Women’s bodies are often used as commodities and objectified in mass media; this is a truth that young women will encounter in their day-to-day life. Whether it is the photoshopped, plastic-like appearance of the most popular pop singer or images of women’s legs to sell shaving cream, young women experience a barrage of this type of imagery regularly. This often leads to an unrealistic and damaging perception of what normal is for a woman’s body, and the portrayal of female athletes is no exception.
Sports present an opportunity for women to truly reconnect with and to reclaim their bodies. I never thought of myself as a sporty person, and I always dreaded the social awkwardness and the perceived lack of physical acuity I had when I thought of myself doing phys. ed. I was often if not always the last one to be chosen for teams, and when I did well, I was shunned for my apparent “masculine” traits.
It wasn’t until I was an adult pursuing martial arts that I came to realize that sports could do something for me, and that they could do something amazing. Sports gave me a chance to do something I thought I would never be good at, and to do it well. Despite my belief that I was bad at sports, I quickly learned this wasn’t true, and as I watched the women around me and trained to excel at the sport I was pursuing I came to learn a few other things, too.
Sports convinced me that women are good at physical activities; and that all kinds of women are good at sports. I trained with women from all ages and all walks of life. These women were nurses, university professors, home makers, students and artists. Some lived in subsidized housing while others had a family cottage at the lake. They were all different and they all came to pursue martial arts for different reasons, but they were real people and they were there to train.
They weren’t there to uphold a gender ideal or to reinforce the stereotypes of women and women in sports. Each one of them wore the sport differently — techniques and movements looked differently on each person, depending on height, body type and mobility. But despite the differences in technique, we shared similar experiences. We dealt with the frustration of injuries and the setbacks it could cause, we dealt with the disappointment of not doing as well as we expected in a tournament, but we also experienced the joy of succeeding in doing something we worked hard to do. Through the growing strength of our bodies and the growing determination of our wills, we came to realize we really could trust ourselves and trust our bodies.
Through my years of training, I came to have an implicit sense of trust because of the relationship I had developed with my body. I knew its limits, what it was capable of and what it wasn’t. It was an awareness I had never had in my life, and it was like nothing I had experienced before. It was almost like coming up to an old friend and saying hello for the first time in years. All in all, I came to learn that women can truly benefit by participating in a sport, or sports-like activities. And not only that women can benefit; but that they’re damn good at it, too.