Fran Kirby: Chelsea and England forward on body image & social media abuse

10 January 2024 0 By Total Football News

By Emma SandersBBC Sport

'A lot of people see athletes as robots' - Kirby on body image and abuse

"I've had comments where people have said: 'Fran played really well, what a game, but she looks big today.' I'm like: 'Why is that comment necessary?' It shouldn't matter what my body shape is."

Chelsea and England midfielder Fran Kirby, 30, first raised issues on the "stigma" around nutrition in women's football and the pressure on players about their "weight and how we look on TV" in November, which she said was linked to the growing profile of the sport.

At the time, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes praised Kirby for addressing a "problem" of "underfuelling and underloading" which "comes with the constant demands to look a certain way and, unfortunately, a vitriolic environment that comes from social media".

Speaking to BBC Sport, midfielder Kirby said: "I've read things about myself and think: 'Oh really, is that what people think about me?' Or: 'Is that how I really look?' It still impacts me but I'm better at dealing with that.

"It's really important to emphasise that, of course we're professional athletes and we have to be fit to do our sport, but a body shape doesn't determine if you're fit enough. A lot of people see athletes as robots.

"I've been on the end of comments and so have my team-mates. It is a problem but I don't think it's just a women's football problem. I think it's bigger than that."

Kirby has struggled with injury and illness throughout her career, being diagnosed with a heart condition in 2020 before needing knee surgery, ruling her out of the 2023 Women's World Cup, and she says she has received comments on her weight because of it.

"Coming back from an injury, you're not going to be in the best shape of your life," said Kirby.

"It was quite hard for me a few years ago after my heart condition. I'd been out for a while and had gained a bit of weight because I physically couldn't do anything.

"It's not like we train for a week and suddenly you're fully fit and ready to go. It was tough reading those comments."

'It shouldn't matter what your body shape is'

Fran KirbyFran Kirby started every game for England at Euro 2022 as they won the tournament on home soil

Kirby says she has "no fear" raising these issues now she is an experienced international and although it is not easy, she has found ways to deal with it.

"I have been around long enough to suffer my own abuse growing up and seeing it on social media - you don't become accustomed to it, though, and there's still things you read," she said.

"A younger player coming through, who maybe gets comments like that, could end up not eating and having to compete at a high level. You see their performance drop and it really impacts them.

"I felt it was important for people to realise that as long as you're fit to play your sport at the highest level, and you're consistently performing well, then body shape shouldn't be a conversation.

Kirby has received messages from other players raising concerns for their team-mates, who they believe are struggling with body image issues.

She says "there is not one answer" on how to deal with it as "everyone is different", but it is important they receive support.

"It's recognising when someone is going through it and, not taking control of the situation, but helping them and guiding them," Kirby said. "I've had conversations with players I know and said: 'Well, you need to eat this.'

"I've known when I've tried to stop fuelling as much and it's affected my performance and how I feel. So I've just tried to give as much guidance as possible. The older and more mature players are definitely in a position to do that.

"I saw something where Emma [Hayes] spoke out about women fuelling themselves. It was so significant for me because if your manager is coming out and saying it…"

'I didn't have pain - it was a relief'

Fran Kirby injured against West Ham in February 2023Fran Kirby's most recent knee injury ruled her out of last summer's Women's World Cup as England reached the final in Sydney

Kirby's battles with injury and illness have not stopped her having a successful career.

She said: "It's not easy but my most recent [knee injury] was probably the easiest one to come back from because as soon as I had surgery, I didn't have any pain. That was a relief in itself.

"Of course, missing a World Cup is not a nice feeling at all. I was super proud of watching the girls but there was always that feeling inside, wishing you were there.

"But I made a decision very early on [after the surgery] that I wasn't going to let it affect me. I didn't feel that would do me any good.

"It was still hard. I won't sit here and say it was the best time of my life going through rehab while everyone was at the World Cup - because it wasn't. But I tried to stay in a good place mentally.

"I wanted to be ready for the start of the season and to be able to do that made it all worth it."

'I still feel I have a lot to give'

Fran Kirby playing for ChelseaFran Kirby has remained fit for the first half of this season and returned playing for England in October

Kirby's goal for the rest of the season is simple - to stay fit. The Euro 2022 winner has been available for every match so far this campaign.

She admits a "frustration" with her body in the past but believes her love for the game keeps her going.

"You do question how many times you can go through something. It's never an easy thing. I also have frustrations with my body and its limitations," she added.

"Playing football is something I still enjoy doing. I still have that really competitive nature inside me. I will keep playing until that fizzles out.

"I remember coming on against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge and hearing the crowd. Hearing that was knowing what I had done was being appreciated."

Kirby has six months remaining on her Chelsea contract - so what are her plans for the future?

"At the moment there has been no conversations between myself and the club. I want to continue playing football and continue playing football at a high level," she said.

"I still feel I have a lot to give wherever I am, whether that's at Chelsea or that has to be somewhere else. But I love the club. I've been here a long time and have some great friendships with players and staff.

"I still want to be competing and playing consistently so obviously that's a decision that has to be made."

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