Yay! It’s time to kick off the latest series of My Body & Me. I first introduced this feature to my blog at the beginning of the year and interviewed some incredible women like Rosemary Mc Cabe, Sophie White and Denise Smith. I’m kicking off this new series of the feature with an interview with one of my favorite Irish women; Niamh Maher.
I first met Niamh in early January when she asked me to be a guest on Girls With Goals. This is the Her.ie podcast, of which Niamh is the host. The first time I met her I knew I was going to love her. I’ve met her twice since then and still haven’t changed my mind.
In a male dominated industry, Niamh is so refreshing. She’s bubbly but not fake, very sincere, insightful and intelligent. I’m happy to say she’s firmly placed on my list of Irish women who I admire and can call a friend.
I really hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Can you start off by describing the attitude to beauty in your family home while you were growing up and how you think that affected you?
We were a sporting family, so we always had a healthy attitude towards our bodies. It was about fueling ourselves so that we could perform in the way we needed. The way we looked or weighed never really came into it for me until I got older.
During your teens, how did you feel about your body? Did you compare yourself to your friends or family? Do you remember who your role models (for example musicians, actresses, an older cousin etc) were and what, if anything, you did to look like them?
As I got older things got a little tougher for me. Having played sport from such a young age, my body was muscular and very different to other 14/15 year old girls. Playing squash, I always had big quads and a big booty and being 5 foot NOTHING, this definitely made me self-conscious.
It was before the time of ‘strong being the new skinny’. Skinny was simply what everyone wanted to be. I was looking at rake thin pop singers and actresses, and I remember not identifying with many people. I started restricting my diet but still playing a crazy amount of sport. It wasn’t a healthy outlook and I lost a lot of energy, weight, and matches as a result.
Do you remember ever feeling body shame as a child/teenager, or being body shamed by others?
Being so small, people felt it was completely acceptable to comment on my body, whether that was how thin I was or how short I was or even the fact that I had muscles. I always found it confusing as I would NEVER comment on someone’s physical appearance but because I was so petite I think people felt that I could never have a problem with my body so I was fair game.
It was a version of ‘skinny shaming’ that I still struggle with to this day. I still can’t make any comment on my own body without people saying ‘oh, well you have no idea… you’re so small’. It’s not anybody else’s place to tell me how I should or shouldn’t feel about my own body.
How, if at all, did your relationship with your body change from childhood through your teen years and into your adult life? How do you think this has affected your mental health?
When I reached 18 or so I stopped playing sport for years. My body changed as a result and I got that ‘skinny’ look that everyone seemed to desire. When I returned to training in my mid-twenties I realised that my relationship with my body was very much intertwined with being an athlete and how that made me feel. I love feeling strong and having muscles and I look back on some pictures of me in my early twenties and all I really see is a skinny, weak woman who wasn’t happy.
I’m in my thirties now and my relationship with my body has definitely changed over the years. I love that my ass is big from years of squats and training on a squash court. The strength I have is more important to me than looking a certain way.
As you get older, do you feel your attitude to beauty change? And are you concerned about the effect that aging will have on your body?
I worry sometimes about what I’ve put my body through in terms of training. I have been known to go to the extremes in certain situations. When you’ve played a lot of sport it can bring problems later in life. I’m slowing down and not playing at a national level anymore. When it comes to aging that’s not something I worry about, if people are offended by my aging body then don’t look!
Do you think that men and women are equally subjected to unrealistic beauty standards?
HAHAHAHAHAHA eh NO! Look, men have their own issues, but women have to deal with a hell of a lot more in terms of beauty standards. We’ll just leave it at that.
Do you remember one stand out moment in your life that highlighted to you how you felt about your body, whether positive or negative?
There’s one picture of me a few years ago and it always stands out. I was the thinnest I’d ever been, I was going through a breakup, I was heartbroken and desperately sad. At the same time, I had NEVER received more compliments in my life. In the picture I had so much makeup on, my cheeks were hollow and my eyes were completely dead… but it got so many likes!
It showed me how dangerous the way you look and the way you allow yourself to feel when you look a certain way can be. I never want to be that sad or thin again, and if I am… I certainly won’t be posting it. I was in such a negative space but was constantly getting positive affirmations from other people, a dangerous combination.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about your relationship to your body, what would it be?
I would tell her not to conform. It’s dangerous, you’re different and that’s ok.
If you could change one thing about society and how it treats women and their bodies, what would that be?
Stop treating us in any particular way because of our bodies… simple.
You can find Niamh on Instagram here.