BLOG: Why it's important to think about the language we use around being active
Posted: Tue, 01 Aug 2023 13:42
Edward Worrall, a graduate trainee at City of Doncaster Council working within Public Health, looks at how we might base physical activity and its provision in values of compassion, understanding, and judgement-free support.
Last summer, Spain's equality ministry encouraged citizens with a message of 'el verano también es nuestro!' . This message of inclusion and acceptance is one we wish to echo here in Doncaster through city-wide efforts to encourage those worried about their appearance that 'the Summer is ours too!'
Summer should be the time of getting out-and-about, taking advantage of local opportunities, and enjoying the warmer weather, but each year when the days begin to grow longer, harmful messaging around 'summer bodies' and 'beach bodies' creep into conversation. These messages can come from a variety of places, such as marketing campaigns, magazine photoshoots, or offhand comments from friends or strangers, and, regardless of the intention, they will have a negative impact on body image and feeling comfortable in yourself. This runs counter to what we stand for as public organisations and as a city.
We want residents to feel secure, confident, and comfortable to get out there this summer and enjoy themselves, regardless of the activity they wish to pursue and the ability level they possess. If you want to go for a bike ride around your local streets, walk around your nearest green space, or go swimming at the closest leisure centre, you should feel able to do so without judgement or assumption.
Part of supporting our residents to be physically active is ensuring they are comfortable to get involved. The health and non-health related outcomes of physical activity are achievable for all, regardless of size, shape, or experience. These include but are not limited to: benefits for cardio-metabolic health, improvements to bone health, greater sleep quality, stress-release, opportunities to learn new skills, the chance to socialise, and finding empowerment in what your body can do for you, rather than what it looks like.
This is why we are pursuing a compassionate approach to physical activity and promoting joyful movement that allows people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in physical activity to the degree that they choose. A compassionate approach will emphasise the many health and non-health benefits to physical activity, mitigate any barriers to participating, and put the joy back into movement!
We want to move physical activity away from areas that may reinforce the harmful messaging of summer bodies. This means ensuring we don't promote exercise as restriction, any forms that exacerbate inequality or increase weight stigma, or try to shame residents into exercise. Physical activity can be tied to restrictive practices such as focusing on calories burnt or framing it as a way to "earn" a meal or treat, which we do not want in Doncaster, nor do we want to force participation for similar reasons when an individual is clearly uncomfortable. Particularly relevant as we endure the cost-of-living crisis is the rejection of activities that may highlight or worsen inequalities, for example requiring equipment or certain clothes or having inaccessible cost or expertise levels for activities, which can stop residents before they have even begun.
With this in mind, how are we able to support residents, regardless of ability, interest, or size, in the pursuit of joyful movement to whatever degree they choose. Primarily, we must be clear that physical activity should be enjoyable. There is a social pressure for everyone to be active to an often arbitrary target (such as 10,000 steps a day) regardless that you may be comfortable with a different level than those around you. In promoting physical activity, health considerations need to be holistic (physical, mental, and emotional) and recognise that body size is not an accurate indicator of health, as one can change without the other.
Accessibility is essential to all activity provisions, guaranteeing no or low-cost events for all skill levels without the requirement for specialist equipment in an accessible venue. To fully integrate the ethos of the compassionate approach into physical activity, we want to emphasise our acceptance of natural diversity in body shapes and sizes, show our empathy by allowing for participant-led goals around activity, and focus on the activities that bring a resident enjoyment above all else to succeed in embracing joyful movement!
The City of Doncaster Council - and the Get Doncaster Moving partnership - encourages all our residents to move their bodies joyfully this summer!
For local opportunities to get out and about the summer, visit: https://www.yourlifedoncaster.co.uk/
For more information on our compassionate approach to health, visit: www. doncaster.gov.uk/services/health-wellbeing/doncaster-s-compassionate-approach