Last summer, Simone Biles wow’ed the world with her near perfection in all four gymnastics events at the Rio Olympics. Her megawatt smile, vivacious energy, and high flying acrobatics stunned us all, and when it was all said and done she had solidified her title as “The Greatest Gymnast of All Time.”
Since the Olympics, Biles has taken a much needed break from the world of gymnastics to enjoy the perks of her big win. As the mother of a competitive gymnast, I know just how demanding and time consuming the sport can be, and so it’s been fun to see the members of the Final Five each enjoying a new phase of life.
My daughter faithfully follows all five of the girls from The Final Five. She’s streamed every single UCLA meet, cheering on Madison Kocian like it’s her job. She checks in on each of their Instagram accounts daily to see what new adventure they may have had the day before. She recorded every episode of Dancing with the Stars during Laurie Hernandez’s winning run, and now that Simone Biles is on the show, we race home from gym practice on Monday nights so she can tune in and cheer on her favorite gymnast.
I love that my daughter has these strong, confident young women to look up to as role models. Minus a few pictures from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition that I wish she hadn’t seen, I’ve been glad to let her see how these athletes have continued on since the Olympics. However, there’s a disturbing trend emerging for these gymnasts enjoying post-Olympic fame that needs to be addressed.
There’s a strange public fascination with the perceived fact that these girls have somehow been “sheltered” from life. Hardly an interview can go by without some mention of the fact that Simone Biles has never had a boyfriend, didn’t attend a prom, or that she recently went on her first date. It is as though she has somehow been jipped out of major life experiences because she was homeschooled and spent most of her days in the gym training.
To be sure, there were sacrifices every single one of those girls made on their journey to Olympic Gold. They traded certain experiences for the ultimate goal of reaching the pinnacle of their sport. I’m not denying that those sacrifices were easy. I see my own daughter battle with this struggle, and I have a full understanding of what that sacrifice looks like. It’s huge and isn’t to be diminished.
But as I watch Dancing with the Stars, particularly this season with Simone Biles cha-cha-ing her way toward the semi-finals, I can’t help but cringe at the message that’s being sent to young girls like my daughter on a weekly basis - the message that sexiness can only be felt and displayed through sensual movement, little clothing, and in close proximity to a boy.
Last week’s episode caused so much frustration that I finally had to pause the TV and have a conversation with my daughter about what it really means to be sexy. We had just finished watching a clearly uncomfortable Biles sit on a chair, her partner, Sasha Farber, straddling her and yelling “Put your hands on my a$$ Simone!” while she giggled nervously. And seconds later, cameras caught her whispering to one of the other contestants, “How do you make it not look uncomfortable when he’s on top of you?”
The perception being displayed is that despite the fact that it is clearly uncomfortable for her, Simone has to learn to be sexy because she didn’t have the chance to when she was younger. And the “sexy” being portrayed sends a confusing message to young girls.
The fact of the matter is Simone Biles may have missed out on dating in high school. She may have missed school dances, and perhaps she didn’t spend as much extracurricular time around boys as other girls her age. But you know what she did instead?
She traveled the world. She learned to communicate with people from other cultures. She learned to win and lose in front of millions of people. She learned the value of hard work, of pushing through adversity and discouragement, of managing disappointment, and not giving up on a dream. She showcased strength and dignity, teaching young girls that being strong and working hard is a good thing.
Simone Biles is a beautiful, strong, confident young woman who shouldn’t need a boyfriend or a date to somehow round her out. Instead of forcing her to fall into some awkward mold of sexiness, I’d like to see Dancing with the Stars highlight the beauty of her strength, the sweetness of her youth, and the virtue that she models for little girls around the world.
And so as my daughter and I watch Dancing with the Stars together, cheering Simone on until hopefully the very end, I will continue to remind my girl that sexiness doesn’t come from your outer appearance, from openly displaying your body, or from your ability to get up close and personal with a man. Sexiness is confidence, strength, virtue, and originality.
These are the attributes in Simone Biles that should be celebrated and talked about.
Kelli Stuart is the co-author of the book Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom (Kregel Publications, September 2016), and the author of the novel Like a River From Its Course, an epic story of war, love, grief, and redemption set in World War II Soviet Ukraine. (Kregel Publications, June 2016) affiliate links included