Why are women in sport constantly bombarded with weight loss culture?
This talented team was running around the pitch with a weight loss clinic’s logo below their buttocks (Picture: James Holyoak/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The new year spelled excitement for Birmingham City Women FC (BCWFC) as they took on Arsenal – who are one of the best teams in the world – and won.

Despite their opponents featuring a handful of England’s tenacious Lionesses, like Beth Mead, Jordan Nobbs and Nikita Parris, Birmingham City dominated and it was a really exciting game. It reminded me of the joy of live football, and particularly the excellence of the women’s game.

But instead of revelling in the excitement, I was focusing on the logo printed across the shorts of the players on the Brummy side. This talented team was running around the pitch with a weight loss clinic’s logo below their buttocks.

My stomach dropped. How silly was I to think that the women’s game was being taken seriously? That this was about more than just looks?

I just cannot get on board with advertisements for weight loss products and services in women’s sport, when there is such an agonizing pressure on women to look and be a certain way in day-to-day life. 

I play football for a small south London team in a casual league where players are able to develop and learn. It’s social, it’s comfortable, it’s powerful, and it puts me in the best mood.

Endorphins aplenty, I can’t get enough. It’s my Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings. 

I grew up loathing PE, hating how I felt, and only going to the gym to be thin. It took reaching my early twenties and falling in love with outdoor swimming and of course, the beautiful game, to change this mindset.

I found myself no longer viewing exercise as a means of losing weight. I didn’t care so much what I looked like but how I felt and the fun I was having. 

This makes the focus on Tonic Weight Loss Clinic’s sponsorship of Birmingham City all the more upsetting.

Imogen Brighty-Potts playing football

I play football for a small south London team in a casual league where players are able to develop and learn (Picture: Georgia Hunt Photography)

When the sponsorship was announced last year, BCWFC said in a statement: ‘The partnership will work to educate football fans about the health benefits through social media collaborations across the season as part of their powerful campaign #GivingBackLives, which is at the heart of all the clinics’ work.’

Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely justifiable reasons for weight loss surgery, but weight loss will not be an all-encompassing solution to every problem in your life and if just one girl sees this partnership and feels bad about her body or wants to change it, I think it’s wrong.

Women’s football has progressed so much over the last year with the 2021 Vitality Women’s FA Cup Final taking place at Wembley in December, it has been more widely seen by sports fans and the media as a significant and engaging sport.

At the end of last year, teams across the country celebrated the fact that women’s football was progressing, 100 years after UEFA banned the it. 

According to the FA, there are over 3million female football players in England and I am proud to be a part of the huge and welcoming grassroots community. Women’s football has fought hard to be taken seriously – we’ve fought for better pay, more publicity and generally more respect.

So why does it matter if there is a little sponsorship from a company promoting gastric band surgeries for weight loss? It’s money into the sport, right?

Unfortunately, diet culture is everywhere you look in this country – in the detox teas you see on Instagram to the January campaign in magazines to improve your life by losing a pound or 10 – and it has a particularly sinister presence in sport.

Open your eyes and you will see the language around food and weight is increasingly toxic – it’s all detoxes, deficits, calorie-burning and low sugar. We are surrounded by the discourse of ‘solutions’ to not liking your own body. Hating yourself can be big money.

Lisa Robertson of Birmingham City dejected at full time during the Barclays FA Women's Super League match between Birmingham City and Tottenham Hotspur at St Andrews, Birmingham on Sunday 13th February 2022. (Photo by Kieran Riley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Feminist campaigns like #ThisGirlCan have done so much for encouraging women to get into sport (Picture: Kieran Riley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Last year, former footballer Sophie Goodwin explained her relationship with her body and the game, which dated back to her childhood.

She told Good Morning Scotland: ‘Boys from my school used to come to my matches and single me out and stand behind my goal and call me fat and a pig because I was a slightly bigger kid on the team. Those comments stick with you from such a young age.’

Unfortunately, she ended up developing an eating disorder in her senior career. This is a heartbreaking thing, but all too common in women’s sports at a senior level. Gymnasts, swimmers, footballers – eating disorders are rife in sports at all levels.  

Similarly, 30-year-old footballer Helen plays for casual and empowering South London team, Bend It Like Peckham. She was left angry and disappointed when she noticed the logo being zoomed in on at the end of the game.

She told me: ‘It undermines the professionalism of women athletes and their dedication to training and sports nutrition and it profits from sports women’s hard work and activism to further entrench institutional sexism by promoting an ideal body type in every arena of a woman’s life.’ 

And this really resonated with me. Why, in the things we love – that we use to relax and socialise – are we still being fed this toxic narrative?

The majority of the reviews on the Tonic Clinic’s website appear to be by women, and that’s unsurprising when, despite there being similar rates of obesity between men and women, women make up nine in 10 of referrals by doctors to weight management programmes, according to the National Institute for Health Research.

Feminist campaigns like #ThisGirlCan have done so much for encouraging women to get into sport, particularly by showcasing in ad campaigns and online stories the ways women can get into traditionally masculine sports. It has taken the focus away from weight and image and put it instead on feeling good and meeting people to improve your life both physically and socially.

Is it ethical then for a weight loss surgery clinic to be promoted on such a huge stage, opposite one of the best women’s football teams in the world? In a game where all I wanted to do was celebrate the success of the underdog, why was I seeing this?

Women who love football are putting so much work into raising the profile of the game – asking for it to be more widely respected – yet it still seemingly sits in the shadow of an ongoing discourse around weight loss in women’s sport.

I may not be a first-class athlete – and there’s nothing written on my shorts – but sponsorships like this are just not the tonic for me.

Metro.co.uk reached out to Tonic Weight Loss Clinic for comment.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk. 

Share your views in the comments below.


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By Betty C. Giordano

Welcome to my site. My name is Betty C. Giordano and I am a blogger of everything related to mobile, news, events and reality in general. I hope you enjoy reading my content.

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