Written by Clare Balding

Health

This Girl Can

Sport England’s new campaign aims to get more women involved in sport. Clare Balding tells Standard Issue why she thinks This Girl Can is a brilliant idea.

Last night on ITV during the 7.45pm break in Coronation Street you saw something you may never have seen in an advert before. Instead of beautiful (possibly airbrushed) women who never sweat, whose hair is never out of place and who certainly don’t have cellulite, there were women who mirror the majority of women in Great Britain. Women like you, women like me. The campaign, called This Girl Can, is the brainchild of Sport England and its purpose is to get girls and women to embrace activity.

When I talked to Kim Gehrig, who directed the advert, she told me that it was the first time in 15 years in advertising that she’d been asked to celebrate women as they really are: to glorify the less than perfect body shape; to show women with flushed faces and wobbly thighs. The women featured in the campaign range in age from 14 to 45, most of them work full time and have only taken up regular physical activity in recent years. They have one thing in common – they feel empowered and improved as a result.

Gehrig said it was the first campaign she’d worked on that had genuine “soul”. It made her hope that her own daughter would not grow up, as most women in the UK do, with such negativity about their bodies that they would rather exercise in the dark.

Cycle

Credit: Sport England/This Girl Can

We all think we’re the only ones who fear judgement, who battle with self-esteem, who feel that we’d be happier if only we could be a size 10. I know from personal experience that happiness does not lie in changing my body shape, but for me, walking my way to fitness gave me a sense of confidence and inner peace that has altered the way I approach life. I am calmer, more present in the moment and less in a rush to reach the next destination or hit the next target.

Sweating

Credit: Sport England/This Girl Can

The women who star in the This Girl Can advert talk passionately about the freedom they feel when they are running or cycling or jumping, dancing and diving into freezing cold water. Sam Mollaghan, who decided after having three children and hitting her 40s that she wanted to run a 5k, discovered parkrun, which organises free timed runs every week for all levels of ability. Sam’s tag line is “I jiggle therefore I am” and instead of hiding her cellulite, she is celebrating it, giving strength to all of us in the thick thigh brigade.

The youngest member of the This Girl Can campaign is Skyla who has been boxing since she was 12. She sports a perfect manicure under her boxing gloves and is happily challenging the restrictive tradition of gender stereotyping that has limited boys and girls for so long to doing what are deemed ‘suitable’ sports.

Whether you want to be on your own or part of a group, whether you want to get fit or let off steam, whether you are lean and trim or big and buxom, there is an activity that will welcome you with open arms. Don’t let your mind stop your body from realising its full potential because, with self-belief, #thisgirlcan.

FACTFILE:

Two million fewer women than men participate in sport and exercise regularly. But of the 9.4 million women aged 14-40 targeted by the campaign, 75% said they would like to participate more.

Sport England identified the barriers that stop women exercising as they would like to and found three core themes.

Appearance: From an early age, appearance is a concern for women when it comes to exercise – they worry that they are being judged for how they look when they do sport and exercise.
Family: Many mums would like to exercise, but fear being judged for putting themselves first.
Ability: Women worry they will be judged on their ability level – that they are not good enough, or too good, and therefore unfeminine, and this is a barrier to exercise and sport.

The campaign is intended to prompt that moment of realisation, where women recognise that they are not alone in feeling this.

Sport England says: “The campaign will be a celebration of active women everywhere. Women come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of ability. It really doesn’t matter if you are rubbish or an expert. The point is that you are a woman and you are doing something. So whatever you do, and however you do it, it doesn’t matter.”

www.thisgirlcan.co.uk

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Written by Clare Balding

Winner of the BAFTA Special Award and RTS Presenter of the Year Award for her expert coverage of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Clare Balding is one of Britain's leading and best-loved broadcasters, presenters and writers. Photo credit Bill Walters.