Liona Bravo is a former Fight for Peace team member and boxing coach who has been leading our female-only sports sessions. In our next series of thought pieces by the Fight for Peace team, Liona shares her personal experience of boxing, how she came to fall in love with the sport, and the ways it positively transformed how she viewed herself and her body. 

This article addresses issues of eating disorders and the process of recovery. 

Our thought pieces are a series of articles written by Fight for Peace team members and young people, and are a way to share thoughts and perspectives on important issues impacting our communities.

“I remember my first time boxing clearly – it was 9 years ago, and it struck me at the end of the session that for one whole hour I hadn’t been obsessing over my body. I discovered boxing when my self image was at its worst; I was in an eating disorder recovery program and had to stop exercising because it had become an unhealthy obsession, only exercising out of fear of my body getting bigger. When I was ready to introduce exercise again, I decided to try boxing because it was something I secretly always wanted to do but felt a bit silly saying out loud – I felt like it wasn’t something a girl like me (whatever that meant) would do. 

At the time my relationship with food was progressing well, but the moment I started boxing was the moment things truly began to change. I’m competitive and I wanted to be good at boxing, and what I quickly realised is that to be a good boxer you can’t be focused on what you look like when you turn your body a certain way because you need to be completely focused on the moment or else you will get hit. To be a good boxer you need to assert yourself and can’t hold back because for there to be power behind your punches you need to commit and follow through. Crucially, to be a good boxer you need to dominate the space you’re in, which means you can’t be trying to make yourself smaller.

I fell in love with boxing because it gave me a way to reinterpret myself and my body. I was consumed with this idea that I needed to look a certain way, and I realise now that I thought what ‘a girl like me’ looked like was graceful and in control (reserved) and that femininity and control was measured by the slightness of my body. Through boxing, I began to embrace my strength and power and became proud of my body not for what I looked like, but what I could do with it. 

Once I started to focus on what my body actually felt like when I was throwing a punch and not what I thought I looked like or what I wanted to look like, I was able to connect back to myself and my body and experience being present in a way I hadn’t before. When I am sparring or competing, I feel more in the moment and in my body than any other space in the world. The power and freedom that came from experiencing that feeling in the ring spilled over into every other area of my life, and has given me a sense of self, confidence, and ability to be present in life that I don’t know I would have felt without boxing. 

It took 23 years of my life to have the experience of feeling like I was myself in my body and not on the outside looking in. There’s many factors to why my journey took that long, but I’m convinced one of them is that I wasn’t exposed to spaces where I could try something like combat sports that challenged the ideas I had of femininity and what desirable and beautiful looked like. I know not every girl is going to connect with boxing the way I did, but I also know that there are so many girls like me that are embarrassed by how muscular or strong they are, or how much space they feel they take up. 

This is why spaces like Fight for Peace are so important to me, because they offer a place where girls can be invited in to safely explore who they are and be around diverse role models that they might see themselves in. As a coach, I love being able to show other girls that their strength and power are beautiful and I hope I can help them experience sooner than I did how good it feels, both in and outside the ring, to own the space you take up and not try to make yourself smaller.”

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