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How do women feel about physical activity?

A crash course on our world-leading research

Research by the Centre for Sport and Social Impact at La Trobe University on behalf of VicHealth’s This Girl Can – Victoria campaign


3-minute reading time

More than half the women in Victoria feel intimidated, shamed or judged while getting active, and this stops many women signing up to sports or activities.


This crash course explains the key things gyms, clubs, councils and community activity providers need to understand if they want more women to sign up.

Become a This Girl Can - Victoria supporter to access the full resource

Important: You need to know this is not “women being paranoid”.

Unfortunately, the research revealed many stories about people openly judging women when they try to exercise, play sport or learn an activity. This tells us that judgement, often in the form of verbal abuse and harassment, is common, and it comes from everyone – women and men. So if we want more women to become active, we all have a part to play.


Current reality

People constantly judge women for their:

  1. Appearance: how they look (body size and shape, too big, small, sweaty, jiggly)

  2. Ability: how good they are at doing something (skill/fitness)

  3. Priorities: how they spend their time and putting others before themselves


Women who feel judged, embarrassed or like they don’t fit in often stop being active (or don’t start in the first place).



Key points to understand


1. Women are motivated by wanting to feel good:

  • Destress

  • ‘Me-time’

  • Have fun

  • Feel good

  • Feel energised

2. Don’t assume women want to lose weight

  • Women get a lot of pressure from society to look a certain way, but that still doesn’t mean they always want to lose weight

  • See point 1 above

3. Weight loss as a motivator/focus causes more harm than good

  • When we focus on weight loss, women often lose motivation and stop coming back in the long term

  • See points 1 and 2 above

4. Having a break is normal

  • Women feel guilty when they take a break, but taking breaks is completely normal and expected!

  • Make women feel great when they do show up, but let them know it’s ok if they don’t

5. Women will join in and keep coming back if they find something that feels right for them

  • The more opportunities women have to try something new, the more likely they are to find something they like

  • Women want to start at an appropriate level for their skill/fitness

6. Other people can make or break things

  • This includes all actions and words from:

    • Staff (especially reception staff)

    • Volunteers

    • Instructors

    • Coaches

    • Other participants or team members

7. Women want to feel like they fit in

  • Not only do the actions of other people matter, meeting new people or spending time being active with friends is often a big motivation

  • If women ‘find their tribe’ and feel like they belong, they are more likely to keep coming back

8. Women want to feel safe and don’t want to feel exposed to onlookers

  • It’s important to think about:

    • Lighting and safe access to and from a place

    • The layout of a space (e.g. privacy screens/partitions)

These are the latest themes from This Girl Can – Victoria research. If you want more information, check out a list of related resources here.

Find out more about what women really think.

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