Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


This Girl Can

There has been a lot of controversy about the effectiveness of the “THIS GIRL CAN” campaign, to get women of all shapes and sizes to work out and do exercise. They are trying to get the message across that women should not care about others judgments towards them when they are exercising, and that it doesn’t matter if you’re sweating like a “pig” and feeling like a “fox”. They are trying to portray a positive image for women that do exercise, as the video includes clips of women confidently doing sports such as boxing, hockey, running, dancing and more. Indeed, some may argue that this is motivational and that they feel inspired to do exercise now, and they may even feel guilty for not doing so.

This advert uses the technique of embarrassing the target of influence. It makes girls feel that they are inadequate, and that they should be working out in order to feel as satisfactory as the girls in the video. It makes the girls feel self-conscious and embarrassed. Embarrassment and guilt forces the person to feel the need to restore a self-image, and therefore this may lead to compliance. In the case of this advert, girls may feel like they want to have a better self-image, therefore the advertisement has been successful in the sense that it allows girls to feel the need to get up and exercise. However, the other side of the argument may suggest that people are less motivated to do exercise, as they are feeling too embarrassed to fit in with the social model of a person that “jiggles” when they do exercise.

McDonald and McKelvie (1992) found that people are much less likely to help someone who has dropped a condom, rather than mittens. They either accidentally dropped mittens or condoms in front of 80 individual members of the public. The table below shows the results

Table 1: Percentage of people that picked up the item

These results suggest that those who are more embarrassed are less likely to do something such as an act of kindness of picking up the item for the person who has dropped it. This relates to the advert, as it suggests that people who are embarrassed may be less likely to do things. Therefore, people watching the video may not be motivated because they feel embarrassed. They may feel that by doing exercise now, people may think of them as people who “jiggle”, therefore they feel embarrassed.

Furthermore, this campaign is about “girls” – which limits the target audience, and may make older women feel as if they’re not entitled to be fit too and look “hot”. This advertisement also remind girls of the importance of body image, which is the main cause of controversy – exercising should really be about promoting health and happiness for the individual and their own self image, rather than what other people should feel. With the caption “deal with it”, it makes it seem like it’s something that’s surprising when girls exercise, when in reality, everyone has the right to exercise and feel good about themselves. Having such advertisement that allows a certain group of women feel that they can’t exercise only singles them out, and if they’re feeling embarrassed, they may just rather hide at home on the couch, rather than going out and sweating “like a pig”. Instead of trying to normalise exercise for all shapes and sizes, it’s actually alienating a certain group of women.

To make it an even more effective campaign, they should maybe include clips and images of both men and women of all ages, doing exercises. Why shouldn’t men that aren’t of the ideal body shape exercise too? Why shouldn’t older people exercise too? By having a larger target audience, people will feel more included and motivated. By having a motivating video of exercising, it will allow people to feel less embarrassed and less alienated, therefore they will be more motivated to exercise. 

McDonald, J. & McKelvie, S. J. (1992). Playing safe: Helping rates fora dropped mitten and a box of condoms. Psychological Reports, 71, 113-114.

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