This Girl Can: Sport but not as we know it

It’s been a great year for England’s sporting women: European champions in hockey and lacrosse, world medallists in football and netball.

It’s also been a good year for those of us who are not so sporty.

Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign to get more women and girls taking part in physical activity has won worldwide recognition and praise for its use of humour and non-airbrushed images of normal, everyday women in their jiggling, wiggling and sometime giggling glory.

It has sought to surface the often unspoken concerns – from worries about we look like in Lycra to getting red faced and sweaty, from thinking we’re too fat to get fit (and will hold everyone up) to guilt about spending time away from the family – that stops so many women from lacing up their trainers and joining in.

By sharing the stories and images of the women who have tapped into their own ‘don’t-give-a-damn’ attitude to overcome these fears we have shown that they are more common and less important than might initially appear.

The campaign – whose central film is being screened in the European Sport Village – has been covered in 119 countries and has won a hatful of awards including nine Cannes Lions. But what really matters is the impact it has had on women and girls themselves.

Early research shows that we are making on impact on shifting attitudes – women who previously didn’t thinking sport was for them are now starting to think differently. The campaign rapidly went viral and the #ThisGirlCan hashtag is now commonplace on Twitter.

Many women have reported back to us that they have been for run, gone back to netball or tried something new as a direct result of the campaign giving them ‘permission’ to get out there and do it – and not to worry if they’re weren’t doing it particularly well. It was just great they were doing something.

Sport’s traditional imagery shows the human body at its most sculpted, developed, toned and defined. It takes an extraordinary body to run, throw, jump, hit or swim as far, fast and fabulously as elite athletes can do. And it can be beautiful and awe-inspiring to watch.

But if we want more of women and girls (and men for that matter) to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits that sport and physical activity can bring, then we need to show that sport isn’t just about the pursuit of perfection. It simply about getting out there and starting to move. Whether you’re running, swimming, cycling or whatever – you may be slow, but you’re still lapping everyone on the couch.

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