‘I can’t marry them’ – Nigerian sportswomen speak up on mental abuse from body shaming

By Monsurat Olatunji, Lagos

Female athletes, especially women’s footballers in Africa have endured body shaming on a daily as they are perceived and harassed for being muscular, due to the taking into the sport professionally.

Despite their admiration of some top sports women, African men and football fans have not hidden their reservations about their masculinity

Mr Rasak, 25, who resides in Lagos opened up his perception: “I love female athletes especially footballers and basketball players. However, I can only admire and appreciate their craft I can’t marry them. This is because they appear too masculine.”

Maruf, 38, who lives in Abeokuta said: “Marrying a sportswoman is like having a homosexual relationship because we will both appear as men. They’ve built up to look more like a man.”

While another man, who spoke as an anonymous, shared his views, “I don’t really have a problem with the physical appearance of our sports women but I have issues with their dress sense. Most of them already look like men due to the training they go through but dressing like a man makes it worse.”

And Kelvin, 35, who stays in Lagos spoke up about the cultural sentiments on the continent, noted that: “This is Africa, our culture doesn’t permit us to have a wife that dress and act like a man. Most of these sports women don’t even have time to raise family, they are too focused on their career that they don’t care about other things.”

As far as legends go, Perpetua Nkwocha is as big as they come in women’s football in Africa. Now 44, the record four-time African Women’s Player of the Year enjoyed a stellar career, winning multiple titles and individual awards and five African Women’s Cup of Nations titles.

The former Super Falcons star waited until she was 40 to tie the knots but insists she has no regrets about her decision not to marry early despite pressures from the society.

Nkwocha told SavidNews.com: “There is no straight yes or no to why most Africa sports women married after retirement.

“However, marriage has a lot of responsibilities attached. Getting married early has a lot of implications depending on a lot of circumstances. Let us say, I got married while playing and my husband decided to raise children immediately, that would have obvious implications on my football playing career. It definitely would have been very noticeable.”

However, she believed being muscular doesn’t turn off a serious and dedicated suitor.

“Well it is wrong to say that men are turned off female footballers. That is a very wrong notion. Female footballers are fit and trendy and very physically attractive. Football is very demanding and time is often the problem as these players move from place to place, city to city. Their mobility, more than anything else is a very big obstacle.”

China’s Shanghai Shengli striker Francisca Ordega, on her own part, has a different perspective on the subject matter. The Gboko-born Nigeria international, who turned 27 this Monday has recently been in the spotlight, having suffered body-shaming abuse on social media.

Ordega did not only inspired Nigeria to the Round of 16 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France for the first time in 20 years but was also nominated for the top 20 hairstyles of the tournament with her long flashy purple braided hair during the international showpiece.

The Super Falcons star, who is one of the most trendy fashionistas in the women’s Sports Industry in Africa and arguably the only Nigerian to have played in over five continents, has expressed her disgust about how the female footballers are often turned off by African men.

The former Washington Spirit striker, who posted some hot pictures of herself on Twitter did not overlook a negative comment from one of her fans (who said she is too muscular to be any man’s woman crush) as she spelt it out that ‘my veins pay my bills.’

In an Instagram live interview with our correspondent Olatunji, she said: “Men said they get turned off from female footballers because of the muscle, fame, and money. Some even said if they marry a female footballer, she might beat them up when there’s a misunderstanding.

“Muscle doesn’t make us fewer women. Only a man with an inferiority complex will think that muscle, fame and money won’t make us a good wife. Men assume a lot when it comes to approaching female footballers.”

She highlighted some of her off-pitch feminine attributes, stressing that: “I make sure I separate my professional career from my feminine life, despite the muscle I dressed so girlie, do everything every woman does, wear make-ups, heels, wigs and dress. I am a great cook as well and I enjoy going to the market for groceries shopping.”

Serena Williams, a sportswoman frequently in the spotlight, has had to consequently deal with immense criticism from the public over her appearance, having been called ‘too big’ or ‘too muscular’.

Assessing the achievements of Ordega, who has always shunned this negativity and celebrated her ‘strong, muscular, powerful, sensational’ body, appealed to parents to encourage their young girls to take to football. Ordega’s confidence in her athleticism shows women that they should be proud, not apologetic of their strength. Considering Asisat Oshoala’s career breakthrough, having won four African Women’s Player of the Year and BBC Women’s Player of the Year awards at 27, women’s football is on the rise on the continent and number of football stars are becoming role models to African girls and also endearing to herself many admirers globally.

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