Julia was in a singlet, her muscles showing. The internet …[ad_1]
Women’s sport is being exposed like never before but so are the athletes themselves, leading a Broncos star to issue a rallying cry to the next generation.
“Don’t let it consume you.”
Brisbane NRLW winger Julia Robinson has established herself as one of the game’s finest players: a three-time premiership champion, Maroons’ State of Origin regular and Jillaroos World Cup winner.
Yet her dedication to the physicality of rugby league and her career in the defence force ultimately brought out the worst of social media.
On the eve of the 2022 season, a photo of Robinson at training was posted online.
Standing in a singlet with her defined muscles showing, internet trolls unleashed a vile barrage of personal attacks.
And despite a flurry of support in her corner across the game’s landscape, Robinson admits the incident shook her.
The hostility by some, she realised, would always be there.
Robinson was compelled to issue her own post, reminding other women to be proud of their muscles.
And she has since emphatically called on the next generation of athletes to seek solace away from the white noise.
“I’m going to be honest: it did affect me, you’re human, and you don’t like to have nasty things said about you,” Robinson said.
“But you move on. I actually saw the comments a few days before I even posted anything because I was like, ‘Whatever, I don’t know them, they’re not a part of my life’.
“But the reason I made my post was because I was seeing other people saying they were self-conscious about their muscles and everything, and I was, like, why?
“Why are we being self-conscious about this? You should be proud of yourself, proud of what your body can do.
“So, that’s why I made the post.
“I would tell girls you should never be ashamed or self-conscious about your body. If you want to be an athlete, you should be proud of being able to go to the gym and be strong because you want to be the best athlete you want to be.”
Year-on-year, women’s sport has grown in popularity, support and exposure, particularly in codes dominated by men.
Rugby league’s landscape will never be the same on the back of the NRLW’s expansion to 10 teams, with further developments on the horizon.
Its growing presence has filtered to the grassroots, with Queensland Rugby League reporting a 19 per cent increase in female participation in south-east Queensland last year, and more than 3000 players.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup epitomised the extra attention, with more than 11 million people tuning in to watch the Matildas’ quarter-final against France, while sold-out crowds followed the team wherever they travelled.
But that exposure brought out the worst in some spectators, with defender Ellie Carpenter on the receiving end of cruel backlash following an error in the semi-final loss to England.
The fallout reportedly forced her to restrict comments on her Instagram account.
Much in the manner their male counterparts have been forced to deal with racial slurs and even death threats through social media channels, Robinson said those entering the elite ranks would have to accept it had become a byproduct of the environment.
“I guess it’s the joys of women’s sport getting bigger and bigger – social media becomes more involved and a lot more people start having their own views on everything,” she said.
“It’s very important that if you feel like something is going to affect you, just talk to someone about it.
“From what happened last year with the whole body image stuff, I look back at it and think in a way that while it wasn’t a good thing that happened, it brought some light to it.
“You have to find ways to deal with it and know that you shouldn’t worry about what people think about you. Believe in yourself, love yourself and be proud of yourself.”
Psychology experts have uncovered profound links between social media abuse and mental health disorders in athletes.
Brisbane clinical psychologist Dr Stan Steindl has worked with a variety of sportspeople in this space – from umpires ruthlessly pursued by fans after games, to athletes who have been on the receiving end of body shaming.
The aftermath of such attacks, he said, had led to “extreme feelings of shame and depression”.
Steindl, an adjunct professor at the University of Queensland School of Psychology, said in the general population there were increasing trends of depression and anxiety among young people related to some of the more harmful aspects of social media – such as harassment, bullying and stalking.
He said the high-profile nature of athletes made them even more at risk of suffering health conditions, and that in extreme cases the vicious cycle had ended some careers.
“On the one hand, the athlete receives intense criticism for their performance in the sport, which has a major negative effect on self-confidence and self-esteem and can result in worsening mental health and worsening performance,” Steindl said.
“On the other hand, the athlete receives criticism for their life outside the sport – their appearance, personality, friends, family, politics etc.
“I think the problem with social media is that the people dealing out the abuse and shaming are often anonymous, faceless, nameless and protected by that anonymity so that they say things that they would probably never say [or have the courage to say] face to face.
“And this is also compounded by the fact that the athlete themselves gets objectified and people forget about, or lose empathy for, the human on the other end of their abuse.
“But yes, female athletes are often negatively affected by social media attacks, often in profound and career-ending ways.
“Male athletes have been found to also be very badly affected by the social media attacks.”
The cruel reality, Steindl said, was that overcoming these assaults would often fall on the individual at the receiving end.
Steps in online privacy security and practice in self-confidence could be taken, but he said compassion – even for those serving the abuse – would be the catalyst for releasing the burden of criticism.
“What other people think of you is none of your business. That’s their problem, and chances are they are struggling themselves – suffering, and lashing out at others to try to make themselves feel better,” Steindl said.
“Above all, look after yourself, be kind to yourself, practise self-compassion, and manage self-criticism or taking on board the criticism of others.”
Coming in Pressure to Perform, part two: The burden of expectations faced by our young stars
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