Healthy Body

#thisgirlcan: exercise without self-consciousness

This January, many New Year’s resolutions will involve heading back to the gym, or vowing to jog down the street more often. I myself am returning to the gym, having found that, after an extensive period of gluttony over Christmas, I jiggle in places that haven’t jiggled before.
 
But, especially as a girl, it’s hard not to feel self-conscious when exercising in the gym or jogging down the street- tight exercise clothing only accentuates the bulges, and bumping into acquaintances while makeup-free and panting and sweating profusely can be intimidating or embarrassing for many. 
 
The internet, television, magazines, and sometimes even bus-stop advertisements, bombard us with images of beautiful bodies, so it is not always easy to stop comparing our bodies to theirs. Even when running gear is advertised towards women, the billboards and videos are likely to feature women with toned, sculpted bodies.
 
In contrast, the new This Girl Can campaign video shows real-looking women- no Photoshop, no sculpted fitness models, just ‘everyday’ women exercising and enjoying themselves.
 
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Launched by Sports England, the campaign aims to encourage and empower more women to exercise and to feel less self-conscious when doing so. According to Sport England research, women are less likely than men to become active because of body image and competency fears.
 
According to Sport England, two million fewer women, aged 14-40, take part in sport or exercise than men- despite 75% saying they want to be more active. A similar trend is evident in Ireland, with the difference between men and women being strongest in younger age groups; according to figures from the Irish Sports Monitor Annual Report released in 2014, 42% of women aged 16-34 don’t exercise or play sport, compared to 25% of men aged 16-34.
 
“We did lots of research,” said This Girl Can campaign’s Executive Director Tanya Joseph, “and there was one single unifying theme- fear of judgement.”
 
Jennie Price, Sport England’s Chief Executive, said: “Every single woman I have talked to about this campaign- and that is now hundreds- has identified with this, and it is that fear of not being ‘good enough’ in some way, and the fear that you are the only one who feels like that, that we want to address.”
 
This Girl Can is a positive, empowering campaign, and the campaign video features quotes such as “Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox” and “I’m slow, but I’m lapping everyone on the couch”, and one particular quote from the campaign that really resounded with me was “I swim because I love my body. Not because I hate it”.
 
Since it was first aired on Monday the 12th January, the 90-second campaign video has received over a million views, along with support on Twitter and in the media. Rapper Missy Elliot, whose song ‘Get Ur Freak On’ is used as the video’s soundtrack, re-tweeted a tweet about the video, giving the campaign even more exposure.
 
The campaign video has also received mixed reactions- Simone Fullagar, a professor of sport and physical cultural studies at the University of Bath, has said that the video is, “still about women’s flesh,” and that it’s disappointing that a campaign to get more women more physically active doesn’t focus on the positives of exercise, “outside the cult of body worship and display.”
 
Others have praised the campaign as “inspirational.” The campaign has been lent support by Sally Gunnell, Dame Kelly Holmes and Clare Balding. Balding, who is a sports presenter for the BBC and BT Sport, said that she finds it “staggering” that nothing like this has ever been done before. 
 
“We are all imperfect and let’s celebrate that,” she said. “This ad is trying to reach women who have felt for whatever reason that exercise or sport is not for them, that it’s an exclusive club they can’t join. And I think the most powerful way of doing that is to show women who look like you doing it and don’t be afraid if you wobble. It doesn’t matter. We all wobble.”
 
Exercising without self-consciousness? I think I’ve just found the perfect New Year’s resolution.
 
For more information on the campaign, visit their website here.
 
Photo: John Benson/ Flickr