Words by Sam Haddad
Have you ever wondered why more guys play sport than girls? Do a tonne of women just not like it? But then they love it as kids so that sudden shift is weird. Is there some gender-specific strip of genetic code, upon which it’s etched that any love of sport built up in childhood will expire once a girl hits teenagedom?
Or are the reasons actually way more simple and depressing? It’s because women worry about what other people think. They think sport isn’t cool or feminine; that being all sweaty and having a red face isn’t what guys fancy, or what their friends will respect.
Research by Sports England suggested the latter, so at the start of the year they launched the marketing campaign This Girl Can. A surprisingly ballsy and forward-thinking campaign for a government agency. It aimed to crush the myth that you need to be hot, thin or even talented to take part in sport.
Well-shot billboard ads popped up all over the country showing women of all shapes and sizes exercising with empowering slogans such as “I jiggle therefore I am", “Sweating like a pig and feeling like a fox" and “Damn right I look hot". The font was nice and distinctly non-government agency-like.
On primetime TV an ad showed those same women enjoying the buzz of aerobics, swimming, football, running and netball to a belting Get Ur Freak On by Missy Elliot soundtrack. Its current YouTube view count is at almost 8 million.
The first time I saw it I got goosebumps. And I’m not even the target market, as I’m in that lucky minority of tomboy-types who’ve always been more than happy to look rubbish when I exercise, even though I fully applaud with the sentiment of the campaign.
I’m also less into the mainstream sports it focuses on. There are no girls on snowboards, surfboards, skateboards or even bikes. And I did wonder about that. Who was looking out for the girls who might be more suited to boardsports?
The kind of women who might like to get creative on a board, or challenge themselves to nail a new trick, or even those who might just enjoy the head-calming nowness of sliding sideways down a hill.
So it’s good to see that the top UK snowboarder and Sochi Olympian Aimee Fuller is coaching a This Girl Can clinic at The Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead, near London, this weekend (Saturday May 2nd).
Sport England felt that snowsports were a great way to attract women who may not be attracted to conventional sports, so they asked Snowsport England to set up some Women Only sessions, including Aimee Fuller’s, which you can register for here. You can find out about other sessions around the country here.
I asked Aimee Fuller what she thought when she first saw the This Girl Can ad: “It seemed like a great idea to promote more women getting into sport." Was she surprised some girls don’t exercise for fear of judgment?
“No I was totally aware of that. I remember at school there were always some girls that hated PE, especially gymnastics. You had to put on a leotard on and I can totally understand that when you’re 12 or 13 you might not want to prance around in a leotard."
Has what others think ever worried her in that sense? “I’ve never really cared about being sweaty. From about 12-16 I was obsessed with basketball. I lived in the States and every break time I’d play. I was just a sweaty little minger all day and I didn’t care or think anything of it haha."
“Certainly now I’m older I can see why girls care. I don’t always want to walk around all sweaty but when you’re out there doing your activity sweat is the best thing ever. It shows determination and hard work."
"If you break a sweat you’re in it to win it, it’s the real deal and I love seeing that! When you go to the gym now and see women sweating and pumping their guns, it’s good that’s what you want to see."
I ask if she thinks the internet has played a vital role in the success of This Girl Can? The campaign gets big engagement on twitter, with over 60k followers, and many women regularly tweet photos before and after exercise.
She says: “Definitely. Girls that haven’t been out there doing sport, they’ve been sitting in front of a computer or TV, which we’re all guilty of it, well the technology has enabled them to see it."
“And sport is so trendy now, with Instagram especially. It’s trendy to be fit. Fit is the new skinny. Once you’ve done your exercise you can relax, you’ve got a load of endorphins and earned your time to sit in front on the TV."
From a snowboarding point of view, she says: “The unique thing about snowboarding in the UK is that we have got some amazing facilities like the Snow Centre, just half an hour from London."
“Girls might have watched the Winter Olympics last year and thought that looked cool but are intimidated by having no one to go with. But the thing about skiing and snowboarding is you can just go and they’ll be someone there." "You’ll always have a friend on snow. I went away last week for the first time completely on my own, I met so many people and that’s the same at a dome like The Snow Centre."
“The other girls have just come on their own from totally different parts of Greater London and everyone really encourages each other to progress. You’ll have a 38-year- old going on her first ski holiday and a 12-year-old up-and-coming rider and they’ll both trying the same new trick. There are no boundaries."
And what about for girls who’ve never been into sport? Aimee Fuller says: “Boardsports are unique in that you don’t even need to have a huge history of being good at sport. It helps but doesn’t matter. As long as you can walk around, touch your toes and pick yourself up off the ground. If you’re fit for life you should give it a try. It’s fun, exhilarating and a great challenge."
Skateboarder and Neon Stash founder Hannah Bailey agrees, that people who don’t consider themselves sporty should still give boardsports a go. She says: "I loved sport at school. But I wasn't necessarily into team games like hockey. I was a bit of a sports outcast, opting for individual sports such as tennis and table tennis back then."
"Sometimes the organised and forced element of sport at school can put girls off and sometimes as a girl, you're just not feeling like jumping around. But with skateboarding, it's not like that."
“As well as being great for your general fitness and wellbeing, it's even better for your mind. You can simply go for a little skate to clear your head or put in a few hours getting sweaty to learn a new trick."
"It's completely up to you. There is no off-putting competitiveness or pressure with skating, people are there to encourage and help you push yourself." Her advice for girls wanting to give skating a go is to check out the Girls Skate UK events.
This Girl Can isn’t the only campaign to trounce on the outdated notion that a woman can’t be strong, sporty and feminine at the same time. Last summer, the Always ‘Like a girl’ advert went viral, and then blew up again when it was shown at this year’s Superbowl. More than 58 million people have now seen it.
And now Canadian outdoor and adventure brand Arc'teryx has launched #DefineFeminine, where friends are invited to nominate women that inspire them. The brand’s twitter feed is full of pictures of amazing women scaling mountains, skiing off cliffs and generally having adventurous good times.
We asked Senior Director of Marketing David Ketcheson about the campaign: “It came from a desire at Arc'teryx to celebrate the strong women within the brand who inspire and represent our brand culture. We wanted at the same time to give our female consumers the opportunity to engage and share the women in their lives who lead inspiring outdoor lives."
"The feedback we've had on the campaign has been really powerful and it's been really rewarding to see our consumers jump in and start sharing stories."
This sea change in the way women are both marketed to, and represented in marketing, can only be an awesome thing.
Of course they’ll be some hate on twitter, most likely from friendless grumpy people intimidated with these progressive multi-dimensional representations of women, but on that Aimee Fuller has this advice: “Ignore any hatred on social media. It’s not even worth your time to read it. If someone says something negative about a pic of you on a snowboard they’re probably just jealous that they haven’t tried it yet."
"Just get out there have fun. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks, this is all about you."
Aimee Fuller is sponsored by Roxy, Red Bull, Vans, Level, Caxton & The Snow Centre. She's an ambassador for GO SKI GO BOARD.