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Advertising This Girl Can Women

This Girl Can makes images available to combat unrealistic representations of women exercising


By John Glenday | Reporter

March 8, 2021 | 4 min read

Sport England is countering the insidious prevalence of unrealistic depictions of women exercising with a more representative image library featuring women of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and ages.

This Girl Can

This Girl Can makes free image library available to combat unrealistic media images of women exercising

As part of its ’This Girl Can’ campaign, a free-to-use image bank of over 400 pictures has been compiled in direct response to inhouse research showing that ’unrelatable’ images of slimmed, toned bodies had a negative impact on 63% of women.

Why has This Girl Can taken this step?

  • This Girl Can was moved to act by the prevalence of slim, toned white women in perfect make-up and hair commonly used to illustrate women exercising across media and advertising.

  • The preponderance of athletic women in unrealistic poses was demonstrated by a Google image search that found that less than one-third of the first 100 results featured women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Moreover, 85% of images showed slim, toned women who appeared to be a size 10 or smaller.

  • This opened up a yawning deficit of representation, with a mere 14% of women perceived to be a size 12-16 and a scant 5% of imagery showing women of size 18 upwards.

  • Yet more damning statistics from the This Girl Can team showed that 65% of headline imagery appeared to show women under the age of 35, with just 20% aged between 35 and 50 and 15% considered to be aged 50 or older.

  • Compounding this unrepresentative sample was the fact that just 2% of sample images showed women as being sweaty, red in the face or struggling for breath, with a mere 9% of photos showing women in any apparent discomfort.

  • This disparity undermines efforts to encourage disadvantaged demographics and inactive groups to embrace exercise for their physical and mental wellbeing, at a time when lockdown has significantly reduced activity levels.

  • Sport England research shows that in the first weeks of lockdown from mid-March to mid-May 2020, the activity level among women dropped to just 58% from 63% a year prior, equivalent to 1.2 million women becoming less active. This is despite a doubling of the number of women exercising from home

What is its ‘representative’ library offering?

  • The copyright-free image bank consists of a curated library of authentic images of women exercising across a wide range of age groups, ethnicities, body types and ability.

  • All material is freely available to registered journalists, bloggers, national media picture desks and the creative marketing industries, with a handy dropdown filter enabling more refined searches.

  • Explaining the need to counter an ‘alarming‘ skew in representation, Kate Dale, campaign lead for This Girl Can, said: “We know there are barriers women have to exercise, fears of judgment and feeling that they will fail. We are encouraging behavioral change, which can be difficult if women’s misconceptions are often reinforced on a daily basis by the imagery they view in media, advertising and online.

  • “Many brands have already made positive moves in this area, but it is still alarming to see what a simple search on Google revealed.“

Check out The Drum’s special Health hub, which examines how the key players – from health agencies to pharma firms to brands – are doing their part to return the world to normality.

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At Sport England we're working towards an active nation where everyone feels able to do sport and physical activity, no matter their age, background or gender.

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