Let's Get Physical Chapters 1-3
Posted on February 9th, 2022
By Olivia Baker
Throughout these opening chapters of Let's Get
Physical, we get to meet the several of the early pioneers of the women's
fitness movement. We meet Bonnie Pruden who encouraged everyone to partake in
exercise beginning at a young age in the late 1950s and early 60s. Alongside
Hans Kraus, she conducted research to track the progress of the children in her
conditioning program and eventually developed the first physical fitness test.
Her catchy motto of "No muscle, no curve" helped convince women of all ages
that exercise could build strong, flexible, attractive bodies (pg#15). Next, we
met Lotte Berk (and her American pupil Lydia Bach) and learned of the sexual
origins of barre, which was marketed to women as a way to strengthen their
inner core in the 60s and early 70s. Then, in chapter 3 we dove into the story
of Katherine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon,
and learn of the many ways that running began to change the narrative around
exercise for women from something they should do to become better wives and fit
the societal standards of beauty to an exercise that can be done to improve
mental, physical, and emotional health. Considering that this is a book club
full of runners, walkers, and joggers of all levels, today's blog will look at
some of the barriers that the women's running community has overcome over the
years and discuss some of the opportunities for continued improvement.
Barrier: The belief that running a mile or
two was dangerous for a woman. After the 1928 Olympic
800m run in which women completed the race and then bent over and collapsed in
exhaustion (as one should after a competitive 800m race, I can identify with
this feeling), the event was struck from the Olympics, and it was decided that
the event was too dangerous for the delicate body of a woman. Furthermore, urban
legend held that running would cause a woman to grow hair on her face, develop
bulging calves, and cause her uterus to fall out if she ran more than a mile or
two (pg# 65).
and Research. Bobbi Gibb ran the Boston Marathon (unofficially) in 1966 and
then Katherine Switzer officially completed it in 1967, showing that women
could, in fact safely run marathons. Those two races began to sway the court of
public opinion on women and running. Switzer pressed the issue further by supporting
the first women-only "mini-marathon" with the NY Road Runners, recruiting
sponsors for what would eventually become a world major marathon series for
women, and ultimately successfully lobbying the Olympic committee to add the
women's marathon to the 1984 Olympics. Dr. Ernst van Aaken published research
suggesting that women were even better equipped to run long distances than men because
they endure the demands of childbirth (pg#91). Further research from the
Melpomene Institute, founded by Judy Lutter, produced a large body of evidence
for the safety of distance running for women.
Barrier: Discomfort while running due to a
lack of proper sports wear to support women's bodies. Many
women found themselves buying bras that were too small or wearing two bras to give
them the support needed to run. All bras to that point in time in the late 60s had
been designed and created by men.
celebrities began to pick up jogging and talking about runner's high and all of
the health benefits of running, the activity became more mainstream. As more
women ran, more began dreaming up ways to improve their runs, and in 1977, Lisa
Z. Lindahl alongside Polly Smith and Hinda Miller invented what we've come to
know as the modern sports bra (pg#87), a big win for running of course, but
also for women's participation in any exercise. Moreover, the popularity of
tampons, actually invented in 1936 (pg#92), began to boom as well!
Barrier: Lack of leisure
time to run, the money to pay for race fees, and safe spaces to run (especially
for runners of color). Black joggers faced taunts and harassment if they
wanted to jog and the racist assumption that an African American jogger might
be fleeing a crime (pg# 86) is still something that plagues black men today.
We as a running community are still working on this. The popularity of running clubs
(like Atlanta Track Club) has helped create safe spaces for running and lower
the economic barriers to entry into the sport. The growing diversity in the
running community and global presence has helped as well. However, those who
read A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio with us this past
November remember the challenges she wrote about as a plus-sized ultra-marathoner
in a book the was released just a few years ago and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention
that this community is still grappling with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery while
he was out jogging. We've come a long way, but we still have work to do.
All that being said, I'm grateful for all of the
messy, convoluted history that birthed the sports bra, popularized the tampon,
brought my event (the 800m) back into the Olympics, and has made space for women
to compete in this sport at the highest level. But I recognize the areas we
still need to improve and am committed to leaving this running community better
than I found it. I hope you are too.
has the opportunity to participate in running and walking meant to you? Have
you ever experienced "runner's high"?
is often marketed as a sport that is for everyone. "All you need is a pair of
shoes". While the economic barriers to participating in running have been
lowered significantly over the years, barriers of safety still remain,
especially for women and people of color. In what ways can we, as a running
community, work to create a safe space for everyone to participate in running?