On Thursday 26 July 2012, I woke up to another story where a woman has been scrutinised in a paper for the way she looks.
Unfortunately this is nothing out of the ordinary in today’s media, however this time the subject was Leisel Jones, the Australian Olympic Swimmer who is currently competing in the London Olympics.
The story (for want of a better word) came from Melborne based newspaper the Herald Sun.
The paper, published recent photos of Leisel and photos from 2008 along with the caption ‘the Olympic veterans figure is in stark contrast to 2008’; the suggestion that she does not look as good as she once did.
A poll accompanied the photos asking readers if she was ‘fit’ enough to compete in the Olympics.
Thankfully, the public outcry promoted the paper to take the poll down. This is another case where it is felt acceptable in the media to publish photos of a woman and scrutinise the way she looks/dresses - she's in the limelight, therefore she's fair game.
Leisel Jones doing what she does best - that's swimming
But Leisel Jones is not a celebrity, she is a professional athlete. An athlete who has won Australia 8 medals in her career. She can swim and has a great body that does it very well.
The question asked, ‘is she ‘fit’ enough for 2012?’, Leisel qualified for the Olympics and upon doing so became the first swimmer to appear at four consecutive Olympic games. I think that is a good indication that the answer is yes.
If you are concerned about Leisel’s ‘fitness’ talk about her performance, her races, her time laps, not how good the woman looks in a bikini.
Sadly, this is not the first such story to raise its ugly head during the build up the Olympics. In May 2012 a senior UK athletic professional said that heptathlete Jessica Ennis was ‘too fat’ and was carrying ‘too much weight’. One what planet can this be true?!. At 9 stone and 5ft 5 inches tall, she isn’t overweight by anyone’s standards.
This leads me to my other point; most athletes are ‘overweight’. The Body Mass index, the most widely-used measurement to test whether someone is overweight or obese, simply compares weight to height and provides a rough guideline as to whether a person is the correct weight for their height.
It is a guideline that it used to by the medical profession to look at the population as whole. It does not consider other factors such as a person’s frame, muscle mass, or body fat percentage, so often the BMI does not give an accurate assessment for athletes. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and this is not necessarily a measurement of their strength or their ability.
It is sad state of affairs that this scrutiny is being extended to female athletes (I cannot find any criticism for their male counterparts), who devote their entire lives to a sport, giving a level of commitment that most of us could not envisage, some doing this without salaries or funding.
I'm so angry about the Leisel Jones story I've taken to stormily doing press ups in the garden...
The theme for the 2012 Olympics is ‘inspire a generation’ let's not inspire a generation of women to believe that they can only be successful if they are pretty enough, thin enough or fit the perfect body image to take part in a sports.
Elite athletes are role models - let's rightly praise them. As a fitness professional, I try to inspire people not only to be healthy and fit but in turn to love their bodies and have that confidence.
We live in a a country were we have endless problems with teenage eating disorders, a high rate of heart diseases, obesity, and a lack of children taking up sport, and articles like the one in the Herald Sun benefit no-one.
As I finish writing this, I am pleased say the Leisel on Sunday 29 comfortably qualified for the women’s 100 metre breast-stroke final. An event in which she holds the Olympic record. In your face, Herald Sun.