Run like Nobody’s Watching
I am not a natural born runner, I do not bound gracefully and effortlessly like an antelope. And yet I love running, the freedom, the achievement and feel quite lost when I am unable to do it. But it wasn’t always this way, as a teenager and young adult I had an aversion to exercise in all its forms. Running was associated with school cross country; cold, damp days chugging around the field in unflattering gym shorts and airtex t- shirts. Hormone filled and self-conscious, feeling on show in a body I wasn’t yet sure of, that was still changing, growing and expanding. I was always in the last group of stragglers and parkrun this was not, no encouraging cheers for simply taking part. Then red faced and sweaty to the changing rooms for communal cold showers, and a few minutes to make yourself look acceptable for the unforgiving teenage audience that is secondary school. It was not an environment that encouraged participation in physical activity. I easily developed the attitude that I was rubbish at sport, it was not for me. I was not picked first (or second or third) for team sports, I was too self-conscious to try harder at running, believing (and never being corrected) that I would always struggle to breathe and feel like I was wading through mud.
I am a feminist and I abhor the cultural focus on women’s bodies, the objectification of physical appearance as what women are judged on. I consistently fight against attitudes the see girls sent home from school for revealing clothing or female tennis stars asked to “twirl”. And yet what was my main reason not to take part in sport, to swim, to run? Because I was worried about being judged on my appearance. I am acutely aware that my body does not shape up to the accepted criteria, especially not in sport. The only images of women participating in sport that I have been exposed to are tall, trim, athletic, barely an ounce of body fat, let alone stretch marks and cellulite. I imagined car drivers chuckling at me plodding past, shorts riding up my inner thighs due to my lack of ‘thigh gap’. Young, fit lifeguards giggling at my wobbling white thighs as I stepped out towards the pool. And the worst of all the thought that people were thinking “what does she think she’s doing, she doesn’t belong here” #ThisGirlCan was born out of statistics showing that fewer than 2 million women participate in any kind of regular sport of physical activity in the UK. When Sport England questioned women on why they didn’t take part similar answers came up again and again; they were worried about being judged.
Sport has the ability to make you feel powerful and strong, it makes you marvel in the wonder of your body and what it can achieve; it can empower women in body confidence. And yet that was the very thing stopping me and many other women from participating. Here are real women, taking part in all manner of sports for the love of it, for the friendship, for the strength. They are unafraid of judgement, the campaign video and posters clearly promote the idea that these women are doing something from themselves, regardless of what people think. That is a unique and empowering message for women today. This is aerobics to make you look nice for your husband, or a gym class taken slowly with a full face of makeup, careful not to break a sweat. This is real sport, captured exactly as it should be- sweaty, hot, hard, enjoyable and empowering. Physical appearance and objectivity are huge issues for women, young and old. I could write plenty on the problems with how women are projected and imagined in our society; judges mentioning the clothes of sexual assault victim and the various “beach ready body” adverts and articles that adorn women’s magazines.
Does the This Girl Can address gender equality in sport? Probably not, and perhaps it perpetuates the idea of women and physical appearance. But these are real issues for women, who are constantly faced with images of body beautiful and told that appearance is the most important. It is refreshing to see a campaign that focuses on the physical in a different way. I see the campaign as turning the “throw like a girl” type attitude on its head. Challenging women to be physical because it is fun, because it makes you feel powerful, strong rather than because it will make you slim and beach ready. If we want more women to take part in running and in sport we need to be honest about why women don’t take part already. There are definitely bigger feminist issues to address about why they feel this. But in the mean time getting women involved in sport will actually help them throw off these ideas. The campaign has been hugely successful, it had 12 million views in the first 15 days. It has been shared over and over and defended by women, feminists who argue that ‘girl’ is not derogatory when reclaimed by women and used in such an inclusive way. This campaign was designed by women listening to women and has been wholeheartedly embraced by women. Now I run care free of any idea of what I look like, something my younger self could never have imagined. Because #ThisGirlCan
Get inspired with the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign here: http://runleeds.co.uk/r/running-this-girl-can/