Written by Fiona Longmuir


This Girl (Still) Can

Sod prettified #fitspo. A powerful, phenomenal and joyously sweaty Fiona Longmuir celebrates the new This Girl Can campaign from Sport England.

exercise class
When you think of women exercising, what do you think of? The trend towards #fitspo (a moderately horrifying portmanteau of fitness and inspiration) on sites like Pinterest and Instagram means that more than ever, our ideas of exercise have been prettified.

Ask me what a woman exercising looks like and I’m likely to conjure up acres of pretty, slender, white women doing yoga on a sunset-drenched beach. Or maybe hula hooping, a cheeky smile on their face and not a hair out of place. Or lifting cute, pink kettlebells and swishing a glossy ponytail.

I’m sure that there are women who look like this when they’re exercising and absolute fair play to them. But these women are a million miles from sweaty, red-faced, struggling me. These women float through their exercise regimes with ethereal grace. I can’t do that, so I internalised the overarching message: exercise and fitness just aren’t my bag. At least, that’s what I thought until I saw the This Girl Can campaign.

“In an industry that is so often about women changing and bending and making themselves smaller, this campaign absolutely revels in the female body exactly as it is.”

In 2015, Sport England launched a campaign for women in sports called This Girl Can [Clare Balding wrote about it for us] and their advert showed an enormous variety of women exercising in ways that were familiar to all of us. Jiggly bits, puffy red faces and beading drops of sweat were affectionately lingered on and paired with kick-ass, empowering messages.

There were women wobbling on bikes, as if for the first time. There were women absolutely crushing it in spin class. There were beautiful girls strapping boxing gloves over immaculate manicures and others rolling in the mud at rugby matches. The message was resounding: everyone starts somewhere and as long as you’re having fun or feeling powerful, you’re doing great. The campaign encouraged 2.8 million women to get more active.

I thought this was pretty incredible. So when I was invited to attend the launch of the brand new This Girl Can campaign, I grabbed my chance.

Fiona at the ad launchThe new advert is voiced by the late, great Maya Angelou, who reads one of her own poems, Phenomenal Woman. Naturally, I’m bawling my heart out before anything has even happened. The poem is powerful and moving and matched shot for shot with images of women absolutely killing it at whatever they’re doing.

Even in the shots where women are stumbling or faltering or looking knackered, the sheer joy pulsing through them is staggering.

In an industry that is so often about women changing and bending and making themselves smaller, this campaign absolutely revels in the female body exactly as it is. In an industry that often sees femininity as a weakness, this campaign celebrates the particular strength that comes from being a woman.

And what strength these women show. After the screening of the advert, we hear from some of the incredible women involved in the campaign, real, ordinary women who were filmed and photographed doing exercise that they love.

We hear from a woman who puts on immaculate lipstick before each of her bootcamp sessions, even if she hasn’t managed to brush her hair. We hear from a pair of teenage sisters who were teased by the boys when they first started their jiu-jitsu class. The boys didn’t want to hit girls, you see. Until the girls started hitting them.

pregnant woman cycling
We hear from a woman who is actually, genuinely giving birth in the advert, for whom even getting out of the house for her exercise class is a success, even if her baby spends the whole time nursing.

We hear from a woman who – and this is probably the most inspiring thing I’ve ever heard in my life – has become so strong through weight training that the noisy, burly men who normally populate that section of the gym have started avoiding the times that she trains. Imagine being such a badass that you actually scare those terrifying gym bunny men out of the gym. Goals.

We hear from women who go bladerunning, who play roller derby, who attend dance hall classes. We hear from women of all ages, all races, all shapes, all abilities. And every one of them is an inspiration.

Hell yes this girl can. And to borrow a phrase from my beloved Maya Angelou, it ought to make you proud.


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Written by Fiona Longmuir

Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.