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  • Writer's pictureFlow Australia

Stop body shaming kids playing sport: Olympic champion

With the Paris Olympics two months away, swim champion Libby Trickett has joined a campaign to protect young people's body image and combat body shaming.

Swimmer Libby Trickett was training for the Commonwealth Games when a picture of her next to a confirmed drug cheat appeared on the front page of a newspaper, comparing and contrasting their bodies.

"The intimation was that I was on drugs and must have been to get that sort of physique," Trickett told AAP.

"It was embarrassing to have your values and your integrity questioned.

"Especially as I was just working my butt off to create this body that was allowing me to do these great things in the pool."

Trickett was 16 the first time she experienced body shaming, when a male friend described her as "a butch bitch" because of how muscular she was.

Her career didn't falter - she would retire from competitive swimming with four Olympic gold medals - but it took a toll. 

Trickett struggled with binge eating throughout her swimming career, and knows many other swimmers who struggled with eating disorders.

"As a teenager you already feel uncomfortable," says Trickett, now a mum of four. 

"You want to fit in and you want to feel the same and you start to feel really different." 

Body shaming in sport happens even at a grassroots level and Trickett is determined to help stomp it out.

Too many young Australians are giving up recreational sports because they are being made to feel bad about the way they look.

"I want them to be able to experience sport without body shaming. To just enjoy and experience what their bodies can do, what they're capable of, without worrying about what they look like," says Trickett, who retired in 2013. 

"It doesn't matter if you're the best, it doesn't matter if you're going to go to the Olympics, or the Paralympics, or compete at the highest level.

"(It's about) the joy you can get from moving your body and being part of something - a team, a sporting club. 

"The benefits are profound."

Trickett is the host of a new video masterclass for the health promotion charity Embrace Kids, set up by 2023 Australian of the Year and body image advocate Taryn Brumfitt and international body image expert Dr Zali Yager.

It is designed to help community sports do better in this area and protect young people's body image, recommending a slew of actions that can have a big impact with minimal effort

This includes using a variety of body types in marketing materials and offering a selection of uniform options so participants can choose to wear what makes them feel comfortable.

It also offers key resources to combat language and behaviour surrounding body image used in front of children.

"It's heartbreaking to know that there might be kids out there whose coach has called them fat ... and they then want to drop the sport," Trickett says.

"Body composition and body size is not really a conversation that needs to happen.

"I desperately want those kids to know it doesn't matter."

Former AFL footballer Sarah Perkins, who will join Trickett in the masterclass, agrees casual, derogatory language can have a big impact.

"Children are watching, they're always watching and they're always listening, especially the young ones. They're sponges, they'll soak up anything you say," says Perkins.

"I'd just say to any parent or even teammate or anyone just out in the community when you're watching sport, it's really important to think about the language you use."

Brumfitt says the video has been received well by sporting clubs. 

"Embrace Kids, as a whole, is focused on creating change in all the places where young people live, learn and play, so we knew we needed a solution for sports clubs," she said, adding that the clubs are the "heart and soul" of Australia.

"It's been so great to see clubs jumping on board to help our young people stay in the sport they love for longer."

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)


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