The Salt Life: Older Women and Exercise (by Sasha)

Throughout Sarasota, women “of AARP age” are exercising. You can see them walking the beach, running over the Ringling Bridge, biking the roadways, pumping iron at the gym, competing on tennis courts and golf courses, and practicing at yoga studios.

Whenever my sister Cat and I see these women, we say in unison “You Go Girl!” We don’t care how they look, what they wear, or whether they are good at what they are doing. We admire them. We are each one of them.

And we can’t help but recall how much has changed for American women and exercise.

When we were growing up in the 1960s, it was a dim time for girls and “physical education” (a misnomer if any there was one). Unfortunately, these classes taught us that we as females were not meant to be physical:

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  • We wore  cloth gym suits that had to be starched and ironed;
  • On our feet were ill-fitting Keds that we kept white by applying shoe polish;
  • We were graded not on what we achieved in class, but according to whether we “tried” and whether our uniforms passed inspection;
  • When we had cramps from our menstrual cycle, we were allowed to skip gym class—and we did, as often as possible;
  • We never warmed up our muscles or stretched before or after exercise;
  • Every year our “fitness” was assessed by the number of jumping jacks, sit-ups, and chin-ups we could do in a timed session;
  • Only girls were introduced to gymnastics and dance; only boys to lacrosse, soccer, weightlifting, wrestling, and football;
  • When we played basketball, we had to dribble three times then pass, and we only played half-court;
  • In the locker room, we were our own worst enemies; we judged each other (and ourselves) by cup size, leg stubble, and body fat;
  • We chose up teams and ridiculed those chosen last, and labeled as lesbian any girl who was a “jock;” mediocrity was the safest route to go;
  • We tried our best not to sweat in order to avoid ruining our hair or having to shower in the locker room;
  • We were encouraged to join team spirit (for only the boys’ teams) by becoming a cheerleader, joining the pep squad, twirling batons;
  • When we joined one of the few competitive girls’ teams, we lacked uniforms, equipment, coaches, travel budgets, and time to practice on the field or courts;
  • When we asked for more resources, we were made to feel guilty that we were taking money away from the serious athletes (i.e., boys).

Then in 1972 along came Title IX.  Continue reading “The Salt Life: Older Women and Exercise (by Sasha)”