As we approach puberty, it’s natural that our bodies will change and develop. It can be a challenging time for a young girl as she tries to come to terms with breast development, hormones, menstrual cycles and the rest. Worryingly, new research shows that because many girls feel so self-conscious, they start dropping out of sports or skipping P.E. classes at the beginning of their teenage years.
According to the New York Times, they noticed a “sharp decline” in the number of female teens participating in sports during the onset of puberty, something that wasn’t an issue for boys in the same age bracket. And the reason for their reluctance? It’s all down to developing breasts and how girls feel about this happening. They don’t view this aspect of puberty with delight, in fact, their attitudes to it were profoundly negative.
A recent study in The Journal of Adolescent Health found that of over 2,000 English schoolgirls ages 11 to 18, nearly three-quarters listed at least one breast-related concern regarding exercise and sports. They thought their breasts were too big or too small, too bouncy or bound too tightly in an ill-fitting bra. Beginning with feeling mortified about undressing in front of their schoolmates (we’ve all been there), they were also self-consciously reluctant to exercise and move with abandon.
The results naturally warrant concern as exercise is paramount for good mental and physical health, which should be encouraged from the outset. Girls of a school-going age are encouraged to participate in sporting activities not only for health reasons, but for the added benefits of experiencing teamwork, and forging friendships. Ireland can boast some of the finest female athletes in the world, so to imagine that a future Katie Taylor, for example, may bow out due to this is alarming. We need future generations of incredible women to keep flying the sporting flag for our country, after all.
“We make assumptions about what we think we know, so it’s important to be able to say that as cup size increases, physical activity decreases for a lot of girls,” Dr. Sharonda Alston Taylor, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas said.
The question now is how to address the issue, and experts say knowledge is the key; almost all girls surveyed said they felt they didn’t know enough about breast development in particular.
Both pediatricians and adolescent health specialists added they needed to do a better job informing girls about breast health and development. Almost 90% of the girls in the study said they wanted to know more about breasts in general, and nearly half wanted to know about sports bras and breasts specifically related to physical activity. Only 10% of the girls surveyed said they always wore a sports bra during sports and exercise, and more than half had never worn one (and just like a regular bra, having a correctly fitted sports bra is so important). Experts were on the fence as to whether or not changing the structure of sports classes (segregating the sexes) would help girls feel less self-conscious (many reported name-calling was an issue) as one professor rightfully pointed out that derogatory comments can come from girls as well as boys.
The good news is that on the back of this research, researchers from sports and exercise health departments at three British universities are trying to design school-based educational programmes to tackle (pun intended) the issue.
Do you notice a similar problem here in Ireland?