Cast your mind back to the Olympic games in London last year. You may remember Rebecca Adlington, the swimmer who won two bronze medals. Previously in the 2008 Olympics, she won two gold medals — making her one of the two most decorated UK Olympic winners in history. She also has an OBE (named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) from the queen. Yet, this week on UK TV, we have watched this amazing athlete break down in tears several times about her figure.
She chose to take part in the reality show I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here — where C-list celebs are dropped into the jungle and have to face all kinds of “trials” to win stars for food. The trials generally involve all the primal fears: water, confined spaces, darkness, and about a million cockroaches, snakes and spiders. However, it wasn’t the scary critters that upset Adlington, but her fellow contestant, the UK beauty queen Amy Willerton. Or rather, the sight of glamazon Amy in her itsy bitsy bikini.
You won’t have heard of Amy — I hadn’t either. But what upset me so much was the sight of this fantastic, spirited athlete, whose body has endured years of sacrifice and dedication since she was barely a teenager, being ashamed to wear a bikini next to an unknown model who has yet to achieve a hundredth of what Adlington has. Upon seeing Amy cavort in the jungle shower, the Olympic winner sobbed: “It’s making me feel very, very insecure … that I have to look a certain way … I wasn’t trying to be a model, but pretty much every week on Twitter I get somebody commenting on the way I look.”
Adlington has already suffered at the hands of social media with commentators belittling her looks. In the jungle, away from her fiance and family, Adlington just couldn’t take the pressure anymore, which is amazing when you consider all the pressure heaped upon her swimmer’s shoulders as she represented her country in two Olympics. And yet, standing next to a beauty queen makes Adlington diminished (in her own eyes), even after all she has achieved.
What saddens me most is that we have bought into this idea of Barbie-esque bodies, fake tans, breasts, and eyelashes. Society sees beauty in one minuscule way, and we are all pressured to adhere to it. If Olympic winners with their amazing bodies feel this so acutely, then what hope is there for the rest of us? For those few perfect Olympic weeks last summer, something shifted in the way we viewed our “stars.” Instead of lauding reality stars for their rubbish reality shows, we instead revered REAL champions — people who had a talent and nurtured it, who WORKED for their achievements.
Watching the TV this week with Adlington’s tears made me feel like we have regressed. We’ve been sucked back into an idea that we need to look a certain way or else we do not deserve the word “beautiful.” Since leaving the jungle, Adlington said: “Everyone has insecurities and it’s definitely been a bit of a struggle for myself. I know I’m not the prettiest of people, so of course I’m gong to be insecure. Especially when people comment about it on Twitter. It just so happened that the topic came up in the jungle. It makes me sad it gets to me and it obviously bothers me, so I couldn’t help but shed those tears. I just hope I didn’t upset anyone else.” The only thing that upset me, Rebecca, is that a successful, incredible, and incidentally very beautiful woman like yourself felt this way at all.
Photo credit: Twitter