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"I was called Mamber at school." Amber Pilley on challenging stereotypes about elite female athletes.

NRL
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Brisbane Broncos player Amber Pilley has a self-imposed nickname – Catwoman – because she’s been a fan of the superhero for much of her life.

But when Amber was in school, a few classmates called her something else; ‘Mamber’, a combination of her name with ‘man’.

“They thought it was a joke, because I was a tomboy, and loved playing footy with the boys,” Amber tells Mamamia.

“It was really juvenile. I still remember it – but it never stopped me from loving sport.”

Far from being deterred, Amber, who had been playing footy with the boys in the schoolyard, finally asked her parents to sign her up for the local team, when she was just eight years old.

“I loved it,” Amber recalls. “I’d never played a sport quite like it.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Amber has been an Indigenous All Star with the NRL since 2015, and is employed by the Brisbane Broncos not just as a player, but also for the Beyond the Broncos Girls Academy. It’s a natural fit, considering the 21-year-old’s background is in education.

“I work with Indigenous girls at Kingscliff State High School,” Amber explains of her current role. “We have a huge focus on attendance, which is so important. It’s a great opportunity for the girls to talk about and learn about their Indigenous heritage. In fact, I learn so much from them, too.”

Amber, who is a proud Wiradjuri woman, didn’t discover much about her heritage when she was younger, due to the reluctance of her elders to recall their historic traumas.

It was only after the passing of her grandparents did Amber’s non-Indigenous mother decide to discover more, for the sake of Amber and her younger sister.

This gap in her sense of identity in her childhood is something that Amber wants younger girls to avoid.

“I remember in one of my first All Star matches, I was told, ‘You’re not Aboriginal, you’re white’,” Amber shares.

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“I’ve always wanted to know more about where I came from, and I encourage the girls at school to do the same.

“They shouldn’t feel ashamed, or embarrassed, of being themselves.

“I’m so proud of who I am, and I want them to feel uplifted like that, too.”

Amber certainly has a strong sense of identity these days, and it extends to how she sees herself as a sportsperson, and a young woman.

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“In-season, I train four days a week at least,” she says. “I feel strong, and yes, I feel fierce. Fierce is an empowering word. It’s not a criticism at all.

“I’m not afraid to embrace who I am, and to be a role model.”

Part of the message Amber feels is important to send to the many young eyes watching her is self-acceptance. She tries to demonstrate this on her Instagram, where she shares photos of herself playing football, but also simply being a young woman.

“That’s just being me,” Amber says about the photos she shares of her dressed up for a night out, or in cosplay, or in a bikini.

“We have to normalise women’s bodies. People love sexualising a woman’s body, and that needs to stop.

“It’s about how I feel, not others’ opinions.

“I’m proud of my body. I’m stoked to have my body. It’s about embracing the skin I’m in.”

Amber says she loves her stretch marks, not just because they are part of her, but for another interesting reason.

“I love my stretch marks – they make me feel like a tiger!” she laughs, referring to her nickname, Catwoman.

So how did Amber come to be known as this superhero? Well, it’s a self-confessed obsession.

“I think Catwoman embodies female empowerment,” Amber shares.

“She has no meta human power – she fights in a leather body suit and high heels – her super power is just being herself.”

It’s a concept that inspires the football player daily.

“I don’t fit a box. I can be a nerd. I can get dressed up. Then I can be aggressive on the field.

“I want every girl and woman to know they can be all of those things.”

NRLW is full of kick-ass women like Amber. It’s a movement we are proud to support here at Mamamia. For more details on upcoming games, including the NRL Holden Women’s Premiership, and the new generation of female role models in sports, visit nrl.com/womens.

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NRL

Elite Athletes following in the footsteps of their heroes is amazing. But elite athletes paving their way through uncharted territory for others to follow is extraordinary. To find out more about The Incomparables and Women’s Rugby League go to nrl.com/womens.

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