In this 11th edition, in honour of February being Black History Month and National Girls…
Content Warning: Eating Disorders
My name is Jett and I am a member of Fast and Female’s Youth Advisory Council where I enjoy helping run events and discussing important issues regarding women and girls in sports with the rest of YAC and the Fast and Female team.
Sports have played a significant role in shaping who I am and I want to share all the amazing benefits that sports have with other girls and women which is why being part of the Fast and Female team has been super rewarding. I love trying new things, especially sports but running is the sport that has been a part of my life for the longest. I have (mostly) always loved running and I am grateful that I still love it and have a positive relationship with the sport that has always been present in my life. I started running with my parents and then continued with my best friends and now it’s something that I can always rely on as a means to explore a new place, enjoy the weather, reset, or connect with people. However, my relationship with running hasn’t always been positive. Like so many others, there were times in middle school, as my body was experiencing the changes of puberty where I looked to running as a way to fight those changes and try to achieve a certain body type rather than appreciate the sport as something to be enjoyed. I considered running my secret, not to be shared with anyone for fear it would make them skinny as well and then I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the other girls with the body I wanted to have. At the time, I never talked about the joyless running, the sports burnout, the sleeping in class because of not having eaten enough, then late night binge eating, and the constant sizing myself up against other girls. I believed that I had to be small to be a fast runner and then it got to a point where I would’ve rather been small than fast. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one, I now know that my experience is unfortunately all too common yet never discussed so girls are left feeling isolated, alone, and ashamed and many girls end up with serious eating disorders, injuries, and miss out on all the positive impacts of sport for life.
This concept of reflecting on the risks and benefits of participating in running and sports as a teenage girl is thoroughly explored in Lauren Fleshman’s book, Good For a Girl. Fleshman balances her own personal stories as a professional runner and a girl growing up with facts and news items about the gender equity disparity in sports. Fleshman is a decorated collegiate and professional track, cross country, and road runner who shares everything she learned through her own life experiences figuring out how to establish a healthy and sustainable relationship with sports, regardless of having to work within a system built by men, for men. Fleshman exposes the harmful discrepancies in women’s health in sports culture with a focus on how eating disorders are often ignored at best and promoted at worst from sponsors and coaches. Good For a Girl is a revealing unpacking of a severely flawed sports system and all of its gaps which women fall through. Reading this book, I felt heard and understood when all of my big feelings and stress from that time in my life were reflected in a book.
Ideally, sports empower women to become their best selves but there are harmful sides to sports as well at all levels and for women of all ages. I wish that I had this book when I was younger. I hope that everyone reads this book and that the communities of girls, informed and inspired by Fleshman’s voice, can talk more openly about patience, acceptance and support through the transitions of puberty, maintaining a positive relationship to sport and performance and challenging disordered eating culture. Good For a Girl is a powerful and important book that everyone (girls, parents, teachers, coaches, etc.) should read to empower themselves or use as fuel to empower others and continue supporting women and girls taking up space in sport.