On Thursday, July 26, 2012, I woke up to another story where a woman has been scrutinized 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 veteran's figure is in stark contrast to 2008"; the suggestion is 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 scrutinize the way she looks/dresses -- she's in the limelight, therefore she's fair game.
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. 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 she's plenty "fit."
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." On 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 is used by the medical profession to look at the population as a 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 envision, some doing this without salaries or funding.
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 country where 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 to say that Leisel, on Sunday 29 July, 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.