Over the past few years, women have got into exercise in a big way. A while back, the idea of prioritising a gym class over a bottle of wine was pretty much unheard of. Now, many women are just as keen to strap themselves into their spandex leggings as they are to head out for 2-for-1 cocktails. This is thanks in part to This Girl Can, last year's phenomenally successful government-led campaign to help women adopt exercise as part of their normal lives. Since the campaign launched last January, some 2.8 million women claim to have done more exercise than they normally would, which means that a humongous 7 million British women now exercise regularly. The reason that campaign worked so well? Because it was real. Unlike filtered Instagram fitness posts, This Girl Can showed women exercising in all their glory. Sweaty and red-faced, the women featured in the campaign came in all different shapes and sizes, all different ages; they did their exercise in community centres and local swimming pools and wore whatever the hell they wanted. It made exercise relatable. Now, as the campaign is about to launch its second year, we're talking to some of the amazing women who are taking part about why and how they exercise and, most importantly, what exercise means to them.
Grace, 24, LondonPreferred exercise: cycling “I cycle because I live in London and so I use it as a means of transport. It’s really easy to nip around on a a bike. I’m not, like, a massive fiend committed to cycling every day but I do manage to do it. I swim and go to the gym as well and even though I don’t count cycling as exercise, it is exercise, so if I can’t make swimming or gym class that week I don’t feel too bad. It’s very stressful to think, ‘Oh no I must get to spin for 12 o’clock!’ “I put a flower on my bike because well, you’ve seen me, I’m not an athlete and I don’t want to be treated like one. You see everyone with the latest bikes and leggings and stuff and I don’t do any of that. I cycle in my jeans, I wear trainers, I mostly just wear whatever I’m wearing.
I cycle and I go to the gym to make myself feel good. Not to look the way someone else wants me to look.
“I know that exercise can seem intimidating to some women. I’m quite lucky that I’m confident and quite happy in my own skin. Honestly, being a woman at the gym when you’re cycling next to someone that’s really thin – that can be difficult and I do understand that but, for me, I don’t really see that. Whether you’re fat or thin, we’re all here for the same reason, right? Everyone’s in the gym to make themselves feel good! “Since the first campaign I haven’t lost weight. I exercise because it makes me feel good. I want to concentrate on being fit. I’m fat and fit. I don’t worry too much about what anyone else thinks because you know as women we’re put out there like, ‘Oh we must be a certain way, we must be worried about our weight’ but not all of us are like that! I haven’t got the headspace to be worrying about that all the time so I cycle and I go to the gym to make myself feel good. Not to look the way someone else wants me to look. “Some mornings I wake up and I’m like, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t be bothered’ but I manage to find the strength – I mean, not all the time, I’m a human being – but nine times out of 10 I’ll do it and I’ll always feel really good after. It’s a fact isn’t it that you release good endorphins when you exercise? I always feel more energised and happy when I go to the gym before work than when I haven’t been. “I know it’s easy for everyone to say, ‘Oh it’s so easy, go and do some exercise and it’ll make you feel really good.’ There’s been times when I’ve been like, ‘OH PLEASE’. But it really does! “I think there are still obstacles women face when it comes to exercise. I think it’s insecurities – like when they put on the gym kit, get in the gym and think, ‘I don’t want to do this’. I think we need more campaigns that show normal women – not like glossy ads with girls that have been airbrushed. That’s not going to help, is it?”
For more about This Girl Can, go to thisgirlcan.co.uk where you can find out about the women in the campaign, get tips on how to get active and join the national debate using #ThisGirlCan. Follow us on @thisgirlcanuk.