I’m a fan of Simone Biles. That’s not an extraordinary announcement to make, granted. After all, who isn’t a fan of the Olympian gymnast; a woman who uses the air as a canvas, and her body as an exhilarating performance of art. The twenty-four-year-old athlete, bearer of four gold medals, and undisputedly one of the most iconic and pioneering athletes within the world, has a strong message for women. A message that I’m here to sip, slurp, and gulp.
The message arrived earlier this week, Simone Biles making the difficult but necessary decision to step back from competing at the Tokyo Olympics. Biles explained that her mental health was suffering, and she was neither prepared to further injure her wellbeing, nor was she willing to jeopardize her teammates potentially losing medals, due to her inability to perform. Besides, the US has an entire squad of elite gymnasts that can hold their own.
Simone Biles’ voice, courageous and steadfast, spoke to an international audience of critics. Her message was met with scrutiny; an uproar boiling with the familiar hostility and sourness that seems to be reserved for women with opinions. Especially women of colour.
I have never been very good at conventionality. It’s not my thing. Nor at preserving the prehistoric and barbarous ideologies encompassing women and our “place” within a patriarchal society. Society, much like a creepy uncle, who drinks too much of the Christmas sherry and uses that as an excuse to hug you for too long, is sloppy. It’s transparently judgy, retaining contempt for women who dare to be comfortable with themselves, to advocate for themselves, and who prioritize themselves. The truth is simple: society has a long way to go before being receptive to women visibly loving on themselves – a message that we’re taught to revolt against from our youngest years.
Unsurprising then, Simone Biles went from Shero to Villain in the space of an afternoon. But it isn’t only the critics who heard Simone Biles’ message. Amid the judgmental, the unsympathetic, and the couch potatoes, all who point fingers towards their TVs and critique athletes with feigned expertise – mocking them on what they shoulda-woulda-coulda done differently – there are those of us who support Simone Biles. Big. Brass. Band. Support.
I have never been particularly good at taking care of myself. I’ve been an excellent advocate for others and their wellbeing, in fact, it’s something I’m known for amongst my loved ones and strangers alike. I’ve been a confidant, a guide, a spiritual advisor, friend and caregiver, and even a sister and aunt to those without. I’ve been the pillar of stability when chaos ensues, and I’ve been the friend who serves cheesecake at 2 am when hearts have been broken and tears need a sturdy shoulder to weep upon. But that’s not all I’ve been. Maintaining strong eye contact, face to the mirror, forcing myself into accountability, I acknowledge the wrongs that I have done to myself. I’ve often failed to make the list of priorities, I haven’t done overly well in the self-care department, and I’m often criticized without praise, and overworked without respite. All done by my own hands.
The older I’ve become the less interested I am in resuming an unmarked place within my life. I leapfrogged myself into the podium of first position, happily lounging in all things self-appointed. Somewhere between the no more fucks to give and I’m not your wagon, stop putting your shit on me phase, I realized that I’m not just a manifestation of virtuosity, but I’m a whole damn festival of brilliance. An immersive encounter, wreathing both the places I choose to belong and the places that decline my entry. I’m a loud transformation, snubbing misogynistic societal pressures by blending them into a pale soup and feeding it to my cat, who delights in eating rodents and such things grotesque.
Yet, sometimes old habits are hard to break. They come back around like a past fling that you had hoped to never see again, triggering old insecurities and sore migraines. Suddenly, the throne is tilting, and I find myself tipping out of first place and falling back to the last position. It is during these times that I am the strongest version of myself. For there is no known strength than the potency of someone fighting for themselves when they’re altogether too fatigued and too disenchanted. The endurance of advocating for oneself when motivation is a wispy and almost unfelt ripple, and the tenacity of nurturing oneself while fighting against compliance, which glitters with insincere allurement, should be admired – not rejected. It is that very endurance and tenacity that Simone Biles demonstrated this week. Not for the first time, either.
Simone Biles, owner of the world all-around championship title, all while passing a kidney stone, whose body is retrospective of acute training and athleticism, who performs revolutionary and innovative routines, which leaves the judges struggling to evaluate Biles for her talents which far exceed expectations, who – may I remind you again – is only twenty-four-years-old, needs a break. That is all.
Within its simplicity, should this even be newsworthy? The reaction to Simone Biles has been problematic – to say the least – and lofts me down a murky river to darker and more pressing questions. Requests such as, if Biles physically injured a different part of her body – for argument’s sake, broke a bone – how differently would society accept her withdrawal? Would there be sympathy cards and bouquets of ornate flowers? If so, how have we – as a “progressive” civilization – failed to register mental illness as just that, an illness? Furthering this undesirable trip down the swampy bayou, unlit waters beneath and even gloomier queries suspended above, how different would the response be if Simone Biles was a white woman? Would there be empathy instead of outcry and compassion instead of anger? Either way, Simone Biles served a lesson that I was full-belly ready to eat.
Attitude is everything. Every woman needs an almighty dose of it, to be embroidered upon their skin, and to be carried as brightly as a lighthouse facing a sea of fogged gray. Simone Biles is a reminder of the ‘tude needed. She’s pushed back on a culture intolerant of women and our suffering, rewriting the code on self-empowerment and self- preservation. She’s a feminist by the very definition, and a role model, and an educator, and so much more. But most importantly, Simone Biles is a human. A tired human. A human who listened to her body and honoured its needs. To deny Simone Biles the right to have feelings and the right to healthcare is dehumanization.
All in all, Simone Biles is badass. This strong, accomplished, and capable woman is an example of practising good health, and her positive message is a reminder that YOU matter. As do I. As do all us sisters and friends.
Ty Tzavrinou is a tea obsessed, intersectional feminist, artist, writer, and poet, with a zealous passion for collecting books. And shoes. And bad habits on occasion.