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25th Jul 2019

‘If I helped one person then it was worth it’ – Sene Naoupu on body image in sport

Jade Hayden

“It took a bit of time to muster up the courage to share that story.”

In 2009, Sene Naoupu moved from her native New Zealand to Ireland.

The supremely talented athlete made Galway her home, quickly establishing herself as one of the most distinguished and influential rugby players in the country.

Starting playing for Connaught, Sene quickly moved through the ranks eventually receiving her first Irish cap in 2014. She made her debut in the Women’s Six Nations Championship against Italy the following year, eventually coming to represent the country at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017.

Sene started playing rugby when she was 13-years-old – an age where a lot of young girls are faced with body image issues and societal pressures.

She told Her and SportsJOE’s PlayXPlay that the pressures girls are facing can often deter them from playing sports.

“Young girls having phones these days, and how accessible social platforms are to them – what they’re constantly exposed to and the information that’s polarised in their feeds – it all contributes,” she says.

“Sometimes that can influence the decision of a young girl to play a particular sport, or stay in that sport, because of the effect of the body image issues.”

Last year, Sene spoke openly about her own struggle with anorexia.

In a candid Instagram post, she detailed her experience of being diagnosed with an eating disorder and depression in her early 20s. Her deteriorating health, coupled with body image issues, drove her away from sport for some time, until being present for the birth of her sister’s baby changed things.

Now an ambassador for Bodywhys, Sene hopes that by sharing her story she has helped even one person.

“It took a bit of time to muster up the courage to share that story,” she says.

“In this day and age, it’s really important for young girls – and even parents – to be aware of some potential side effects (…) that body image can have on girls, and their decision to get into sport and stay in sport.

“To be honest, for me, if it helped one person – female or male or a parent who has a child going through those sorts of struggles – it serves its purpose.”

Sene says that it was always her intention to help, irrespective of how people would react to her own story.

She has worked closely with Bodywhys to point those who might be struggling in the direction of health services and the support they need.

“A lot of the (Bodywhys) mission is helping others to be the best version of themselves and accepting themselves from who they are,” she says.

“The messaging in that particular sense was encouraging young girls to be confident in their own skin, to be body confident, and to not be afraid to play sport.”

You can watch the full episode of PlayXPlay below. Sene discusses body image issues in sport at 22.05.

You can also subscribe to the podcast version of PlayXPlay here or listen below: