It was only a five-second clip from her recent documentary, but the reaction made Fran Kirby know she was right to speak out.
Walking out to the training pitches as she continued to recover from a knee injury picked up in February that ruled her out of this summer’s World Cup, a voice from behind the camera shouted out.
“Fran, how are you wearing a jacket?” they asked.
Kirby replied: “Because I get called ‘fat’ all the time so I have to cover it up”.
the way fran kirby says so casually that she gets called fat all the time just comes to show that footballers do see your comments. pic.twitter.com/QQs500jwAy
— naomi (@wosocharleeeees) November 1, 2023
The small exchange went viral on social media, prompting prominent figures in the women’s game, such as Kirby’s manager at Chelsea, Emma Hayes, to call for greater education on the issue of body shaming.
Kirby herself has since been inundated with messages from fellow players and it is why she is happy to speak now, even if it isn’t easy.
“For me to get that kind of reaction, it just makes talking about it worth it,” she tells Standard Sport. “It makes me be in a vulnerable position because I am the one talking, but getting these responses from these players, or team-mates of players, makes it all worth it.”
Kirby is not the first female player to speak out about body shaming, with her England team-mate Alessia Russo doing so in the summer.
The issue, however, is more widespread than that and Kirby believes it is present in the men’s game and, for that matter, other parts of society.
“Everyone feels judged with what they do, what they wear, what they are eating, how they look,” she says.
“I probably went through different stages of my career of how my body shape looked. My body reacted in different ways each time. I got myself down to the lightest I have been in my professional career and I was struggling with muscle injuries.
“Now I would say my muscle capacity is the biggest it has ever been, and now I get the messages: ‘She looks like she is out of shape’.
“Well, no actually, I have been working really hard to get my muscles in a place where I am not going to get injured, because if I get injured then you are going to complain that I am injured again.
“It’s always a battle between the two - what is right for you and what is right for your body. When I lost a lot of weight, I was just getting pushed off the ball. I am 5ft 1in, 5ft 2in at a push, I need to have some sort of muscle strength behind me.”
Kirby says she has had to learn that “the hard way” and social media has been the place where she has received the most abuse.
“Social media is always the place where people write things about others because they can hide behind a computer or phone screen,” she says. “They are not going to get any repercussions from it.”
You are worried about eating because you have already met your daily calories - even though we should be eating more because we're training
The key going forward is education and Kirby has praised the work Chelsea and England do, with staff speaking to players about how crucial their diet is.
“In women’s football I know nutritionists have been working so hard, because it is the case with a lot of female footballers that they don’t want to eat carbs because they are worried how their body looks,” she says. “But for us to be able to play at the level we do, you need to fuel your body.
“I have been down similar roads as Russo in terms of weighing out your food, counting your calories. Am I eating too much of this? Am I eating too much of that?
“For me, it becomes something that you just obsess over and over and over about, and you are worried to have this piece of food because you have already met your daily calories - even though we should be eating more because we are training.
“It just becomes this thing that we are obsessed about, but it is because people comment about it on social media and if you react to that, you are obviously going to react in a way where you think: ‘I need to lose weight because I need to look good in my football kit’. When actually that’s not the priority.”
Kirby is one of the best players in the women’s game. She is Chelsea Women’s record goalscorer and has won 13 trophies with them, while she was also a key part of the England side that went all the way at Euro 2022.
But the 30-year-old has revealed she battles with confidence, and returning earlier this season after eight months out with a knee injury was a “nerve-wracking” experience.
“I probably wouldn’t say I was at the most confident of my career,” Kirby says. “Getting an injury and coming back into a team, everyone expects you to be at 110 per cent and it takes a bit of time to build that in.
“I think people just expect, because you are playing football, that everything is great and everything is amazing.
“When actually there are quite a lot of players I have worked with, myself included, that have gone through periods in their career when you are just stuck in this rut and you can’t get out of it.”
Kirby says she has struggled with confidence at differing stages, but particularly when coming back from injury. Over the years she has learned to deal with it, advocating the use of techniques such as self-talk.
Everyone struggles with confidence, it is something I resonate a lot with.
“I don’t always judge myself on scoring goals, but seeing yourself scoring a goal it gives you a good feeling,” Kirby says.
“For me, I get really excited when I win a slide tackle because it is not something I am notably known for. So doing something like that actually builds my confidence.”
Kirby’s aim is to now help others and it is why she has signed with Badoo to become the dating app’s first Confidence Coach.
“Everyone struggles with confidence,” she says. “It is something I resonate a lot with. For myself, I have had to learn different strategies and different ways of installing confidence.”
One of those strategies is visualisation. On Sunday, Kirby will walk out in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Emirates Stadium when Chelsea take on Arsenal.
In her mind, however, she will be in the park with her friends as that can help control any nerves.
“Obviously some games mean a lot more than that,” she says. “But, I think it is about trying to put yourself in a position where you feel comfortable.
“For me, the most comfortable I have been in my whole life is going down to the park and playing football with my friends. So I try and correlate the two. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least I try and have some kind of coping mechanism to deal with it.”
Fran Kirby has been signed by Badoo as the dating app’s first Confidence Coach, after finding that confidence is at a record low for 1 in 4 singles. Head to Badoo for confidence tips, and keep an eye on Badoo's social channels for a chance to win your own pep talk with Fran