By: N. N. Dee
English track and field athlete Jessica Ennis’ personal bests and record-breaking heptathletic feat could not have come at a more opportune time. Only last Friday it was revealed that a “high-ranking” athletics official had described Ennis as “fat”. What is remarkable about this is that anyone looking at Ennis would not dream of attributing to her a label that is so grossly inaccurate. She is not anywhere near overweight or even chubby – two milestones one would certainly have to arrive at before one could be convincingly called “fat”.
I myself am no athletic official so cannot exactly be considered an authority on matters such as this, but I think that the average person would agree that Ennis’ physique more closely resembles “muscular”, “well-toned”, “strong”, “athletic” or any of a host of other words that do not denote surplus deposits of fatty tissue.
Apart from being untrue, the description of Ennis as “fat’ also reveals something very telling in society today: women are constantly bombarded with unfair and downright erroneous messages about their bodily appearance. The official’s inaccurate comment captures with absolute precision the serious body-image challenge that the typical woman faces today. The official’s voice simply articulated the non-verbal message women face on a daily basis – the fictitious message that physical feminine form achieves its pinnacle in “beauty” – a vague notion of some physical proportional dimensions increasingly being promoted as “ideal”.
Some women desperately aspire to this false (and unhealthy) ideal. They go to great lengths to conform as best they can to achieve what others deem to be an acceptable body image. Lamentably, in the process, many self-destruct, falling prey to depression, eating disorders and/or many other unhealthy behavior patterns.
If female athletes who are in peak physical form face such criticism, what hope is there for typically un-athletic women, who often feel ill equipped to cope and respond effectively when inaccurate and condescending labels are thrown at them? While it is a monumental task to surmount given the sheer volume of messages coming through to women from multiple sources, Jessica Ennis has provided an excellent example of how to deal with such messages.
By clever vowel substitution, Ennis proudly declared that she is “fit”, thereby effectively nullifying the label of being fat, not deigning to engage with the inaccurate label. In other words, she defined herself on her own terms. This act of self-determination and self-mastery of destiny, spells ultimate empowerment.
Even if she were fat (which she clearly is not), she is performing (and excelling!) in her chosen field and that is what matters. If actions speak louder than words, then her smashing of Denise Lewis’ heptathletic record, scream that “fit” is indeed the most appropriate word to describe her physical condition. She has indisputably proved that it would be a fiction to think anything else.
Her approach is flawless: pay less attention to how my body looks and more attention to what I am able to achieve once I put my mind and effort into it. This is the important factor – constructive achievement following applied effort and discipline in honing skill in one’s chosen field. Many women would do well to emulate this model rather than preoccupying themselves with societal messages of emphasis on size and image.
Ennis’ triumphs in Götzis this past weekend are being heralded as predictors of Olympic gold for Team Great Britain at the games, a mere 60 days away. That would be the icing on the cake. To my mind however, the a constructive model of effort and determination over preoccupation with size and image that Ennis demonstrates for girls and women everywhere, is conclusive proof that she is already a true Olympian success.
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