07 August 2022

Have Your Say: Why we need #ThisGirlCan

January 20, 2015

Sport England’s latest campaign to get women active is energetic, positive and vibrantly inspirational. If you haven’t seen their latest TV ad (where have you been?) it features real women swimming, running, cycling, playing netball, football, zumba – and they are loving it. Cellulite and all. This is a campaign that’s smashing the perceptions of how it’s ‘acceptable’ for a woman to look – and it’s way overdue.

It’s January, the gyms are heaving with women on ‘New Year, New Me’ health kicks – but the attitude is so often terribly wrong. Last Monday in the changing room I heard two incredibly tiny young girls discussing their fitness regimes:

‘I’m never eating pizza again. Did you know there are 600 calories in one slice of Papa Johns? We would need to run for about two hours just to burn it off,’ says Girl One.
Girl Two replies: ‘Well, if you see me eating this week, please punch me in the face.’

This was one of the more extreme instances I’ve heard, but it’s all of the same ilk; too many women see exercise and physical activity as a punishment. They’re jogging because they hate their thighs. They go to the gym because they hate their stomachs. Where is the positivity? In an age when we are finally in agreement that size zero and unrealistic photoshopping are bad, why is it still the norm for women to project such animosity towards their own bodies?

It’s because we’re still facing so much judgement – from the media, from our peers, from our friends and even from ourselves. No matter how progressive and liberal we like to think ourselves, we still hide our cellulite, sneer at muffin tops and adhere to the standardised norm of the ‘perfect’ female form.

Sport England have launched the This Girl Can campaign in light of research that revealed a significant gender gap in exercise. Women are lagging behind men with two million fewer 14-40 year-olds taking part in regular exercise. But with 75 per cent of women claiming they want to be more active – what’s stopping them?

It’s fear of judgement – ‘on appearance, ability or how they choose to spend time on themselves,’ that is putting women off exercising, state Sport England. And who can blame them?

Women’s sport has come a long way in developing positive female role models to encourage women to engage with physical activity – Jessica Ennis-Hill is just one of the athletes to become a household name since the London 2012 Olympics. But if you aren’t bronzed and lithe with a cheese-grater six-pack, looking at Jess might actually make you curl up in bed and never enter a gym again. Those abs are intimidating.

Predictably, articles have been popping up criticising the campaign. The use of the word ‘girl’ being at the heart of some of the contention. I agree that the use of this infantilizing term isn’t the best message, and could be viewed as patronising – but ultimately the end justifies the means here. I can forgive a slightly non-PC slogan if the campaign inspires even just one woman to join her local gym. Other critics have slammed Sport England for having too much focus on the female body – even if the parts that are shown are real, jiggly and dimply, there is still an element of reducing women to mere body parts. But the crucial thing with #ThisGirlCan is that it is a chance for women to reclaim their own bodies. Yes, we are focussing on thighs, stomachs and flesh, but in the context of inspiring body-confidence not for the gratification of a male audience.

In my opinion, the women in the #ThisGirlCan ad tick every box. All shapes, sizes, ages, ethnicities, ability-levels – their jiggling tummies, wobbly bums and brazen smiles make you want to be part of their gang. Accessibility and inclusion are key and Sport England are absolutely nailing it.

With stunning imagery, vivacious models and a super-slick ad, this campaign has everything it needs to grab your attention. The slogans used frankly make my heart sing: ‘I swim because I love my body, not because I hate it.’ That’s exactly it. I hope this ad reaches all the women sitting on their sofas, too nervous to sign up for their local netball team. We’ve all got bingo wings too!

Natalie Morris, Sportsister
The Women’s Sport Magazine

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