Dual All Australian and Collingwood’s defensive pillar Ruby Schleicher has opened up to Fox Sports about her personal battle with body image and how it has inspired her to mentor teammates and young girls within and outside the AFLW system.
The 24-year-old revealed that it wasn’t until she became a professional athlete that she started to have a poor relationship with food and began purging to fast track weight loss.
“I was too heavy when I started playing footy … I hated how I looked as I just didn’t look like any of the other girls around me and that’s when I started having body image issues,” she said.
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“For me to lose weight, I started counting calories and that is a deep dark hole to go down. I was eating 1700 calories a day which is ridiculous for someone training every day but I lost five kilograms very quickly … and I thought this is working for me … and then I got injured.”
According to the 2017 Mission Australia Youth Survey report, Ruby is not alone. Body image ranked within the top three concerns for young Australians, alongside stress and academic issues.
Dealing with these pressures can lead even the fittest of athletes to develop negative perceptions about their bodies and emotional distress in the form of anxiety and depression.
This leaves athletes at a greater risk of developing eating disorders and other problems, such as compulsive exercising and training. This in turn, may lead to burnout and injuries.
“Even though it was the leanest I ever looked, in my head I was battling demons … and I started getting injured. It’s taken a long time for me to learn that strong is feminine,” she said.
“I am surrounded by very tiny females – my best friend, my sisters … even my mum is this gorgeous tiny unit with an eight-pack where as I am built like my dad and brother.
“I had to learn to not compare myself to anyone else and to realise that athletes can be strong, fit and feminine.”
Psychologist Sarah McMahon, director of NSW body-image clinic BodyMatters Australasia, said this shift in mindset from wanting the body to look good to wanting the body to do good is significant.
She said: “The quintessential difference in sportswomen is that their body doesn’t exist to merely look good. We’re seeing bodies as capable more than simply being looked at.”
This is some of the messaging Ruby has adopted.
“I’ve been in the AFLW system since the Pies inaugural season in 2017 – and I’ve seen what the pressures of social media and trolling can do. I purged a few times but this also made me feel like a terrible person,” she said.
“On the outside you see strong, confident women but there is so much perceived pressure, some of it from social media and some of it from society’s expectations on what an attractive woman looks like.
“There are young girls in our team and in the league … and I worry for them as well. Some habits aren’t healthy and I like to check in and be open about my story so they can learn it shouldn’t be that way.
“I’ve seen first-hand some of the struggles when it’s been really bad … and I am fortunate I didn’t get to that place because I had support.
“But I do think it’s a conversation for all of us to have and I don’t think enough people are speaking about it.”
Coverage of this year’s AFLW season is part of Kayo’s commitment to women’s sport which features a record number of broadcast hours throughout September and October.
AFLW ROUND 6 (All times AEST)
Hawthorn vs West Coast, Friday 6:10pm, Skybus Stadium
West Coast are improving and the Hawks finally picked up their first win in Round 5 however, their average losing margin over the first four weeks of the season was 36 points. The Eagles will be too good for the young Hawks.
Port Adelaide vs Adelaide, Friday 8:00pm, Adelaide Oval
First ever AFLW showdown at Adelaide Oval as Erin Phillips goes up against her old Crows side.
Carlton vs GWS, Saturday 12:10pm, Henson Park
Two sides desperate to bounce back after being smashed last week, with the Blues losing by 42 and the Giants losing by 96 points.
Western Bulldogs vs Geelong, Saturday 2:10pm, Mars Stadium
The fifth-placed Western Bulldogs take on the sixth placed Geelong, with both sides looking to jump into the top four.
St Kilda vs Collingwood, Saturday 4:10pm, Moorabbin Oval
Collingwood heads to Moorabbin for the first time on Sunday afternoon, looking to make it five wins from six games in Season 7.
Richmond vs Gold Coast, Saturday 6:10pm, Punt Road
Richmond pulled off the upset of the season knocking off the undefeated Lions, while the Suns haven’t won an away game all year.
Brisbane vs Essendon, Sunday 1:10pm, Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex
Brisbane will be seething after their shock loss to Richmond last week – and the Bombers are in for a painful afternoon.
Fremantle vs Melbourne, Sunday 3:10pm, Fremantle Oval
Fremantle are finally on the board after a three-point win over the Eagles in the Western Derby but a Demons reality check is coming.
North Melbourne vs Sydney, Sunday 5:10pm, Punt Road
The Swans have had an average losing margin of 43 points in the opening four games of the season, with three of those four losses coming against teams outside of the eight – North in a gallop.