You would think being an eight-time Olympic medialist would allow you a break from public scrutiny about your body. Apparently not, as Leisel Jones, Australian Olympic swimmer, recently found out.
On July 24, the “Herald Sun,” a Melbourne-based newspaper, published photos of Jones from 2008 and some taken more recently, and stated that she doesn’t look as good as she once did. According to the Huffington Post:
The media outlet even published a photo caption stating: “The Olympic veteran’s figure is in stark contrast to that of 2008.” They also ran a poll asking readers whether Jones was “fit” enough to swim in the 2012 Olympics, Yahoo! Sports reported. Unsurprisingly, many haven’t taken too kindly to the focus on Jones’ physique — especially on the eve of the 2012 Summer Olympics Games in London. Public outcry prompted the Herald Sun to take down the poll soon after it was published.
Jones’ teammates on the Australian Olympic swim team, as well as many former Olympic athletes, jumped to her defense. Former Olympic track and road cyclist, Katherine Bates, tweeted, “My bad – I didn’t realise Leisel Jones earned her spot in London at a pageant. Here was I thinking she was a great swimmer!” Jones’ teammate, Melanie Schlanger, also tweeted, “I’m embarrassed by the Aussie media having a go at Leisel, one of Australia’s greatest Olympians. Support athletes don’t drag them down.”
Coverage of the 2012 Olympics has been horribly sexist, and this debacle over Jones’ weight is just one example. The Dutch field hockey team was recently called “field hockey minxes,” and British weightlifter Zoe Smith fired back at the media for saying that women can’t be athletic and attractive.
People are even disappointed that the beach volleyball players have been told that they are allowed to wear more clothes due to the dismal London weather. This is just scratching the surface of the sexism rampant in discussions of women’s Olympic sports, and women’s sports in general.
Regardless of the shape of their bodies, these women — Leisel Jones included — have earned their spots in the 2012 Olympic Games. This means that they are the best of the best that the world has to offer in terms of athletics. This should also earn them the respect that comes with this position, and the media should give these women a break about their bodies.
The sad fact of the matter is that, when it comes to women’s sports, sexism is still rampant. This is apparent even when the Olympics aren’t being held, but we are seeing it clearly this summer. As a society, we have a long way to go before sexism is a thing of the past, especially in the world of athletics. Women’s bodies are not open to public comment.
Public figures of all sorts have been dealing with this forever. Many say that, as public figures, these women open themselves up to scrutiny of all sorts, and that their personal lives are no longer personal. When it comes to body types, I disagree. The more we comment on the bodies of women, the more we are telling our little girls that they should be ashamed of themselves if they don’t fit the picture-perfect image of what society wants them to look like. I applaud these Olympic women athletes for being able to stand up for themselves — and compete — in spite of media criticism that has nothing to do with their physical ability.
Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer