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Sofie Fella: Femininity and Rugby Can Coexist

Growing up in Shanghai, Sofie Fella was surrounded by unrealistic body standards that conflicted with her love of rugby.

“My identity has been being Chinese on one side and playing rugby on the other. I have always wanted to find a way to bridge the two because in many ways they are opposites when it comes to perceptions on body image,” she said.

In rugby, stronger and “bigger” physiques are praised. Strength is important for success. In Chinese standards, the opposite was true. Slimmer and “smaller” physiques are viewed as beautiful and praised.

Sofie remembers choosing to lift less in the gym because she was concerned about her shoulders getting bigger. “[My insecurity about lifting too heavy] came from what my mind deemed as being a ‘fit girl’. The environment I grew up in didn’t see a weightlifter as an attractive female. Sure, it’s impressive when someone can put that much weight above their head but it wasn’t seen as beautiful or feminine. I'm trying to teach my mind to unlearn these things - and gosh, it has been hard.”

She left home to play rugby at Harvard, and while there she served as co-vice-president of Women of Harvard Athletics (UWHA). UWHA aims to build a community of support within and beyond Harvard, connecting current athletes with alumni. The organization also aims to address the most pressing problems faced by female athletes including mental health, body image, nutrition, sexual harassment, and lack of fan attendance..

Throughout college, she worked on understanding her body image struggles and used the club as a platform and safe space for her and other female athletes to share their experiences. “At Harvard, I learned to lift because I like to lift, not for any other reason,” said Sofie. “It’s about exercising to feel good. It was freeing.”

Now a Harvard graduate, Sofie has taken her passion for advocating against the societal pressures on female athletes and their bodies into her professional rugby and coaching careers.

“I’ve put more thought into my why, and my passion for spreading this message,” said Sofie. “I coach female youth rugby, and I hope that my athletes growing up and seeing me in my tank top with broad shoulders and strong arms, stronger body types will be more normalized for them than it was for me. I hope to encourage young athletes to love their bodies.”

Along with her advocacy work, Sofie recently embarked on a new project called “Roots”, intertwining two of her conflicting identities, being Chinese and playing rugby.

A 旗袍 “qipao” is a traditional Chinese dress usually made out of a patterned, silk material. It represents traditional Chinese beauty & femininity. To show young girls that playing rugby can be feminine, beautiful, and Chinese, Sofie used 旗袍 material to make scrunchies tying the two together. She wore the scrunchies during every game this summer and hopes to encourage young, female, Chinese athletes that rugby and femininity can coexist.

To connect with Sofie, check out her Instagram


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