I don’t know about you but when I think of women in sport; incredible athletes at the top of their fields, I’m filled with awe. And every year when the Olympics, for example, roll around and we see women championed around the world for excelling in sports, I’m cheering them on, willing them to cross the finish line, yet seldom can I push myself to follow more in their footsteps. I don’t mean training to an Olympian standard, just getting a better fitness routine is a struggle. I think that’s the case for many women; we admire, but we don’t identify with them in the same way men identify with great sportsmen, which means we don’t flock to gyms, clubs or rush to buy exercise gear. And we need more women in sport more than ever.
In truth, I’m put off by the gym. The whole concept of “going to the gym” fills me with dread. I see either impossibly fit blokes silently judging me for having zero co-ordination or some women (in much better shape than I am, naturally) in designer gear wearing makeup looking on with disdain when I envision myself contemplating a membership. I want to blame Instagram and the before-and-after-achievement-selfies but I mostly blame advertising. I think that if I saw more real women depicted trying to take on a sport – I mean real with sweat, day-two hair and faces gritted in steely determination – I’d feel motivated and inspired to try it myself.
This is why I love Sport England’s new empowering This Girl Can advert. It depicts ordinary women trying to tackle a fitness routine that’s right for them, and its message is simple: “It’s OK to sweat, it’s OK to jiggle, it’s OK not to be brilliant (or to be brilliant!) and it’s normal for life to get in the way sometimes.” Set to a soundtrack of Maya Angelou reciting her renowned poem, ‘Phenomenal Woman’ (fittingly from her book called, ‘And Still I Rise’), we see Bisi, an athletics enthusiast in her teens who found work stopped her workouts she got older and was too intimidated to return. But she persevered, and gave a gym trial a go and subsequently never looked back “Don’t be intimidated” she advises if worried about being the only female in the room. Other brilliant women include a 15-year-old trampolinist and 69-year-old outdoor swimmer – it’s amazing to watch and even makes me want to reach for (okay, borrow/buy) some gym gear.
The driving force of the ad isn’t individual discipline but emphasises the feeling of belonging to a shared community once you have achieved even a small sporting goal. It’s also great to hear that yes, it’s okay to give up and then start over and the organisers want to push that out: “We want to surface this as a discussion point, to say it’s normal to take a break, but that needn’t stop you for good,’’ said CEO Sport England, Jennie Price.
“Our research showed the dialogue many of us have in our heads about whether we look OK, whether we are good enough, whether we belong here doesn’t go away – we just learn to manage it. That’s why the reinforcement of seeing women who look like us playing sport and talking honestly about how they feel about it is so powerful.”
Watch the ad below: