Opinion: I am a strong woman – but I am still a woman. Stop calling me a man

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As a former English rugby player, I have always trained hard and had an athletic physique. I didn’t train to look a certain way, it was all about performance on the court and being the best rugby player I could be.

V gym – and on the court – I loved being strong and I had a lot self-confidence in the body. Off the field, however, I had some uncertainty about my body.

I loved wearing dresses, but I would always hate the reaction I would get when I wore them, when people commented on my arms or how muscular I looked, or sometimes just stared. I had a boyfriend who commented out loud, “eat, you’re big” – which made me avoid wearing some of the clothes I would have liked and thought I would look “too big” in them. I remember once saying to a friend, “I can’t wear this because of my hands.”

After professional retirement, I joined Crossfit Gym and I enjoyed it. I felt strength, muscle, and performance being celebrated, and I felt like I was turning on.

I’m running now on the Web Body reshaping programs – as part of this I published a video “how to get bigger biceps”. This was immediately trampled on – one guy even responded with a clip pretending to be vomiting. I cried when I saw this and hundreds of other negative comments saying I look like a guy or I need to take steroids. Because of this, I wanted to leave social media altogether.

I immediately blocked and reported the post – but Tiktok did not want to remove it, saying that it does not violate any of their guidelines. So instead, I posted about the online bullying I received. I got an amazing response – with lots of comments from people who said they wanted to have my physique and that I was inspired by them. This really gave me the confidence to continue posting and raising awareness about the online abuse of powerful women.

It’s not just happening to me, you see it in the comment section for heaps of athletic women – from rugby players or powerlifters, crossfitters or bodybuilders. I know many women with ambitions to play high-level sports who do not lift weights to support their goals because they are afraid of getting bigger and receiving this kind of negative reaction.

As a society, we are guilty of connecting strength and muscle masculinity – and that needs to change. I’m not saying every woman will want to be muscular, but we shouldn’t look at it that way male.

Now I confidently wear what I want – and I feel strong and feminine. I’ve come to realize that most people who troll are actually just insecure – they know they don’t have the desired physique, so they’d rather call me a man than work for it.

I even get clients who say, “but I don’t want to have muscles like yours” … to which I want to say: don’t worry, I actually train very hard and have a special diet to look like this – it doesn’t happen by accident!

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We need to change our collective view quickly – they still call me men or accuse me of being on steroids every day. But instead of upsetting me, she is now encouraging me to continue posting on this topic, as I am absolutely convinced that it is important for girls, boys, men and women to see strong female role models.

Some people still ask why I challenge trolls, and say I should simply ignore them, but I find it important that these views are challenged and most of the time when I challenge them, they delete their comments and I like to think I could double considered doing it to someone else.

A strong woman should not offend anyone – this should be encouraged and celebrated.

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