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Gym was misery in navy-blue knickers
IS ANYONE really surprised that more than half of teenage girls are put off by PE classes in school?
It’s nothing new, and the fact that many girls today feel pretty much the same as many of us did when I were a lass just goes to show how little PE lessons appear to have changed in some schools over the intervening decades.
Reading about the research undertaken by Loughborough University on behalf of the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation was enough for me to break out in a sweat – and that was without going anywhere near a set of wall bars or a pommel horse.
Today’s girls said they didn’t like getting all sweaty in the gym because it’s not feminine, nor did many of them feel confident about their prowess in the sports hall.
Oh how that resonates. Not being particularly lithe or bouncy-toed as a teenager – although I wasn’t that bad on a hockey field and my height meant I could shoot goals through a netball hoop with the best of them – meant that every PE lesson was purgatory.
The navy-blue knickers with elasticated legs and the Aertex shirts that always, but always, smelt of your sweaty sannies/plimmies (sandshoes or plimsolls for the uninitiated) didn’t help. Nor did the prickly coconut mats where I died a thousands deaths failing miserably week after week to execute a forward roll in anything approaching a straight line.
Add to that the indignity of not being able to shimmy up the wall bars, leapfrog gracefully over the pommel horse (I always got stuck halfway across), or climb the ropes suspended from the ceiling like Tarzan’s Jane made every “lesson” (lesson? More like the school gym version of water-boarding) humiliating beyond belief.
A handful of us clumsy and unco-ordinated classmates would huddle on the benches watching woebegone, as the PE teacher’s pets gleefully went through their paces, waiting for the ritual ragging and sniggering that would follow us round the gym as we pathetically tried to emulate their agility.
What made it worse was the attitude of the teachers themselves. They didn’t encourage, they bawled. They didn’t help, but turned away in lip-curling exasperation, ignoring our wretchedness in favour of the girls who pranced – and it had to be said, preened – their way through their paces.
If the teachers put us down in the gym they were likely as not putting us down in the staffroom too, to the extent that in your teenage angst where everything is compounded a hundred-fold, you were certain that every teacher in the school knew how just how feeble you were.
So it was no wonder we twagged off, forging our mum’s signature on rudimentarily-put-together letters written on blue-lined Basildon Bond nicked from the sideboard at home. Stocks of it were kept in our satchels and swapped with our mates for the price of a couple of penny chews.
Our periods and their associated pains appeared to last an awfully long time in those days. And although the PE teachers knew full- well what we were up to it was probably easier to ignore such misdemeanours because they could, after all, have a much better lesson without us.
But sometimes if we were feeling brave and having an “oh sod it!” sort of day we’d laugh heartily at ourselves, playing the joker or the class buffoon – anything to deflect attention away from our lack of prowess – deliberately tripping over ourselves to make people laugh, getting our feet stuck in the wall bars and oh, so comically falling off the pommel horse, having taken the calculated decision that coconut matting burn was a small price to pay for being made to look a fool yet again.
For far better to be a fool on your own terms than those imposed by others.
So yes, I can fully understand why young girls are still opting out of the more traditional PE classes. But honest, it does get better.
Three mornings a week I get up at the crack of dawn to do a 45-minute exercise boot camp with other masochistic souls in Riccall and we all have a bit of a crack as we groan and puff our way round the community centre car park.
I’m still as unco-ordinated as I ever was – I’m convinced now my brain is wired wrongly – but I don’t care and neither does anyone else there.
No, far more important is how virtuous I feel getting any exercise at all, flailing arms and carthorse feet be damned. So stick with it girls, it’ll be all right in the end.