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Body shaming in women's sports

On 1 November 2023, Chelsea Football Club soccer player Fran Kirby spoke out against body shaming in women's sports in her comeback video. Kirby's comeback video follows a knee injury she suffered, which forced her to miss the FIFA Women's World Cup that took place earlier this year. In the video, Kirby speaks to the "big fear of carbs" that still exists in women's sports, and how adhering to the proper nutrition required to recover from injuries, and to be game-ready from a fuelling perspective, often results in players being fat-shamed and judged for how they look.[1] Emma Hayes, head coach of Chelsea Football Club, agrees that there is a body shaming problem in women's sport.[2] 

Body shaming is prevalent in both men's and women's sports generally but is especially prevalent in women's sports where there is still a lack of education and awareness around the physiological differences between men's and women's bodies and how these differences manifest and affect sport performance. Lauren Fleshman, American distance runner, recently wrote on how sport was never designed around the developmental norms of women's bodies, resulting in women being at war with their own bodies.[3] In her article, Fleshman states:

"The sports institutions we fought to gain access to were designed by men for men and boys, and the system is built around physiology and performance norms for male bodies aged 14 to 22. But the male body develops in an entirely different way than the female body. A culture of leanness and expectations of linear progression may make sense for bodies that are responding to an influx of testosterone and androgens. Expecting the same of the female body during those same years is not only ignorant, it is also deeply harmful."[4]

Not only are women often criticized for having a greater body fat percentage than men, women are also criticized on the other end of the spectrum for having too little body fat. Lucy Charles-Barclay, professional triathlete and world champion in 2021 and who sustained an injury earlier this year, remarked that people claimed she got injured because she was too skinny.[5] Charles-Barclay spent time in Red Bull's performance centre where it was later confirmed that her injury was not as a result of her weight but rather as a result of her swimming background and biomechanics.[6]

Social media has changed the game as online trolling and the constant influx of negative comments play a major role in the prevalence and extent of body shaming experienced by women in sport. Kirby, Fleshman, Charles-Barclay and many other women in sport have reported as much.

The harm caused by body shaming on women in sport is extensive. It ranges from poor body image and low self-confidence, to the deterioration of an athlete's mental and physical health, and ultimately affects their performance in sport. In the context of injury-led changes to an athlete's body, the inability to train and be active during the recovery phase only exacerbates these harms. Some of the reported harms experienced by athletes include: fatigue, poor nutrition because of a fear of carbs resulting in under-fuelling and under-loading, eating disorders, poor body image, stress fractures, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, energy deficiency, and hormonal imbalances.[7]

There still exists serious issues in women's sport when it comes to body shaming, understanding women's bodies, and, most importantly, designing training styles and sport policies that are more inclusive of, and centred around, women's bodies. The more brave women in the professional spotlight speak out about their experiences, the more momentum will build around the issue of body shaming in women's sport, and we can hope for real change in the industry.

Article references:

[1] See also: Fran Kirby’s body-shaming revelation sparks calls for improved education | Women's football | The Guardian.

[2] Emma Hayes Says Women’s Sport Has A Problem With Under-Fueling (

[3] Lauren Fleshman: Sports Place Women at War With Their Bodies | Time.

[4] Lauren Fleshman: Sports Place Women at War With Their Bodies | Time.

[5] Lucy Charles-Barclay calls out the body-shaming of female athletes | Glamour UK (

[6] Lucy Charles-Barclay calls out the body-shaming of female athletes | Glamour UK (

[7] Emma Hayes Says Women’s Sport Has A Problem With Under-Fueling ( Fleshman: Sports Place Women at War With Their Bodies | Time and Female College Athletes Say Pressure to Cut Body Fat Is Toxic - The New York Times (


women in sport, uk, sport