This Girl Can is a national campaign developed by Sport England and a wide range of partnership organisations. It’s a celebration of active women up and down the country who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets.
SportEngland’s #ThisGirlCan campaign has been a remarkable success. Over 2.8 million women have been inspired to be more active by a campaign that celebrated women in sport. A campaign that promoted positive body image and even more importantly, positive self image.
It made many women believe more in themselves and has given them the confidence to become try athletes.
It made stars of ordinary women and showed the world that they could be extraordinary.
SportEngland have recognised that this is a winning formula and intend on replicating it for other groups who could benefit from being more active.
One of those groups is the obese. Physical activity, on its own, will not make them slimmer, but the benefits of physical activity are well documented (least not by me).
I am a member of a group of obese men. 40,000 obese men. 40,000 obese men who are determined to reach a healthier weight. Many of them also want to be more active and enjoy the same activities as others, without feeling embarrassed or anxious about their appearance or fitness levels.
These men all belong to Man V Fat , the brainchild of my friend Andrew Shanahan. For the past few years it has been a supportive on-line community, where men of every shape, age and background offer each other advice and encouragement. It is a place where we aren’t judged, belittled or mocked.
Not like in the real world.
I have spoken about my own experiences as an obese runner. I had cruel words and wet liquids thrown at me as I tried to better my life. I will not paint myself as a hero. I crumbled and for months, I didn’t run. However, I realised that these were a few insignificant idiots who hurt me for a few seconds at a time.
It was not as if 1,800,0000 people were sharing a joke at my expense. I can only imagine how humiliated that would make me feel.
Unfortunately, I know a few men who know exactly how that feels, thanks to The Sun.
Man V Fat has stepped out from the shadows of the internet and we now have weight loss classes, cycling groups and hopefully, this year Man V Fat running groups.
We have even launched a Man V Fat Football League to give our guys the chance to play football. Men are as body conscious as women. We worry about our wobbly bits and fear that others will judge us. In a survey, many of our men responded that they wanted to play football.
The Man V Fat Football League would give them a safe and fun environment to showcase their skills, to build their confidence and to help them on their way to healthier and happier lives. The fantastic Football Fans In Training initiative has proven that football is a successful vehicle to attract men and unsurprisingly, 90 obese men (to take part your BMI has to be over 30) turned up, on a bitterly cold evening, for our inaugural matches.
I watched some video highlights and was amazed at the speed, skill and strength of the players. Watch this for a goal:
This should have been a night to remember for all of those who participated and an amazing start to an initiative that I cannot wait to bring to Scotland. On Man V Fat we celebrated and congratulated those who had been so brave to step onto those pitches.
And then, in the morning, all our cheers turned to first despair and then anger.
The UK press were in attendance at the event and many, such as the Daily Mail, published glowing reports. However, for reasons only known to themselves, The Sun decided to indulge in some good, old fashioned fat-shaming.
Rather than praise the efforts of the players and use their stories to inspire others, they chose to mock and ridicule them. They also chose to use some pretty lame and tired jokes at the expense of guys simply trying to have fun and improve their lives.
This is the newspaper that gave Katie Hopkins a platform to abuse the obese and regularly calls for “fatties” to do more to ease the burden they place on the NHS and society as a whole.
The Sun could have and should have approached this more positively. They are the new media partners of Great Run , a running series whose showcase, The Great North Run, is as much about the charity runners and plodders who take 4 hours to complete the race as the elites that are finished after an hour. Just how will they cover these events? Will the headlines read “Run, Fatty, Run”?
These footballers are not professionals, living their lives in the limelight. They are ordinary men, with families and feelings, who by getting up, getting out and playing football are doing extraordinary things. The Sun has bullied and belittled these men for simply doing what everyone asks of them. They took responsibility for their own health and made the effort to get active.
These men did not deserve to be portrayed this way and they deserve our full support. Despite the abuse and the embarrassment caused, these men will not give up. These men can and will show true grit and prove to the likes of The Sun that they are made of stronger stuff.
These Men Can.