Written by Jen Offord


This Girl Did

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Our sports correspondent Jen Offord looks at what’s being reported in women’s health.

Spinning class

Photo courtesy of This Girl Can.

It’s probably fair to say last week was very much good news/bad news for women’s health.

Let’s deal with the bad news first: Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies reported that obesity, particularly among women, has become so widespread it should be considered a “national threat” and should therefore be included in national risk plans – a move that would somehow make obesity comparable with terrorism (according to measured and proportionate press reports). What, the probable likelihood of death by cake is higher than at the hands of a religious fundamentalist? Well, fuck me sideways, who knew there were more cake-lovers in the world than there were religious fundamentalists?

Naturally there are lots of other aspects of the news around this report (which in fairness was focused on women’s health) that make me want to rant for hours, such as, there are plenty of overweight men. Men who are also a drain on the NHS’s oft-discussed dwindling resources. So why has it been deemed that women should be the only ones to take the flak for this? Apart from the obvious – that society mostly wants us to look like Barbie dolls – we have babies, so you know, it’s important to be well.

I will agree with the latter point, but not that it’s more important for women to be well than men, given that it’d be quite nice if there were some fathers around for all these kiddies we’re going to spawn from our disproportionate loins. I also think, in the name of equality, it’s probably quite good if we aspire to uphold a decent level of health in men, too.

“Why is the solution for weight loss or improved health, ‘Put the cake down, love’, which is something that makes us feel undermined, rather than, ‘Fancy going for a run?’, which is something that we can see ourselves getting better at and that makes us feel powerful?”

You’re ready for some good news, I expect. With all this preposterous female obesity, it was nice to see yet more evidence of a great year for women’s sport in the UK. And I’m talking about grassroots level, not just in our national football, hockey and netball teams, as well as amazing achievements by individual sportswomen including Jessica Ennis Hill and Lizzie Armitstead, to name a few highlights of the year.

Last week, for the first time since its twice-annual publication began in 2005/06, Sport England’s Active People Survey reported a narrowing in the gender gap in sport, with the increase in women’s participation outstripping that in men’s. Women’s participation is up by just shy of 150,000. This also brings our overall participation figures back to where they were last year (after a small dip), which is 1.65 million more since London won the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games. This will give us all something to feel smug about next year, at least, as we consider the legacy of those lovely games.

It’s not hard to understand why women’s participation has shot up this year of all years – we actually saw women’s sport and read about it this year, with a marginal increase in women’s sports coverage and some major tournaments reported on. But we also saw the formidable This Girl Can campaign, the TV advert for which has been viewed 37 million times, according to Sport England, on YouTube and Facebook alone. (Read Clare Balding’s take on This Girl Can here)

A tremendous advert it is too, making us feel not only like we could stick on a pair of boxing gloves if we wanted, but that we should – that we might actually enjoy it. And apart from anything else, it reintroduced Missy Elliot’s Get Ur Freak On to my consciousness for the first time in 13 years. Amen to that.

OK, like all things in life, particularly those designed to promote equality in women, it wasn’t without some background beef. “We’re not girls!” protested some. “But everyone in the advert is overweight,” said others. I don’t really have time for either of these arguments, to be honest, not least because of the empowering sentiment behind the campaign.

As far as I’m concerned, empowerment is what it’s all about. As Lena Dunham put it: “It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.” It’s about learning a skill or finding something that improves our confidence, and that is what it should be about. Why is the solution for weight loss or improved health, “Put the cake down, love”, which is something that makes us feel undermined, rather than, “Fancy going for a run?”, which is something that we can see ourselves getting better at and that makes us feel powerful?

On the rising figures for women’s participation, Sport England Chief Exec Jennie Price said: “It’s particularly great to see This Girl Can is making a real difference. That’s because we’ve really focused on what drives women’s attitudes and behaviours.”

It’s pretty basic stuff this: listening to how an affected group might feel about an issue that impacts on them and responding accordingly – kind of ‘public policy for beginners’. The system works after all. Now if someone could just let Dave and the Department of Health know the carrot (cake) works better than the stick…


  • googleplus
  • linkedin
  • rss
  • pinterest

Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen