EAT. SWEAT. PLAY.

It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited and hyped up about writing a blog post, this was inspired by my German friend Sarah who asked me why this book is brilliant, the best thing since sliced pan and I want to write an essay to explain… Therefore I commence the first blog on an item and not a place by the accidental backpacker. Now you would think it would be a profound book on travel or finding yourself or growth but it is a book about something much much more important than that. Is is a book on equality, gender equality in sport, which has been a topic of 2017 with feminism being declared the word of 2017. I could go off on some serious tangents here but I will stick to the plan….a simple book review of a life-changing book.

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It came wrapped in golden paper, I weighted it in my hands saying thanks to Billy (Mam’s boyfriend). My mind is racing. I could tell it was a book but buying me books never ever works out. Everyone knows I am a bookworm with bookcases overflowing with books. To find a book that I am interested in and have not read would be a rare occurrence. It has happened twice before. A next door neighbour gave me the third Harry Potter book just as I was reading the second. As a teen Mam gave me Eragon for Christmas which admittedly I would have never bought myself a book about dragons but turns out to be one of the most read book in my library, literally falling apart now. I was sucked in, the lady at Easons certainly gave a good recommendation. This time though at age 25 I did not expect there to an engaging book especially not one of the most important books I’d ever read. There wasn’t a whole lot on the back and I read some praise  stating it should be on the school curriculum which I thought was an odd thing to say.

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I wasn’t seen much for the next two days and had to go for frequent jogs in the Christmas cold to expend the insane energy building up from reading this book. How did he know that this book is written for me eventually I (who has been doing sport since I was like 7 years old, obsessing over different sports at different times more recently rowing, gaelic football and dragonboating) hoped to write something on that very topic. By and large it was filled with ideas and questions that had tormented me for years, all articulated so well and backed up by real life. It held more gold than the wrapping paper. In fact only a week later I started it again this time more slowly to savour it. I underlined quotes which stood out a mile, pure honest truth screaming off the pages. It deserves to be read by every man, woman and child.

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“Maybe exercise and sport can be something we do for ourselves. For fun! For Happiness! For clear thinking! Because physical activity should be something integral to our being alive. And it is the essential part that really concerns us here, not the bit about how many millimetres it might shave off your inside thigh measurements.” – Anna Kessel, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives.

The perfect articulation of the facts of sport and gender perception is thrilling and honest. You can feel the authors emotions and yours becoming one. I see it all the time working in the outdoors and working in sports coaching. The boys play to enjoy it, to score goals, to feel great, to strut about stating how awesome they are. The girls well as soon as they hit twelve it is about how they can change they image for the better with it. So now as mainstream adult women exercise (not necessarily even sport) to lose weight, tone up, look better blah blah for who like. Whereas the men go and play their five aside soccer and still enjoy scoring goals. Of course they are the odd ones which I would count myself among who do sport to enjoy it, to accomplish something, to clear your head but even then at the back of your head weight is an thing, a very welcomed side effect of playing sport is looking better for it.  In the park, women grab a coffee, men kick a ball. On the pitches at my local college I used to have a puck in the AstroTurf to clear my head and catch up with a friend in fresh air. After a few evenings I noticed besides the girlfriend or two I’d bring there would be no girls. Plenty of lads, hitting balls, kicking a football, play cricket. This was free sport, fun, quantifiable namely PLAY. Very different there jogging ex amount of km to lose ex amount of calories. Very different to ex amount of resistant classes to achieve ex amount of inches lost. This idea was so well articulated in Anna Kessel’s book that I honestly can’t read it before going to bed before I want to scream it from the rooftops, rip the women out of cafes and restaurants, and reintroduce them to the concept of play being an activity loosely based on sport. When you were seven years old and you were an unstoppable Indian tribal leader chasing down girls and boys alike waving sticks and howling to the high heavens. Legs pumping and arms driving, the sweat and dirt on your face made you only more fearsome!! Who cares what you look like. You are fast and loud and free to rule the world.

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“The mainstream media perpetuates the notion that women should focus entirely on a static image of a perfect body as the end goal. There are no messages about the process, the active body, how it makes us feel in that moment.” – Anna Kessel, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives.

“Surely we want to get to a point where women can be strong and powerful and not sexy. Or only sexy when they feel like it, not as a requirement to getting media coverage or being valued.” – Anna Kessel, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives.

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“The real problem here is a massive elephant in the room: our own culture. Our social values, our media – so influential on impressionable young girls – that have been allowed, for millenia, to send out this powerful, alienating message about girls and sport: that sport is unfeminine, that sport makes you sweaty and muscular, that sport is swearing and violence, that sport is ugliness in a world where women’s sole priority, value and focus should be beauty and becoming an object of desire.” – Anna Kessel, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives.

