Change The Game: Dame Kelly Holmes calls for athletes to ‘accept who you are’

Change The Game: Dame Kelly Holmes calls for athletes to ‘accept who you are’
#ChangeTheGame panel – Sports minister Mims Davies, BBC Sport’s Barbara Slater, Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes, Paralympian Lauren Steadman and England netball head coach Tracey Neville
Change the Game – Women’s sport special
Listen again: 18:00 BST, Monday 27 May, BBC Radio 5 live

Young female athletes have been urged to be themselves by double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes after women told of abuse over their body image.

Winter Olympian Aimee Fuller said she had been sent “horrific” messages on social media, while swimming champion Rebecca Adlington was “called a whale”.

“You have to think, ‘I am who I am and I like who I am,'” said Holmes.

They were taking part in a #ChangeTheGame discussion for BBC Radio 5 Live’s Friday Sports panel.

Featuring a panel and audience of athletes and coaches, the 90-minute show tackled issues including pay, media coverage and hopes for the future.

It comes after American gymnast Katelyn Ohashi told how her comeback from injury was blighted by comments on social media.

“I was told I didn’t look like a gymnast. I was told I looked like I’d swallowed an elephant, or looked like a pig,” she said.

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I was told I didn’t look like a gymnast – Ohashi

Holmes, who won Olympic gold in the 800m and 1500m in Athens in 2004 after overcoming a series of injuries, made an impassioned plea to the audience.

“Every single person sitting here now in this room are high achievers. Women that should not care what other people perceive you are because you are doing something that many people want to do,” she said.

“The moment you embrace who you are, how you look, how you feel and what you do, other young people will start to look up to you and think, ‘Do you know what? It doesn’t matter – I can be big, I can be short, I can be small’.

“You’re capable of doing whatever you want because you are sitting here now, and we are all so different. I’m 5ft 3in. I was up against athletes who were 5ft 8in, but I still won.

“The spotlight on social media will always present the image of a woman who is slim and beautiful, but if you look at other images – say, of the Kardashians, there are big ladies with big bums and big legs.

“If you want to do sport, you want to do it to be successful, to stand out from the crowd and actually want to achieve something in your life. I think that’s a proud thing to have. And as you get older, you don’t care. I don’t care what people think I look like. I really don’t care.”

A recent survey of 4,500 UK adults found a third had felt anxious about their bodies.

What they said on body image

Rebecca Adlington, Olympic 400m and 800m freestyle swimming champion

The trolling, the media scrutiny I have around my body image…

I achieved two gold medals in Beijing and within days it was “you’re ugly, it’s because you look like a whale, and you’re a dolphin and you’re fat”.

I just wondered what that has got to do with winning a medal. That has nothing to do with my sport.

I will never understand why people send horrible stuff anyway, but even more when it has nothing to do with your performance.

Once you become part of sport, you realise you are all the same. It gave me so much confidence – that all of my peers at school never had. I felt 10 times more confident than them because I had something I was good at and passionate about and I think that can help with insecurities.

Lauren Steadman, Paralympic swimmer and double world champion paratriathlete

As a young girl having one arm, I was very self-conscious.

It wasn’t until I was 14 that I stopped wearing my prosthetic, because I went to a school where they had other athletes with one arm.

They turned round and said: “Why do you wear your arm? We like stumps.” I’d never been in that environment before where people just accepted the disability.

I started my swimming and stopped wearing my arm and grew confident through my achievements.

Aimee Fuller, Olympic snowboarder

I’ve always enjoyed that side of it [social media]. I’ve wanted to share my story. I’ve wanted to inspire other females and I’ve always really been myself. That’s my motto.

I feel like I’ve been very lucky to build a loyal following, but I have seen some horrific messages – mainly direct messages,

Sometimes you get people that don’t have the confidence to write on the wall. More ‘pervy’ things, to be honest, from males.

There are definitely some nasty people out there and I’m just thankful to everyone who has supported me on my journey.

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#changethegame – History of women’s sport

Reporting by Frank Keogh, Denise Evans and Laura Savvas

For details of organisations which offer mental health advice and support, visit

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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