Kezie Apps has a large port wine birthmark on her leg that she would often try to cover up as a teenager and the NSW captain was also teased at school about her height.
Apps, who will skipper the Blues for the first time in Friday night's Women's State of Origin at North Sydney Oval, has been using her profile as one of the game's biggest female stars to promote positive body image messages.
"I've got a massive birthmark on my leg and when I was younger it was a lot darker so I used to hate showing my leg," Apps said. "I used to wear jeans or people would say 'what's wrong with your leg'. I hated it so I guess it did effect me."
As an ambassador for St George Illawarra, Apps regularly visits schools to talk with students about body image, diet, fitness and well-being as part of the club's The Best You Can Be program.
A number of school teachers have told NRL.com that the introduction of Women's State of Origin and the NRLW has had a positive impact on the attitudes of teenage girls towards body image.
Apps said rugby league promotes all body shapes as there are different roles and skills for players.
"Contrary to what you see in the media, we are not all supposed to look the same," Apps said. "Rugby league is such an inclusive sport because all different shapes and sizes can play and I guess girls are seeing that.
"It's not just for your small fast people, if you want to have a go at rugby league there is a position you can play and that is what I love about it.
"I get a lot of messages from girls who have seen me play or have heard my story and it's nice to hear that. I get a real buzz from inspiring someone else to want to play and just being a role model for them."
Apps grew up in Bega and played alongside Melbourne forward Dale Finucane – who will make his NSW Origin debut in Perth on Sunday night – until she was forced to quit when she was 12 years old as girls were not allowed to play beyond that age.
Finucane told NRL.com that "Kezie was the best player in our team", and she would regularly top the tackle count in matches and win leading try-scorer for the season.
It was another decade before Apps played again after seeing a television news bulletin about the Jillaroos beating New Zealand to claim their first World Cup in 2013 and joining her nearest club at Helensburgh – a 10-hour round trip for training and games.
The effort Apps went to so she could play and the success she has enjoyed is an inspiration for many young female players, particularly those from country areas.
However, she also wants girls who watch her play to feel comfortable about their bodies.
"Growing up and getting to puberty or going from primary school to high school, everyone changes at different times," Apps said.
"Most people who have the port wine birthmark have it on their face so I was lucky enough to get it on my leg. I have always been tall and I hated that, especially going through school because I got teased a little bit about being so tall.
Match: NSW Women v QLD Maroons
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Venue: North Sydney Oval
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"When I go into schools I let them know that it shouldn't happen but if it does happen it is something that everyone experiences, and it shouldn't define your future or you shouldn't let it get to you because everyone is different.
"I've experienced it and look where I am now. I think that's a really good message that we try to tell the kids."