Radio 5 live examines the body image issues facing professional sportswomen

I have grown up with sport as a major part of my life - not without its stigmas and its battles, but it has been the best thing to ever happen to me and I hope that society can accept our female athletes as the best role models very soon."Gail Emms
Date: 08.11.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.59
Category: Radio 5 Live
On Thursday 15 November at 7.30pm, The Body Beautiful?, a 5 live Sport special, examines the issues facing female sportswomen when trying to maintain the fitness levels and body shape needed to compete at the highest level.

5 live's Eleanor Oldroyd presents the one-off special, which explores the pressures facing female athletes from their sport, the public and themselves, and the knock-on effects this is having on the uptake of sport among young girls.

Eleanor is joined for the live programme by a studio panel featuring former Olympic heptathlon champion Denise Lewis; 2006 badminton mixed-doubles World Champion and 2004 Olympic silver medallist Gail Emms; and Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist specialising in body image.

Denise and Gail both have first-hand experience of the demands of balancing how a professional athlete’s body changes due to training and competing, with the pressures of trying to maintain their femininity.

Commenting on the issue, Gail says: "Competitive, determined and strong - these are all characteristics of our elite athletes, but out of the sporting context they are seen as very masculine traits.

“Society still struggles to accept a physically strong woman and this has a knock on effect. So when it comes to role models, WAGs and reality stars are more of a role model than our top sportswoman. I have grown up with sport as a major part of my life - not without its stigmas and its battles, but it has been the best thing to ever happen to me and I hope that society can accept our female athletes as the best role models very soon."

Joining Eleanor and the panel are a host of guests including Hollie Avil, who represented Team GB at the Beijing Olympics and who has since retired from elite sport after battling an eating disorder. Speaking about her experience, Hollie says: “My health and happiness were at risk. Life is too short.” She adds: “You start cutting little things out of your diet and it all catches up with you until it possesses your life.”

Also on the programme are Britain’s first Olympic swimming champion since 1988, Rebecca Adlington; Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis; former World and Olympic 400 metre gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu; Commonwealth bronze medallist in weightlifting Zoe Smith; British sprinter Jeanette Kwakye; and Sue Tibballs from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation.

Some of the topics the programme looks at include how a woman’s body changes during training, the demands placed on high-profile female athletes and the abuse they face, how coaches support young athletes and how they spot the beginnings of problems such as eating disorders, how female athletes are portrayed in glamorous photo-shoots and advertising campaigns, and what happens when the pressure becomes too much.

The panel and guests also look back at London 2012 to explore what the Olympic legacy will be for up-and-coming young female athletes, and try to gets to grips with why young girls are still not taking up sport despite a year of fantastic sporting achievements.

5 live Sport The Body Beautiful? is broadcast on BBC Radio 5 live at 7.30pm on Thursday 15 November.

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