She’s an OBE and four-time Olympic medal winner. Yet despite these amazing achievements, Rebecca Adlington knows only too well they’re no shield against cruel Twitter trolls… or her own body anxiety.
And despite rumours she underwent plastic surgery earlier this year, in a candid interview with Grazia last week, Rebecca revealed she’s still a long way from feeling confident.
‘There’s no magical answer – I’m still insecure,’ she said. ‘We’re all different, and that’s what makes us beautiful - but it’s hard to feel confident when you’re surrounded by so many images that suggest beauty comes in a very standard package.’
It’s one reason she has lent her voice to a new ad campaign out this week in which celebrities were asked what they would tell their younger selves. Rebecca’s contribution? ‘Not to let people I don’t know influence the important decisions I make in my life or affect the way I feel about myself.’ It’s a message she hopes will stop a new generation of young women being plagued by the kind of anxieties that have haunted her.
Last year, the 25-year-old swimmer underwent a major emotional meltdown while appearing on reality show I’m a Celebrity, confessing that she still harboured deep insecurities about her appearance. Since, she’s rumoured to have undergone nose surgery, after showcasing an apparently sleeker profile. Whether or not there’s any truth in the rhinoplasty rumours – and she’s resolutely not saying – she does admit that her self-confidence is still a ‘work in progress.’
Talking about her public meltdown she said, ‘It was a weird situation. I’ve never even sat down with my friends and fully shared it, so it’s difficult when the whole country knows you’re insecure when some of your friends didn’t. You feel vulnerable. But I don’t regret it. I got so many messages from young girls thanking me for speaking out.’
Thinking of her younger self for new ad campaign for Legal and General she says, brought up a lot of stuff from the past. ‘At school you’re constantly looking at other people - everyone wants to be the popular one with a boyfriend.’ By her own admission she was never one of the ‘pretty’ girls at school, she says swimming gave her the confidence she lacked elsewhere. ‘It’s why I try and encourage other girls to do sport. I’ve been criticised for being unfeminine because of my broad shoulders, I wore a black dress to an event and the headline the next day about athletes ''trying' to be fashionable.’
Then there’s the Twitter trolls, who have driven her to tears. ‘It was so personal, so nasty’ she says that at one stage she contemplated leaving Twitter. ‘I thought about it for a long time. But then I thought about how I get messages from a 12-year-old saying I’ve inspired her to swim. I realised that was way more important.’
Now, retired from competitive swimming, she’s excited about the future - she's enjoying dabbling in TV work and at the end of the summer she’s marrying 21-year-old fiancé, fellow swimmer Harry Needs. ‘He tells me I’m beautiful every day’, she says. ‘I’m definitely in a good place’.
Find out more about the ‘What would you say to your younger self’ campaign at www.legalandgeneral.com/life-cover
By Kathryn Knight and Zoe Beaty