The rise of the twenty-something granny
Walking through the university gym at 5pm, picking my way over groups of people on the floor, it’s difficult not to notice the number of groups of girls doing a similar sort of workout. With sweaty faces and various weights laid out beside them, it’s easy to tell they too have joined the biggest female fitness community – Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide. And of course there are no weights left on the rack for me to start week 20. Back at home at the end of the day, I ask my friend what she has planned for the evening. Contrary to what outsiders might expect of a uni student with no current deadlines, her response doesn’t involve any drinking, or even staying out late. 10:30pm bedtime after a home cooked dinner is her day-off plan.
So why is this? Why are more and more people eschewing getting ‘hammered’ and passing out for early beds and the gym? At our weekly athletics socials, the number of people who are not drinking because they have a race, or a deadline, or simply because their body needs a rest is amazing. This isn’t to say that our socials are boring and quiet, and it’s certainly not saying that everyone is tee-total, but it’s hard not to notice that certain people are getting more “sensible” with their drinking habits.
As a nation, the UK has been decreasing alcohol consumption since 2002, and despite what the Daily Mail might have you believe, alcohol sales peaked way back in 2004, and have been falling since then. A ‘YouGov’ study showed that in the UK, “one third (33%) of those surveyed have cut down on their alcohol consumption in the past year with a further ten percent saying they have given up alcohol completely.” In addition, “the proportion of young adults (16-25) who reported that they do not drink alcohol at all [increased] between 2005 and 2013.” The stats go some way to explaining people’s views towards alcohol and drinking. 44% of those surveyed agreed that alcohol is bad for your health – perhaps a surprisingly small amount, but a start nonetheless.
Speaking to some friends who don’t drink much, I asked why they had decided to cut back on alcohol. The answers could be split into two categories: maximising productivity and the ever increasing view that being drunk is unattractive. It seems that with the increasing pressures of today, taking a day off for a hangover, or even just working at a sub-optimal level is an unacceptable side-effect of drinking. As one person put it, ‘it’s just un-conducive to life’. If you think about it, spending £9,000 a year on fees for a university education means that every wasted moment costs money – money many people can ill afford. I believe more people are viewing university as an opportunity, not just academically but also with everything else university has to offer, such as sports. One friend stated that the choice of drinking or not drinking was all down to priorities. “Drinking leads to many attractive traits, such as… increased confidence and relaxation, but for me these are outweighed by the negatives”. For her, these include consequences to fitness and health, and understandably, anyone who takes their health seriously is not going to go out drinking to dangerous levels on a regular basis.
The second category I came across about why people don’t drink is one that denotes changing views of drunkeness. Interestingly, attitudes towards drinking in society vary across countries, regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed. In the UK, Scandinavia, US an Australia, drinking is associated with violent and antisocial behaviour, whereas in the Mediterranean and some South American cultures, drinking behaviour is viewed as peaceful and sociable. Therefore perhaps it is not surprising that the way drunkenness is viewed can change temporally as well as spatially. The view of a drunken man or woman, especially if they are young, is seen as unattractive, and somewhat tragic, in the same way that anyone out of control is negatively viewed.
The time that I started to notice youths taking more care of their health admittedly came from a slightly skewed portion of the population. I got my fitness instagram when I was 17, and saw a growing community of girls (and many guys), making health and fitness a high priority in their lives – much more so than (thought often alongside) popularity and partying. However, looking around me in school, then home, then university gyms, I saw the change spreading outside of instagram into the ‘real world’. Smiling at early 20-somethings running on the downs, we share a moment of recognition of the other’s effort to look after their body. Because let’s be honest – when you’re stressed with work and tired from everyday life, sometimes running is the last thing you want to do. But making the effort to get out, get some fresh air and get the endorphins pumping starts a positive feedback loop of self-improvement, that clearly is starting to take effect on more than just those who might consider themselves ‘fit-freaks’ or amateur athletes. Living a healthy lifestyle is truly becoming accessible for all. For me, reducing the amount I drink on a weekly basis has been a natural progression – if I have training planned, or a deadline, or really anything that requires full functioning of my brain or body the day after a night out, chances are I won’t drink (much). It’s surprisingly simple – and I’m a social sec!
So where is drinking culture at universities moving to now? I think that looking at social media accounts can give a good clue as to what is considered ‘cool’, and what certain attitudes are. Gone are the days of ‘heroine chic’ stick thin models – now it’s all about fitness and health, or at least looking like you’re fit. Social media celebrities such as Kayla Itsines (@kayla_itsines) or Jen Selter (@jenselter) are not going out of fashion any time soon, so perhaps the view that fit is good is here to stay. And with it is going to be the rise of the ‘sensible youths’ – earlier bed times, less alcohol, better nutrition, more fitness. I’m yet to find a university that’s filled more with fit-freaks than drunk freshers, but I have no doubt that that’s the direction it’s moving in. Maybe it’s about time for a bigger university gym.