Pro footballer and author Eniola Aluko shares her advice on how to stamp out that all-too-familiar itch to compare yourself to people on Instagram, and how to find inner strength in moments of vulnerability.
Looking to be inspired by incredible women? Welcome to our new column, ‘This is what strong looks like’.
What does strong mean to you?
Obviously there’s a physical strength that you can feel in your body, but internally, you can also be very strong when going through difficult moments in life. This could be something unexpected, for example, or a family issue – whatever it may be that challenges you and makes you feel vulnerable. There is strength in knowing that you’re going to come out of it the other end.
One thing I’ve learnt is that vulnerability is strength – for example, being able to look yourself in the mirror and think, I can be better than that, or being open with people and being honest. In this day and age, where everyone puts out edited versions of themselves, sometimes without even trying, then being your true self is strength.
So what part of physical strength plays into strength?
When it’s my job, I have to train every day, work out and play football, so I have to be in my best physical state. That requires endurance, speed, the right nutrition – that’s the fundamental bases of what I do. I’m 32 years old, but I feel 25!
Now we train to such a high level in women’s sports, and we have access to all the facilities that men do, whereas before we were half and half. But now, you only see athletes on the field, which is only going to help the game.
What about mental strength, how do you measure that?
I think mental strength is being able to say “I’m really scared of this but I’m going to do it anyway” or “I really don’t feel good about this situation but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel”. I think it’s about facing something that you know is challenging, but moving toward it with a positive attitude, and knowing that it will help you grow. For others, mental strength might be about staying silent in certain situations where people expect them to react, so it’s different depending on your situation.
What impact does mental strength have on your life?
Mental health has become much more of an open conversation now. It’s kind of at the forefront of people’s minds – mindfulness is everywhere. Although you can’t control your own thoughts, I do think mental strength is important.
How do you motivate yourself? (Not just for gym, but also in life?)
The main thing I do is listen to people who I think are strong and wise. I listen to a lot of motivational speakers, and spend my time with people who have good energy. A lot of time when I go out with my friends I just sit there and don’t say anything because I feel good. For example, I had a book launch recently and the energy in the room was just amazing – I was buzzing from seeing everyone. You need to be really selective about the energy around you within your friends and family.
In terms of social media, a lot of people can feel inadequate looking online. So what would be your advice?
With social media, I think you have to look at it through the lens of it being a fantasy world. The pictures are real, but it’s a fantasy in a way because everyone you see is going through something, but they’ve edited the picture to make themselves feel comfortable.
Nobody should feel inadequate [when looking on Instagram], because nobody is the finished product. OK, it might look good and you might like the picture, but that doesn’t mean that person is better than you.
What’s your advice for women who want to get strong mentally and physically?
Physically, I would say exercise, work out, and be disciplined. Make a commitment and write it down, so you can see what you want to get out of it.
Mentally, it’s about being able to understand where your mind is, and not pretending that you’re OK if you’re not. I’m a big believer in therapy so go there if you can; [and] you can have therapy to just maintain how you feel.
Again, it’s about understanding the reality of some of the things that affect us. Understanding that things like Instagram aren’t real, and surrounding yourself with positive energy. That will make you feel good.
They Don’t Teach This by Eniola Aluko is available to buy now (Penguin, £10).
Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter