“I got comments where people said: ‘Fran played really well, what a match, but she looked so big today.’ I thought: ‘Why was that comment necessary?’ It doesn’t matter what my body shape is.”
Chelsea and England midfielder Fran Kirby, 30, is first Raise the issue of “discrimination” around nutrition in women’s football and the pressure on players about “weight and how we look on TV” in November, which she said was linked to the growing growth of this sport.
At the time, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes praised Kirby for solving the “problem” of “underfueling and overcharging” that “comes with the constant requirement to look a certain and real way.” Unfortunately, a vibrant environment comes from social networks.”
Speaking to BBC Sport, midfielder Kirby said: “I read things about myself and thought: ‘Oh really, is that what people think of me?’ Or: ‘Is that really how I look?’ It still affects me but I handle it better.
“It’s important to emphasize that, of course we are professional athletes and we have to be fit to play our sport, but body shape does not determine whether you are fit or not. No. A lot of people think of athletes as robots.
“Me and my teammates are the same. It’s a problem but I don’t think it’s just a problem for women’s football. I think it’s bigger than that.”
“Coming back from injury, you’re not going to be in the best shape of your life,” Kirby said.
“A few years ago it was quite difficult for me after my heart disease. I had to take some time off and gain a little weight because I physically couldn’t do anything.
“It’s not like we train for a week and suddenly you’re completely healthy and ready to play. It’s hard to read those comments.”
‘It doesn’t matter what your body shape is’
Kirby said she was “not afraid” to raise these issues because she is an experienced international and although it was not easy, she found a way to deal with it.
“I’ve been here long enough to endure my own abuse growing up and seeing it on social media – and yet you’re not used to it and there are still things you read about,” she said.
“A new young player, who can receive comments like that, may have to fast and have to play at a high level. You see their form drop and it really affects them.
“I feel it’s important for people to realize that as long as you’re fit to play your sport at the highest level and you’re consistently performing well, body shape is a no-brainer.” .
Kirby received messages from other players expressing concern for their teammates, who they believed were struggling with body image issues.
She said there’s “no one answer” on how to deal with it because “everyone is different”, but it’s important they get support.
“It recognizes when someone is going through that and not controlling the situation but helping and guiding them,” Kirby said. “I talked to players I knew and said, ‘Wow, you need to eat this.’
“I know when I’ve tried to stop fueling as much and it affects my performance and how I feel. So I just try to give as much guidance as I can. Older players and being more mature will definitely be beneficial To do that.
‘I’m not in pain – what a relief’
Kirby’s battle with injury and illness has not stopped her from a successful career.
“It wasn’t easy but my most recent,” she said [knee injury] was probably the easiest place to return to because immediately after surgery I was no longer in pain. That in itself was a relief.
“Of course, missing out on a World Cup is not a pleasant feeling at all. I was extremely proud to watch the girls but in my heart there was always that feeling, I wish you were there.
“But I made the decision very early [after the surgery] that I won’t let it affect me. I don’t feel like that would do me any good.
“It’s still difficult. I’m not going to 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 good spirits.
“I want to be ready for the start of the season and being able to do that makes it all worth it.”
‘I still feel like I have a lot to give’
Kirby’s goal for the rest of the season is simple – stay in shape. The Euro 2022 winner has been present in every match so far this campaign.
She admits to having been “disappointed” with her body in the past but believes her love for the game will keep her going.
“You question how many times you can go through something. It’s never an easy thing. I also felt frustrated with my body and its limitations,” she added .
“Playing football is something I still love to do. I still have a real competitive nature inside me. I will keep playing until that goes away.
Kirby has 6 months left on her contract with Chelsea – so what are her plans for the future?
“At the moment there are no conversations between me 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 it’s at Chelsea or somewhere else. But I love the club. I’ve been here a long time and there are some Great camaraderie with the players and staff.
“I still want to play and play consistently so obviously that was a decision that had to be made.”