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This Women’s Day, Sweat it Out and Be a Sport!

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They are multitaskers—handling different responsibilities efficiently, managing different places, and always shuttling from one thing into another. But why is it so that when it comes to recreational activities, outdoor activities, and sports, there are few takers? The busy schedule and lack of proper amenities (and inaccessibility of public spaces?) notwithstanding, isn’t it time we shed our inhibitions and be game? Just for the heck of it!
The campaign in England, ‘Get Inspired’, asked BBC female presenters to come together to shoot for a video where they were seen working out, running, wall-climbing, doing yoga, playing net ball or squash without any make-up, in their casual gear (http://www.bbc.com/sport/get-inspired/30743750). The video called ‘This Girl Can’ according to the campaign, which is being funded by Procter & Gamble, urges women to indulge in activities that they enjoy, not shy away from sports that make you look less lady-like, to not heed to any untoward remarks by others and step out in the open—the public parks, squares, and sports arenas to sweat.

     There is a subtle message here. Women, who are otherwise always in their everyday best on TV when hosting shows on BBC, have voluntarily agreed to showcase their less glamorous, more mundane and ordinary selves, where they heave, grunt, pump weights, make noises, squat and throw punches, enjoying themselves, free and unconcerned. These are big women, women of all sizes, shapes, colours, ages, and ethnicity. 

     Explaining more about the campaign, Jenny Price, Chief Executive from Sports England, was heard quoting, “One of the strongest themes was a fear of judgement. Worries about being judged for the wrong size, not fit enough and not skilled enough came up time and again.” One of the presenters, Anna Foster, who is seen in the video in a tight bikini, adjusting her panty before jumping into a swimming pool, commented in her blog that “I was bloody delighted that someone had finally admitted beauty and sweat aren’t mutually exclusive concepts”.

     Discourses on body image, internalization of societal codes and norms, and self-censorship is not new in cultural studies; as the media and market feed certain images as more ‘acceptable’ and ‘beautiful’, often resulting in girls and women succumbing to these ‘normalized’ notions of ‘ideal’ womanhood.  The disciplining and self-regimentation of bodies and intervention into the private life of individuals in what Foucault calls “society of control” dictates the terms of how one looks at oneself, how one subjects one’s individuality to socially legitimized identities, and how the dictated norms and conditions serve to further the goals of patriarchy working in tandem with “the cultural logic of late capitalism”.

     I am well aware of playing into the “cultural logic” which at the same time provides an alternative to oppose the dictums and dogmas of patriarchy while it entices to act on our consumerist desires. Any advertisement, corporate industry endorsed-campaign, counterculture trend, or seemingly ‘radical’ initiative makes us suspicious. As Raymond Williams famously said in his book Marxism and Literature, it is in the very nature of hegemonic forces to appropriate what it views as oppositional, and having appropriated invert the logic of its opposition by presenting itself to be supportive of the cause, while it remains the perpetrator of oppression and subjugation of the worst kind.
How else do you explain the different campaign-based advertisements about how a woman gains confidence after diligently using a ‘fairness cream’ and transforming into an ethereal beauty or having a ‘bowl of cereals’ and acquiring a perfect figure? The lesson you derive is that (a) you need a little prepping, pruning, and trimming before you attempt something and succeed—which means that there is something that needs to be changed and made correct, and (b) that correction/supplementation/transformation can be brought about easily through an external agency (in the form of conveniently-accessible consumer products in the market). And this is where capitalism comes to your rescue!

     And we do transform ourselves, everyday, as we cater to the different demands and expectations of the society. But we also transform, change, and alter ourselves as we choose to be someone new, someone who we aspire to be, without being looked down upon.

     Foucault had mentioned about the “technologies of subjectification” which include practices of the self through which individuals can actively ‘fashion’ their own identities to resist the “government of individualization”. He had underlined the need to create the self “as a work of art” to counteract the restraining and homogenizing forces—that tends to wrench individuality from the self. Opposing a form of passivity and self-complacency regarding the self, he advances an idea of self-aestheticism, which acts as an expression of difference and empowers the subject with regards to choice, agency, and cultural codes.

     I have always had difficulties in convincing people (read: the diligent late-nighters who burn midnight oil and the staunchly assertive I’m-good-the-way-I-am college friends) that when I go for a run early in the morning or hit the treadmill once-twice in a week or go for my regular evening walks, I’m not pandering to the mass-induced obsession for a ‘slim’ figure. That I genuinely enjoy outdoor activity from time to time, which helps me exert my body and test my endurance level, as it rejuvenates my mind. That concerns regarding one’s well-being, one’s health, one’s lifestyle does not always mean “internalization of societal codes”. And finally, that to be active and fit neither means acquiring a particular body-type, nor is an ‘active and fit’ body defined by a rigid inflexible body-type. Sometimes, it does well to suspend notions that imply, if she is ‘working out’ means she has ‘body-image’ issues or she is not comfortable in her own skin. She is free to do, whatever she wishes to do, for as many diverse reasons, without the need to be judged.

     It is true how discourses in health and well-being, sciences, sociology, consumption, cultural practices, and so on define categories of ‘healthy’, ‘unhealthy’, ‘fit’, and ‘active’, and how certain traits, qualities, and phenomena are exaggerated or undermined to fit into the dominant narrative about what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ for you. Hence, one must desist from blindly following what health magazines, blogs, TV shows, or awareness campaigns tell you to do for a wholesome lifestyle.

     However, do not let anyone or anything stop you from being active! Do, what you do, what you can, whenever you can, to be whoever you want to be.  

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