Thank you Rebecca Adlington for being brave enough to talk about body confidence

Too often women are demonised for merely suggesting they want to feel better about themselves

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Dear Rebecca,

Please don't cry. I want to thank you for being brave enough to talk about your image insecurities. You might already be a world record breaker, a four-time Olympic medallist with an OBE, but that doesn't mean you don't face the same struggles all women do.

Your battle for body confidence highlights how perverse society has become. Too many of us believe what our bodies look like is more important than what they can do. When someone like you admits to feeling these pressures, it shows just how damaging our culture has become. It scares me. A recent poll reveals almost half of 11-14 year old girls are opting out of everyday activities such as swimming and speaking up in class because they don’t like how they look . If you’d been too self-conscious to get in the pool, not only you but the whole world would have missed out.

So firstly, to undo the damage of those Twitter trolls, I want to tell you how attractive you are. You are beautiful and have always struck me as funny, warm and caring.

When I feel down, I think about what advice I would give a friend in my position. I've seen you want to teach young children how to swim: imagine what you would tell a young girl who felt too insecure to get in the pool. Not only girls who look like Miss Universe who have the right to feel that glorious freedom.

Secondly thank you. Too often image issues are shrugged off by people who can help. Women are demonised for even inferring they might deserve to feel good about their body. If we feel under pressure to look good, we must be ‘shallow’. If we get upset by insults, we are weak.  If we seek reassurance, we are desperate. Amidst all this, our confidence crumbles.

But people have to listen when even you are affected by this toxic undercurrent of misogyny, rippling through society and spitting out a ‘sidebar of shame.’

Tanni Grey-Thompson has now spoken during a debate in the Lords about how ‘body image has become more important than health’ for many young people,  warning that many teenagers ‘would rather be thin than healthy.’ She added: ‘The reality is that young women are facing pressure from many directions.’

So I want to thank you Rebecca, because it is time we spoke about how some sections of the media make us feel. Thin is not an ambition. Being sexy is about more than measurements. We need to work with our bodies not against them. Just like you have.

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