Kirby’s comments on body image have had a significant impact on young girls and women at the grassroots level. Their strong message has been empowering and influential.

Kirby’s comments on body image have had a significant impact on young girls and women at the grassroots level. Their strong message has been empowering and influential.


During Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Manchester United on Sunday, coach Sabah Mahmood of FC Leytonstone’s under-14 girls was not only impressed by Lauren James’ hat-trick, but also by the appearance of Fran Kirby as a substitute in the second half. Kirby, who holds the record for most goals scored at the club, had recently spoken out about the pressures of body image in football. Mahmood, who had been invited by Brown Girl Sport – an organization that supports south Asian girls in sports – brought her team to the match and recalls their excitement when Kirby entered the game.

Mahmood had previously spoken to her young players about Kirby’s comments. In a documentary released by her club late last year, Kirby revealed that she gets “called fat all the time” in an off-the-cuff moment filmed at training. “I was talking to some of the girls on my team about it,” recalls Mahmood. “It just opened up a conversation that didn’t exist before, but it was definitely in the girls’ minds.”

In a recent interview with BBC, Kirby discussed the growing presence of women’s football in the media and on social media. She shared that she has received comments about her appearance, such as “Fran played great, but she looks bigger today.” Kirby expressed that these types of comments are unnecessary and that her body shape should not be a determining factor in her performance.

Coaches like Mahmood observe the pressures faced by young girls in grassroots sports, particularly when they enter puberty. Mahmood notes that during the teenage years, girls become more self-conscious about their changing bodies, with some feeling more confident due to their physical size or shape while others may struggle. This can have an impact on their performance and overall experience in sports.

Recent research has shown that girls are more likely to stop playing football in their late teens compared to boys, with body image being a contributing factor. In response to this, former Lioness Jill Scott shared that she faced pressure to gain weight after receiving comments about her appearance. This issue was further highlighted in a 2022 study which found that 36% of female players in the top two tiers of English football displayed symptoms of eating disorders. Another survey conducted in 2022 also revealed that approximately 1.3 million girls in the UK lose interest in sports during their teenage years, with fear of judgement being a major factor.

Jill Scott working for ITV Sport at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022View image in fullscreen

Kirby’s remarks have sparked conversations among players at grassroots clubs in the UK regarding body image and the importance of recognizing that footballers come in all shapes and sizes. Abi King, a 21-year-old right-back for Real Bedford Ladies Development, shares that she has encountered opponents who are both larger and smaller than her, but their physical appearance does not determine their skills on the field. She also notes that there are players who may be bigger and faster than her, as well as those who are smaller and slower, but ultimately, it does not matter. This is something that she appreciates about the sport.

During the pandemic, 54-year-old Ghazala Jabeen from Wales started playing football for the first time. At first, Jabeen, who is a member of North Wales Dragons community club, felt self-conscious while on the field. However, she has since discovered that the sport has boosted her body confidence. Jabeen explains, “As I began learning the game and its rules and expectations, I stopped worrying about my appearance or size. Being welcomed and embraced by everyone, regardless of our different shapes and sizes, gave me more confidence.”

Some amateur players also claim that participating in the sport has improved their self-esteem, potentially because of their career or past negative experiences. This pressure is connected to societal expectations, as noted by Kirby in her interview with the BBC: “I don’t believe it’s solely a problem in women’s football. It’s a much larger issue.” King, who works as an actress, admits to feeling self-conscious about her body in her industry, but says she doesn’t think about it when she’s on the field. At the professional level, Leah Williamson has shared that playing football helped her avoid body image issues during her teenage years.

This year, Mahmood’s team has a new uniform that is darker in color, reducing concerns about their periods or clothing becoming transparent in the rain. The team is composed of children from diverse cultural backgrounds, and players have the freedom to dress as they choose: some wear leggings and headscarves, while others do not. Mahmood explains, “It’s about empowering them to feel confident.” Kirby’s remarks are “incredibly powerful.” It may now be in their minds that appearance is not important as long as they are playing to the best of their abilities.

Talking points

After being sidelined for nine months due to an ACL injury, England and Arsenal’s captain Leah Williamson has made her return to the field. She came on as a substitute in the second half and helped Beth Mead score a goal in the team’s 6-0 victory over Reading in the Conti Cup. Williamson expressed her gratitude to those who supported her during her recovery in an interview with Sky Sports.

Leah Williamson returns to the pitch for Arsenal and is passed the captain’s armband by teammate Katie McCabeView image in fullscreen

Casey Stoney has renewed her agreement as the head coach for San Diego Wave, a team in the NWSL, until 2027. There is a potential for her contract to be extended until 2028. Since joining the team in 2021, she has achieved the remarkable feat of being the first coach to guide an NWSL expansion team to the play-offs in its inaugural season. She also led her team to win the 2023 NWSL Shield, which is given to the team with the best regular season record. In a statement from the club, Stoney expressed her dedication to continue building and improving the team.

Today’s quote

“I’m not sure, to be honest” – Pernille Harder’s response when asked about feeling heard by governing bodies regarding new tournaments like the Women’s Club World Cup, according to Forbes.

On Sunday evening, Tottenham emerged victorious in a thrilling 4-3 match against West Ham at Chigwell Construction Stadium. The game included a controversial yet impressive goal from Tottenham’s Grace Clinton. West Ham’s goalkeeper, Mackenzie Arnold, expressed her frustration over a potential offside call.

West Ham goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold protests against the award of Grace Clinton’s goal.

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The most recent episode of the Women’s Football Weekly podcast is currently accessible.

Still want more?

Kelly Simmons, the former director of the women’s professional game at the FA, shares her thoughts on the upcoming year for the sport in her debut column for the Guardian.

In December, 3,000 female spectators attended the Tehran derby, however, the seating arrangements were subpar and there are restrictions on the number of attendees. John Duerden discusses the current situation in Iran.

Additional information about Leah Williamson’s comeback and the potential issue of Aston Villa playing a player who was ineligible during their Conti Cup match against Sunderland.

Suzanne Wrack witnessed Chelsea’s victory over Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge, securing their spot in the knockout round of the Champions League. Check out her detailed account here.

Interactive transfer window for women’s soccer: stay updated on the newest transfers and club guides for the WSL, as well as leagues in Italy, France, Germany, and Spain.

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