Rebecca Adlington, the pressure to be feminine

// 13 May 2009

adlington-1.jpg19-year-old Rebecca Adlington won two gold medals at the Olympics in Beijing. The Daily Mail ran an interview with her, including 14 photos of her posing, all glammed up, next to the pool.

And, rather than talk about her accomplishments, the article focuses on the pressure she felt (and still) feels to be feminine, and how her ambitions as a swimmer have collided with social expectations. Of course, it’s not like the Mail ever appoints itself the gender police, or feeds into those pressures at all, is it!?

‘Do you know why I like shoes? They make me feel feminine. My shoulders stand out and people always say, “Aren’t they broad?” And I think, “Thanks! You are really making me feel better about myself.” I don’t hate them, but I’d like to be more petite.

‘Without them, though, I know I wouldn’t have the power I have – they are what makes me go so fast in the water – but out of the water, they definitely look better with a nice pair of shoes,’ she says with a laugh.

Which just makes me despondent to read. But not as much as this quote:

When the pictures have been taken and it is time to part, I wish her luck in the award next month, adding that she is a fantastically charming and glamorous ambassador for her sport.

‘Me? Bring glamour to the sport? I don’t think so. I looked dreadful at the end of my 800 metres when I pulled my hat off and the wet hair was flopping in a face bare of make-up. Awful!’ she says with a long hearty laugh.

As Jezebel notes

That is how she describes the moment in Beijing when she won the gold medal. Why?

Maybe this is the Mail’s reporting and not what she really meant, and they’ve exaggerated her concern about this, certainly I’m sure that’s not her only or primary feeling looking at the photos of her setting a world record. Maybe she was just trying to be modest. But still…

Incidentally, the story also reveals that Adlington is living on a £24,000 a year lottery grant, once recently doubled from £12,000. As the Mail points out, “the average Premier League footballer earns £21,000 a week”.

Comments From You

Anon // Posted 13 May 2009 at 6:01 pm

Er, £24k isn’t bad. Tax-free, presumably?

A hell of a lot of people live on far less.

A lot of people live on under £12k – which tax free is equivalent to more like 14k.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 May 2009 at 6:30 pm

Indeed, the point is the contrast though…

Daniel // Posted 13 May 2009 at 6:39 pm

A lot of people earn a lot more than that and often they haven’t won competitions to say they are the best in the world at what they do.

I can see it is a difficult issue though on where to get funds to pay professional athletes who participate in sports that aren’t very popular for the public to watch. I think comparing to a footballers pay is unrealistic as football makes so much money for the companies involved. How does it compare to the amount a male swimmer earns?

KJB // Posted 13 May 2009 at 7:13 pm

Dear Rebecca,

Any man (or woman) who has issues with your Olympic-medal-winning shoulders can fuck right off. If they want to criticise or judge (and I include Fail hacks here), let’s see them step up to the plate and take on your role! Oh no, wait, who will be left to throw their weight around, and encourage more mindless consumerism amongst women?

You rock. I have broad shoulders too, but they defer to yours. :-D Anyone who says of them: ‘Aren’t they broad?’ should be met with a calm stare and the response ‘Why yes they are. What incredible powers of observation you have!’ In my humble opinion.


the KrazyJellyBean

DavAb // Posted 13 May 2009 at 8:49 pm

however – football actually generates it’s own revenue to support the stars…

when people start watching swimming contests, when it becomes valuble to advertisers, when it get’s covered on the TV – then Rebbeca will get a pay rise.

Unfortunatly people need to see it on TV, in order to be interested enough for it to produce Ad revenue, in order for it to be worth putting on TV… you see the problem.

Anne Onne // Posted 15 May 2009 at 5:47 pm

It’s ironic that the same attributes that make her what she is, a world class athlete, are what is being demonised and has to be disguised and guilted over. It’s sad that women athletes have to apologise for taking up space, for being strong and fast and having muscle, for being at the peak of physical fitness.

Here’s proof that society’s obsession with weight is about looks and not health: the fittest women in the world, who achieve things most men wouldn’t be able to dream of, still have to deal with issues about what they look like.

Who was it who said the patriarchy literally wants us women to starve and weaken ourselves? They were right. If this wasn’t true, we’d be able to appreciate the achievements of strong women without feeling the need to judge them by supermodel standards.

This isn’t so much of a problem for male athletes. They ARE considered the pinnacle of male physique. I don’t personally think there should be so much of a particular obsession with any appearance per se, after all, people come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s telling that male athletes aren’t expected to hide the fact that they are physically different because of their dedication to their job.

Also, paralympians. Why does nobody care what they have achieved?

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