Rebecca Adlington, two-time World Champion and four-time Olympic medal winning swimmer, is a woman at the peak of athletic prowess and physical fitness.
Her figure then, presents the embodiment of a female physique honed to perfection, extreme dedication, strength and skill. So how is it she finds herself beamed to thousands of ITV viewers, from a jungle in Australia, crying over her appearance?
Whether you’re a fan of I’m a Celebrity or not, you’ve most likely seen clips of the Olympian escaping camp debate for some emotional privacy. Her own insecurities became too much as fellow contestant, former Miss Universe GB Amy Willerton, had been defending her industry’s role in a culture that leads to mass body insecurity. She claimed she had never felt like “a piece of meat” and that you’re “always going to get nasty remarks”.
Is this enough? Can we simply accept that anyone in the public eye is open to receive any variety of emotionally abusive comments? Adlington broke down as she described the copious weight of negative remarks she receives, saying “I was an athlete, I wasn’t trying to be a model and yet…every week on Twitter I get somebody comment on the way I look.”
In response to Adlington’s upset, Willerton conceded somewhat, professing “nobody should ever be made to feel like they’re not beautiful.” As classic a response as this may be, it’s hard to feel that this typical rebuttal isn’t somewhat missing the point. Rebecca Adlington does amazing things with her body; more amazing things in water, in fact, than anyone else in the world.
Yet the media constantly places value in the way her body looks rather than what her body can do. Surely it’s time, rather than telling women that they are beautiful regardless, that we begin to acknowledge how it doesn’t actually matter whether you are beautiful or not. Superficial appearance is not where your value lies. It’s time the media stopped teaching us that it is.
Our culture, obsessed by the superficial, has to stop teaching both men and women that what matters is how they appear, not what they say and do. The point isn’t that it’s unfair women don’t feel they can match up to these supermodels, it’s that they feel they are supposed to in the first place.
We are in desperate need of a cultural shift in the way we think about and teach body image.
How you look will have a bearing on how you think about your world, undoubtedly. But the idea that it should affect what you can do with your life, who you can be, and how valuable you are is both damaging and dangerous. It runs the risk of a generation of women, talented beyond belief, crippled by a body image so low that they feel they have no value at all.