- England star Fran Kirby has spoken out about body image in documentary
- Alessia Russo has opened up on how she was fixated on tracking calorie
- What’s the story with Raheem Sterling? Listen to It’s All Kicking Off
As Fran Kirby walked out on to Chelsea’s training pitch at Cobham, the voice behind a camera filming her asked: ‘Fran, how are you wearing a jacket?’
The England international replied: ‘Because I get called fat all the time, so I have to cover it up.’
The forward’s remark may have seemed jovial, but it told a story of struggle. Many players in the women’s game feel the pressures of body image. They are subjected to comments about the way they look when they are playing and when they are not.
The consequences can be damaging. Some players will drastically cut back on calories, leading to disordered eating habits, which can in turn increase the risk of injury.
But social media trolls are not the only cause of this; problems can stem from within clubs. Over the years, pros like Fara Williams have spoken about how players would be placed in ‘fat club’ if they were over a certain weight.
England and Chelsea star Fran Kirby has spoken out about body image in a documentary
Only more recently have the top women’s clubs employed full-time nutritionists who can provide players with expert advice and tailored regimes, rather than generalised programmes.
Kirby’s reflection about her weight features in Chelsea’s documentary Nothing Stops Us. She goes on to talk about how many female players fear carbohydrates because of an assumption that, if they eat too much, they will gain weight.
‘There still is a big fear of carbs,’ Kirby said. ‘Not just in myself, but in the women’s game in terms of fuelling, in terms of being ready for a game, being able to withstand a level for 90 plus minutes. There is that stigma around it as the game is growing.
‘It’s something that should be championed to be strong. If that means you have to eat more, you’re doing the right things that your body needs, not just because of how you look on camera.’
Kirby’s fellow England star Alessia Russo also opened up on how she was fixated on tracking calories and losing weight earlier in her career.
‘There’s a bit of a stigma because you want to compete and be the best on the pitch, but you want to look a certain way as well,’ Russo told Women’s Health. ‘Like a lot of young girls, I wanted to be skinny.
‘I understand I need to eat a lot more than I thought I did at the start, and now I don’t want to be skinny, I want to be strong.’
Testimonies from Kirby and Russo will do a great deal to help current and future female players, but the sport also needs to do more.
Sam McHaffie, who will join Manchester City as their full-time nutritionist this week, did research around perceptions of nutrition in the women’s game as part of his PhD through Liverpool John Moores University, which was dual-funded by the FA and Science in Sport.
‘There tends to be this belief from some players that if they eat too many carbohydrates, they directly associate that with gaining body fat,’ McHaffie tells Mail Sport. ‘Based on the research that has been done, that level of under-fuelling on calories primarily comes from under- fuelling on carbohydrates.
‘We had some saying they had players in their teams who would have a salad the evening before a game rather than carbohydrate loading and the main reason for that was this obsession with body composition and how they look.
England forward Alessia Russo has opened up on how she was fixated on tracking calories
‘We had one player talking about a team-mate and they believed the reason they didn’t make it at professional level was because they constantly under-fuelled and that led to health problems.’
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes does not put her players through body composition tests because of how much women’s weight fluctuates throughout the menstrual cycle. But things like skinfold testing — a method which uses calipers to estimate body fat — is still common in the men’s and women’s games.
‘Players spoke about having really bad experiences of that,’ McHaffie says. ‘This was particularly to do with the way the results were presented back to players, which was a big learning point at the start of my career. Importantly, “This is how the men do it” is never a good rationale in itself.’
Something which appears more commonplace in the men’s game is a new manager coming into a club and immediately banning certain foods such as ketchup.
‘It’s crazy to me because what you’re doing is maybe reducing 50 calories a player eats per day,’ McHaffie says. ‘I travelled with England women Under 17s to the Euros in May and we did the opposite. We introduced a selection of sauces at different times to increase food enjoyment, hopefully resulting in players consuming more food at meal times, as preventing under- fuelling was a priority.’
Educating youngsters coming through the England pathway is a priority for the FA and it has to be. Kirby and Russo are great role models who should be celebrated for their football talent, not the way they look.
Read Sam McHaffie’s research paper by going to www.tandfonline.com and searching ‘carbohydrate fear’.
Man City boss Gareth Taylor overstepped the mark with his comments after Arsenal game
It’s time for coaches to practise what they preach
If I had £1 for every time a WSL manager called for better treatment of match officials before immediately criticising one in their next post-match interview, I would be a very rich woman.
Manchester City boss Gareth Taylor overstepped the mark by calling Arsenal’s Jonas Eidevall a ‘bully’ when it came to his conduct towards the fourth official in their match last weekend. Taylor himself was critical of referee Rebecca Welch after the game. ‘This referee tends to never give us a penalty,’ he said. ‘Always gives penalties against us but never gives us one.’
Leicester boss Willie Kirk said managers need to try harder to respect referees, then criticised official Stacey Fullick’s performance in his side’s defeat by Arsenal.
It is not a crime to question a decision, yet let’s not pretend any of the managers in the WSL are saints. Refereeing needs to improve, but we must also remember many of these officials are not full-time and need more support.
There is some value in Continental League Cup
I can understand why some teams and players may not see the benefit of the Continental League Cup.
It struggles to generate much excitement and perhaps needs an overhaul.
Geyse finally scored her first goal for Manchester United in 7-0 victory over Everton
But a number of last week’s results showed how valuable the competition can be. Aston Villa were able to get their first win of the season against Championship side Sheffield United, a result they desperately needed and one which led to a subsequent league win over Bristol City.
Manchester United forward Geyse finally scored her first goal for the club in a 7-0 victory over Everton — and that seemed to give her extra confidence against West Ham on Sunday, with the Brazilian netting after just three minutes.
The group-stage fixtures may feel unnecessary at times, but they also offer the perfect opportunity to build form and break losing streaks.
Chelsea boss Emma Hayes said the competition should be scrapped in 2019, but her side have made the last four finals, so she must see some value.