A conversation with female hijabi boxer Safiyah Syeed who is empowering young women to break down barriers and love their bodies through sports...
What led you to boxing? Tell us more about your story.
I started boxing when I was 17 years old. I had just come out of a long-term illness, in which I was bedridden for 2 and a half years. I had dropped down to 4/5 stones and had stopped eating, sleeping and had a lot of internal issues. At this time, I was in secondary school. I actually didn’t attend school for the next 2 years and, it’s safe to say, I’d missed out on a lot - my education, social life and a fair chunk of my childhood. This greatly impacted both my physical and mental wellbeing.
A few weeks before results day, I remember sitting down and making a long list of things I wanted to do and experience in my life - boxing was one of them. At this time, I had also started suffering from an eating disorder, which was another hard battle, but boxing saved me from it… I’ve been training and competing ever since.
Which hurdles did you personally face and how did you overcome them?
When I first started boxing, there were no hijabi boxers in the UK, especially in the north. During this time, I faced a lot of mental and physical battles: self confidence, self belief, motivation to train early, thick skin to avoid remarks from my largely male peers.. There was a lot of reframing, self development and resilience I had to experience over the years.
But once I started questioning my thoughts, my surroundings and my peers, and overcame those issues, I was better than ever!
"No one wants to be in the same place in 10 years time - life is all about progress, learning and growth. You owe it to yourself to challenge yourself, work hard and be the best version of yourself, always."
How did it feel when you first stepped into the ring professionally?
I had always been the odd one out from family and friends, without a passion or supposed ‘talent’. I had tried lots of avenues: football, dance, singing, art - but had never felt like they were mine or that I belonged there.
But the first day I stepped into the boxing gym and the ring, it felt like home! I’d never felt so good. I always walk out from the ring with a huge smile on my face.. it’s literally my happy place.
What is the biggest motivator in your life?
For me, my past is always my biggest motivation. I feel like I’ve already hit rock bottom once - the only way is up. Even when thinking about the future and my goals, I always see it as a way to better myself and my life. No one wants to be in the same place in 10 years time - life is all about progress, learning and growth. You owe it to yourself to challenge yourself, work hard and be the best version of yourself, always.
What do you think is the biggest reason people fail or give up in pursuing their passion?
I feel like people expect overnight success. They work on something for a week and when it doesn’t go their way, they give up. It happens in boxing all the time.
Success takes dedication, discipline and a lot of hard work. Don’t expect easy wins. Expect challenges and failures but enjoy the journey!
What do you wish you had known when you started out?
It’s never too late. Stop doubting and believe in yourself more!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to enter the professional boxing space?
Your results will depend on how much work you put in. Boxing is something you have to give your all into, as with a lot of other sports. Don’t give up - just go at it harder!
"People expect overnight success. They work on something for a week and when it doesn’t go their way, they give up."
Let’s talk fashion.
What does modesty mean to you?
Modesty is more than a scarf over my head. It’s about my manners and how I present myself. Personally, I believe this is an extremely important aspect of my life. I’ve realised that being a public figure gives you the power to help others and facilitate change, which is also related to a modest awareness and life.
What’s your favourite piece from the Aab collection?
I love the Aab Co-ords but my favourites have to be the occasion wear!
Where can people find you online?
All my social media handles are @thehijabiboxer