Could #ThisGirlCan be the first female health campaign that doesn't shame or exclude women?

There are 2m fewer active women than men in the UK, and a large part of this is because of the pressures of outdated health trends

Kathleen Walsh@kath_walsh
Friday 16 January 2015 12:18
An image from the This Girl Can campaign
An image from the This Girl Can campaign

Sport England launched their newest campaign This Girl Can earlier this week. It aims to support and celebrate women of all ages and abilities involved in sport and activity, and is summed up in their launch video, which has garnered almost 1m views in just 3 days.

Body-positive and inclusive, the campaign is a refreshing break from the usual discussion of female fitness, especially online. While This Girl Can celebrates women in sport regardless of their physical appearance, many discussions of the topic focus only on fitness being the means to achieve a certain body type.

In the internet age you can learn to do just about anything or pick up any skill all from the comfort of your home. A quick browse for any fitness-related activities will turn up a lot of helpful results - exercise videos you can follow at home, tips for first-time runners, guided yoga, and listings for local boxing classes. However, while you're browsing for these things, you'll probably come across the darker and more conflicting world of “fitspiration.”

Fitspiration was originally a response to “thinspiration” - a movement among young women online, who posted pictures of extremely thin celebrities, models, and even strangers to emulate, in short, women who inspire them to be thin.

Fitspiration came along and, on the surface, seemed like a change in the way women talked about their bodies. Instead of being thin and unhealthy, it talked about how “strong is the new skinny.”

Except it came with the same old problems. It encapsulated the same old body shaming women are so accustomed to, but repackaged as “fitness.” The majority of fitspiration is photos of muscular, white, thin fitness models.

The various posts, pinterest boards and videos are mostly about the fastest way to lose weight and diet tips, as well as how to get a perfectly shaped butt, the most toned arms, and flat abs. The language may have changed, but the goal presented is still thinness, and the message that your body is not okay as it is.

Cue the This Girl Can advert: it starts off with a woman in her bathing suit, a second woman mid-football game, another about to serve a volleyball, one putting in her gumshield, running up a hill at dawn, boxing, sweating in a dance class…

And they all look like women I know. And they’re enjoying themselves.

This Girl Can focusses on women being active in any way, at every level, every age, every body type, without the pressure to achieve thinness. We need more of this, and especially for women. Research has indicated that there are 2m fewer active women than men in the UK. Most of them citing fear of judgement as why they keep out of sport and activity, and 75 per cent say they want to do more. This isn’t surprising when the majority of mainstream conversations around physical activity are synonymous with thinness, and coupled with unattainable fitness standards. We need to talk more about sport, activity, and fitness in terms of physical and mental health rather than outward appearance.

The new posters accompanying the video for the This Girl Can campaign feature slogans like “I swim because I love my body, not because I hate it,” finally expressing what fitspiration, and so many of our conversations around women's exercise, have been missing.

Because instead of thinness, keeping fit should be about health, endorphins, fun. It should be about friendship and teambuilding, and for the love of one’s own body. Nothing should ever be about how to simply achieve a narrow beauty standard. But finally, it seems like more people in positions of influence are realising this.

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