Monday, 19 January 2015

This Girl Can: Healthy Debating

There’s been a lot, and I mean loads, of talk about the This Girl Can campaign that’s been launched recently. The aim of the campaign is to “inspire women to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome.” It’s also 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.”
Lots of my fellow, female, fitness fanatic friends have been quick to shout about how great this is, to tweet, blog and generally be all enthused. My own reaction has been positive too. It seemed as though finally there was a campaign focused on a positive body image and self-esteem, un-related to a specific company (such as Dove) with something behind it to actually help and encourage women to get active. I enjoyed the video and seeing it sparking so many conversations. So much better than all the health and fitness magazines that appear to be positive on the face of it but quite often are just perpetuating the negatives with all the “banish belly-fat” and “get a six-pack” headlines, accompanied by pictures of slinky women or ripped men.

But I’ve also had an interesting conversation with a particular friend about the campaign.

The opening gambit was that if men had started the campaign, it would have been classed as sexist and tarred with the #everydaysexism brush. A number of other questions were raised in our discussion. With so many more active men in the UK than women is it really all about body image and self-confidence? How much of it comes down to upbringing, choice or resources? Should there be a similar campaign aimed at men? There’s a bias towards women in group activities and a bias towards men in team sports so should we be addressing that instead? There was a feeling that it was too focussed on gender, rather than body image as a whole. Should we be aiming for greater equality overall?

A lot of food for thought and some very interesting questions. Before I go any further let's be clear that I am *for* the campaign but it's never a bad thing to have some discussion.

My first thought was that if women felt comfortable and confident enough to go out and get involved with sports and exercise then would these campaigns exist at all? Probably not, so it is addressing a real and particular issue. I think it's *incredibly* hard to untangle body image and gender issues but this *is* a campaign about getting *women* active and it seems to be sparking the right sorts of conversations. I completely accept that men also experience issues with body image and being judged. I’ve had conversations with men about how they too feel intimidated in the gym, even when they go with a friend. Maybe there should be a similar campaign for men. Are men moved by these sorts of campaigns in the same way that women are though? Possibly not. Almost certainly not using similar language. “This Boy Can”?

When it comes to getting women active specifically I do think that certainly a significant barrier is body image and self-confidence. The campaign is a good start but ideally this is an issue that needs to be addressed from many angles. Health, fitness and lifestyle magazines are a part of that. Their content is driven, to a certain extent, by demand so maybe it won’t be until we follow up our words with actions and stop consuming these magazines that we will change how the body is portrayed in the media. Perhaps then little by little we can change society’s attitudes and illusions.

Alongside the issue of body image there are many other things that contribute to someone being less active. Choice, facilities, upbringing. I have no data to back this up but I’m fairly sure that most women don't have the same experiences of sport in their youth as men do and that has an impact. It’s still the norm that women are the primary child-raisers in society and as such find barriers to exercise like childcare to be more difficult to overcome. Of course a large number of "inactive" women may well choose not to do anything but there will be a large number who can't because of lack of childcare facilities, finances and so on.

When it comes to gyms, classes and swimming, women certainly have more options available to them in terms of gender-specific sessions and there more women-focussed team sports opportunities these days too. But how much does this help?  If we think about getting the population as a whole more active would men-only swim sessions and classes be of benefit? Positive discrimination is still discrimination at the end of the day but is it something we have to endure in the short term to achieve equality?

I don’t claim to have any answers or real conclusions; ultimately anything that provokes discussion and debate is useful. My final thought on this though is, as with so many things, why can't we all just be kind and helpful to each other? Then none of this would be relevant.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, please let's start with burning all women's magazines. They are so terrible for women's self esteem that I could rage on and on and on about this for hours!