Too pretty to play rugby? No, but we are also proud to be feminine
“Do you play rugby?” You are too pretty to play rugby. I love it when I am told that. I’m a girl and we girls love compliments. I realize, of course, that this should bother me. Why should what I look like matter? I have tried to raise the profile of women’s rugby for most of my life while trying to cement the idea that, yes, you can be a girl and play rugby.
Mud, mauls, and mascara are not mutually exclusive.
The reverse side of the comment “‘too pretty to play rugby”, however, is “Ooh, I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of you” or, “You have really big hands” comments, especially when I’m at a reception trying to look attractive in a party dress. Being tall and scary on the rugby pitch is fine, but when I go out for a party, trust me, it doesn’t This isn’t the look I’m looking for! While my size has helped me in my rugby career, I’ve struggled with it when I’m just on my own.
When I first joined the England team in 2004, I remember seeing a very cold and wet training session. Forwards coach Graham Smith at the time brought us together for a stern and honest conversation. I stood next to Rachel Vickers, one of our second rows, and in my opinion one of the most feminine and stylish members of the team. Graham told us, unequivocally, that if we weren’t ready to develop big necks through extra and specific muscle training, we shouldn’t be here. Vickers and I just looked at each other and, to be honest, I just thought, “No way.”
I would do anything to play for England, and happily spent hours in the gym, but wasn’t ready to look like a man to step onto the pitch.
I speak to countless women who are athletic. But when I suggest they try rugby, they laugh in my face. They tell me that they are not made to play the game. But rugby is one of the rare sports to adapt to all body types. There is a position on the court for everyone, no matter how tall, short, curvy or thin. Our England captain in 2006 was an extraordinary player called Jo Yapp: a phenomenal point guard, and, at just 5-3 / 4 with a small frame, she was one of the smallest on the pitch.
I have been insulted several times by different people over the years. Not intentionally, I guess, but without thinking anyway. Once I was talking to a man whose daughter was playing rugby, but when she was 14 she had quit. He explained that she liked boys and makeup, so she couldn’t keep playing. I wanted to scream and scream whenever people said things to me like that. I was personally injured, but I was also injured for the game.