Good for a Girl: My Life Running in a Man’s World, by Lauren Fleshman

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Review by Liz Dexter

Millions of women carry an abundance of positive memories of their time in sport, but they also carry the invisible wounds of their sports experiences. As women, we’ve justified these wounds as normal or internalised the belief that we were to blame.

This is not an ordinary running book. Yes, it includes the story of Lauren’s journey from school athlete through to international competition, but it’s about a lot more than that; namely, the damage that the current set-up of competitive athletics in the US, both at school and college level and at professional level, does to young women.

Fleshman takes us through her experiences but continually relates them to the wider picture as she understands it now. So when she retains her pre-pubescent figure and keeps competitive with the boys, we see how delaying puberty through heavy exercise affects young women’s bone density and other health measures. When girls develop and drop out, we see why this is and how universal it is. When eating disorders or disordered eating become rife, we see an examination of why this happens and the prevalence. When women naturally plateau aged about 19 as their bodies go through further development, we see what happens to their coaching (not good) and how they disappear, discouraged and injured. We see how the introduction of Title IX, which specified that women should get equal access to sports at college, meant that women coaches got pushed out by men. Then, when she turns professional we see how sponsors make things gendered, how women are penalised if they become pregnant, how women’s sports clothing is much more revealing and tight than men’s for no reason, how catalogues offering women’s apparel include images of models rather than sportswomen.

It’s all pretty damning, and Fleshman has certainly been through the mill. She tries to remain positive, while ending up with stress fractures due to the pressures her body has been under. She fights and fights Nike for women’s equity but is rebuffed, and it’s wonderful when she develops a relationship with the smaller indie brand Oiselle (who I have heard about but not worn), who are actively happy and excited when she reveals she’s planning to have a family. And it’s encouraging to see her activism growing with her community, and her commitment to intersectionality, too. She does real, practical things, sharing honestly on her blog and setting up a training diary for young girls that covers all aspects, menstrual health and mental health as well as training sessions. And at the end of the book she makes a clear call for better support for female athletes including woman-specific training for coaches and qualifications to make sure runners are kept more safe.

The influence of her father is clear through the book, however hard he was as a dad, with alcohol and anger issues, and she’s honest on the ongoing issues she’s had with her sister. Very touching scenes at the end of the book cover his illness and passing.

As befits a more popular science book, Fleshman mentions researchers and studies in her text and then has a few pages at the back of the book where she gives a sort of narrative bibliography, talking about the areas she’s learned about and the resources that have supported that learning.


Liz Dexter has certainly experienced the effect of the menopause on her running and fitness,
something she hopes will be addressed in more books in the future. She blogs about reading, running and working from home at http://www.librofulltime.wordpress.com.

Lauren Fleshman, Good for a Girl: My Life Running in a Man’s World (Virago, 2023). ‎ 978-
8349014425, 274 pp., hardback.

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1 comment

  1. This sounds excellent so much of it rings true, and I like the term disordered eating

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