Simone Biles, arguably the world’s most dominant athlete is, of course, no stranger to competition. But as part of a new beauty campaign, the five-time Olympic medalist took a declarative—and personal—stance against “the competition I didn’t sign up for”: having to conform to limiting beauty standards.
In an Instagram statement posted earlier this week, the 22-year-old gymnast admitted that she felt burdened by expectations and judgments around beauty, which feel like a “daily challenge” to her.
“In gymnastics, as in many other professions, there is growing competition that has nothing to do with performance itself. I’m talking about beauty,” she wrote. “I don’t know why but [others] feel as though they can define your own beauty based on their standards.
“I’ve learned to put on a strong front and let most of it slide. But I’d be lying if I told you that what people say about my arms, my legs, my body...of how I look like in a dress, leotard, bathing suit or even in casual pants hasn’t gotten me down at times,” Biles continued. “As I think about it, I don’t have to look very far to see how common this judgement has become.”
The message came as part of a partnership with Japanese skincare company SK-II, which recently launched its #NoCompetition campaign. Tied to the 2020 Olympics in Japan, #NoCompetition is a manifesto-style campaign that vows to take the competition out of beauty:
“Competing beauty standards, rules and limitations. These toxic competitions dictate how we should look, act and feel, creating pressure that holds us back in our daily lives,” the brand’s website declares.
The campaign’s spokeswomen are all athletes, of which Biles is the only black woman (and the only non-Asian athlete).
On the one hand, it may be hard to reconcile the earnestness of Biles’ message with its #ad-ness: This campaign is, after all, designed to get folks to buy skincare products so they can enhance their appearance.
But it doesn’t mean that what Biles says isn’t true. Despite a modern emphasis on power in the sport (versus “artistry,” itself a loaded term), Biles still felt self-conscious about her muscles in high school.
In 2017, she was forced to respond to trolls after posting a photo of herself at a cheer practice for the Houston Texans: online commenters complained about her hair not being sufficiently done (Biles later responded, asking folks to “excuse [her] hair” because she had just come from a four-hour practice).
And this doesn’t even cover the smaller micro-aggressions (and outright aggressions) that come in practice or in locker rooms or in the form of backhanded “concern” from coaches and trainers.
It’s a burden all black women in the public eye have to bear, no matter how many #blackexcellence boxes one ticks. So while Biles’ latest declaration may come attached to a company with a clear stake in convincing you to invest in your own brand™ of beauty, it’s still a message worth sitting with.