‘So muscular is a good thing for boys and a bad thing for girls?’ Why body shaming women in sport is not OK

(Bluebella)
Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe have opened up about their experiences of being body shamed. (Bluebella)

Two Team GB Olympians have joined calls to end body shaming of female athletes in sport.

Kate Shortman, 19, and Isabelle (Izzy) Thorpe, 20, both from Bristol, have opened up about the experience of having their bodies scrutinised during ten years of training to reach their Olympics goal.

From being told to cover themselves up, to experiencing continuous comments about having "big shoulders, small boobs and small bums", the artistic swimmers now want to end the dangerous myth that athletic bodies aren't also beautiful.

For years the narrative surrounding female sports stars has tended to perpetuate a fictional choice between athleticism and modern beauty standards, with high-profile athletes receiving sexist criticism that 'muscles' and 'strength' should belong to to male athletes only.

Not only can this be damaging mentally, but body shaming could actually be causing many girls to turn away from sport entirely.

Read more: Body shaming is now banned on dating app Bumble

(Bluebella)
Isabelle Thorpe and Kate Shortman are Team GM artistic swimmers. (Bluebella)

Recent Women in Sport research revealed that girls are dropping out of sport and physical activity during their teenage years and developing deep-rooted negative attitudes towards it, with body issues cited as a contributing factor.

In fact, an astonishing half of all secondary school girls drop out of sport after the age of 13 due to body issues.

In order to switch up the narrative surrounding female bodies in sport Shortman and Thorpe have joined lingerie brand Bluebella’s #BeStrongBeBeautiful campaign to try to encourage more girls back into sport.

“Who decided that being muscular is a good thing for boys and a bad thing for girls? It’s absolute rubbish," Shortman explains.

"It’s utterly unfair that society’s expectations for boys are to have this perfect image of health by going to the gym, lifting weights, and looking really muscular and strong, and yet for girls it’s the opposite - you should be stick-thin and with delicate feminine features.

“It’s unhealthy for young girls to see this and think, ‘I have to restrict what I eat and count calories.' It’s unhealthy mentally and physically to think that.”

Watch: 9 celebrities who have spoken out about body shaming.

Shortman describes experiences of being told to cover up while training at public swimming pools.

“We only wear one-piece costumes that are the same as everyone else's, but because we have an athletic figure, the costume naturally sits higher on our hips," she explains.

"It’s not intentional for me to be walking around showing off my hips or my bum. It’s ridiculous because boys can be walking around in Speedos and that’s fine, but if girls show any skin, then they are accused of parading their bodies for everyone to see.”

Read more: Vicky Pattison on her body image struggle: 'Please don’t confuse thin with healthy’

Thorpe also describes having her body scrutinised.

“We’ve had a lot of negative comments about our bodies in the past when we were at school talking about big shoulders, small boobs, small bum, and at that time when I wasn’t as confident about my physique," she explains.

This led to her trying to cover up her muscular physique as a teenager.

“Swimmers tend to get big shoulders and when I was younger I would wear things to cover my shoulders, baggy clothing that would make them less noticeable," she says.

"If I was posting pictures on social media I would try to crop them out of pictures, or try and make them look less prominent to avoid getting negative comments.

"In the past year I began to feel a lot more confident about my appearance and now we are both proud of our muscular bodies.”

(Bluebella)
The pair are just about to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. (Bluebella)

According to the Women In Sport survey, 64% of girls will have quit sports altogether by the age of 16, and many cite lack of confidence over body image and appearance as a major factor.

The survey found that girls most commonly quit sport at the age of 13 and 14 - in school year 9 - and this is something Shortman and Thorpe can relate to.

“In Year 7 to Year 9, games and PE were separate for boys and girls but after Year 9 we had to mix again and that’s when lots of girls dropped out of sport," Thorpe explains.

"They were worried about what the boys would think and say and didn’t want to be exposed in front of them, especially with swimming. But when you do swimming you are very exposed, walking around a pool and there’s always boys there, and you’re wearing a tiny costume. It’s quite intimidating.”

Read more:Lizzo shares stern message for body shamers

(Bluebella)
Thorpe and Shortman pose for an incredible underwater fashion shoot ahead of the Tokyo games. (Bluebella)

In order to help promote the #BeStrongBeBeautifu campaign the pair have posed for a striking set of lingerie images with a Union Jack in a giant underwater tank, to highlight the muscular beauty of the female form.

They hope the campaign will go some way to challenge traditional perceptions about athletic female bodies.

Bluebella founder Emily Bendell added: "We have to change the perception that the strong female form is not ‘feminine’. "The idea that strength and femininity do not go together is a really damaging perception for keeping women in sport but also more broadly.

"We are thrilled that two of our most exciting Olympians Izzy and Kate are supporting #BeStrongBeBeautiful and helping to challenge attitudes which are sadly still too prevalent.

"We are in awe of the dedication and skill that goes into competing at the highest level and we are so excited to watch Kate and Izzy at the games in Tokyo.”

Watch: Hailey Bieber opens up about the impact of body shaming.