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Boxing and beauty are not two words we usually link together, but European champion and female boxer Clare Grace sheds a new light on the contrast between femininity and the physical demands of the sport on the female body.
Clare Grace is 20 year old student and boxing champion from Kilkenny. She’s in her third year of sports science and nutrition in DCU. Clare boxes for the Irish team and has ambitions of competing at Olympic level in the near future.
It all started quite early for Clare when her father suggested she try out boxing. “My family has always been passionate about sport and when I was nine my dad brought me to my local boxing club just to try it out and I’ve never looked back,” says the European champion.
It wasn’t long before Clare showed great potential and began to compete. “I was about 12 or 13 years old when I first entered the ring, it was overwhelming because I suddenly realised that my opponent was going to try and hit me in the face but after a while I got used to it and that’s the sport I suppose,” says Clare.
Following Katie Taylor’s success at the Olympics in 2012, female boxing has become more recognised and discussed, but when Clare started boxing a little over a decade ago she recalls how it was very unusual for girls to be involved in boxing. “When I started it was all boys but now in my college club there are two senior girls including myself which is a lot even though it sounds otherwise, there are lots of girls signed up to the club but only the dedicated few turn up for training sessions,” says Clare.
Boxing has long been associated with men, but Clare says that she doesn’t feel out of place because of that. “I never feel discriminated against because of my gender, in my boxing clubs you are a boxer, you are not categorised as a male or female, just as a boxer,” she explains.
Opening up about her perception of femininity, Clare says, “Yeah I have muscles but I think things are changing, I think it’s okay for women to be strong and have muscle, of course there is still a stigma attached to how women should look and the perception of femininity but I do feel this is changing”.
Clare explains how as a woman it is hard when you have bruising on your face. “It is often hard to explain to people that the reason you have a black eye is the fact that you are a boxer, people often look at me like ‘what happened to that poor girl?’,” laughs Clare.
For a lot of women the idea of going into a male dominated sector would be intimidating but Clare never feels that way and she never feels like she has to impress anyone with anything other than her boxing abilities.
“I never get dolled up to go training, you’re just going to sweat it off anyway so it’s a waste of make-up and make-up is expensive” laughs Clare. “It’s not really why I go training anyway.”
Having a spot on your face as a young woman can often feel like a nightmare but for Clare even bruising on her face “is no longer the end of the world”.
“When I was younger and in secondary school I was more self-conscious and I would try cover them up with make-up”, says Clare. She recalls one moment that a teacher held her back after class and asked if she was okay and what had happened to her face. “This was the first time someone actually noticed it enough to be concerned, in a way it made me even more self-conscious and I started to notice people giving me a few funny looks, but now I’m older it doesn’t bother me like it used to,” she explains.
Like any girl her age, Clare likes to go out and have fun and she says how sometimes it’s hard when all her friends are getting ready and she’s “trying to cover up a black eye”.
“But that’s the kind of things you have to deal with if you want to compete at this level,” she says.
“Humans are judging machines, and of course I get labelled”, says Clare. “I often get called the girl who boxes rather than by my name.
“My close friends know me as Clare, a girl, but I’d be wrong if I said I didn’t get labelled.”
And what about the sacrifices she has to make?
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to make sacrifices for boxing,” Clare explains. “Like when my friends are all going to the student bar and I have to go to training, or when all my friends are in relationships and I don’t have time to be, but I love the sport and for me that comes first.”