Alarm goes off, time to get ready and make sure everything is in order. Shower, shave, makeup, do my hair ensuring that its set in the right place. I don’t want it to move too much or to have to worry about it, I’d like to focus on other things.

There’s a big international meeting today that I’ve been working hard towards.

I hold gaze with myself in the mirror, dead into the black of the eye and give a subtle nod, affirming I’ve done all I need to in preparation.

Ok, time to put on the suit. Is this thing ever not tight? Hugging the just enough to accentuate feminine curves all the while maintaining some conservative coverage.

Looking in the mirror I make minor adjustments, moving the skirt slightly so it sits on the hip bones making sure the seams are straight. Pinching and adjusting bundles of material.

I know this seems pedantic but there’s always press at these things and I’d like them to focus on what’s important, not what I’m wearing.

Kalindi Commerford exclusive insight
CHANGZHOU, CHINA – NOVEMBER 20: Eva De Goede of Netherlands battles for the ball with Kalindi Commerford of Australia during the FIH Champions Trophy match between Netherlands and Australia on November 20, 2018 in Changzhou, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images for FIH)

Hi, my name is Kalindi Commerford, current member of the Hockeyroos and aspiring business women.

During my athletic career I have simultaneously studied a double Bachelor’s degree in Communications, majoring in Journalism and Law.

Throughout my studies what I have come to realise is that women, regardless of their industry, all face similar realities.

Whether they are suiting up for an international game of hockey, or for a day at work, there is still a universal tendency to place too much importance on the aesthetics of a person rather than the ability to perform.

What I believe this has done is create a social conditioning whereby we believe, to get noticed or be heard, we must look and act a certain way. But by doing so, we inadvertently discriminate against ourselves and continue to cultivate a society that accepts these backwards standards.

For me, having had limited time in the corporate world, I can best relate to these experiences through my time as a female athlete. There’s naturally a lot of unavoidable pressure that comes with this role.

However, one thing I have personally always struggled with is the pressure to fit the mould of what an athlete should look like.

Growing up, looking to female’s who inspired me I would always consider their build.

My reality of what it would take to be an athlete was partly shaped by what I had to look like. I created a checklist of what it would take to reach my goal:

  • Hockey skills
  • Fitness
  • Body

I began to create standards and expectations for myself and started working towards them.

The problem was the image I had in my head was almost unattainable. The images and ideals I was subjected to were not realistic for myself.

What I didn’t realise was that the body image part of my checklist was almost constantly operating at a subconscious level. With the emergence of social media the images I was seeing, not only of athletes but of admired women generally, became my accepted norm.

When I would go to training to work on my skills or my fitness there was always an underlying drive to do so as it would mean I would also be working on my body. All three boxes of my checklist were ticked.

Kalindi Commerford exclusive insight

My obsession with this became more conscious after rupturing my ACL at the end of 2015. I spent 9 months of 2016 in rehab. I think there’s a misconception about rehab, people often assume it’ll be a nice break.

However, you tend to spend more time training, doing mundane and gruelling exercises; in fact I would train for 4-5 hours a day. Rehab is also mostly done alone with your trainer, which tends to result in a lot of time alone with your thoughts.

I became obsessed with training and my body. I made sure that everything in my program was done exactly as prescribed, from the sets, reps, minutes, sessions – I wouldn’t miss a beat.

I wanted everything to be perfect. I don’t remember a distinct catalysing moment, but sometime in early rehab I became aware of a split in my focus between my physical performance and my body.

I knew how hard I had been working everyday and I wasn’t seeing results in my body that reached my expectations.

I also wasn’t going to pick up a hockey stick for five months, so one of boxes on my checklist became almost irrelevant, leaving only two to focus on.

I knew there was nothing more I could do training wise,

a) I was already so limited with my knee and

b) I was training morning and night.

I looked to my diet and started making adjustments. It started with a paleo diet, I felt good on this. I had energy and had cut out foods I believed were inhibiting me from achieving my goal.

However, I could never truly be satisfied with my results because, as mentioned, my expectations were so high and unrealistic.

It was extremely disheartening to go to bed day and night and not see the progress I was making because of my own misguidance.

These thoughts were no longer lingering in the back of my mind, they circulated around in my head and began to affect my every day life choices.

I became extremely anxious around meal times, particularly if it involved eating out. But I’m a bit of a social butterfly and I could never say no. Following this I would be crippled with guilt.

Kalindi Commerford exclusive insight 4

I would make myself work that little bit harder the next day or restrict food. I’m no good at math so I didn’t bother comparing my input/output, but I do have a good memory, and there would be times where I wouldn’t forget what I ate for days.

A huge breakthrough moment for me was going on a holiday and not being able to do my prescribed running program. I was plagued with anxiety, my heart felt heavy, I couldn’t sleep and I lost my appetite.

When I did return to training my intake was so much less that I wasn’t able to keep up. As a result, my hockey and fitness was now struggling. For a perfectionist this is a pretty rude shock.

I began working closely with a sport psychologist who gave me weekly tasks. But it was almost a year before I actually tried to help myself.

I had created a false truth in my head that what I had been doing to my body was a tool helping me achieve my goal. The constant thoughts were exhausting and one day I realised that I wasn’t living up to any of my expectations.

One of the first things I did with my psych was write down a list of qualities in athletes that I admired, the first one I wrote was integrity.

I reflected on that and realised that had nothing to do with my body and that I was cheating myself of a career that I would be able to look back on and be proud of.

During all of this, especially in the later years my studies became more niche towards discrimination. I learnt about the Iceberg Theory, where the tip of the iceberg is overt discrimination, behaviours we as a society can see and outwardly reject.

However, below the surface is indirect discrimination, usually quite hard to identify because it’s so culturally engrained and accepted that it’s not as frequently flagged.

I reflected on this and my lived experiences and realised that for years I had been discriminating against myself as a woman.

I had created expectations for myself that fit into the pop-culture box. You see it all the time, girls on Instagram with huge followings and a grid full of sexualised images.

In saying this, I’m not suggesting we can’t post photos of ourselves showing skin, it’s ok to be proud of your image and share that. What I’m saying is don’t feel you need to sexualise your images to generate likes.

Kalindi Commerford exclusive insight

I recently found a profile of a female Australian amateur surfer who identifies as a feminist. With almost 400k followers a lot of good could be done with this.

However, when I was scrolling through her grid I gaged more of a ‘sex sells’ vibe as every single image was highly objectified. I find this to be counterproductive and a contradiction to the feminist movement.

By creating and maintaining a following on risqué photo’s the objectification of women is only heightened and discrimination will continue to fester. We shouldn’t need to sell our bodies in order to have our abilities noticed and respected.

Kalindi Commerford exclusive insight

This isn’t something that just happens in sport, you only have to look to our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

She was constantly criticised for her outfit choices and the fact that she was barren and unmarried, going against stereotyped expectations.

The disproportionate focus on her appearance proved to be a huge handicap in her time in politics. The continued focus on her ‘big arse’, ankles, earlobes, haircut, jacket etc, trivialised and undermined her work.

While she didn’t discriminate against herself it does reflect where we are at as a society. It’s scary to think that she was seen as nothing more than a pencil skirt and an ‘empty fruit bowl’ and that this was so widely accepted by the public, when in reality she was one of our most productive PM’s.

My hope in sharing my experience, learnings and observations is that it may be individually thought provoking.

Challenge yourself, thoughts and accepted norms about how you can make a personal change to help bring subconscious discriminating thoughts about yourself and others to the surface.

These are learned behaviours and thoughts and we will never truly achieve equality if we don’t individually accept the role we play in cultivating it and make a conscious decision to change.