Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a new advertising campaign celebrating women in all our sweaty glory. Showing a strong diversity of women drop-kicking, chest-passing, front-crawling, zumba-ing and sprinting their way to fitness, This Girl Can has injected some sass back into women’s sports (the contribution of Missy Elliot’s throwback classic Get Ur Freak On no doubt contributing to the high level of sass). One question remains, however – what exactly is This Girl Can and what are they trying to achieve? I hope to debunk the mystery a little bit here.
This Girl Can is the brain child of Sport England, aiming to kick-start a change in the attitude towards women’s achievement in sport and hopefully create from it a thriving culture. You may wonder if this is necessary as plenty of women across the country already partake in exercise and women’s achievement in sport, especially following the 2012 London Olympics, is getting its fair amount of coverage. The ubiquitous presence of sports stars like Jessica Ennis-Hill and Rebecca Adlington seem to prove this. And while this is fantastic in its own right, Sport England has identified a problem. In comparison to men, do women really have as strong a sporting culture? I love Jessica Ennis-Hill but she is the default poster girl for virtually everything, even bank accounts! The ambassadorship she shows for Sheffield United Football Club is inspiring, but why not a women’s footballer? In truth, women still have a way to go before our sporting achievements are as ingrained in popular culture as men’s. From football to golf to rugby to tennis to Formula One (I could go on) there are innumerable male role models in sport who we can all name and recognise. The number of females is much less in comparison.
It’s not that we’re lacking in professional sportswomen to take inspiration from, so why are they not as exposed to the public as male equivalents? The answer lies in how many women are actually regularly active. Lots of women are active, but the proportion of the whole female population who are is actually quite low. A mere 2 million fewer women than men undertake regular exercise, and national figures of women who play a sport after leaving school is often quoted as critically low by official organisations such as the WSFF. These awesome sportswomen are perhaps not as well-known as their male counterparts because the demand for them is so low, considering much less women compared to men are apparently not keeping active. With many women reporting that they are embarrassed to exercise and fear being judged, they are perhaps intimidated by the impressive physiques of the professionals and feel demotivated to take part in sport. Here is where Sport England has stepped in.
Under the mission statement of celebrating women “who are doing their thing no matter how they are doing it”, This Girl Can is taking the focus away from image in exercise and promoting well-being, enjoyment and the social benefits. Instead of promoting already glorified sports stars, the campaign glorifies those without medals and accolades, those who find joy and fulfilment in keeping fit: people like you and me. We often see the enthusiasm of men in sport, no matter how great their physique or how good their ability. The lads go for kick-abouts, the dads join clubs – they ultimately have fun. Instead of showing toned abs and expensive gear as the expected norm for sporty women, This Girl Can shows women in all sorts of clobber getting their jiggle on, and proves you actually don’t look like a fool in the slightest when you enjoy a sport. More innovatively, This Girl Can is not hiding the minorities of women, who are rarely recognised despite their achievements. From women with piercings and tattoos to women with disabilities, everybody gets a spot in the limelight and not once does it feel forced. These are women doing what they do every day and are finally being given the exposure they deserve.
As someone quite far from looking like a sporting goddess, but as a life-long fan of sport, I’m enthused by the This Girl Can campaign. In fact, I plan on getting involved with them and hopefully share my love for sport with like-minded women. I feel it’s the first time a sporting organisation has got it right with women, instead of patronising us, it’s showing us the reality of exercise and the fun of sport, without the need of fancy brands or Photoshop. Sport England has made a great effort in spreading and cultivating a stronger sporting culture in women’s sport. I hope many women see it and no longer feel ashamed or afraid to get active. Here’s to getting our freak on.