Move over bikini-beautiful bodies and expensive active wear — a new music video featuring real Kiwi women is set to tackle unrealistic body images and encourage women to take up sport.

The clip, as part of Sport Waikato's This Is ME campaign, features the song Girl Gang by Gin Wigmore and was launched by the regional trust to encourage women and change the message around physical activity.

It shows real women and girls of all ages and ability participating in a variety of activities such as aqua aerobics, boxfit, running, backyard cricket, rugby, cycling and aerobics.

Sport could be off-putting because it tends to focus on competition at the expense of some of the things that women value like social interaction and feeling confident, strong and capable, said Sport Waikato Women and Girls Initiative lead Dr Amy Marfell.

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"It's really about shifting that message as well, to highlight that there are a lot of ways that you can get moving that are good for you physically, socially, emotionally.

"We want women and girls to see themselves in the imagery, in the stories, in the conversations.

"You can start a walking group with your friends. You can do a yoga class on YouTube from home. You don't have to do expensive things or formal activities."

A This is ME trial to get more females involved in sport and recreation ran in two Waikato districts, Waitomo and Hauraki, for most of 2018 with positive results.

At Te Kuiti High School and Waihi College, young female leaders are beginning to emerge in sport and physical activity, and sports festivals in the towns attracted women to line dancing, indoor bowels, croquet, Zumba and dragon-boating.

They included a mother recently diagnosed with diabetes paddling with her teenage daughter and a teenage girl whose engagement in physical activity had given her the confidence to attend her school ball.

Sport NZ recently released its Women and Girls in Sport and Active Recreation Strategy to improve the opportunities, visibility and value for women and girls in physical activity.

Through Sport NZ the Government will invest $10 million over the next three years on 22 initiatives to enable more women and girls to realise their potential in sport and active recreation.

A scene from the Sport Waikato music video This Is ME featuring real Kiwi women during an aqua aerobics class. Photo / Sport Waikato
A scene from the Sport Waikato music video This Is ME featuring real Kiwi women during an aqua aerobics class. Photo / Sport Waikato

A study last year found women and girls participated 12 per cent less than men and boys in physical activity.

Marfell said there were significant barriers to female participation even though up to 70 per cent wanted to participate more than they currently did.

"Obviously practical stuff like time, cost and personal barriers they face. Things like the fear of judgment around body image and also around ability-related concerns."

Marfell said there was often a focus on weight loss or competition for women in sport instead of doing physical activity for enjoyment, confidence, strength and the benefits of play and recreation.

She said fears around body image were compounded by unrealistic role models.
"If you look at the dominant media imagery out there around females and physical activity it's often focusing on your high-profile female athletes that are elite and would have arguably those peak physiques."

Marfell said this was disempowering for women when they could not see themselves in the narrative.

"There's very little out there that's real women and girls doing physical activity.?"

See the video at: www.thisisme.org.nz

This is Leslie

Leslie Lusty at a free public gym near Hamilton. Lusty features in a video made by Sport Waikato about female body image in sport and recreation. Photo / Alan Gibson
Leslie Lusty at a free public gym near Hamilton. Lusty features in a video made by Sport Waikato about female body image in sport and recreation. Photo / Alan Gibson

Leslie Lusty was once a competitive swimmer. But four years ago the Hamilton mother-of-two was leading such an inactive lifestyle she was pre-diabetic and given a warning from her doctor.

"I was a size 24. I didn't even own a pair of sneakers," the Affco Aus meat inspector said.

A colleague encouraged her to join a Zumba class, a one-hour dance workout, and with the help of Weight Watchers she shed 40kg and became an inspiration to others.

When she first began the class, Lusty was out of time and uncoordinated but as her confidence grew so did her enjoyment and eventually her 12-year-old daughter also joined the class.

The 45-year-old, who features in This Is ME, said body image was a major deterrent for women in physical activity.

However, real benefits did not come from having the right clothes or being the right size, but from the pleasure derived from the activity and social interaction, Lusty said.

"You've just got to get past all that, and everyone starts somewhere. You might need to try five or six things before you find what you like."

A hip problem has meant Lusty had to give up Zumba four times a week and instead she plans to swim.

"I need to have a goal so eventually I'd like to compete in the [New Zealand] Masters Games."