Sport, body confidence and gender stereotyping – Interview with Jo Swinson MP, part 2

As mum of an 11 year old daughter, I’m really worried about the pressures on her to look a certain way, so Jo’s and Lynne Featherstone’s Campaign for Body Confidence is very close to my heart.  I asked Jo – what’s happening with it?

Jo: It’s really exciting about this. Lynne and I had always planned to continue it after the election but we hadn’t reckoned on her being Minister for Equalities which is a great boost. We’ve had a steering group meeting and we’ve got Mumsnet, BEAT, the eating disorders charity, Girl Guiding UK, the YMCA who do all sorts of things about fitness and healthy bodies and we’ve also got people from the catwalk world, Erin O’Connor and Karen Franklin from the fashion industry who are trying to convince them to do things differently and encourage them to be thinking more innovatively about diverse notions of beauty. We also have an academic piece of research to go to the Advertising Standards Authority to keep up the challenge on them to come down harder on advertisers using extreme airbrushing or narrow ideals of beauty and we’re also having a meeting again before Christmas within Government. Lynne is wanting to hold a meeting as minister which will bring campaign within power of things that Government can do so it’s all very exciting.

We have a website, so people can sign up for a monthly newsletter. If you’re interested let us know so we can keep people informed of all the things that are going on.

Me: I noticed you’d been asking about getting more women’s sports covered on tv.

Jo; Indeed with the Commonwealth Games just finishing and seeing more sportswomen winning medals, that’s been really exciting. The problem we have though is that sport is dominated by men’s sports and by having a greater audience for women’s sports there will be more role models out there and girls will see that there’s more to your body just being like in the magazines, that your body can achieve great things by pushing it to the limit through sport and fitness in a very positive ways. Not everyone is going to go to the Commonwealth Games but if that encourages girls and women to go for a jog round the park or go swimming at the weekend, then that’s wonderful too.

Me: it strikes me that dance is another way to encourage fitness and body confidence

Jo: Exactly and I think schools need to be more canny about encouraging young people to choose the kind of physical activity they want to do whether that’s yoga or dance, or I can hardly turn round these days without seeing a Zumba class poster.  We need to keep up with the trends rather than think that because we’ve been teaching girls to play hockey for 50 years, that’s how it always has to be. I have many memories of running around on a Saturday morning on a freezing hockey pitch. It took years after that for me to embrace exercise as something I wanted to do rather than something I was forced to do.

I expect you’re going to be working this Saturday and not going to the Strictly roadshow on Saturday.

Jo:  Oh I didn’t even know there was a Strictly roadshow. I have a surgery on Saturday morning and door knocking in the afternoon. I will have to console myself with watching the programme on Saturday night.

Me: Ann Widdecombe’s Salsa was something to behold. I’m sure your’s is better. You should go and learn the Salsa that Karen Hardy has done for us to dance at the roadshows.

I’ve been getting a bee in my bonnet about gender specific marketing. In the Summer pressure forced ELC to change their website where they marketed nurses’ uniforms at girls and white coats at boys.

Jo: Boots did this as well and there was a successful campaign by pink stink against Sainsbury’s and Mumsnet are doing a lot on the sexualisation of girls and, yes, I think that this is really important and we do fall into these stereotypes of thinking that some stuff is for girls and other stuff is for boys and actually, even at the age of five, it’s amazing what young children can pick up from that. Massive retailers ought to know better and should be thinking more carefully about the messages they are sending.

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