Following her debut performance on the Sky Sports broadcasting team during the Netball World Cup this summer, Ama Agbeze chatted to Stylist about why she still doesn’t like to look at her own naked body
Ama Agbeze led the England netball team to a historic gold medal win in the Commonwealth Games last year. Playing in goal defence and goal keeper positions, she has been a part of the national team since 2001. This year, the team took third place at the Netball World Cup (which Agbeze also covered as part of the presentation team at Sky Sports). And she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2019 Birthday Honours for her services to netball.
Despite all this, though, the champion athlete still hates looking at her own body.
Agbeze opened up about her complicated — yet highly relatable — relationship with her body in a recent Instagram post which showed her posing for a nude photoshoot. The powerful image and supporting caption highlighted the concerning fact that pretty much no one is exempt from feeling like they have a “flawed” body.
“Despite what people may think I have body image issues, and when I saw the pictures my eyes immediately went to my flaws,” she wrote. “I hope one day to be able to celebrate them and the rest of my body. I fear that that point will arrive too late.”
Stylist caught up with Agbeze on the same morning that she shared the bold post to find out how she was feeling about baring all.
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What made you decide to embrace a nude photo shoot?
I’m not comfortable with my body, I don’t even get naked in front of my husband. So it was a major thing. But I feel I’ll look back and I’ll be happy that I did it and be happy with the photos. But I didn’t really want to do it. I kind of said yes and then the time came and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh it’s real’.”
How do you feel now that you’ve shared your first nude first photo and what has the reaction been like?
I just kind of forgot about it until yesterday, then I was like, ‘Oh wow’. I would like to say that I feel relieved but I haven’t got to that stage that. People have been really positive and supportive, which I didn’t expect — so I think I’m just trying to deal with it in my own head.
You talked about “still seeing your flaws” in the photo and wanting to be able to celebrate them – what flaws are you referring to?
I wasn’t going to list my flaws in the answers because I thought that people would automatically look and be like, ‘Oh yeah I see that too’. At the photoshoot, I put my robe on and had a look at the shots, and I’d see like a roll of fat on my back and I was sweating a bit so my skin was dripping. My skin isn’t one tone so there are bits where it’s dark skin and others where it’s light skin. It felt as if there were loads of things like that: “Oh the skin on my back is patchy, there’s that pale line there, a roll of fat there and sweat marks there.”
Many of us feel insecure about parts of our body that others would probably never even notice. Can you offer any advice on how to celebrate the parts of ourselves we feel most insecure about?
I’m still working on it myself. Sometimes, I don’t look in the mirror. But I feel nobody should know your body like you know your body. You have access to your own body more than anybody else.
So the best thing you can do is actually look at yourself and acknowledge yourself, which I think can be very hard. Even with the nude pictures, I still haven’t fully looked at them all. I think in my head I’m like, if I don’t look then they’re not real.
You’ve shared your intense routine with us before. Some women are put off weight and strength training because of the fear of losing a “feminine” body shape or of muscles being “too manly” – has this ever been a concern for you at any point?
Yes, I am quite muscly. Especially when I was younger, I thought I didn’t want to do loads of weights because I didn’t want to be more muscular than I already was. It was probably only a few years ago that I thought, ‘I’m trying to be a netballer, so I need to be the best I can be at netball and if that means working on my muscles then so be it’.
So in terms of women not wanting to put on muscle, I completely get that because I felt exactly the same. I also think it’s genetic, so you’re not going to pick up a weight and then suddenly muscles sprout out everywhere. It takes a lot of time to build up muscle unless you’re very lucky.
I think trying to explain that to women — that just because you do weights doesn’t mean that you’re going to get massive muscles – is important.
Is “seeing your flaws” something that your other netball team mates experience? Do you openly talk about it together?
Obviously because there are so many different girls and body shapes and personalities in the team, some people might be more open to talking about it than others. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a whole group chin wag about it all, although sometimes someone might say one thing in front of the group and then everybody chips in like, ‘Oh yeah I’ve got this and I’ve got that’. So I think we don’t intentionally set out to have those kind of conversations, but they do happen.
I guess it’s kind of therapy, like ‘oh god look at this picture, I’ve got like a bingo wing’. It’s quite light hearted, but then I think in those situations you need to be careful. It might be light-hearted in the group but then someone might go away and sit by themselves and ponder on whatever it is that is their “issue”.
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Do you think the media puts unnecessary pressure on women to look a certain way? Do you feel that we learn to be ashamed of our bodies from a young age?
When I shared my nude photos, one women said, ‘Oh, I’m the same and I struggle with my body, I don’t know where it’s come from. I can’t believe you posted it – it’s so brave.’ So I was like, ‘If I can do this, you can be more open and comfortable with yourself’.
It’s weird because so many women must feel this way and it must come from somewhere. And I think it must be something that comes from when you’re small, from what you see in society, in the media and certain things. Because no one says you have to look a certain way but everyone seems to think that they do.
With women’s sports now being more present in the media (Sky Sports covered all 60 games of the NWC showing its commitment to women in sport) do you think netball promotes body positivity and confidence in women?
Sky Sports has supported netball for years and it’s been on TV and more people watched it this year because of the World Cup. And I think that’s great because one body type doesn’t necessarily fit [for netball] so there are so many different shapes and sizes that play the game. You don’t have to look a certain way, you can just be you. And I think netball sometimes can be thought of as cliquey and girly but, it really is just such a welcoming community. Whatever reason you are playing it for – whether that’s to get fit or to socialise and meet new people – it’s just a way of doing that irrespective of where you’re from, what you look like, how fit you are or what size you are.
And what advice would you give to the girls and women who have been watching the netball at home?
I do a lot of coaching and talks at schools. They [the girls] are always showing each other photos on social media of lips and things and I’m like, ‘You guys are like 11, live your childhood’. The more we can encourage girls to be confident in themselves and not encourage them to look a certain way, means that they’ll grow up to be women who respect themselves and who are confident.
For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.
Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:
We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.
Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.
Images: Sky Sports, Getty
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Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…