Sport Frees Women From Corsets

During the Victorian era women gained higher educational opportunities and more access to the work force. Women’s participation in sport was inhibited by fashion and social expectations. Physicians generally agreed that women were too frail and weak to participate in sport. Initially, only certain sports were deemed suitable for women – croquet, archery, and golf.

Lawn tennis became popular as a game men and women played together. Mary EwingOuterbridge brought the game of lawn tennis to the US in 1874. She fell in love with the game while on vacation in Bermuda and bought back all the equipment to teach her family and friends. Fortunately her brother was the director of the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club, so lawn tennis was installed as one of the club’s sports. By 1884, women were competing alongside men at Wimbledon.

Three cheers for bicycling as it was necessary for women to wear looser clothing without corsets to participate. This sport not only led to women’s liberation from corsets but also the introduction of bloomers or knickerbockers as suitable sporting wear. It was sport and not fashion that freed women from the restraint of corsets. American college women (those racy, young trendsetters) were the first to wear the shocking new attire of bloomers and short sleeves.

By 1896 women were buying 25-30% of all new bicycles and the first 6 day bike race for women started at Madison Square Garden in NYC.   Susan B. Anthony declared that ‘the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world’. Today women are a dominant force in many sports and continue to strive for bigger challenges. More than ever, it’s time for sporting women to understand the importance of training their pelvic floor muscles to prevent the unacceptably high level of sporting incontinence. Thyssen (2002) reports  that gymnasts have the highest rate of urinary stress incontinence (USI) with 56% reporting leaking, followed by ballet 43%, aerobics 40%, badminton 31% and volleyball 30%.

Many sporting programs include lumbo-pelvic stability and postural programs. Women’s health physiotherapists (physical therapists) now work with athletes and coaches to introduce pelvic floor exercises to improve pelvic floor control and reduce the longer term damaging effects of high impact sports on the pelvic floor. For many athletes pelvic floor dysfunction increases the risk of incontinence, prolapse and pelvic pain after they retire from sport.