This Girl Can: The limitations of digital do-it-yourself empowerment in women's active embodiment campaigns

Annaleise Depper, Simone Fullagar, Jessica Francombe-Webb

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


This chapter offers a material-discursive approach to develop a more nuanced account of the powerful affects, and effects, of This Girl Can that move women’s bodies in particular ways (Fullagar & Pavlidis, 2017; Wetherell, 2012). We highlight how the campaign positions women to become active bodies and question the extent to which the campaign has successfully ‘empowered’ women to conquer fears of judgement. Situated within feminist scholarship, we explore how the gendered conditions of possibility for (in)active embodiment are made visible through the digital practices of the campaign (text, images and invitations to engage via social media). Contextualized alongside popular post-feminist forms of address, the supposed novelty of the campaign is its attempt to redress the invisibility of active feminized bodies (sweating, jiggling, moving) in the public domain (on billboards, tv adverts, social media) by inviting all women to identify with sport and active leisure as a source of individual agency and as a site where the inclusion of difference occurs. Yet, with respect to the norms of individual success and responsibility for active lifestyle practices that shape sport cultures, we ask how is women’s difference digitally constituted in relation to masculine norms and with respect to differences between women themselves? Within this chapter we analyze how advanced liberal rationalities are gendered in the campaign’s promotion of women’s freedom to break free from the ‘barriers’ preventing engagement in sport. We question the extent to which the campaign can claim to have successfully empowered women to conquer fears of judgement and participate in sport regardless of their ability, shape or size. This Girl Can is situated within the neo-liberal everyday, micro-governance of women’s bodies that make women accountable for their ‘choices’, while the campaign disregards the materialities that women must negotiate in gendered leisure spaces. Our discussion is situated within post-feminist debates around ‘freedom’ and personal choice (McRobbie, 2008), as we explore the inclusive, and the complex, individualized and limiting aspects of the campaign. We argue that This Girl Can continues to unproblematically position women as responsible for making the ‘right’ choices to be active, rather than supporting more inclusive cultures and structures for active living.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDigital Dilemmas: Transforming gender identities and power relations in everyday life
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication statusAcceptance date - 2017


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