Real Life

This Girl Can: Exercise Campaign Returns To Encourage Female Sport Participation

Over recent years, more and more women of all ages, shapes and sizes are getting into exercise, unafraid of judgement and keen to sweat – a lot. This is in part due to the ground breaking This Girl Can campaign launched in 2015 by Sport England, which revolutionised the female sport community.

The advertising turned into activism, as an incredible 2.8 million women who saw the campaign got more active by joining gyms, attending exercise classes and getting involved in community sports clubs. Days spent stagnant and slumped on the sofa no longer seem appealing.

This Girl Can showed real women exercising in all their unfiltered, red-faced and jiggly glory (because that’s the reality of exercise, right?), and spoke about what participating in a sport means to them, and why they need it.

The message was clear – it’s OK try any sport as a woman, it’s OK to break a sweat, it’s OK to not be great at it and take breaks, but it’s important to do it anyway. A mighty 7.21 million women now do regular physical activity, which means the gender gap between men and women who exercise regularly has narrowed from 1.78 million to 1.73 million.

But, it’s not good enough.

‘This Girl Can has made a real difference since it launched, with the number of women doing regular physical activity and sport now at an all-time high,’ says Sport England CEO Jennie Price. ‘But there’s a lot more to do. The gender gap still exists.’

Today, the four-week campaign, funded by the National Lottery, returns to television with a new wave of inspiring stories from women who take part in sport. This time around, the campaign's efforts will attempt to widen the age demographic to encourage older women to get involved and get active.

The new campaign ads will feature real women being active, set against the backdrop of Maya Angelou's reading of her iconic 1978 poem, 'Phenomenal Woman'. The campaign's artwork will present inspiring and encouraging mantras from women, such as 'Unleash Your Inner Beginner'.

One of the great things the campaign has done is create a community – a place where women feel more comfortable to take part in sport and get active, without fear of being judged or being bad at it. ‘One of the lovely things about the community is how supportive it is; for example, sharing tips on how to make swimming more interesting,’ says campaign manager Kate Dale. ‘I would be lying if I said we weren’t nervous. We were aware of the challenge. However, the advantage we had this time was the community.’

This Girl Can 2017 Ad

The campaign will feature some old and new faces. Here are some of their stories.

Stephanie, 31, London – MUMHOOD

First-time mum to baby Olivia, Stephanie has always enjoyed exercise and sport, however during and after her pregnancy she found her relationship with being active had transformed. Following a miscarriage, Stephanie was hesitant to keep exercising as not to 'jinx' her pregnancy, and felt like people might judge her for keeping active.

However, in the second and third trimester, and with reassurance from her doctor, Stephanie’s confidence improved and she took part in light pre-natal exercise. Six weeks after her pregnancy she started going to Mumhood classes and now takes her daughter to swimming lessons. Stephanie says she loves Mumhood classes because she's met women going through a similar experience, and it also fits around her work schedule of running her own blog.

She says that getting baby Olivia washed, dressed, and to a class feels like a success in itself. Stephanie acknowledges she isn’t as fit as she was pre-pregnancy, but that's part of the fun of exercise: the ability to laugh at yourself.

'Carrying a baby and giving birth is the hardest endurance sport you can ever do. Everything after that is easy.' - Stephanie

Sue, 69, London – OLDER SWIMMER

Sue has been swimming outdoors for most of her life – she learnt to swim in a river while growing up in Yorkshire. Sue says the cold water gives her a buzz and wakes her up in the morning. Even though Sue has been active all her life, one summer she broke her ankle and missed a month of swimming. She came back to swimming the following month – knowing that if she didn’t do it then she never would. Swimming isn’t the only sport that Sue takes part in, she regularly takes part in yoga and pilates classes, cycles to commute and after a referral from the NHS for an osteoporosis diagnosis she has taken up Zumba. An important part of her life is also walking, which she uses to socialise with friends.

Fakhira, 21, London – KICKBOXING

Fakhira has been kickboxing for about a year, and first tried the sport with a friend. She says she enjoys the sport because she has met new friends from all types of backgrounds, and now sees them as her family. She is still a student and likes how being active will get her off the sofa, giving her the energy she needs for her studies. She also says kickboxing is great for anger management.

'My advice to anyone who is afraid to try kickboxing because they feel like it is too tough, don't be! Something new and different might scare you but in the end the sense of accomplishment is worth it.' - Fakhira

Lydia, 29, London – ROLLER DERBY

Until she found roller derby, Lydia was not at all active – something that she says stems from hating PE at school. At 4ft 10 she has always found sports – like netball – tough. However she says she loves roller derby because it’s a sport where size and shape doesn’t matter.

Seven years ago, Lydia went to watch a friend play roller derby and decided she would give it a go. As a complete novice to skating, she bought all the gear expecting to try it once before giving up. She surprised herself by loving the sport and making lots of new friends through the London Rockin Rollers club.

'When I first joined the London Rockin’ Rollers I’d never skated before, and it took me a long time to get the basics down, but the opportunity to spend time with the new friends I’d made kept me coming back even when I was struggling.

'As I gradually improved, I found that Roller Derby was the first sport I’d tried where being small worked to my advantage; when I’m jamming people often don’t see me sneak through the pack, plus I can hit taller skaters at an angle that takes their legs out which is now my favourite move!' - Lydia

See Lizon's story in the campaign video below:

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