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If Olympians Like Rebecca Adlington Aren't Safe From Body Image Bullies, Who Is?

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The 2012 Olympics shone a spotlight on British athletes in a way they hadn't quite experienced before, which meant they were popping up in society event pages, featuring in reality TV shows and generally enjoying fame beyond their sport.

One downside to more fame is that the higher the profile, the bigger the potshots from internet trolls. Beth Tweddle and Rebecca Adlington have both had their fair share of trolling online - we're looking at you, Frankie Boyle.

To give you some background: in 2012, Adlington retweeted some of the awful tweets she received about her looks, and when she appeared on I'm A Celebrity... she broke down in tears saying she felt "very, very insecure".

Since then, Adlington has appeared to have lost a fair bit of weight (judging by her fiance's tweet below) and reportedly had a nose job - if the latter is true, it is hard to believe it isn't connected to these taunts as a lot of the abuse was around the size of her nose.

There is no hierarchy when it comes to abuse around a woman's body image - whether you're a celebrity or the average woman on the street. But I find it utterly shocking that these Olympians are viewed as fair game for online abusers.

Worse, that the abuse has affected a gold-medal athlete so badly, she may have altered how she looks to fit an image of what other people think she should look like.

To me, Olympians are untouchable for a few reasons.

First, the sheer single-mindedness and dedication to one goal that involves a hell of a lot of sacrifice including training and diet. Most of us can't even stick to a weekly gym routine so this in itself deserves to be applauded.

While we're in the pub on a Friday night, these people are working out their protein to carb ratio, and agonising over how they are going to be the best they can be. They regularly push themselves to limits we can't even comprehend.

Second, someone like Rebecca Adlington is at the peak - or was at the peak - of her physical fitness. Only a top athlete wins medals. So to pick holes in her appearance when she could pretty much beat any of those Twitter trolls in a swimming race seems beyond childish.

To me, it's exactly like picking on the most talented kid at school - behaviour you wouldn't expect to carry beyond the playground. And in the same way that a bully picks on you because of what you can do and they can't, I wish I could tell her to ignore these jealous, ignorant people who have probably not achieved anything much.

It is thoroughly depressing that Adlington, despite winning for her country at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, has felt so pressured by comments that she is outwardly affected by them.

Because after all, if some so talented and accomplished as she can't remain immune to such comments, what hope do the rest of us have?

I'm not remotely suggesting that I know how she feels, or that she isn't entitled to alter herself in the manner that so many other men and women have chosen to do.

But it is a worrying sign of the times, in an age when plastic surgery figures are on the increase, and girls as young as nine are being offered bikini wax deals, that the ideas around body image and confidence are becoming increasingly toxic.

In such an environment, the only thing that will work is by celebrating the non status quo and refusing to tolerate anything less.

Actress Zoe Saldana recently spoke about how ageist Hollywood is, and how at 36 she is seen as over the hill - and how her tactic is to refuse to do films where the male lead seems to have no expiry date, having been offered films with a famous actor over 30 years older than her. We need more of this.

I will continue to love Adlington but I mourn her loss of innocence as someone who "didn't know what fame was" and is now discovering the heavy price. It's a blow not just for her but for all the other women who looked up to her and thought her high achievements made her safe.

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