It’s 2008 and in my tiny freshman dorm room at Montana State the white painted cinderblock is covered in a collage of ski posters, funny cartoons my roommate and I would draw for one another, and tucked in near my desk the Nike ad ‘Objectify Me’ that features Lauren Fleshman. A campaign that at the time felt powerful, but not for all the reasons I would come to understand over the next decade. Controlling the narrative, and control of her own running, her own body. In continuing to arm, educate, and create space for reflection Lauren recently released her first book Good For a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World – part memoir part critique of a sports system where the default is male. We were fortunate enough to have Lauren on the Trail Society podcast to discuss her book for episode 40. My college-self jumping for joy! What follows are key quotes from our discussion with Lauren and additional commentary on the conversation that played out.
“You were outsourcing your confidence – reconnect with your core, uniqueness.”
What is blind compliance versus coachability? Many of us were praised as young athletes for being ‘coachable’ – we were receptive to feedback, to receiving constructive criticism. We outsourced our confidence, and for a while that wasn’t a bad thing. But this survival skill of not rocking the boat, of being agreeable also often meant not asking questions, advocating for ourselves, or listening to our bodies. This survival skill garnered us the ‘right kind of attention’ and allowed us to excel in the work place and in society more broadly. However, now as a coach of adult athletes I witness on a daily basis how this thing, this skill, that has helped you survive also inhibits you – making you unable to self-advocate for what you really need. How do we course correct? Reconnect to your core uniqueness, trust, ask the questions – share the reigns.
“You’re throwing seeds into soil before knowing where that soil has been.”
Coaching, new relationships or whatever it might be, you have to take into account the whole person and their whole history. I frequently meet the self-proclaimed ‘un-coachable’ athlete, but time and time again a theme often emerges – you’ve been through something; injury, disordered eating, an offhand comment that has stuck around indefinitely. You carry with you these invisible wounds from your past athletic experiences that need to be accounted for moving forward. As an athlete, a coach, a partner, a parent keep tending to the soil you don’t know where it was last.
“Distraction from your superpower.”
We’ve spent a lot of time on the Trail Society podcast talking about the new NIL (Name/Image/Likeness) sponsorship model in the NCAA. This new model rightly allows student-athlete to profit during their collegiate careers, but it’s not without hangups. While it’s an important part of the conversation, NIL sponsorships are really a good jumping off point to talk about the potential ramifications of starting some of the hardest parts of being a professional with even younger, more vulnerable individuals. Unrealistic body-image expectations exist independent of gender, but if bundies were performance enhancing males would race in them. When in reality female uniforms have been designed in this way since the formation of Title IX largely due to the public fear that sports were ‘masculinizing girls’. While that’s not top of mind in many circles today the standard uniform remains in place. When combined with the hyper sexulization of female athletes, and unrealistic body-image expectations a piece of material becomes a distraction from the athlete’s actual ability – a distraction from their superpower.
“Difference has been the tool of the oppressor.”
In a world where difference is what allows a group to be held back we often turn to proving how we’re the same – without taking any steps forward towards equity or equality. We tried to prove we were the same only to miss the importance of our differences and how they impact adolescent to adult athletes, from starting in sports to staying in sports. In women’s athletics that’s largely meant a white-female-centric approach to feminism that fails repeatedly in that it doesn’t miraculously trickle down to women or color, to trans women etc. To ‘protect’ women’s sports, to put women’s sports on an equal playing field all voices in that community need to be heard – not just the loudest ones.