A solitary pre-season training run at her local football club was the last place that Sarah Perkins expected to be sledged.
Perkins was doing interval running in preparation for another AFLW season when an older man abruptly stopped her.
“He just made the comment, ‘Why are you running like that?’” Perkins said.
Watch every match of every round of the 2023 Toyota AFL Premiership Season LIVE on Kayo Sports. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Heppell in the captains seat | 02:14
“He said something along the lines of, ‘You’re too big for that, you are wasting your time’. I was really taken aback by it and found it quite offensive.
“I tried to be as polite as I could at the time but just told him that was not okay and I hoped he was ashamed to make those comments. Thankfully he left the area really quickly and I could continue my session, but I was pretty hurt and upset by it.”
It wasn’t the first – or last – time that Perkins had been trolled about her body image as a female athlete rather than her sporting abilities.
Last March, she hit back at a pair of online trolls who body shamed her after she was pictured in a photo posted on Twitter by the Gold Coast Suns.
One anonymous user replied to the photo by saying “Peak athleticism”, before another followed up by writing “I think she should go for a jog”.
“I’ve called it out a couple of times on social media and made it public that it’s not okay,” Perkins said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re female or male, there’s plenty of trolls out there that are going to let you know that they don’t like the way that you look. We’ve got to remember that everyone’s built differently.
“It did affect my mental health for a fair while. My father had passed away so I was probably already a little bit cut and grieving.
“I like to think I’ve got thick skin but I’m a big teddy bear on the inside, which I try to hide.”
Body shaming is an issue faced by female athletes not just across the AFLW but also across the wider sporting landscape.
Sydney Swans AFLW general manager Kate Mahoney has previously held high-level sports science and physiotherapy positions with the Australian women’s cricket team and the Women’s Tennis Association and said a shift of thinking was required.
“To perform in all different sports requires all different body compositions and sometimes people judge women far too quickly and really unfairly on how they look rather than how they perform,” Mahoney said.
“Players are focusing on performance. They’re measuring themselves on things like power or speed or endurance or whatever they need for their sport.”
Mahoney said it had to be remembered that some players entering the fledgling AFLW competition in recent years had not had remotely comparable talent pathways to their male counterparts.
“The pathways in the female game have only been established in the past five years or so where they have access to strength and conditioning coaches and running coaches and really good football coaches,” Mahoney said.
“Bodies take time to adjust and adapt and we’re seeing the results of that now with some really fantastic athletes out on the field.”
An Adelaide premiership player in 2017, Perkins is now with Hawthorn and has been one of the most watchable and celebrated players in the AFLW across its seven seasons.
Her message to the trolls is simple.
“Just think before you speak and you never know what’s going on in someone else’s mind or the troubles that they are having,” Perkins said.
“Just be kind to one another and let’s start bringing people up rather than trying to tear them down for the way that they are or who they are as a person.”
Story Credit: foxsports.com.au