I have recently come across a lot of backlash against the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, including this article from The Guardian. Whilst I’ve read arguments that Sport England would do well to challenge the massive pay gap between men and women in sports, I reject the notion that it should be in spite of this campaign, claiming that it’s not needed, that it’s patronising, or that it’s actually about sex.
The taglines on the website that sums up the campaign is that ‘fear of judgement is stopping many of us from taking part in exercise. But as thousands of women up and down the country are proving, it really doesn’t have to’; ‘It’s a celebration of active women up and down the country who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets.’
I reject the notion that this campaign is not needed, that it’s patronising, or that it’s actually about sex
Some have argued that the fact it targets women as well as young girls is condescending to adults. Whilst I understand the complexities of the word ‘girl’, the whole point of the campaign centres around subverting sexist attitudes such as ‘running like a girl’ or ‘throwing like a girl’, which seeps into all other areas of women’s lives (I recently saw a musical, comedic poetry duo include a joke about one of the two men ‘playing like a girl’.) Once more, it is a strong and memorable slogan, and offers a rebuttal to any suggestion that we can’t do something.
We need to align ourselves with girls as well as women, or else we reject this part of ourselves. For me, and many others out there, the campaign highlights the experience of girlhood and sports; I went from being a keen player in the netball team at primary school to someone with an aversion to P.E. lessons and all things sporty. The campaign speaks to my ‘inner girl’, the part of me that still carries those horrible associations with sports and exercise from growing up with such negative messages. I believe ‘This Girl Can’ speaks both to women like me, and to young girls who need this type of positive reinforcement to show them that they are more than just objects.
The accusation of the campaign objectifying and sexualising women misses the point. Simply showing women’s bodies does not mean they are sexualised. The women shown here are more than their bodies, but there is an appreciation of the body as functional. I saw a friend post a workout picture with the slogan above about exercising because she loves her body and not because she hates it.
The message here, of the body being functional, and that exercise is what you do to treat yourself well, is highly important.
Whilst each individual women who complains about the adverts, this statement blew my mind, and made me think about the way I’m exercising, and the times I’ve looked down at my stomach, wishing it was smaller and flatter. The message here, of the body being functional, and that exercise is what you do to treat yourself well, is highly important. It reminds me of the Regina Spektor lyric ‘I have a perfect body, but sometimes I forget. I have a perfect body, because my eyelashes catch my sweat.’ This is not about upholding unrealistic notions of body image; it’s about appreciating the body as functional and knowing that exercise is beneficial both physically and mentally.
This brings me to my final point. The Guardian article states that ‘it’s disappointing that a campaign to get women more physically active doesn’t focus on how exercise strengthens friendship, reduces the stress of work and care and gives us physical and emotional strength.’ Really? I think if you watch more carefully, you will see images about how this campaign does exactly that.
Playing in a team, like in the still image above, shows how exercise can strengthen friendships; the images of dancing shows how it can be fun and stress-reducing; and the benefits of physical and emotional strength can be gleaned from the footage of the woman running uphill, taking deep breaths. I don’t see why the campaign should be chastised for doing something so positive. Be critical, yes, but don’t deface what it is achieving.
This is the start, allowing us to find where we go from here. We can talk about the next steps, regarding better funding for women’s sports, without running down a campaign that is helping so many people. If you look at the website, you will see people getting involved, sharing their own stories through social media or in featured articles, and you can look at the stories behind the campaign’s videos. And even if not all the videos present the ideal attitude, as it’s still very much a reality that people will feel like they want to see physical results, or that it makes them feel young, there are also people like Julie who exercises to ‘feel less stressed’ and mentions seeing friends.
Instead of bringing negativity to the forefront, think of how we can move forward, and meanwhile, celebrate that This Girl Can.