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Focus on skills, not body types, at Summer Games

Australia's Leisel Jones competes women's 100m breaststroke semi-final swimming event Lond2012 Olympic Games July 29 2012 London.   AFP

Australia's Leisel Jones competes in the women's 100m breaststroke semi-final swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 29, 2012 in London. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMONCHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/GettyImages

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Updated: September 9, 2012 6:04AM

Millions of people across the globe have tuned into this year’s Olympic Games.

Most of us know little about pummel horses and javelin throws, but we watch because it’s inspiring to see what the human body is truly capable of and because there’s something very moving about watching an athlete at the top of his or her game.  

However, since most of the Olympians perform in sportswear that leaves little to the imagination, some critics have taken to judging their bodies rather than their performance.

Just recently Australian’s Herald Sun critiqued Olympic swimmer Leisel Jones for not being as thin as she was a few years ago.

Never mind the fact that Jones is an Olympic gold medalist or that she is the first Australian swimmer to compete in four Olympic games, all that matters is that this powerful, record-breaking athlete isn’t ‘thin’ enough to fit certain people’s expectations.

Nor is this eight-time gold medalist the only one being attacked by a misogynist media.

The Brazilian women’s soccer team was criticized for being “fat” by a competing team member’s coach, while others have attacked the British beach volleyball team along with heptathlete Jessica Ennis with similarly preposterous insults. 

As sad and sexist as these snarky comments are, I have no doubt that these Olympic champions will not even deign listen to such ridiculous remarks.

They have built every inch of their body to be as strong and powerful as it can be, and they have built their minds to be the same.

They won’t allow vicious viral comments to keep them from pursuing their dreams or from training as hard as they can.

However, I do fear how these criticisms will impact viewers, especially young girls.

They might think, “If even an Olympic athlete who devotes her life to fitness isn’t ‘thin’ enough to be pretty, then how can an average girl ever measure up?”

We already know that many girls question their own athletic ability, and in fact, a great deal of them drop out of sports around the time of adolescence.

Girls are six times more likely to quit participating in sports than boys are, and research has shown that body-image issues and self-consciousness are main factors behind their decision to do so.

These statistics are sad on so many levels. When girls quit sports, they lose out on more than just fun, exercise and team spirit.

They also lose out on the chance to grow, get stronger and build their confidence.

Girls and women who play sports are more likely to have better self-esteem and less likely to suffer from depression, and high school girls who play sports are less likely to get pregnant, more likely to get good grades, and more likely to graduate.

Simply put, sports is about so much more than just scoring a goal or perfecting a pitch. It’s about finding strength within yourself that you never knew you had and pushing yourself to heights that you never thought possible.

I only hope that today’s girls are able to look beyond the media’s hateful attacks and discover their own athletic potential firsthand.

They might not all grow up to be Olympic athletes, but the lessons they learn on the field can help them to do something just as inspiring and powerful.

Dr. Berman is the star of “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on OWN and director of

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