There are two athletes in particular whose bodies are being ridiculously scrutinised at the Rio Olympics. One is Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno whose shape was critiqued on social media as she competed rather than her skill.
The other is the Ethiopian swimmer dubbed ‘Robel the Whale’ whose nickname succinctly sums up all that is wrong with our shallow society.
When I watched Moreno, I was mesmerised by her incredible steely focus; with every movement she oozed confidence. Others quickly reached for their iPhones and let their fingertips commence cruel trolling which appears to have become our nations’ favourite pastime, and an Olympic sport in itself.
When most of us look at Robel Kiros Habte we see a 24-year-old who is pursuing his dream. Reading sickening, relentless media coverage referring to him as “portly” is infuriating.
Clearly, body shaming doesn’t gender discriminate; it's simply about people sticking the boot in, being mean and loving to tear others down.
In what world is it tolerable to slam him and gleefully poke fun behind a keyboard sneering, “It’s the taking part that counts”? Are we really so foul that we will pour spite onto his Olympic efforts by focusing on his physique which reportedly “sets him apart from other Olympic swimmers”?
Do we not instead see someone who has tried and triumphed? Do we not hear him say, “I am so happy because it is my first competition in the Olympics,” and all feel a heartwarming surge of pride?
“I wanted to do something different for my country, that’s why I chose swimming,” he continues. “Everybody, every day you wake up in Ethiopia, you run. Not swimming. But I didn’t want to run; I wanted to be a swimmer. It didn’t matter where I finished.” Aren’t these words we want every child to read and feel inspired not to be told they can’t, but rather that they can? Isn’t the beautiful message: believe, be bold and be fearless?
If no one got in a pool because they didn’t think they could be a Michael Phelps, it would be a very empty pool.
If no one bothered to turn up to training and put their feet in the blocks because they didn’t believe they could be Usain Bolt, we will never find the next awe-inspiring athlete. I will never be Marian Keyes but I still write. Not everyone can be Heston Blumenthal but we don’t have an empty MasterChef set.
We can admire athletes for a huge range of reasons and they all stem from a mindset - a brilliant winning mindset that is victorious before the competition begins.
We don’t have to go so far as giving out medals for taking part to know that life isn’t about perfection. Wait for perfection and you’ll do nothing – except, perhaps, sit on your sofa and knock others for bothering to try.