Good for a Girl

Good for a Girl

by Lauren Fleshman
Setting: United States
Genres: Biography & Autobiography / Sports
Published on January 10, 2023
Pages: 288
Format: Audiobook Source: Library


Fueled by her years as an elite runner and advocate for women in sports, Lauren Fleshman offers her inspiring personal story and a rallying cry for reform of a sports landscape that is failing young female athletes

“Women’s sports have needed a manifesto for a very long time, and with Lauren Fleshman’s Good for a Girl we finally have one.” —Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers and David and Goliath

Good for a Girl is simultaneously a moving memoir and a call to action in how we think about—and train—girls and women in elite sports. It’s a must-read—for anyone who loves running, for anyone who has a daughter, and for anyone who cares about creating a better future for young women.” —Emily Oster, author of Expecting Better, Cribsheet, and The Family Firm

Lauren Fleshman has grown up in the world of running. One of the most decorated collegiate athletes of all time and a national champion as a pro, she was a major face of women’s running for Nike before leaving to shake up the industry with feminist running brand Oiselle and now coaches elite young female runners. Every step of the way, she has seen the way that our sports systems—originally designed by men, for men and boys—fail young women and girls as much as empower them. Girls drop out of sports at alarming rates once they hit puberty, and female collegiate athletes routinely fall victim to injury, eating disorders, or mental health struggles as they try to force their way past a natural dip in performance for women of their age.

Part memoir, part manifesto, Good for a Girl is Fleshman’s story of falling in love with running as a girl, being pushed to her limits and succumbing to devastating injuries, and daring to fight for a better way for female athletes. Long gone are the days when women and girls felt lucky just to participate; Fleshman and women everywhere are waking up to the reality that they’re running, playing, and competing in a world that wasn’t made for them. Drawing on not only her own story but also emerging research on the physiology and psychology of young athletes, of any gender, Fleshman gives voice to the often-silent experience of the female athlete and argues that the time has come to rebuild our systems of competitive sport with women at their center.

Written with heart and verve, Good for a Girl is a joyful love letter to the running life, a raw personal narrative of growth and change, and a vital call to reimagine sports for young women.

I knew nothing about Lauren Fleshman going into this book. I saw it on my Libby app and decided to listen.

This book is told as a memoir with additional information about how female athletes differ from their male counterparts added as it becomes relevant to the story.

Along the way, the author had to overcome a lot of internalized misogyny. She truly believed that men were naturally better athletes and coaches and leaders. She spent a good portion of her competitive life trying to please her alcoholic father. She did not stand up for female athletes being abused by their coaches.

There are several places where the development of female athletes diverges from male ones. The first is in puberty. A lot of girls stop playing sports because no one teaches them how to adjust to physical changes. Even just helping girls find appropriate sports bras can make a difference.

She talks a lot of about weight. She was told that she had an ideal race weight. She never knew what it was but it was always lighter than she currently was. Trying to reach that weight can lead to eating disorders and irregular menstruation. Lack of estrogen can lead to osteoporosis and the increased number of stress fractures seen in female athletes. It wasn’t uncommon to see high schoolers run well but then get injured early in their college careers secondary to nutritional deficiencies. I was surprised to find that top college track and cross country teams didn’t work with nutritional requirements for their athletes.

The clothing that female athletes are required to wear is also an issue. When women are already being shamed for “not being fit” if they are deemed overweight, being required to wear skimpy competition gear adds to the judgement of spectators, coaches, commentators, and athletes.

One story that surprised me (but shouldn’t have) was when she was being photographed for the cover of Runner’s World magazine. She was told that female runners on the cover were required to wear short shorts and have an exposed midriff. She was able to push back against that.

Female athletes don’t tend to have a straight line upward trajectory in their performances. It is not unusual for college aged women to have a year or two where their performance falls off. If they are supported through it, they come back stronger. Unfortunately most are pushed harder and harder when they aren’t improving. They are told to lose weight and train harder. Then they get injured because of overwork and nutritional issues.

Her work now is training a professional team of women runners who generally are women who had early promise but who got injured and forgotten.

She also details a lot of fights with her former sponsor, Nike.

I was interested to see what her ideas for solutions were. She wants the NCAA to have a protocol for monitoring the health of female athletes based on their successful concession protocol for football. They should be monitored for adequate nutrition, their menstrual cycle shouldn’t stop, and they should maintain safe bone density. She also wants coaches working with girls and women to have required training in female anatomy and physiology.