Voices: I’m a strong woman – but I’m still a woman. Stop calling me a man

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

In the gym – and on the pitch – I loved being strong and had a lot of body confidence. Off the pitch however, I did have a few insecurities about my body.

I loved wearing dresses but would always hate the reaction I would get when I wore them, with people commenting about my arms or how muscular I looked, or sometimes just staring. I had a guy loudly comment, “jeez, you’re big” – which made me shy away from wearing some of the clothes I’d have liked to, thinking I’d look “too big” in them. I remember once saying to a friend: “I can’t wear that because of my arms.”

Post-professional retirement, I joined a CrossFit gym and I loved it. I felt that strength, muscle and performance were all celebrated, and I felt I fitted in.

I now run online Body Transformation Programmes – as part of that, I posted a video of “how to get bigger biceps”. It was immediately trolled – one guy even responded with a video of himself pretending to retch. I cried when I saw it and the hundreds of other negative comments, saying I looked like a bloke or must be on steroids. It made me want to quit social media altogether.

I immediately blocked and reported the post – but TikTok refused to take it down, saying that it didn’t violate any of their guidelines. So, instead, I posted about the online bullying I’d received. I got an amazing response – with lots of comments with people saying they’d love to have my physique, and that I was inspiring them. This really gave me a confidence boost to keep posting and raising awareness about the online abuse strong women get.

It’s not just happening to me, you see it in the comments section for loads of athletic women – from rugby players or powerlifters, crossfitters or bodybuilders. I know lots of women with ambitions to play high level sports that won’t lift weights to support their goals for fear of getting bigger, and receiving this kind of negative reaction.

As a society, we are guilty of associating strength and muscle with masculinity – and this needs to change. I’m not saying every woman will want to be muscular, but it shouldn’t be seen as masculine.

I confidently wear whatever I want, now – and feel strong and feminine. I’ve realised that most of the people that troll are actually just insecure – they know they don’t have the physique they want, so rather than go and work for it they would rather call me a man.

I even get female clients saying, “but I don’t want to get muscles like yours”… to which I want to say: don’t worry, I actually train very hard and have specific nutrition to make me look like this – it doesn’t happen accidentally!

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We need to change our collective outlook, fast – I still get called a man or accused of being on steroids on a daily basis. But rather than getting upset by it, now it fuels me to keep posting on the subject as I fully believe it’s important for girls, boys, men and women to see strong female role models.

Some people still ask why I challenge the trolls and say I should just ignore them but I think it’s important that these views are challenged and most of the time when I do challenge them they delete their comments and I like to think they might think twice about doing it to someone else.

No one should be offended by a strong woman – it should be encouraged and celebrated.


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