A young woman interviewed in research conducted by Sadker and Sadker (1994) expressed feelings similar to many of the young women in this study: You just have to let it go. Just say, sure whatever. I have a friend who freaked out when the guys said gross things. Now they totally hate her here. She doesn't even want to come to school (p.11 0). To many young women the comments of boys seem to be something they have to endure. Alexis sums up the feelings of many by saying There's not much we can do about it ... it makes you feel uncomfortable because you are never sure if they are watching or not, and then you are always worried about what they are going to say.
On the half-days that the young women were scheduled to go swimming, I went to the pool to observe and talk with them in an informal setting. I was surprised to see that many of the young women in grade 9 and 10 were in the water and appeared to be having a very good time. Barb did enter the water as planned and, once in, seemed to relax and mix with both boys and girls. Most of the girls in grade 11 sat on the lawn in their shorts and T-shirts or played volleyball on the court beside the pool.
After the swimming I had the opportunity to ask the students in grade 9 and 10 about their time at the pool. Most of them had a good time, telling me it was awesome and it was right on. I asked them why it was so much better than they thought it would be. Marcie explained: The night before I was like Oh God, Oh God I am going to look so terrible and then some guy is going to say something, Oh God. Then I got there and I was really self conscious and no one said anything and I just kind of loosened up and it was OK. Kelly agreed, Usually you think that the guys are going to make fun of you or something like that but actually I didn't see them make fun of anybody. Feelings like this were expressed by many who said that they were able to have fun swimming because the boys didn't say anything bad about their bodies. It is hard for me to be positive about this. It is so unfortunate that their idea of a good time is to be able to participate in an environment free of harassment or, if they are not sure that this will be possible, to avoid the event altogether or cover up is much as possible.
I must admit that I was once one of the many who criticized young women for their lack of participation in physical education programs. I have learned that many young women wish to be physically active but that, in order for them to do so, much of what goes on in physical education classes must change. It is essential for all those interested in encouraging young women to pursue physically active life-styles to be sensitive to the role that body image plays in their participation. Whenever possible, physical education classes must be a place where young women can feel comfortable with their bodies. I would suggest that young women be permitted to choose the clothes they wear in physical education classes. Locker rooms should have many private enclosed spaces for showering and changing and educational swimming activities should be reviewed to determine the objectives of such excursions. Swimming in a coeducational setting must be a positive experience for all students; otherwise a segregated swimming option should be available
The goal of those interested in promoting physical activity for young women should be to create environments that give young women many opportunities to learn, experience and feel comfortable with what their bodies can do. I agree with Chalmers (1992) who suggests that the most important goal of a physical education program for young women is that they develop a sense of value of their own bodies. If physical education is taught with this in mind, young women can appreciate its importance, they can develop a healthy relationship with their bodies that has been so lacking in our culture (p.121).
If physical educators can help young women develop a positive body image, they may be much more likely to pursue physical activity throughout their lives. Every effort should be made to help young women feel less exposed and more welcome in the world of physical activity. Many physically active people know and love their world, but for too many young women often it is a frightening and uninviting place.