Where are the girls?

I’ve always noticed the dearth of women out on the playing fields – it’s always been a bunch of men playing soccer on the weekends, a bunch of guys playing basketball, and even more men than women playing ping pong and badminton. There are always plenty of older women (maybe this is the one area where it’s equal) out in the early morning doing their morning exercises (Tai Chi, ballroom dancing, flying kites, looking at their pet birds, walking their little dogs, etc.), but really almost no women doing more intense sports and certainly NO young women. It’s apparently not very fashionable. And lately it’s begun to bother me.

Likely this is because this summer, I’m running 6 days a week (and loving that I have the freedom to do that right now!), and I’m taking a lot more notice. I’m running hard too – in training for another half marathon, and I’ve ramped up the training to include speedwork on the track, hill work, and long runs around our local lake. I sweat like a pig in this hot weather, and it’s not graceful at times. 😉 But my muscles are thanking me.

Two incidents have underscored the lack of women out there. As I was circling the lake last week (about an 8-mile run altogether), two thin, stylishly dressed young Chinese girls just looked at me and burst into giggles as they strolled along the lake. I really don’t run like a clown and I wasn’t dressed like one either, but I’ve gotten this reaction before – the blank stares, the utter disbelief, the laughter. I glanced at their muscle-less calves and birdlike arms and managed to feel pity for them, knowing that if necessary, I could likely carry them in my arms and still run around the lake (carrying toddlers is great practice for carrying thin Chinese women, I imagine).

There is a regular crew of guys that run around the lake every Saturday too – and it’s awesome to get their thumbs up and shouts of encouragement each week after enduring the stares and laughter of the younger girls. It makes me think that these younger women are placing these restrictions on themselves, because even some of the old yeyes and nainais (grandpas and grandmas) give me a smile and a wave!

The second incident happened this morning at the track. A whole crew of young kids, around 11-12 years old, were out on the Nanjing University track for morning exercises. For the boys, this meant playing badminton and soccer on the field, and for the girls, it meant sitting in a circle on the bleachers until their teachers gathered them together to move on to their classes. It took everything in me not to go over to them and tell them that sitting on the bench was not going to serve them well later in life when they will be expected to join the fray with those same boys.

This is not just some "I live in China and it drives me crazy" blog post. I do go crazy over little things here sometimes, and I try to temper that with understanding, compassion, and cappuccinos. But this isn’t some little thing. This is a one whole half of the young population who are somehow of the idea that it’s okay to do a little yoga, and maybe work out half-heartedly on a treadmill or step machine every once in a while, but it’s certainly not ok to get out there and kick it on the soccer field or the basketball courts. And certainly don’t even think about breaking a sweat on the track.

A recent TV commercial here not-so-subtly pushes this idea forward – it’s an add for a tea that supposed to make you thinner. It shows a young-20-something girl (who is thin), depressed about her weight. She attempts some half-hearted exercises, and then sighs in frustration. Then she gets this brilliant idea to drink this tea. Screen breaks to girl, looking even more thin in a tiny dress surrounded by a field of daisies. She’s fabulously happy, but exhorts the television audience at the end of the commercial, "Remember, not too thin!" If she were much thinner, I’d need a magnifying glass.

JM and I always burst into laughter at the end of the commercial; it’s so ludicrous! But here we are surrounded by scores of young women who lack the muscle definition to carry a box up a flight of stairs. Or the will – again, it’s just not fashionable. I’m not so sure this faux-femininity is really going to serve them all that well down the road. Or maybe somehow it does in the realms they wish to live in. I haven’t got it all figure out just yet, but I sure do miss all the active women I see on the trails and tracks back in the US. In the meantime, I’ll don my sunglasses and crank up my music, and if those girls need a lift around the lake, I’ll be there for them!

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2 Responses to “Where are the girls?”


  1. 1 Mom Falk August 31, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Peer pressure works more than one way—-what one population segment admires another group may abhor. What love above all others drives me? That particular attachment will give meaning to my priorities about my energy, my time, my passion, and the ability to fall but then get up and carry on, and when it also puts a smile on my face, I may just have it right. Women aren’t all young and cute for very long. So appearance soon fades and the standards of most cultures are still working out the heart of the matter—-fitness, good nutrition, positive and correct thinking, mental challenge, harmony with nature, balance in appetites—healthy relationships—-life experiences teach all of us to leave some paths and move on to better choices in the “school of hard knocks”. Not everyone has a good mentor—or even wants one, for that matter. Thomas Aquinas said if you want holiness, for example, “Desire it”. Not only women need this insight

  2. 2 Becca G. September 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Can I get the name of that tea? ;o)


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