The representation of weight, bodies and health in Sport England’s This Girl Can

Research team

  • Dr Stuart W. Flint

  • Madeline Sweetman

The Challenge

Normative discourses in the UK regarding weight suggest that fat bodies are unhealthy, undesirable and the product of immoral, poor lifestyle choices. Despite calls for a Health at Every Size approach, physical activity interventions often contain material that explicitly or implicitly (re)produce this discourse.

Experiences of weight stigma are associated with reduced wellbeing and physical activity participation.

Sport England’s This Girl Can (TGC) campaign is reported to have encouraged 2.8 million women to engage in more physical activity, narrowing the “gender gap.” The campaign’s success is often attributed to its inclusive nature, which purportedly encourages women of all shapes and sizes, ability levels and backgrounds. This study used a multimodal discourse analysis of TGC campaign material to explore the representation of weight, bodies and health. Two key discourses emerged: “Love Yourself” and “Sisterhood.”

These offer more inclusive and diverse understandings of healthy bodies and physical activity motivations than traditional focuses on weight loss. However, a third, subtler and pernicious discourse, “Thin is still best” was also evident. This discourse reinforced normative understanding of weight loss as a primary goal of physical activity.

The Approach

Through our research activities we aim to understand women’s lived experiences of TGC activities.

Patient and public involvement

Members of the general public as well as staff and volunteers working on the delivery of This Girl Can have taken part in interviews to offer their experiences of engaging with the campaign. The public were also invited to fill in an online survey regarding experiences of the campaign.

The Imapct

Once complete, discourses within the ethnographic data will be compared to those already identified in the campaign material above to explore how TGC participants understand weight and to identify if activities are truly available to all.
Bursary student - Whole Systems Approach: October 2017- September 2018