It will is Yahoo Life’s body image series, which delves into the journeys of influential and inspirational figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Alex Morgan has devoted her body to the sport of football since she started it as a young girl and eventually became a household name during her professional career. But for the 32-year-old, her goal as a female athlete to champion gender equality in sport is clearer than ever.
“Being a mother and publicly fighting for gender equality against our employer, US Soccer, for over six years has given me a new perspective of just the amazingness that every woman holds in her hands and the ability to create change” Morgan tells Yahoo Life ahead of the news that US Soccer agreed to guarantee equal pay. “I’m just really proud to be on this platform and be able to do things for myself, my daughter, for women for the next generation.”
On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which gave women the opportunity to participate in sports, Morgan is celebrating her own journey as a female athlete. Still, she recognizes the ways in which gender inequality persists.
“Being a woman is so different from being a man. And in the sports world, men have really driven the norm historically, because men’s sports have always been accepted. Men have always been accepted in sports and women have not always been accepted. In many parts of the world, women are still not accepted in the sport,” she explains. “So if you really look at what we’re trying to change in the sport, it’s about not seeing male standards as the standard for all women and men. And that certainly includes body image, nutrition, the needs on and off the pitch, or in an in and out of the gym. Truly accepting the wide range of everyone’s individual body.”
While there are clear differences between the treatment of men and women in her sport — most notably the fact that Morgan for a long time earned “20 times less than the male athlete equal to my status or my abilities on the football field” — she also points out the difference in how male and female athletes should take care of their bodies. She recalls a lot of trial and error as she worked out how best to fuel herself to perform.
“I learned a little bit more as I became a professional athlete, exactly what it takes to feed my body nutritionally. Before I really put no emphasis on that. I also gradually became a vegetarian vegan and felt that was a very important part of my body recovering faster so that I can work optimally,” she says. “When I was younger I did a lot of things where I pushed my body through things that I really shouldn’t have because of the outside pressure I had from coaches or colleagues or the environment I was in as a team environment, and really not that having the confidence to free myself from the thought that what others thought of me was more important than what I thought of myself.”
In terms of general body acceptance, Morgan sees both pros and cons to having different body types represented in women’s soccer in particular.
“I’m really lucky that there are all kinds of teammates who have different bodies than me, and that’s totally okay. Football doesn’t put a certain body type in a box. There’s taller, shorter, you know, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “But it’s also really challenging because you find yourself comparing when you can’t really compare.”
Outside of her sport, she even struggled to feel like she didn’t fit the stereotype of an athlete, nor did she feel aligned with general beauty standards. “Something that might be accepted in football as an athlete’s body, not really being skinny but slim, isn’t accepted outside of the sporting world. And growing up like that, I think there was definitely a struggle with that acceptance.”
She credits her support system for helping her defend those negative beliefs with constant reminders of the purpose she serves as a female athlete.
“If I hadn’t had my husband, who I’ve been with for 15 years, and friends and family in my circle of trust, I think it would have been a lot harder than it was for me,” she says. say. “I was able to lean on them and tap into that self-acceptance that I might not have had otherwise if they didn’t tell me over and over that as a human being you shouldn’t be defined by your appearance, the way you play. the field, but instead by what you stand up for and what you believe in and who you surround yourself with.”
Most importantly, Morgan had to learn to trust herself when it comes to her relationship with her body.
“No one knows your body like you do. And I think it took a lot of learning experiences to really understand what that meant,” she explains. “I often feel like I’m still learning that and I’m still put through situations where I’m tested and challenged to stand up for my body.”
Some of those challenges have come through Morgan’s appearances in the 2019 issue of: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and a 2021 SKIMS campaign, where her body has been showcased in a different way than on the pitch.
“I’m not really trying to make a statement, I’m really just trying to do what I like to do and that is play football. And then I get these opportunities because of my football skills to play on a Illustrated Sports cover, to team up with other athletes for a major Olympic sponsor like SKIMS, to team up with some of the best athletes in other sports for a Super Bowl commercial for Michelob Ultra. They’re just incredible opportunities where I don’t take it too seriously,” she says. “I don’t think, ‘Oh, what will people think of me if I do this?’ I think, ‘Is this fun? Is this what I see myself doing at ease in terms of my brand and who I am? Is it authentic to myself and the people or brand I’m surrounded by?'”
Her compass for how she treats her body, determines her worth as a woman and fights for equality as a female athlete is her two-year-old daughter Charlie. The pregnancy, birth and upbringing of her little girl has given Morgan a new perspective on how she takes care of herself.
“I learned to listen to my body more than ever before and to accept my body no matter the number on the scale or the way I look at myself in the mirror. It was kind of a transformative experience growing a human being and knowing that I wasn’t the priority here, it was my daughter. And I think if I put that focus on someone other than myself, it took into account the perspective I needed to really trust the process,” she explained. from. “And being a mom now, an athlete and back at the highest level, I feel like my perspective has changed forever in the way I look at my body. I don’t see it as something to abuse on the football fields , letting it run on the floor and seeing every last step I could get out of it it really is like appreciating how incredible my body is and the things i can achieve with my body i value it more than i have it ever given before.”
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