Rebecca Adlington: nose op prompts anger and regret

Why would other sportswomen want to represent country if focus is on their looks, ask columnists?

LAST UPDATED AT 15:28 ON Tue 25 Feb 2014

COLUMNISTS have condemned the "recreational body-shaming" of female stars amid reports that Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington has had nose surgery.

The 25-year-old, who retired after winning four Olympic medals, has previously said she found the criticism about her appearance the most challenging aspect of taking part in the Games. She revealed how negative comments had affected her when she broke down while a contestant on I’m a Celebrity... last year

Adlington has faced repeated taunts on Twitter about her nose, and was the butt of many jokes from comedian Frankie Boyle, who once compared her to a dolphin. However, reports that she had a nose-job this week only prompted another round of criticism, with some Tweeters accusing her of "giving in to the bullies".

In The Times, Louise Carpenter recalls a previous interview with Adlington, in which the swimmer contemplated surgery and insisted "it would be for myself, not for anybody else's satisfaction".

Carpenter says she was "shocked" at Adlington's apparent ease with the surgeon's knife. "It was a stark sign of the times, I thought, both of the potential impact of Twitter on a person's confidence and of the quick-fix culture of beauty for young women today."

She describes Adlington as part of a new generation of young women "bruised by the free-for-all vindictive criticism" of social media. "It's hardly any wonder that they turn to the welcoming arms of the cosmetic surgery industry," she says. "A quick way, as they see it, of 'building their own confidence'."

Meanwhile, Vanessa Feltz defends Adlington against the "cosmetic surgery objectors". We have no qualms about going to an orthodontist to fix our teeth or a hairdresser to calm our frizz, she writes in the Daily Express. "If Rebecca were to embark upon a punishing regime of cosmetic 'improvement'... that would be fine too, provided each procedure provided her with a measure of contentment and a generous dollop of confidence."

In the Metro, Mary Stringer also hopes surgery might bring Adlington some "peace and self-confidence", but she says it is a shame that her nose was even commented on in the first place.

"If we insist on prioritising women's appearance over talent, how will we encourage other sportswomen to represent our country, if they believe that their achievements may be overshadowed by their looks?" she asks.

Laurie Penny makes a similar point in The Guardian, condemning the gossip press as the "ugly ones" who are "corrupted by a news economy that profits from cutting successful women down to size".

In an impassioned open letter to the Olympian, Penny says the "recreational body-shaming of female celebrities matters to a great many people who look at what you have had to deal with and are reminded, with a familiar chill, that whatever women and girls achieve, we are nothing if we do not conform to society's demented definitions of beauty". · 

Disqus - noscript

I hope that whatever she has done will give her happiness; that the publicity will not lead to more unhappiness. Please leave her alone.

Rebecca deserves better than this. Of course, she should feel free to elect to have cosmetic surgery - as is her right as an ordinary citizen. The reasons for such a choice, in Rebecca's case, are rather more sinister IMHO - the constant sniping at this remarkable young woman reveals just how shallow some elements of our society are.

Rebecca is probably a very beautiful lady - with much more to offer this country than some of her detractors. Leave her alone!

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.