Monday, 12 March 2007

Only the ball should bounce

Sportswear pisses me off. Specifically, it pisses me off because of its unavailability. But all sports shops have women's sections, I hear you cry! All labels provide women's clothing! Well, it depends on your definition of "sports" and what your requirements are. Women's sportswear generally consists of silly little lycra numbers available in a size 8-14 - perfect for gym bunnies on macrobiotic diets who do yoga classes, chug vile probiotic yoghurt drinks and shun carbs; not so perfect for someone who competes in martial arts on a national level, who is disinterested in shaking her booty on a cross-trainer and whose enormous jugs need support.

Despite exhaustive searching, I have never found a sports bra in my size. According to Nike (whose lovely dri-fit tops I have to admit I am a bit of a fan of, so sue me) a woman should be able to exercise in a "supportive" top consisting of a rubber band underneath her bust and non-adjustable straps. That's perfect if you're 5ft8 and a 34A. But what if you're 5ft1 and a 30F? Well, Berlei finally saw the gap in the market for big sports bras a few years ago and started manufacturing their range up to a G-cup. They ran a memorable billboard campaign featuring Anna Kournikova and the slogan "Only the Ball Should Bounce". Thanks for reminding me how important it is to look after my boobs, but your bras still don't fit me. For starters, their back sizes start at a 32, but more importantly, the straps simply don't adjust short enough. I'd have to be at least four inches taller to wear a Berlei bra. Apparently, only tall women require sports bras. Here is what I've had to do to get a suitable sports bra: Buy one of these which comes in a suitable size and then take it here for the straps to be altered. Total cost per bra = £55. Boy is being short with big jugs an expensive business.

Women's trainers are not designed for running. If you go into a sports shop to buy a pair of trainers the first thing you'll notice is that the women's section is miniscule. The next thing you'll notice is that there are very few styles that are actually suitable for any kind of sport, as opposed to being simply fashion accessories. The next thing you'll notice after that is that if like me you're fortunate enough to be a size 5 or below, you're better off shopping in the boys' section - no VAT and they're actually designed for running in! Oh, and by the way, girls' trainers don't exist AT ALL. You can get cute things in pink for toddlers, but once your little girl is past the age of about eight, good luck finding her anything that isn't obviously designed for boys. No wonder teenage girls tend to lose interest in sport - they haven't anything to wear for it.

The cut of women's sportswear is not at all suitable for an athletic physique. I trailed round several sports shops last autumn to try and find a nice, comfortable yet stylish hoodie to go running in, and found that I could barely fit my arms into my usual size - the sleeves were cut for a skinny model rather than for an athlete. I had to go two sizes larger before I could move my arms comfortably, meaning that it was far too big on my comparatively slim torso. It's not as if my biceps are freakishly enormous - I'm a martial artist, not a weightlifter. Further evidence that the most strenuous exercise that sportswear companies think us girls are capable of is pilates. I never did buy a hoodie.

So, a sporty woman can look forward to chafing from ill-fitting clothing; droopy, stretchmarked breasts from ill-fitting bras; and joint and back problems from dodgy trainers. Great! It's enough to make anyone hang up their sweatpants in favour of a date with a large tub of Ben & Jerrys.

In short, women's sportsgear is all well and good if all you want from your hi-performance lycra mesh dri-fit hi-tech overpriced little spandex outfit is simply something to pose in which shows off your abs to full effect. But if you want something that's actually suitable for doing sports in, good luck finding it.

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