The Student
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Yes, This Girl Can – again

Sport England’s much-lauded ‘This Girl Can’ campaign aims to get all women of all sizes, backgrounds, and abilities to exercise. Their most recent advertisement is pushing boundaries for women.

The campaign is a herculean pushback against society’s aesthetic expectations of women, and Sport England has become a loud but very welcome voice in the conversation about body confidence. Every boob jiggle, every sweat bead, every thigh chafe is shown to be an emblem of power, rather than a cause for shame.

The campaign’s latest installment spotlights real women breastfeeding on a netball court, doing yoga with period cramps, and otherwise exerting themselves through pain. It is wonderfully uplifting, but why is it so revolutionary?

Since the campaign first launched five years ago, influencer culture has boomed, and (unsurprisingly) body confidence, as well as body acceptance, has waned.

Sport England’s research found that ‘63% of women who see slim, toned bodies on social media sites say this has a negative impact on them.’ Social media has been a steady drip that has surged into a flood over the past five years, and it seems that none of us know how to swim. By celebrating the unfiltered realities of the female body, Sport England is changing the face of women in the media in all their sweaty glory.

It’s vital, then, that we normalise the female body by addressing the toxic shame that society attaches to its functions. But this is no easy task, evidenced by the fact that almost all of the advert’s backlash is centred on the fact that it shows a visible tampon.

In an interview with The Metro, Hannah Johnson (the woman whose tampon appears at the end of the ad) said ‘periods are incredibly natural and normal, everyone knows that they happen, so it makes no sense that we have to hide that’. The nature of Hannah’s feature should be normal, but it isn’t yet, and for that, she deserves the most enthusiastic applause.

Sport England’s rallying cry for real women to get moving is a start but by no means an end. So long as stereotypes reign over reality, we need campaigns like this to celebrate women’s bodies in all their beautiful normality and change the current stigmas.

The battle for female empowerment will not be won unless we all get up off the side-lines: it will be tiring, it will be sweaty, but we have to communicate if we want to score. Game on.

Image credit: Ryan McGuire