"I worry, as a mom and as a woman, about the messages our daughters receive if they think a woman as phenomenal as you is not enough unless she is thin. Who you are, what you have accomplished, how you have influenced and altered the world is all so much more important than your dress size. There is not one thing that you have done that would have been more extraordinary if you’d done it with a 25-inch waist." Melissa Harris-Perry.As a mother of a teenage girl and as the founder of a business dedicated to empowering girls in sports and in life, I see the focus on the weight number as a trap. Like a ball and chain, the notion of a magical goal number on the scale weighs us down and keeps us -- women and girls -- from achieving our dreams. How many times have we said or heard, "If only I weighed less, I'd be able to
My goal is to free girls from the emotional baggage of social expectations on weight and body image. There is no one right or perfect body type; women and girls come in all shapes and sizes. They are all powerful and beautiful.Oprah has power and influence and is respected worldwide for her business acumen, acting talents, philanthropy -- for her humanity. She has earned all that and more because of who she is -- not because of the number of pounds she weighs or the size clothing she wears. But rather than blame Oprah, I'd like to offer a possible solution to Weight Watchers. In this new year, I urge the company to rebrand and refocus its mission and message. Success in life isn't about watching your weight. Success in life is about emotional and physical well-being; life is about actualizing your potential. Instead of a fellowship around the scale, how about a fellowship of activity and wellness? Instead of selling prepackaged processed foods, how about promoting nutrition information and healthy cooking classes? Most importantly, Weight Watchers, I encourage you to change your messaging. While you have male and female members, the vast majority of your messages are aimed at females and feed the toxic media messages about body image that bombard women and girls daily.
What I wish you would say, in a national advertising campaign, is what so many of us say to young women and girls every day: "You are an amazing human being. You are enough as you are. Be healthy so you'll live a long life. Follow your dreams and go after the big goals you've set. The world needs you -- regardless of your shape or size. And I believe in YOU!"Sincerely, MaryAnne Gucciardi, Founder and CEO of Dragonwing girlgear
To the Editor of The New York Times: In focusing on body size and muscularity of the women playing at Wimbledon, Dan Rotherberg perpetuates the standard that female athletes need not only excel at their sport but also meet a societal standard for beauty while doing so. (“Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image with Ambition,” July 10) Would the Times run a story about NFL linebackers balancing their body image with their athletic ambitions? By running the article, the Times gives credence to a double standard, one that female athletes of all ages battle regularly. Simply because some women athletes or coaches make training decisions based on body size does not make it newsworthy. The US Women’s National Team’s World Cup victory inspired millions of girls worldwide. Like the women playing at Wimbledon, these athletes are role models for young girls. We owe it to young fans of every sport to highlight the discipline, commitment, hard work, and athleticism of female athletes and not the size of their forearms or thighs.Regardless of whether my letter is published, I will continue to speak up for women and girl athletes, for their right to be taken seriously and to play fiercely. The focus on body image -- some call it "body shaming" -- is an unfair and unwanted burden on women and girls. To female athletes of all ages: When a reporter (from your school paper to the New York Times) asks a question about your appearance, change the conversation. Turn the questions around to what is important -- the high level of your play, the discipline and hard work you devote to your game, and the recognition you and your team have earned. Don't be limited by reporters who are perpetuating a limiting and oppressive paradigm for women. Join us and millions of others in a movement to empower girls and women by what they have accomplished and what they can achieve, not by how they look.
To sports girls everywhere: Be strong. Develop your body and mind to play your game to the best of your ability. Strive to be your best self. Have fun and be proud to PLAY LIKE A GIRL!
Recently, though, I’ve been really inspired by body-positive campaigns that work to divorce physical activities from certain body types. For example, if you have a body and you’re wearing a swim suit, you’ve got a swim suit body! Likewise, if you have a body and you’re practicing yoga with it, that’s a yoga body. With those messages in mind, I’m challenging myself to answer “do you run?” with an enthusiastic “I try my best!”Until high school, I was haunted by a memory of (barely) completing the mile during my first week of 6th grade PE class. (For anyone who was lucky enough not to be there, I threw up in the bathroom sink in front of half the girls in my grade after practically walking four dreadful laps on the track.) With love and encouragement, I share 5 things that have helped me not only conquer my fears but also begin to enjoy running short distances:
- LISTEN TO GREAT MUSIC: Try songs with a beat similar to your pace (Spotify even has a really cool app that matches songs to your running rhythm.) Some of my favorites are classic wedding after-party songs like “September” and “Dancing in the Moonlight.”
- EMBRACE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN YOUR BREATH AND MOVEMENT: During Ashtanga yoga practice, yogis breathe with Ujjayi pranayama or “victorious breath,” a method which facilitates effortless body movement. I recommend experimenting with different breathing patterns until you find one that works for you! In contrast to #1: try running silently sometimes. There is nothing more grounding than hearing your own exhales.
- WALK WHEN YOU NEED TO: Challenge yourself, but listening to your body is important for your safety. Better to protect yourself for a future run than to over-exert!
- SET GOALS AND CELEBRATE ACCOMPLISHMENTS, EVEN LITTLE ONES: Whenever I’ve had to do something difficult in my life, from studying for the SAT to puffing through another mile, I’ve made a habit of promising myself a sushi dinner alone. Treat yourself.
- RUN FOR YOU: This last tip is a big one. Don’t compare yourself to your friend who is a UNC field hockey recruit, to your Super-Mom, or to famous athlete Shalane Flanagan. It’s great to set an intention for your work out or to dedicate a run to someone who needs it or to a great cause. Ultimately, though, the most rewarding thing about running is that, unlike most other sports, the only thing you need to run is you.
