At what expense do we continue to wear the mask?
To me, Simone Biles's decision to withdraw from the individual all-around competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was a big “not at the expense of myself” to the world. She stated that she felt the “weight of the world” and societal pressure to compete and that she wasn’t in the right state of mind to do it. What a tremendous amount of courage it took for her to take a stand for herself and advocate for her emotional, mental, and physical health by giving herself permission to step back and ultimately rest.
In April, Biles had done an interview stating that gymnastics wasn’t her only reason for continuing to compete. It was purposeful for her to be a voice for change. Biles was instrumental in bringing light to the sexual abuse happening within the sport and the institution she trained in. Her testimony and willingness to speak up and out against that allowed for it to no longer be “brushed” aside.
Her taking a stand against her predator and the entire institution was what I consider her first legacy. She took steps towards her own inner healing from her lived experience. Her second legacy is as an incredible, resilient, and fierce competitor in her sport. And now, here comes her third legacy.
When I heard about her withdrawal, it immediately reminded me of Naomi Osaka. Osaka, earlier this year, stepped away from the French Open and withdrew from Wimbledon to prioritize her mental health. Turns out Biles was inspired by her fellow athlete. Osaka had shared depression in her world for a few years, but no one really knew that. Biles took notice of this.
Earlier this year, we also heard from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle of their struggle with mental health and the systems and institutions that contributed to that. Simone Biles openly shared how societal pressure contributed to some of her personal disconnection from the sport. Today we see her here, saying she is no longer okay with the “suck it up, buttercup” “failure is not an option” mentality. To potentially ask herself the hard questions—Am I present? Am I enjoying this? What is important to me here? This takes a tremendous amount of emotional- and self-awareness.
Beyond these incredibly public figures shedding light on this topic, it’s important to know that anxiety and depression are more common than they are talked about. In addition, both of those also going untreated is more common than not. We must start questioning the effects of personal, social, cultural expectations and pressure on a person’s sense of self. I have seen time and time again people suffer in silence in fear of losing a job, losing a family, losing the “them” that they know.
I know that was certainly the case for me. It wasn’t until I no longer feared the consequences and let those things go if need be, did I break free from the silence of my suffering. I don’t know if it will be in my lifetime, but I hope the day comes where being vulnerable to our suffering is seen as a strength instead of weakness. Biles and Osaka are shining examples of that to me. Creating systems, structures, and institutions that support acknowledging mental health needs without being punished will be pivotal in building trust and safety around this new paradigm.
Personally, I think Simone Biles is an example of fierceness. I really admire her bravery in a quest for her well-being. Her leadership will continue to have the world watching differently. An advocate of trauma recovery and a role model for total well-being rooted in self-awareness.