Wednesday, January 21, 2015

This girl can

It's not often a media campaign makes me smile, in fact I spend a lot of time ranting about the media and marketing industry and it's portrayal of women in exercise and sport.

Enter 'This girl can'
Far from the insipid, flaky looking girls we see in low-fat food ads and the glamorous, photoshopped goddesses of perfume, comes Sport England's girls in their new 'This girl can' campaign. Images of women working hard at their game, sweating, pulling faces...human stuff. Real women, not fitness models or professional athletes, not super-cut, tanned, immaculate looking barbie dolls but women and girls with average bodies, wobbly bits and red faces. They're climbing, boxing, running, playing netball and football and doing zumba.

2 million more men play sport than women
This £10 million lottery-funded, national campaign, developed by Sport England seeks to address the persistent gender gap which means that more men play sport than women at every age.

Recent research suggests this figure is so high due to most women, citing fear of judgement as the reason they keep out of sport and physical activity.

Is it any wonder, considering mainstream conversations around women playing sport or other physical activity are almost always focused solely on the results in outward appearance? How many calories can you burn in a boxing training session? Do you get better looking legs playing football or running? Will you lose more weight swimming or playing netball? Which activity will get you a six pack and a bubble butt the fastest?

Try 'exercise for women'
At this moment in time, the top result is a Shape magazine article entitled 'The 10 best exercises for women'. It features a girl with beach blonde perfect hair, in a small bikini with a well defined set of abs (and a bit of boobage which must have been missed when they did the airbrushing on the image right)?

Here's the caption for the image...
Every woman is familiar with those tricky trouble zones that take a little extra work to tighten and tone. After a lot of exercise trial and error, I’ve finally found a solid set of moves that help me shape up and feel confident in a swimsuit, my favorite skinny jeans, or a sexy cockatil
(sic) dress .
Using the search term 'women in sport' on google proves more successful and the results are more relevant. Switch to look at images for this same search and it starts off hopeful, scroll down and we have.....more boobs, more butt and more pseudo-sexiness.

Women's Sport on YouTube
Let's hop over to you tube and see what searching for 'women's sport' brings..

1. Brazilian women's hot football game
2. Female fitness motivation (with a half mooning butt right up in your grill as the video still)
3. A comedy clip featuring Jimmy Carr's speech on 'Why there's no place for women's sport on tv'
4. Women's sports injury compilation
5. Sportswomen- does the media ignore Women's Sport? (Yay!) swiftly followed by..
6. Top 10 revealing moment's in women's high jump (more butt)

So do more heterosexual men use you tube than women? I have no idea. I've tried various search terms on numerous other sites and they all yield similar results. I don't read tabloids or magazines so I can't comment on this.

So what?
Yes the injury compilations are funny and the Brazilian Football team are pretty hot, I know the images of 'perfect' women featured in online articles are also considered aspirational by most, but collectively, they are damaging. They do not empower us, they do not make us feel inspired and they do not encourage us into the gym or onto the field.

This girl can, but will she DO?

So will these ads really help more women to become active? Will seeing these images makes us feel better about ourselves and encourage us to go out and join a team? I'm unsure but hopeful.

If I'd been in charge of the creative direction of the campaign, I wouldn't have opened with the back view of a woman in a bikini, why focus on the butt when we're trying to get out of buttsville? Yes, it's a normal sized, average butt, but here we are again, back in the flesh. I'd have de-sexualised a few headlines 'Damn right I look hot' and we'd have seen a few more boxers (but that's just me). It's still a strong, positive campaign in my mind and I like where it's going.

It will start to populate search engine results and encourage conversations and that's a great start. We may see some change in the way journalists and advertising copywriters portray women and with a bit of luck, make them realise that manipulating our emotions, placing guilt and appearance at the centre of it all is outdated, sexist and harmful.

I want to hear more about women playing sport together because we love the game.  I want to see them exercising and enjoying themselves, covered in sweat and not caring what they look like. Doing it for sheer pleasure and investment in their mental and physical wellbeing - not so they fit into a narrow view of beauty.

Let's embrace this campaign for all its positive points and share it with as many of our friends as possible. Check out the website or join the facebook group and get back out there and exercise!

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