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Is it a good idea to insult one of the strongest athletes in the world?

I love the Olympics. I mean, LOVE. Every other year I sit poised eagerly on my couch, ready to watch downhill skiers plunge through the snow, gymnasts vault into the air, and swimmers and skaters speed through the water and across the ice, with such talent and skill that it’s literally an art form. I can hardly think about their physical appearance (besides their obvious strength), but apparently some people are obsessed. In fact, one Olympic swimmer is being so criticized for her appearance that she’s decided to get off Twitter so she’s not distracted by the comments.

I don’t really know why I’m surprised (Our highest-ranking women political leaders get this treatment, so why would our athletes be spared?).

As a former competitive swimmer I tend to follow top swimmers when the Olympics aren’t happening. Rebecca Adlington is a British swimmer who won two gold medals in the 2008 Olympics, one of them breaking a world record, is the first British Olympic swimmer to win two Olympic gold medals, oh, and is seen as the most successful British Olympic swimmer in 100 years. In short – she is AWESOME. Check it out:


And yet, this incredibly accomplished, almost inconceivably strong, crazy-fast woman is on the receiving end of cruel and unnecessary comments about her looks via Twitter. They got so intense, Rebecca said, that she has decided to take a break from tweeting (which she does fairly often, and nicely interacts with her fans) during the Olympics so these comments don’t distract her from, you know, the most important sporting event on the planet.

Let’s think about that for a second and how insane that is – one of the best athletes in the whole world has to deal with people making snarky comments about her appearance, and then actually feels like she has to say “I can’t help the way I look” and note that it actually hurts her feelings. She says “I’m such a girl, I no!” (Twitter shorthand for “I know,” obviously), as though it explains her natural reaction – to this I have to say, “Rebecca, I think you look awesome, and strong, and fast, and confident, and anyone on the planet can have their feelings hurt by those who decide it’s their business to comment on someone’s looks as though it makes any difference!”

She’s obviously also smart, and knows that it’s best to just avoid these trolls and step back from the social media storm while concentrating on some of the most important weeks of her life. But she shouldn’t have to. This is her time to be cheered on, rallied behind, excitedly supported – not being superficially insulted by people who choose to completely ignore her stunning success.

So, to the Twitter trolls: Stop. Just stop. Watch her blow people out of the water this summer in London, and maybe next time around think about how she could take any one of you down in the water.


4 thoughts on “Is it a good idea to insult one of the strongest athletes in the world?

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  1. I’ve been raging about this for years. There’s a comedian (who’s not actually funny) in the UK called Frankie Boyle who really angered me when he was slating her nose. She’s an olympic gold medal winning athlete who seems like a nice person, he’s a bitter and twisted idiot who can’t think of anything better to do than slate a beautiful talented woman who just wants to get on with her sport. Wonder who is more deserving of any criticism? I really hope Rebecca can ignore this c**p and know that she IS beautiful but that’s just the icing on the cake for her on top of her extraordinary talent and many other qualities.

  2. I can’t believe that anybody would look at this incredibly talented, high-achieving, hard-working women and see anything but an amazing person. I am so sick of the culture implying that all women have an obligation to look pleasing to society, i..e. fit the traditional standards of beauty, and if you don’t have that then absolutely nothing else matters. She seems lovely inside and out, and anyone who would harrass her for her looks is a terrible, attention-grabbing, sad person indeed.

  3. This is so sad. Small, unaccomplished people tear into those who really achieve something in their lives. And to attack this woman for appearance is just cruel.

  4. @Jen – I love what you said about how there is an unspoken obligation that we are made to look good for other’s viewing pleasure – equating physical appearance with worth and that a woman’s currency is in how she looks. This has always made me so incredibly angry given that men’s value increases as they age and women’s decreases, because her value is based on beauty and our culture worships youth and eschews aging at all the costs. This really gets my blood boiling because it seems no matter what you do, if you are in any way poised in a public space, your appearance comes under unrestricted scrutiny and your exceptional talents downplayed. It’s a truly egregious injustice.

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