Elite athletes tackle body shaming to keep young Australians in sports

Elite athletes, including former Olympic swimmer Libby Trickett, are joining forces with Embrace Kids to combat body shaming in sports.

Elite athletes and health advocates are rallying to address the issue of body-shaming in sports, aiming to foster a more inclusive environment for young Australians.

With the Paris Olympics looming just two months away, former Olympic swimmer Libby Trickett speaks from personal experience about the intense media scrutiny athletes face on the global platform.

“Over my career my body has been the topic of countless conversations, without me present. I’ve been called too fat, too thin, too fit, too muscly, all while performing at my physical peak,” she said.

“This experience isn’t unique to professional athletes – it’s something that starts when you are just a kid who loves a sport,” she says. “I’ve had so many conversations with young people who’ve wanted to quit the sport they love due to the pressure they feel about their appearance.”

As a fervent advocate for nurturing the next generation of athletes, Trickett has teamed up with Embrace Kids, the health promotion charity led by Taryn Brumfitt, the 2023 Australian of the Year and body image advocate, along with international body image expert Dr. Zali Yager. Together, they are organizing a video masterclass aimed at assisting community sports clubs in fostering healthier attitudes towards body image among young people.

The Activate Masterclass seeks to empower parents, coaches, and administrators in cultivating positive sporting environments by providing essential resources to reshape our language and behavior regarding body image, particularly concerning young athletes. Hosted by Trickett, the masterclass combines practical, evidence-based guidance with real-life examples to demonstrate how clubs can prevent youth from quitting sports and physical activities due to feelings of judgment, shame, or embarrassment about their bodies.

“I remember when I was 16, a boy came up to me at training and told me I looked like a ‘butch bitch’, meaning I was incredibly fit and very muscular,” says Trickett. “The phrasing of this comment stuck with me and made me feel deeply uncomfortable in a body that I was still learning to understand and before I knew what it was fully capable of. But it’s not just comments from peers that can hurt. Throughout my career I’ve had unsolicited body comments from coaches, trainers, spectators, not to mention the media – and it doesn’t get easier.”

Accompanying Trickett in the Masterclass is Sarah Perkins, a prominent Australian Rules footballer with a seven-year career in the AFLW, having played for Hawthorn, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Gold Coast. Perkins shares her personal journey, emphasizing the significance of diverse representation within the realm of sports.

“Growing up for me was very different. There weren’t that many female athletes for me to look up to as a kid growing up loving sport,” says Perkins.

“Representation in the last eight years has changed because there are people like myself – people look at my body shape and the way that it is and they would automatically say, ‘That is not an athlete’s body’ and ‘I should not be shown as a role model’… unfortunately these are some comments that I have seen and social media’s quite brutal! But for every 100 negative comments that you read there are 1000 positive ones that can make you smile and make you realise that what you’re doing is real, and people see you for the person you are and not the way that you look.”

The Activate Masterclass represents the newest addition to the Activate program by Embrace Kids, following the triumphant release of a complimentary Playbook for clubs last December. Together, the Playbook and Masterclass enhance the program’s focus on four pivotal themes aimed at catalysing transformation in community sports: eliminating body talk and body shaming, advocating for diverse body representation, promoting flexibility in sports uniforms, and emphasising food as fuel.

Later this year, the concluding segment of the Activate by Embrace Kids initiative will be unveiled, featuring complimentary physical resource packs to be disseminated among sports clubs across Australia. These packs will include items such as change room posters, stickers, and additional materials.

For more information, click here.

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