Women’s football has seen a surge in popularity over the last couple of years, and it’s about to get a whole lot of love and attention as Euro 2022 swings into action (July 6-31).
For many, women’s football feels like a safe space, with top players frequently speaking about important issues such as LGBTQ+ rights and body image.
The game has become an important place for women to learn about who they are at all levels, from Saturday league to Wembley Stadium.
So, how can women’s football and its players help you be more body positive?
According to Liz Ward – who leads the workplace, empowerment and community engagement teams at Stonewall, is a grassroots player, and was named on the Football Black List 2021 – seeing different body types is one of the most empowering things about the game.
“Being 30, I grew up with the Sienna Miller or Kate Moss-style body types all over the media, and that really influenced how we see our bodies,” she suggests. “But in women’s football, we see the varied body types of footballers.”
Ward says seeing athletes whose physiques are more strong and powerful “has helped me feel better in my body. It is so nice seeing women who look normal, who have a bum and thighs. Seeing them being heralded as icons is amazing.”
On a personal note, Ward says: “I have always hated my legs and bum, [thinking] they were too big. But as I have begun to play football again, for the last five or six years, I am reconnecting with my legs. The more I do strength work on my legs, the better I get at football.”
A no judgement zone
While some people might feel daunted about going to the gym, Ward suggests “there is no judgement” when playing football. “I have grown up around girly girls, and I didn’t realise until recently how much our conversations centred around how we look and our bodies.
“In football, some people love just playing in a sports bra – it’s not out of vanity, it’s out of confidence. It’s about connecting to football in a joyous way.”
The power of community
Ward is part of a team called the Goaldiggers, and she says: “The community we have built is inherently LGBTQ+ and trans-inclusive, and with that comes solidarity about how you look and how you feel. It’s just so naturally positive and supportive.”
You might reap the mental health benefits of being part of a team, and this could positively impact your body confidence.
Bhavna Malkani, co-founder of She’s Got Skills, an inclusive women’s football collective, says: “Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from playing or achieving your goals. There are so many inspirational players across professional and grassroots that pursue their dreams of playing.
“You can start at any age, and any level. If you turn up at a Sunday league match, you will see a variety of women of different sizes and ages playing, which is beautiful,”
Malkani adds. “The next time someone or something tries to get in the way of you crushing your goals, football or otherwise, shake them off and remember how powerful you really are.”