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NGWSD Reflections: How soccer led NYU athlete Maddie Howard forward

In honor of this year’s National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) theme, Lead Her Forward, the Women’s Sports Foundation is highlighting how sport impacted women in their careers and in their lives. Maddie Howard is currently a junior defender on the New York University women’s soccer team and reached out to the Women’s Sports Foundation to share her story in recognition of NGWSD. 

When I was younger my biggest point of bodily shame was my thighs. I’m a lifelong athlete and I have been in love with soccer since I was a little girl. Because of this, over time my quads have developed into two trunk-like sets of bulging muscle.

They’re the reason my pants fit me a little tighter in the legs than they do in the waist. They’re the reason that as a kid, I hated summer clothes — I never liked watching my legs jiggle as I walked around in a swimsuit. But most importantly, they’re the reason I’m good at playing soccer.

As a woman, I’ve been socialized to be at constant war with my ever-changing body. Companies tend to profit off my insecurities. They sell me the latest lotions, makeup and fitness routines guaranteed to ‘fix’ the ‘problems’ with the way I look.

Sports have the potential to save girls’ self-esteem. It’s time we recognize this concept.

When they’ve run out of products to advertise to me, they create new areas to be self-conscious about, new purchasable ‘solutions’ to this perceived inadequacy. Unfortunately for myself and for so many women of all ages, this leads to an endless cycle of insecurity engineered for the specific purpose of ensuring that companies maintain their revenue.

However, I’ve come to learn that for me, one of the most viable ways to mend this socially constructed sense of imperfection is through immersing myself in the world of athletics.

Being a collegiate athlete has given me the clarity to see my soccer thighs in a more favorable light. My muscles give me the ability to push my body to its deepest limit.

I’m surrounded by young women who are utilizing their athletic physique as well in the form of my many talented teammates. Together, we shed an abundance of sweat during preseason fitness testing, while maxing out in the weight room, as we battle to earn our spot in the NCAA tournament each year.

We raise each other up, and we praise each other for the accomplishments of our physical bodies as young women. We’re proud of each other not for the sake of mere aesthetics, but for our powerful, big, athletic thighs and all that they can do.

For these reasons — my legs and all that they represent — I feel that celebrating National Girls & Women in Sports Day could not be of greater importance. In a world that does everything in its power to make girls uncomfortable in their own skin, it’s time that we encourage these same girls to engage in activities that challenge them mentally and physically while simultaneously promoting their growth as holistic human beings.

Sports have the potential to save girls’ self-esteem. It’s time we recognize this concept. Get them away from the mirror and instead, get them onto the field, or the court, or the rink.

When I was young I’d pull my jeans up over my thighs and all I could think was ‘ugly.’

Now, I put on my soccer uniform, I look down at my exposed legs and I think ‘strong.’ I think ‘capable.’

I think ‘woman.’