In August we welcomed Lioness and professional footballer Gemma Bonner as a Skin:Genius ambassador. Gemma, 32, currently plays for Liverpool FC as a defender, returning to the club following a stint playing in the USA. Her professional journey began with her hometown club Leeds and saw her play for Chelsea, Liverpool Ladies and Manchester City before crossing the Atlantic. Now she’s back in England, she’s back in the spotlight too, playing top football but also looking to maximise her influence as a role model for younger players, emerging talent and all women looking to be active and well.
Gemma has represented England at Under 17, 19, 20 and 23 Levels as well as playing for the England Lionesses on 12 occasions.
She takes sport seriously! And is very aware of the pressures it brings and the barriers that women face, not only in the sporting world but in society at large.
Here Gemma talks frankly about the opportunities and challenges that sport presents, the need for women and the media to embrace all facets – and faces – of sport and how being active can lead to that all-important body confidence. Finally, she speaks about her passion for encouraging women young and older to be get involved in sport.
SG: I’d like to start with something you’ve aired before: the difficulties girls face sticking with sport – can you explain a bit further, please?
GB: Yes, I feel like it is a combination of things. Typically, I think it is usually around puberty (which can vary from anything between 10 to 14 years of age) that girls take themselves out of sport. Nearly always it’s because they’re self-conscious, body conscious and don’t want to be hot and sweaty. They don’t want to be seen when they are ‘not at their best’.
SG: That’s understandable and is something which most women feel, not just younger girls, isn’t it?
GB: Absolutely. But as we age, we learn to deal with how we look and are likely to have more access to ways in which we can take care of ourselves, who and how we are and how we feel. Younger girls are far less likely to have the ability to do this. They are subject to peer pressure. I can relate to being the only girl playing football seriously when I was at school. I played in the boys’ team and it wasn’t easy at times.
SG: You carried on despite that though – did things improve as you got older and played in adult teams?
GB: Yes in many ways being a professional sportswoman is easier as you have a greater support network. But the pressure to look a certain way remains. To an extent we have ownership and direction of official photographs, but there are so many times when you’re training or playing in a match and photos or videos are taken. And these are so quickly shared these days. But we have to be honest and authentic: we will look different when playing, sweating, no make-up on and our hair pulled back or tied up! But rather than play to the ‘perfect look’ pressure, we have to fight to gain acceptance that this is what being active looks like. And that looking like this is just fine.
SG: Do you see a parallel in how more women of different shapes and sizes and those with imperfect skin are now being represented in media and advertising?
GB: Yes, that’s been a great step forward showing great looking female models in magazines who are of different body types. The media must continue to show what it means to be a woman in all aspects of everyday life. But, in a sports context, I feel there remains the stereotypical image of glamour and grace (albeit now with attitude!) which is still the frontrunner.
SG: So how do we counter this?
GB: Step by step and over time! Women’s football has come on in leaps and bounds over the past decade in terms of being genuinely recognised and valued as a top-level sport. A lot of women had to work hard, for no financial reward whatsoever, to allow the likes of me to benefit from a professional career.
Early on in my career I was at university in Leeds, playing for Chelsea. Which meant I had to drive to London for training through the week and wouldn’t arrive back home until 2am. Women’s facilities had no showers, even at the level I was playing: you can imagine how I felt and looked and the harm it was doing to my skin!
Things have changed, as I said. How brilliant was it that the Lionesses at the World Cup were shown to everyone in their homes? And shown playing brilliantly and achieving so much. But also shown all sweaty and hot on the pitch, then again usually post-match with wet hair and make-up free. Since then, we have seen them all getting glammed up at awards nights!
SG: So, you’re saying it’s a case of people needing to see (and accept) both sides?
GB: Exactly. It can be a tricky balance to find; you want girls to feel happy and confident in their looks, but you have to be honest and say, ‘this is what being active looks like’.
It’s a case of embracing your looks as you work out or play sport and then, after a shower and doing hair, moisturising and make up you can say, ‘now this is what I look like, too.’
SG: You mention moisturising – you see it as important?
GB: Absolutely. It is a fundamental part of my skin care routine. I use your Soothe Operator on my face and the Cream Come True on my body. A little secret of mine is I add a few drops of the Skin:Genius Oil Day Long to both creams for an extra glow. It works so well.
SG: That’s a great little tip – any others to share?
GB: Yes, I often combine the Soothe Operator with my tinted moisturiser – it glides on and is easily absorbed. Tadah!
SG: What other ways can you get a natural glow?
GB: Exercise is so good to get your glow on. Firstly, it gives you body confidence and usually when you feel good, you look good. Not only does exercise make your body strong and fit, it also raises your heart rate to get your blood pumping around your body. Sweating helps you flush out toxins which can affect your skin, as well as other parts of your body. Far from being bad for your skin, exercise will make it glow.
Water is also so, so important. Stay hydrated. It’s more obvious to appreciate that if you’ve exercised hard as you need to replace the fluids you have lost and you will feel very thirsty. But it’s very important to stay hydrated even if you haven’t exercised as hard. Being hydrated means you will have energy; it also plumps your skin and helps it retain its natural elasticity.
SG: Do you have a daily skincare routine?
GB: Yes, I do now – but have to admit I didn’t always! I had problems with my skin and for years I’d tried to find a product which would work for me. Sweating a lot meant I did need to clean carefully, but most products didn’t help with many actually making the issue worse!
I’ll be honest, I was pretty skeptical and disillusioned about skincare before I tried Skin:Genius. That’s why I didn’t want to rush in to be an ambassador for you: I needed to try it for a period of time to be true to myself. I would never endorse something unless I use it myself and am completely happy with it.
Talking of honesty, I was drawn to Skin:Genius as you don’t claim to be able to fix a skin problem 100% and you are clear in saying that skin issues are more than what you can see. You’re conscious of the mental wellbeing aspect of how your skin looks and makes you feel and not many brands do that. I try to embrace a holistic approach to my life and I really valued what you said about keeping a diary of great many things: sleep; medications; menstrual cycle; diet; water; stress; exercise; skincare products and your skin routine – as all can impact upon your skin.
SG: Thank you, Gemma. It is so heartening to work with someone who is clear in what they believe and say – and who also has such a passion to inspire and support others.
GB: And thank you for having me on board. As you know, I take my position as a role model very seriously: I’m committed to changing things to remove any barriers for the next generation. Alongside many other amazing professional players, I want to create a better place for players coming through. That’s not just limited to the physical sport they’re playing but embracing their body confidence, skin confidence, mental wellbeing and resilience.