This Girl Can: Empowering Women in Sport

As children we love to run, play, skip and fall; we don’t care if we look silly, we aren’t exercising to lose weight or reduce our risk of heart disease. There’s no ‘sporty’ or ‘not sporty’, it’s just fun to move your body. But something is going wrong: at some point using your body stops being a completely normal part of life, and becomes anything from a chore to inaccessible, humiliating, or even frightening. We aren’t teaching young girls that sport is relevant to them.

And yet, as women our bodies are capable of extreme feats: we can create, grow and deliver another living person – and bear all the pain associated with this! Women have evolved to be strong in a way that surpasses most displays of manliness. So what is it about growing up that means women don’t end up feeling comfortable with sport in the way that men do? According to the 2014 Sports England Active People Survey two million more men play sport or exercise than women in the UK, yet 75% of women say they would like to do more. Some of the barriers to this are universal between the sexes: time, money, health. But for women, the fear of judgement or not being good enough was the strongest.

For years the word ‘sport’ has been at odds with femininity, but there’s something massive happening to women right now, a quiet (and sometimes less quiet) revolution. Women all over the country are ditching the boundaries placed on us by society, and ourselves, and are getting out their and getting active; and This Girl Can has been a massive part of this. Launched in 2015 by Sport England, this campaign aims to inspire women and girls to get moving, regardless of age shape or size. The original advert featured 90 seconds of every type of women enjoying a huge range of sports set to a Missy Elliot track: they ran, jumped, danced, tackled, sweat buckets but more importantly they look like they’re having the time of their lives.

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The campaign is “edgy and it is disruptive but it’s basically celebrating all those women and girls who have decided, ‘Damn it. I don’t care what people think about me. I’m going to get out there and do it’” (Sports England CEO, Jennie Price). The impact has been huge. This Girl Can has been credited with encouraging 1.6 million women to start exercising, and a noticeable decrease in the gender gap across sport in the UK.

The campaign has had some criticism, such as this article in the Guardian ‘The This Girl Can campaign is all about sex, not sport’, which starts that while the campaign portrays ‘real’ women’s bodies, it still “plays into the norms of objectifying female flesh”. From sport being almost a dirty word, we are currently in the midst of a fitness craze. Type in #healthyliving to Instagram and you are bombarded with images of thin, tanned women and their impossible abs in bikinis or skimpy sportswear; at best it is a modernisation of page 3, at worst it is thinly veiled #thinspiration that is just as damaging to women as the idea that exercise is not relevant to 50% of the population.

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The difference? This Girl Can focuses on the functionality of our bodies, and not their appearance. But at the same time it does not shy away from how we look. The photos and videos normalises the way a range of different bodies look when they take part in exercise: yes, that’s right – some of us jiggle, get red faces and most of us sweat! Whilst professional women’s sport is beginning (albeit painfully slowly) to gain visibility, as inspiring as it is, it isn’t quite as relatable. For those of us that are held back from exercise for fear of how we will look this is massive. We see these strong, powerful women absolutely killing it, and they look fantastic. And you think, “yeah, I could do that”.

I couldn’t be more aware of how lucky I am to be a young woman at a time of such empowerment, what would have happened to me if I’d been born 50 years earlier? Would I still be running marathons, lifting weights, or having adult swimming lessons? Sadly, I don’t think I would. So we need to spread the word. The most staggering part of the This Girl Campaign is the creation of an enormous community of women supporting other women; the hashtag #thisgirlcan trended at number three on the day it was launched and is still used thousands of times every day. Whether you find your support online, or at one of the many women’s groups, there is a whole army of active ladies out there waiting to encourage, inspire and celebrate your achievements. Come and join us!

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I am absolutely honoured to have my story featured on the This Girl Can website, you can have a read here if you’d like.

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “This Girl Can: Empowering Women in Sport

  1. I wasn’t able to find the link to your featured story! Did I miss it? I spent the longest time think any thing having to do with fitness or sports was not for me. Even when I began to lose exercise, there was a sense of obligation – i.e. I have to do this to lose weight. When I started running though, I began to slowly enjoy the process. Well, actually I’m not there yet. What I enjoy is accomplishing what I once that was impossible. I’m still learning to shed the association of exercise with weight loss, but I think I have made progress. I think this is a great initiative. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You beat me to it! The link should work now. Me too.. we just aren’t encouraged to see it as part of our future. Exercise should be empowering, it should be about learning to love your body for what it can do and not what it looks like. How important is that! You’re doing fab, don’t be fooled by thinking the biggest advocators if Running always enjoy it! Thanks as always for reading so carefully and leaving such a thoughtful comment 😘

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  2. This is so true and it is amazing how much has changed in just the last few years. I am an elementary teacher and I can tell you I have had more active girls in the last three or four years than ever before. They are tough, have mental strength, and proud of their achievements. It is truly awesome to see. I will check out your story on This Girl Can.

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    1. I’m so pleased to hear it.. for a while I’ve not been sure if I’m just noticing all these amazing actor ladies now I’m more active. But I don’t think that’s it.. there’s definitely a huge change happening.

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      1. I have been running and teaching for a about 10 years and I have seen a change somewhat recently.
        I organize an elementary after school running club and my best runners are almost always girls. It is cool to see because they aren’t at all embarrassed but just really proud of themselves. I also teach high school track, and again in the older grades there are amazing female runners. Definitely different than when we were kids or teens, I think.

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  3. This is an excellent development of course – and I’ve heard it from others too: girls and women getting more and more into different kinds of sports and physical activities! 🙂
    By the way I would love to be able to inspire or motivate myself to get out and run too. But I rarely do. I work out regularly in the gym etc, but I just find running so boring, if it’s not for a particular purpose (like chasing a ball in some other sport) hahaha. It’s such a shame!

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    1. That’s fine! Believe me, it’s easy to read a load of inspiration descriptions of running and think the people that wrote them must totally love running all the time. While I’m doing it I often find it pretty awful, but the feeling of having done it is what I’m addicted to. As soon as its over I feel so empowered. And of course there are those few runs where everything comes together and you feel like a superhero. I love those days 😉 But it isn’t for everyone. Sounds like you’re pretty active without forcing yourself o go out pounding pavements!

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      1. I see! Interesting! 🙂
        I can understand the feeling of satisfaction and empowerment after the run.
        Haha yes I am quite active – just not running. I’ve always liked that – and I get some extra motivation from my wife, being a martial arts teacher.😛

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  4. Positive role models are so important! Way to go! I was a teacher for over 30 years. My students knew that I am a runner. They used to ask me if I ran cross country when I was in high school. I had to tell them that when I was in high school, cross country was just for boys. Girls were not allowed on the team! It’s important that young women know that there were many fewer opportunities for girls in the not-too-distant past!

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    1. It’s crazy isn’t it. I had a lady reply to me on Twitter saying that its not as if women weren’t running marathons 20 years ago.. and yes, a few were, but there were gender barriers that seem unimaginable now that were not long ago at all. Can you imaging if a school barred girls from cross country nowadays? It’d make the news! So great for your students to hear that, and help them value where we are currently, and keep pushing to further it.

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