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PE Haters of the World Unite

16/05/2016 12:30 | Updated 16 May 2016

There seem to be a lot of people about at the moment set on 'reclaiming' yoga from the LuluLemon wearing hotties of our imagination: there's self-titled 'fat girl' Jessamyn Stanley, who encourages people to embrace yoga regardless of their body shape; there's Rachel Brathen, who encourages yoga in the office (or just wherever); there's Matthew Sanford, who encourages yoga amongst people with physical disabilities. The message is clear: you don't have to be a toned size 8 hanging over an infinity pool in a thongkini in Bali to be a successful insta-yogi. Indeed, you can be an overweight, inflexible office worker.

Of course, most people probably knew this all along. I have known it all along, but then knowing something isn't necessarily believing something, and the self-assurance of others can be incredibly reassuring. In this spirit, I am going to try and ooze some self-assurance of my own, as a gift for a group of people that, as far as I am aware, nobody is yet speaking to directly. Drum roll please. I am talking about the people who dreaded PE at school. These are the people for whom the very word 'sport' can still signal a bad case of the heebie-jeebies. No matter that may be well into adulthood: they were bad at PE at school and that, thank you, is that. Voluntarily signing up for a game of squash when they spent their first sixteen years of existence feigning every malady under the sun to avoid such activities? Jog on.

Look, I know what it's like. My mum has a favourite anecdote she likes to tell whenever I introduce her to anyone. Regardless of whether or not she is asked what I was like as a child, she will find a way to dredge this same story up. She will glance at me, a sorry-not-sorry glint in her eye, and will then say, 'Chloe was so unsporty as a child. I remember watching her play netball at a Sport's Day when she was about nine, and - oh god. I. Was. Mortified.' She will lean forward at this point. 'She actually ran away from the ball whenever it came near her. She would be at the other end of the playground.'

Yes, I really, really hated PE when I was younger, for a variety of reasons: social anxiety and the fear that I would be held responsible by classmates for losing a game; the running around with my boobs bouncing (annoyingly) free, oblivious at fifteen to the fact that I could really do with buying a sports bra; the fact that I tried (and failed) to exude a mysterious je ne sais quoi at all times as a teenager, which in reality meant being sulky and contemptuous of pretty much everything (because I was shy and adolescent, by the way, not because I was a real snob) and running after a ball enthusiastically just didn't fit in with that. Despite my affected insouciance, though, I would always get a knot in my stomach at the mere thought of PE. I was not (and still am not) mad about competitive games, which is what all PE at school seemed to revolve around: where were the yoga classes and the Pilates classes and the lessons spent just running (not racing)?

Mainly, though, I hated PE because I felt like I was always forced to do things that I just didn't want to do. I know some people would cite 'character building' as a defence here: if a painfully shy thirteen year old girl doesn't want to learn the Thriller dance and perform it in front of her thirty classmates, well, too bad, because doing it will build her confidence (the same could be said of drama lessons, where the prevailing mentality at my school seemed to be: oh, you don't want to bump around the room pretending to be a snake/plant/bus? Tough.) But I found such lessons to be entirely counterproductive, as mortifying for me as that netball game was for my mum to watch.

I think I might enjoy these same lessons now, on my own terms. But for a very long time I had an aversion to the whole idea of 'dance' in particular because I associated it with feelings of self-consciousness and unwanted attention, the legacy of being humiliated in many a PE lesson. At university my flatmate would beg me to do cheerleading and pole dancing with her, and I would dismiss these suggestions out of hand, because of course I couldn't go to a dance class (I mean, god forbid.)

This idea of being either sporty or not sporty seems like a bit of a false dichotomy now but at school I always felt that because I was 'bad' at football, and at dance, that therefore all exercise was best avoided. I was categorically Not Sporty, end of. Of course, this is completely misguided, because there are so many different types of sport and so many forms that fitness can take: you might not be able to kick a football for love nor money, but what has that got to do with absolutely bossing a spin class? But actually, it doesn't even matter if you can't boss anything at all. I recently went to a pole fitness class with my friend and was unable to even lift myself off the floor, let alone hang upside down by my legs. Absolutely nobody cared.

As long as you are giving something a go, it's all good. (In fairness to my younger self, it wasn't just my self-consciousness at school that prevented me from enjoying PE - bitchy comments were actually a thing at my all girls' secondary school. I remember being told at fourteen that I had a 'flatty batty' as I attempted a 'dutty wine' - don't ask, but it's probably the reason I've been doing squats in earnest ever since - but I have yet to hear such comments be made in the real, adult world.)

The truth is that probably none of us were ever 'unsporty' to begin with - but if that is how you considered yourself then (or how others considered you) it's time to reconsider now. Yes, I did run away from the netball when I was nine; yes, my cartwheel game was not strong when I was thirteen; yes, I failed to hit the ping pong ball at all during the (quite odd) date I went on just last week. It's time to move on.

I don't really know where my own fitness awakening came from (a grim determination to get the abs and the arse of my dreams?) but in the past year I have been making up for all the lost time at various fitness classes: ballet, aerial Pilates, trampolining, ecstatic dance, hot yoga. I have seen the light, as they say, and it's about so much more now than getting a beach body. It's about self-growth, and you can't dismiss that statement as wishy washy millennial twaddle until you have got off your arse and properly put your back into working out, however you can. I challenge you not to feel rewarded and accomplished (or incredibly smug and self-satisfied) after running a 10K, or climbing Ben Nevis for charity, or even after just taking your big feet and your flatty batty to a dance class.

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