More than just a ‘Bald Rugby Player’: Heather Fisher

Heather Fisher is a truly remarkable individual. Fisher earned her first international cap in rugby union in 2009, was a member of England’s 2014 World Cup-winning squad, went on to represent Team GB in the rugby sevens at the Olympics in Rio 2016 and, to top it all off, has also represented Great Britain in the bobsleigh.

However, as she looks to represent Team GB at a second Olympics later this year, what is it that Fisher gets noticed for? The fact that she is bald.

Fisher recently opened up on the issues she has faced with being in the limelight as a person with alopecia, courtesy of her status as a sporting star. Suffering from extreme anxiety as her hair began to fall out, Fisher would always play rugby wearing a scrum hat, describing the pitch as the “only place” that she felt comfortable, with the focus there being on her performance, not her looks.

This is entirely understandable, given the upsetting nature of some of Fisher’s experiences off the pitch, describing times where she has had to lift her top up for police in foreign countries, just to prove that she is a woman.

We as a society need to do better, to help individuals who struggle with alopecia to feel recognised, safe and respected. How should we go about this, you may ask?

Well, Fisher has also spoken of her alopecia adversely affecting her chances of receiving sponsorship deals: “Look at the covers of most magazines – everyone looks perfect. Well, they’re perceived as perfect. I’ve never seen a muscular person with alopecia on the front page of any magazine”.

This is where, in my view, the most viable route for effective reform lies. If we as sports fans can change the narrative and make media companies aware that we want to see the diversity present in the sports that we love on full display, then maybe individuals like Fisher, who is a certified star in her own right, can find their way on to the covers of more magazines in the future.

No stranger to personal struggles, Fisher developed severe anorexia as a teen amid her parents’ divorce. This is something that she still battles with, as she comes to terms with her alopecia. However, nowadays, Fisher is much happier with her state of mind.

She refers to herself as ‘the bald rugby player’ on Instagram, as she is proud of who she is. Alopecia may affect her, but she no longer allows it to define her – an important difference.

Her remarkable journey has now led her to study for a master’s degree in strength and conditioning, in addition to starring in 2019’s Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins for Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C).

She may be the ‘bald rugby player’ but she is so much more than that, too.

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Luke Saward

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April 2021
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