8 Jul 2021

Silver Fern Maia Wilson chases self-acceptance

7:28 am on 8 July 2021

Silver Fern Maia Wilson has spent her career battling with her body image and has learnt this week she is not alone.

Maia Wilson of the Silver Ferns

Silver Fern Maia Wilson is learning self-acceptance. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The top goal shooter took to social media to share her journey from being a teenage netball player told she needed to lose weight - to eight years later taking her pursuit of weight-loss too far.

Since opening up the 23-year-old has received messages of support from around the world from women who can relate to what she is facing.

Her body is healthy but her mind still struggled with accepting that she does not have what she called a typical netball aesthetic.

She was not using labels but said her condition it fell under the "umbrella of mental health".

"For me it's my body image and how I see myself and a lot of what I've learnt is about self-acceptance and trying to get that at a deeper level."

Wilson said family and team mates were not surpised by her online revelations. Some had known for a while.

However, sharing her story publically was a decision which was - and still is - something that she had doubts about.

"I had all these thoughts in my head and rather than push them down like a balloon I wanted to try and give it a voice and get it out there and be able to sit with my anxiety, so I guess that's why I did it.

"The consequence of that is I felt a lot better about myself and realised there were so many more people out there that were just like me.

"I've had people connect from nearly every inch of the globe to say I feel you, this is me, this is my daughter, so many different people that we're all doing this together and I think it just shows that I'm lucky to have that platform that I put myself out there and I was vulnerable but it's help to benefit other people."

The Stars captain has been seeking support for the past two months for the battle she is still fighting.

"I put my hand up and [said] I'm not okay and I need to be able to reach out for that.

"That took a bit of guts and I'm really lucky that I had the support from not only the Stars but the Silver Ferns.

"It's easy to be criticised for who you are and what I need to learn is that it shouldn't matter what anyone else says as long as I feel 100 percent comfortable and acceptable in my own body that's all that matters."

Stars coach Kiri Wills was emotional when she discussed the challenges Wilson - an athlete she's known since she was a teenager - would still encounter.

The pair's long-term relationship meant the coach knew her shooter was in trouble last year.

"You can read some things and I was worried about her. So I did talk to her in a performance sense around who she is as a player and what her strengths are and so I tried to come at it from a performance angle and I think that's the advice that we've been given around anything to do with fitness, nutrition it's all about getting their bodies to do the job that it needs to do and it's specific to whatever body shape there is out there on court," Wills said.

Stars coach Kiri Wills during the ANZ Premiership Netball match between Robinhood Stars and Central Pulse at Pulman Arena Auckland, New Zealand. 13 June 2021.

Stars coach Kiri Wills has known Maia Wilson since she was a teenage player. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2021

Wills disputed the idea that Silver Ferns' notoriously strict fitness targets were a factor in Wilson or any player taking a dangerous approach to their health and wellbeing.

"The thing we've got to understand about those standards is that they are minimums, we're not asking someone like Maia or some of those goal shoots and goal keepers in the competition to do something that they're not able to achieve, it's actually a really achieveable target."

Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio has also highlighted this year the pressure she has felt.

Ekenasio has not played for the Central Pulse this ANZ Premiership season after outling her mental health challenges.

Netball New Zealand's head of high performance Keir Hansen said they acknowledged that the pressures on elite netballers were significant.

"There's scrutiny on performance and all that kind of thing but I guess our goal is to put the support structures around the players so that they can perform at the level they need to and be supported to do so," Hansen said.

Hansen said NNZ was deliberate about having multiple points of access of support.

"What's right for one person is not necessairly right for the other so be it through the medical support they've got available to them, the psych support we've got or be it through the players association they've got a few routes that they can take to get the support that is right for them."

For Wilson the journey continues and she encouraged others who were facing their own battles to seek support.

"For some people something like a public post may not be the thing for them but definitely opening up to someone that you care about and you know who loves you regardless of whatever you're going through and not only that there are avenues for different support and help and I think for me it's one thing to open up to family who knows you so well but sometimes its a step further when you have to talk to a stranger or someone who has the tools to be able to help you, so definitely get help whatever that looks like for you."