With the 2019 World Athletics Championships well underway, Julia Cook takes a look into the issues of body shaming that have become more and more prevalent in track and field over recent years.
There’s no doubt about it, Eilish McColgan is having a sensational year.
Recording personal bests across five distances since January and fresh off being crowned the British 5000m champion, she’s been going from strength to strength.
So strong is her form at the moment that some are tipping her as having an outside chance of claiming a maiden World Championship medal in Doha later this week.
However 2019 hasn’t all been plain sailing, with McColgan having faced sponsorship struggles, a robbery and body shaming.
Fortunately the former of those problems has already been solved, with ASICS snapping up the 28-year-old after a year of the Scot having no sponsor at all.
However it was this new partnership that led to her being body shamed, with comments such as “damn that’s skinny” and another adding, “yes… bit too much” appearing on an ASICS Instagram post that featured the 2018 European silver medallist.
You just have to look at her impressive performances on the track to see that her size plays no impact on her running.
She didn’t just win the national title a few weeks ago; she dominated the field, taking victory by almost 15 second and also lowering her own personal best in the process.
While she could have kept quiet and ignored the comments, McColgan chose on this occasion to fight back, highlighting the potential issues that body shaming can have on young girls and women and reminding them that ‘It’s YOUR fabulous body.’
Nothing pisses me off more than someone making a comment that I’m ‘too skinny’. I’m naturally small-always have been. Some people are just slim! 😠
I doubt they would comment on someone slightly larger than ‘average’. I’m a healthy athlete and human. Go body shame elsewhere!🙄 pic.twitter.com/TmQtghTemn
— Eilish McColgan (@EilishMccolgan) August 12, 2019
It’s no surprise that young girls feel the need to get boob jobs, big plastic arses and contour themselves down to their kneecaps to fit what’s deemed the ‘ideal’ body.
If you’re healthy and happy then don’t worry about anyone else’s opinion! It’s YOUR fabulous body. ❤
— Eilish McColgan (@EilishMccolgan) August 12, 2019
Sadly, this is not the first time that women within athletics have found themselves on the receiving end of this kind of abuse.
American Allie Ostrander – who just missed out on a place in the 3000m steeplechase final in Qatar – found herself at the centre of a body shaming debate back in June, calling out commentators for talking about her appearance, rather than her performance.
As she stormed to a third NCAAs title in the event, commentators focused not on her achievements but instead decided to recite statistics about her height and weight. Even worse, the numbers they shared turned out to be incorrect.
Taking to Instagram to explain her frustrations, Ostrander said: ‘Not only were these comments objectifying and unnecessary, they drew attention away from the real focus of the event.’
Like McColgan, she also highlighted the impact that commentators can have on the listeners, especially in a sport where eating disorders are rife, stating: ‘The media has an opportunity to help women (and men!) feel capable, powerful, and worthy but, by focusing on appearance and body proportions, this opportunity is missed.’
Whilst the focus on how their bodies look is particularly an issue for women, recent comments directed towards Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth champion Greg Rutherford show that men are not immune to body shaming either.
He also used social media to hit back at trolls who pointed out his ‘dad bod’ whilst he was training for a charity swim.
“I very much realise I’m not in the shape I was as a professional athlete. I’m fine with that, I love cake and beer…” he responded.
It’s not just McColgan, Ostrander and Rutherford who have sparked debate on body shaming within track and field either. Very few athletes seem to be immune to the comments, including some of the biggest names the sport has seen.
Just weeks before her stunning Olympic gold medal in London – seven years ago – Jessica Ennis-Hill was branded “fat” by a high ranking official, causing her coach Toni Minichiello to dismiss the criticism.
Another who has had to endure comments about her body is three-time Olympian Amber Campbell, a hammer thrower for whom many have chosen to focus solely on her size and shape instead of recognising her achievements on the field, including finishing sixth at Rio 2016.
Olympic and World bronze medallist Anyika Onuora also bravely opened up last year about body confidence issues and having to endure abuse about her physique growing up from some high ranking individuals in the sport. She is now using her experiences to inspire the next generation to love and accept their bodies.
Olympic medallist @annyonuora reveals being called fat and told to lose weight by ‘people up top’.
— BBC Radio 5 Live (@bbc5live) December 10, 2018
Track and field is an incredible sport where any body shape can excel. Every athlete may look different but there is one consistent; they’re all world class athletes at the top of their game, showing truly that it doesn’t matter what your body looks like, but rather what it is capable of.
By focusing on the size and the shape of athlete’s bodies, people are suggesting that not only do they need to be at the best in their sport, but also be compliant with societal standards of what they should look like at the same time.
The need some people have to body shame online has always been a confounding issue and by challenging it these athletes are bringing to attention the fact that it should never be the case in sport where we focus on what the body looks like.
Instead our attention should be solely on what these bodies can achieve.
If I have one message to the trollers, it’s this: The quality of your life has not decreased because you’re not telling the internet your opinions of an athlete’s body, and yet your silence greatly increases the quality of theirs.