Why the new ‘This Girl Can’ campaign is so incredible

It’s inspired millions of women to fall in love with exercise since starting. Now in its fifth year, what’s new?

Remember seeing the original This Girl Can ad for the very first time? To a backdrop of Missy Elliott’s pulse-charging Get Ur Freak On, it showed real women – of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities – doing exercise their way, and loving it. It’s hard to believe that was 2015, five years ago.

With a string of empowering slogans – like ‘I jiggle therefore I am’, ‘I kick balls – deal with it’, and ‘sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox’ – it rapidly went viral.

Like nothing we’d really seen before in what is effectively a health campaign, designed to inspire all women to participate in exercise, whether that’s a team sport, gentle swim, living-room HIIT session or whatever, it struck a massive chord and people didn’t stop talking about it.

Now, a brand new reboot has just launched. So, why is the campaign still relevant, and what’s new this time?

Inspiring women

From pretty early on, it was clear that campaign connected with its audience. By the time 2017’s follow-up ad was launched, the hashtag #thisgirlcan had been used on social media every day since the inaugural 2015 launch. Women were on board – and they liked it.

The 2017 video was soundtracked by a recording of the late Maya Angelou reciting Phenomenal Woman from her 1995 poetry collection and was also a resounding hit – racking up five million views across social media in its first 48 hours. In this reboot, following the success of the original ad, Sport England has extended the age-range appeal, now relating to women from teens to 60-plus, and tapped into how exercise can look at different life stages – from busy work patches to motherhood and later life.

According to Sport England’s own research, after its first year, This Girl Can had inspired 2.8 million women to become more active. More positive stats have followed – but as Lisa O’Keefe, director of insight at Sport England, said at the new launch, “there’s still work to be done”.

At its very core, the campaign was about closing the gender gap in participation rates for sports and exercise. “The gap has got smaller, but there is still a gap,” O’Keefe added.

Breaking taboos

Besides, the beauty of the campaign is that it’s about as far away from being preachy or presumptuous as possible. It’s attention-grabbing, celebratory, brilliantly unfiltered – and it’s impossible not to watch a This Girl Can ad and not feel energised.

As the ad caption says: ‘No one gets to choose how you exercise other than you. Your body, your call. And whatever that looks like, we think it’s worth celebrating.’

For the newly-launched 2019 ad, those core campaign threads are still very present – but there’s a touch more boldness too. While it does still focus heavily on body diversity and other common barriers to exercise – like juggling work life and home life, not ‘looking the part’ and physical differences/disabilities – there’s an added dimension that’s unapologetically female.

We’re specifically talking about periods and menopause – topics that have traditionally been more than a bit taboo.

(This Girl Can/PA)

One of the women selected to take part in the campaign (and they are genuinely real women, plucked to apply from communities across the UK) lives with awful period pain. While at some points, this can be quite debilitating, at other times she finds doing some exercise helps. The film shows her curled up in bed with a hot water bottle – and later in the gym changing room, where the camera catches a flash of white tampon string hanging from her underwear as she gets ready for her class.

We think it’s brilliant – and if reactions on social media are anything to go by, we’re not the only ones.