The founder of a leading anti-sexism campaign has branded the publication of images reportedly showing the BBC Olympics presenter Helen Skelton sunbathing without a bikini top “a gross and disturbing invasion of privacy”.
Images purportedly showing Skelton on holiday in France surfaced over the weekend and appeared in a Sunday newspaper.
Skelton was 17 at the time and reportedly unaware she was being recorded.
Skelton has been beset by comments about her appearance and dress since fronting coverage of Rio, with articles remarking on her “daring outfit choices” which are variously described as “risqué” and “skimpy”. After one broadcast, a Daily Mail article focused on her “thigh-grazing” skirt and repeated suggestions from a social media user about her underwear.
Skelton, a former Blue Peter anchor who has also presented the 2016 European Swimming Championships, was sat with her co-presenters Rebecca Adlington and Mark Foster during the broadcast. All three were dressed appropriately for the humid weather in Rio.
Meanwhile, Gary Lineker fulfilled a promise he made to present Match of the Day in his underwear after losing a bet months ago. His appearance did not attract similar “skimpy attire” headlines. On social media, it attracted quite the opposite response, with some complaining his boxers were not “skimpy enough”.
Reports have since emerged that Skelton would be filing a complaint with the press watchdog Ipso. A spokesperson for Skelton told the Independent no complaint has been filed so far, but action will be taken against any outlets who choose to run the pictures: “We will take it up with Ipso should anyone chose to run the images.”
Laura Bates, the founder of Everyday Sexism, condemned the publication of the images in an essay for the International Business Times.
“There can be no argument that digging up private and intimate photographs of a 17-year-old girl is in any way 'newsworthy' or in the public interest," she wrote. "It is exploitative and inhumane, and can only be explained by the fact that our society, in 2016, continues to view women's bodies as public property and their breasts as fodder for male enjoyment and entertainment.”
Bates said the media's treatment of Skelton was indicative of the wider problem of the representation of women in the media.
“Skelton's treatment over the past weeks has reinforced the idea that a woman in the public eye, no matter her skill or professionalism, is considered fair game to be hounded and treated as a piece of meat. To be displayed from every possible angle, no matter how invasive, for the viewing pleasure of the general public.”
Skelton's father also joined condemnation of her treatment during on a discussion of This Morning, where he expressed dismay his daughter was being criticised because of her attire.
“I don't see where's the story in a young woman wearing a short skirt," he said. "I thought we'd moved on from this now. She's just out there presenting and trying to do the best job. Why do we always have to comment on women’s clothes?”