What's Wrong with Simone Biles?
Simone Biles has announced her withdrawal from several events in the Olympics gymnastics competition, both team and individual. Why?
Why Do We Care So Much?
To put it simply, an individual person made a decision for herself that prioritized her needs and wellbeing. Yet the world has a lot of opinions about this decision, with an outpouring of both supportive and judgmental commentary in response to this individual's decision. Why do we care so much about this?
It Ruins the Fantasy
As a non-Olympian athlete, as most of us are, it's hard to imagine being talented enough to qualify for the Olympics, let alone compete and win gold medals at the Olympics.
The dialogue around Olympians is that they are a league above the rest, both in terms of physical skill as well as mental fortitude. We revere them. We idolize them. We like to imagine that they are better than us in some critical ways and that the things that get us down on a daily basis, like lack of motivation or low self-esteem, don't bother them at all.
We imagine to ourselves: if we were that skilled an athlete, we would love to compete and have nothing but confidence in ourselves. We imagine that if we were them, if we were Olympic competitors, we would have a laser focus and an unrivaled drive to win, and nothing could hold us back from conquering the competition. We would an unwavering motivation to workout every single day, to eat healthy, and to take the absolute best care of our minds and bodies so that we could be in peak physical and mental condition.
The dialogue around Olympians is that they are a league above the rest, both in terms of physical skill as well as mental fortitude.
The choice that Simone Biles has made is not what we imagine. And as a result, some people are having a difficult time understanding it.
So What's Wrong with Her?
I know why Simone Biles withdrew from the competition.
That's right, I know what's wrong with her.
Do you know what's wrong with her?
She is a human who made a good call based on how she was feeling. She knew she wasn't in the right headspace to be competing, and that going ahead with it would increase her risk for serious injury or perhaps cost the team from doing well, so she thoughtfully chose to withdraw from the remaining events.
What's missing from our fantasy of what life would be like as an Olympian is the time, the mental effort, and the sacrifices and that training to become a world-class athlete requires. While we imagine qualifying for the Olympics and getting gold and being a world-renowned winner, and the accolades and the pride that would go along with the victory, we skip over the incredible amount of work that such a victory would require.
We also skip over the intense pressure these athletes feel to perform and do well. We skip over the cruel comments that anonymous people post online. We even skip over very real evidence of mental health struggles or the impact of known past trauma on these athletes, thinking that they should somehow be unaffected by such things.
Normalizing Mental Health Awareness
It should go without saying that as a society we need to do a better job of supporting mental wellness. We've made strides in acknowledging and helping when people have medical issues (although society could still do better here), but there is still an ingrained sense that people "should just be able to get through" mental health struggles.
As a society we need to do a better job of supporting mental wellness.
Let's normalize people taking a day off from work because they're too depressed to get out of bed and attend meetings.
Let's support people who have to cancel last minute because their anxiety is so high that they're worried they might get in a car accident on the way to meet up.
Let's encourage people to speak up about how they're actually doing and not judge them if they're having a hard time.
Olympians are Humans
Even if their athletic ability soars above the rest of us, Olympic athletes are still humans. And humans have feelings. And feelings can be easy, like happiness, or they can be hard, like stress.
All of us, and I mean all of us, have felt painful emotions in our lives. Whether it's the deep sadness that comes from loss, or the overwhelming disorientation from a breakup, or the intense anger from being hurt by someone you love, or the frustration with not achieving your goals, or the apathy and discontent for no reason at all- we all know what it feels like to be unhappy. Olympians feel those feelings, too.
Even if their athletic ability soars above the rest of us, Olympic athletes are still humans.
This is a reminder that everyone, all humans of all ages and careers and races and genders, have struggles. We can do a better job empathizing with others instead of dismissing their feelings or needs. Just imagine how it might feel to be her right now, and instead of dehumanizing her and judging her choice, try to relate to her as a human.
Thank You, Simone Biles
Let's stop fighting the fact that we have difficult feelings, and let's openly celebrate when people use their platform to normalize talking about and prioritizing mental health.
We can't just "power through" if we break an ankle, and we shouldn't expect people to just "power through" their mental health needs. We need to support our friends and family, and even people we don't know personally, who are having a hard time emotionally. Especially when those people speak up for themselves.
So thank you, Simone Biles, for being an example to us all. You made the right choice for you, and that is truly all that matters.