Mountain biking may be the key to empowering young girls, according to a new study. Pre-teen and teenage girls are subject to extreme confidence depredation based on unfair expectations surrounding gender and beauty, but female-centered organizations are working to change that.
A number of colleges and organizations are working together to research the effect of adventure sports, like mountain biking on young girls, and the results speak for themselves. After the girls completed these test courses, they reported feeling more empowered and confident.
Dirt Divas is one of many all-female riding groups that go on weekly, or monthly, rides. Participants of all experience levels are invited to join. They also have a number of programs to teach girls more about bikes, bike maintenance, and how to improve.
The group not only encourages girls to try something new and challenging, it offers the opportunity for women of all ages to get out of the house and focus on their health by staying active.
At first, many of their participants will find the hills daunting, often not making it up the first few times, but failure only encourages us to try harder. On rainy days, the girls turn the bike ride into mud competitions, not worried about how they look and throwing any beauty expectations they may face in their daily lives to the wind.
One of the Dirt Divas, 15-year-old Annika Peacock, says she finds the sport exciting. “If there’s a section of the trail that’s really hard for me,” she says, “I’ll go try it five more times. I say to myself, yes, yes, yes, I can do this.” And then the next day? “I go back and do it again.”
Peacock is now part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which works to bring mountain biking to high schools across the United States.
Mountain biking is just one of many adventure sports that have seen an increasing number of female participants, like canoeing, rafting, rappelling, scuba diving, and others. Other sports like soccer or basketball might have mud and challenging aspects but mountain biking avoids the pressures of team sports and parental supervision.
This isn’t the first time bikes have played a role in women’s empowerment.
Bikes were once used a way for suffragists to find independence. Women didn’t require male escorts when riding bikes and it allowed women to reject the heavy hoop skirts and corsets that kept them confined to the home.
Mountain biking may be physically demanding but it offers many rewards. Peacock’s mother, Nola, is proud of the change she’s seen in her daughter, saying, “She’s this petite little bundle of smiles, but she has this self-talk inside her that says ‘I can do this’, and she will ride and re-ride something until she gets it. There’s this resilience she’s trained in herself. She’s fierce.”
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