By putting one foot in front of the other and working up a sweat, you’re honoring your body and all the wonderful things it’s capable of doing, so run for yourself.
Thanks to Chris Deacon for her excellent journalism in the Sept 6 issue of Today's Parent. Her article follows!
Studies show that girls start quitting sports in the tween years—this solution might surprise you.
Growing up, Juanita Lee ran track and rowed, but her sport of choice was tennis. She played the game from age six until age 14 when— seemingly overnight— her breasts grew from a 32A to 34DD.
The change immediately set her apart from her more petite, flat-chested opponents and made the teenager extremely self-conscious. She hated the sensation of her breasts moving when she ran on the court and how exposed she felt in her scoop-neck tennis dress whose padded cups only accentuated her size. And because breasts move independently of the body, (both up and down and side to side,) Lee also started experiencing breast pain, an issue she was too embarrassed to discuss with her parents. Not long after, Juanita used a sports injury as an excuse to quit tennis altogether and turned her attention to rowing, where breast movement wasn’t an issue, and running, a sport that—while still painful—meant she could wear baggy t-shirts for coverage.
Lee isn’t the only girl whose breast development has affected their participation in sports. In a 2016 survey of more than 2,000 British girls aged 11 to 18, nearly three-quarters said their breasts got in the way of enjoying sports. According to the study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, when girls hit puberty they start pulling out of athletics and skipping gym class to avoid the pain and embarrassment of breasts that are either too big, too small or —the chief complaint—too bouncy.
It turns out there could be an easy fix—a sports bra. While a given for professional female athletes, this undergarment is often omitted from the equipment list of girls’ sports teams. And while jockstraps are offered to boys for protection and to prevent discomfort caused by excessive movement during exercise, sports bras that serve the same purpose for girls have not been a part of the cultural conversation. In fact, only 10 percent of girls surveyed in the British study had worn one.
So how can a parent navigate the tricky terrain of breast development and sports with their tween?
Here are five tips:
Start the conversation early: Your daughter may not need the support of a sports bra yet, but it’s worth tackling the topic early on, before she gets embarrassed about it. If she’s not ready for the discussion in the moment, MaryAnne Gucciardi—whose company, Dragonwing girlgear specializes in performance base-layers such as sports bras and support tops for girls aged 8 to 17, encourages parents to stick with it. “It’s a hard conversation for a parent,” she says, noting that dads in particular, have a hard time with the topic, “but it’s even harder for a child. They don’t know yet what they need. They just know what they’re feeling.”
Be matter of fact: Gucciardi also suggests sticking with the facts when broaching the idea of a sports bra. “You could say something like, “I want you to play your best. I want you to feel comfortable, and have good support to prevent injury and stay healthy and just like boys with a jockstrap for support and to prevent injury, this is what girls wear,’” she says. Explain to you daughter the difference between your average tween bra (which often looks like a sports bra) and the real thing. Most tween bras are made with thin cotton and flimsy straps. A good sports bra, by contrast, has smooth but stretchy fabric that moves as the athlete moves, with straps and a band that stay in place.
Shop it alone: While the odd girl might enjoy looking for a bra with her mom, most don’t, says Gucciardi, so parents should start the process. One idea, she says, is to buy a few different styles of sports bras and support tops and leave them in your daughter’s drawer—while keeping in mind she probably won’t model them for you. “She might have you hand them back and forth until she finds one that she likes,” she says, “Be patient. If you let her control the conversation, then she’ll feel in control of her body.”
Go for fit: Thirteen-year-old Melanie Paulson’s* parents have been helping her shop for sports bras since she started developing breasts in Grade 4, with little success. “I don’t find them very comfortable,” says the avid hockey player, who now shops in the women’s section. But many women’s sport bras are padded which makes breasts look bigger—the last thing most tweens and teens want. And Gucciardi cautions that an improper fit—caused by a bra that’s too big— can lead to back problems. “You could have a bigger bust but a small rib-cage,” she explains, suggesting that parents seek out sports bras that are specifically designed for tweens and teens, and that take this silhouette variation into account so that the fit is precise. Lululemon, Nike and Gucciardi’s brand all carry quality sports bras for this age group. Look for a fit that is snug but not tight with straps that don’t droop or slip. And if you’re buying online, it’s worth taking the time to measure your daughter and refer to the size chart rather than order the size that corresponds to her age. Parents should measure just under the rib cage to get the right fit as opposed to across the chest, and, when the bra is on, be able to fit not more than one finger under the band. The band should be as wide as possible while still being comfortable for your child.
Comfort is key: Gucciardi recommends quality sports bras that use high performance, moisture wicking fabric (that moves the sweat away from the skin) with mesh for coolness and breath-ability. “Girls get super embarrassed when they think they sweat and smell and that people notice it,” she says. Also look for thin, removable pads for coverage and softness. “Nipples showing is another source of embarrassment,” she says. Nipple chafing— especially common with runners— is also an issue. Finally, choose a sports bra that’s seamless and tag-free to prevent irritation. Now that you’ve got a bra for your daughter, can you really expect it to be the difference between giving up sports and staying in the game? For Juanita Lee, now 27, the answer is—absolutely. “I was kind of a shy kid and I never felt comfortable saying, ”oh, my boobs hurt.” she says. In grade 10, Lee got her first sports bra at the suggestion of her female rugby coach, and she played rugby until the end of high school. *Name has been changed.