I could quote the book forever so instead I literally continuously recommend it. One friend even took my copy to India with her and others volunteering with her read it and were additionally inspired to get back to enjoying sport. It challenges every concept that has been sold to us. It commends the absolute heroes who are leading the way and yet the media asks them about their wardrobe choice or their husbands even their children. These are kick-ass dedicated elite athletes who deserve so much better and EQUAL to the male athletes. There are so many unbelievable female athlete who are blazing trials and whom I could go on about forever, Serena and Venus Williams, Katie Taylor, Sinead Jennings, Sonia O’Sullivan, Annalise Murphy, Cora Staunton, Fionnula McCormack, Valerie Mulcahy, US Soccer team who called out the wage discrimination….and so on… I could talk about womens’ sport forever. (BTW I love Andy Murray, what a champion, his one-liners to journalists made me yell in joy).

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In my own experience I have run outdoor camps for kids aged 6-9 or thereabouts. So a lovely age you would think before any of this comes into play, before they become teenagers. But the last two summers especially I have been shocked to see girls point blank refusing to play tag, stuck-in-the-mud or another warm up games. One said “its for boys only”, I nearly exploded. Another morning  I got “Well see we don’t want to get all muddy and sweaty like the boys do.” “But you’re putting on a wet-suit and jumping into the sea/lake in an hour?” “Ya so, we can keep clean until then.” 8 years old! I could not believe it! I made a point of compulsory games doing everything in my power getting them involved and spending most of the day running around chasing them. It worked. A different week then I noticed (unusually in the outdoors as us women instructors can be a rarity) I was working with a couple of young girl instructors. They sat down as I played our warm up games, some kids joined them too.  “Do you want to join in?” They laughed, “Haha you’re mad out Jess running around like loon.” “Why don’t you join in, it is fun?” “No I don’t want to get my work T-shirt all smelly. You know how they get really smelly” (They do). “You are joking me.” I was furious but I controlled it somewhat into a lecture on being a role model for these kids who have so few female sporty/outdoor role models as it is. Clear as day there were five kids sitting out with her. She joined in somewhat,an improvement. But it tested me. One of many things missing in outdoor work is this emphasis on physical activity and perception of play. I honestly don’t think I can do it as my summer job anymore. Wetsuits are refusing to fit Irish kids these days anyway.

I would often share these anecdotal stories and often get similar ones in return. Sometimes though I don’t and there are times when you know someone has absolutely no awareness of this topic and the life long effects it has on our entire population.

Its funny I hear quite often in the pub Irish people ask Mam well is she married yet…. eventually she started replying with a sigh yes married to rowing. Because yes there is more to life than marriage, kids and mortgage. Yes it can be anything you want it to be. Screw the status quo and expectations. Be the best version of yourself. What is wrong with doing what your good at or doing what you’re not good at and enjoying it all the same. In my experience women train better, learn better and have ten times the obstacles male athletes do. Clear as day I remember fighting fights on trying to understand why the men get the good boat when they could be lazier. I was soooo angry I could never win. Why…why are the boats bought for men, designed for men, cut holes in our beautiful hips. Why are there limited female coaches??? Honestly that’s a whole other post..

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EAT. SWEAT. PLAY. The three things women are told not to do. Well it is about time, I not only challenge you to do this but I challenge you to read this book by Anna Kessel and then pass it on to every man, women and child. And if they’re not readers fear not they can listen to it on Audible.  This could be the most life-changing book you’ll ever encounter. I challenge you to get all children to PLAY to get SWEATY regardless of gender. I challenge you to ditch the coffee with the girlfriends and buy a ball for five euro and kick it back and forth or any other physical activity that is fun. I challenge you to believe in yourself. To believe in your body’s ability to anything you damn well tell it to do. I challenge you to try a new sport, find a new sport, there is a sport for everyone and then bring a friend, and another. I challenge you to do it because you enjoy it. I challenge you to break the status quo, to be different, to go against the grain. I challenge you to not count calories the next time you go running, I challenge you to fill your lungs, feel the pain, savour the pain and enjoy that you did that!!!! I m going for a jog in Berlin right now… Thank you Anna Kessel for articulating so many things which I could not.

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(I wonder did Billy (Thanks so much Billy) realise he had bought me a book that would put word on every outraged sport inequality thought I’ve ever had starting from aged 13 – why do the boys get the good oars and the good boat when they come last and we win medals? Ten years later -many rowing clubs have yet to answer this…)

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