subject for girls to be good at or pursue. As a child I remember being insanely jealous of my brothers joining a cricket league, getting all the gear and having a sense of purpose, which made me feel very unimportant and that I wasn’t capable of bringing value to the world, even through recreation.
So support needs to start at home, educating parents about the importance of developing life skills including self confidence and working in a team.
By Mohbeen Mushtaq.
Check out these links to find out more on how to get girls more involved in sport and PE.