Sweating Like A Pig, Feeling Like A Fox - Here's Why We Need The #Thisgirlcan Campaign In Our Lives
The Debrief: Exercise should be something you do because you love your body, not because you hate it...
I have a very special relationship with my sports bra. Most of my bras are built for neither comfort nor speed, as I find to my cost every time I charge down the escalator to get on a train I am late for. (I never quite got over my teen Wonderbra phase of ‘using my boobs to draw attention away from my face’ and as such, have a knicker drawer full of beribboned bits of uselessness.)
But Sports Bra is different! Good old Sports Bra. It’s the least sexy thing I own - in fact, I think it’s the least sexy garment that exists within the confines of South East London. It’s made of Teflon, and possibly some other stuff that BAE Systems are familiar with. It makes me feel like He-Man feels when he puts his special belt on. Although he’s never not wearing the special belt, and I think that wearing Sports Bra all the time would make me feel like I was constantly being strangled to death by a stinky boa constrictor. Anyway, when I’ve got my Sports Bra on, I feel strong. I feel like it’s Morphing Time. It signals to my body that we’re about to get down to business. It reminds me that I don’t actually hate exercise. I just think I do, and I’m actually looking forward to storming up the treadmill and getting all up on the leg press until the muscles between my thighs and buttocks sting and sing.
Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been watching the #ThisGirlCan video over and over again. It makes me feel like I’m wearing a thousand sports bras, like a sweat soaked plate of armour. It features loads of different women, of different shapes, ages, backgrounds, everything - and they’re swimming, spinning, boxing, wrestling, running and dancing. 'I jiggle, therefore I am!' reads the caption. They all, without exception, look powerful and in charge. There’s a focused joy and intensity on everyone’s face. No-one is doing this to look good, but to feel good. (Obviously everyone does look amazing, but that’s beside the point.)
#ThisGirlCan was a campaign created by Sport England as 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.' Earlier this year, the organisation found that 75 per cent of us are put off the gym because we’re so anxious of the judgement we might face. It’s clear that there’s an urgent need for #ThisGirlCan. And it’s different from every single ‘empowerment’ campaign and meme that we saw in 2014 as it’s about loving your body because of what it does - not how it looks. Trending hashtags like #Fatkini and #NoMakeUpSelfie missed this point entirely. There’s no point celebrating how brave and wonderful we are for going without make up when we’re ultimately still focusing on looking good. #ThisGirlCan has a message I can get behind - once you stop focusing on the way you look, you’ll be astonished by what you can do.
For me, the most powerful part of the campaign is a picture of one of the participants coming out of the water, captioned 'I swim because I love my body, not because I hate it.' How many of us have come to regard exercise as a punishment for getting fat, a necessary evil, a system to put ourselves through in order to make sure our jeans do up? We’d all be much healthier - and happier - if we saw exercise as a celebration of strength, a way of investigating everything our muscles are capable of, and an opportunity to build and develop everything we had achieved?
I started going to the gym to lose weight, but I kept at it once I realised that working out isn’t just good for my body, it keeps my mind in check. When you sweat, you have to stay in the moment. You can’t worry about what you look like when you have to focus totally on taking one more step, breathing in, breathing out again and staying upright. I found that I wasted far less mental energy disappearing down dark rabbit holes of self loathing - not because I had a brand new body, but because I no longer had the time or the inclination to beat myself up. I had better things to do.
Watch the video, and remember how it felt to be little enough to run all the air out of your lungs. Or the last time you were out and stayed to dance to a song you adored even though you were about to collapse, or wet yourself. Or any moment when you’ve managed to make a racket connect with a ball, and make something soar, or reached for something from a high shelf, or jumped over a hedge, or taken the stairs two at a time. Let’s learn to love our bodies better by using them for what they were made for. It’s time to get messy, sweaty and stinky.
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