Everyone with gymnastics in their soul must love themselves. When you love yourself, you invest in your confidence, happiness and health, making you strong enough to conquer any setback you face. We all need this boost-- because the hard truth is that gymnastics is a tough sport, not only physically but mentally.
Stand up, be strong
As an Olympic athlete, I dealt with intense pressure to stay slim and perform perfectly. Even at the tender age of fifteen, the media and critics were ruthless in their comments about me.
I was told that if I were taller, leaner and proportioned differently, I’d be a better gymnast. It wasn’t true and the comments shouldn’t have mattered, but at the time, it felt like the world wasn't accepting me. This bullying even happened in elementary school when kids made fun of me for having big muscles.
But eventually, I learned to ignore it. How? I learned to love myself. By growing more confident, I realized that we're all just regular humans with flaws and weaknesses. This mindset empowered me to accept that I couldn’t change my height or frame, or any other physicality that makes me who I am. Then I continued to train harder and push harder, forcing the gymnastics industry to see me for my abilities and not my appearance.
Strength is beautiful
I learned that looking strong means you're healthy-- and health is sexy! So is confidence! Just take a look at Gabby Douglas who didn’t give a hoot about making her hair look all perfect and prissy, standing up for her African-American heritage at the Rio Olympics. Plus, at school, she faced teasing about her body like I did.
As her mom told People Magazine, “Everyone was talking about her arms, and she became very self-conscious about how muscular they were.” Gabby eventually took inspiration from another pro-athlete to recognize the beauty in her muscular body: Serena Williams. This famous female tennis player always handles criticism about her muscular body with class and confidence.
Or let’s look at Simone Biles, whose body can be described as shorter and stockier, much like myself at that age. She told Teen Vogue, “I was built this way for a reason, so I’m going to use it.” When you reach this level of self-esteem, you can do anything! These lessons show us that we should never apologize for the way god made us.
Finally, having self-love as a gymnast means not being afraid to fail. I remember when I came in second for floor exercise at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, losing to Nastia Liukin. I felt like I had failed the world. It seemed like everyone was focusing on my defeat, and since I had failed at being number one, I had failed as a human being. As I matured, however, I was able to abandon these fears.
I learned that I could reach success by simply loving myself. I learned that being a gymnast doesn’t define me. I am a person first and a gymnast second. So any mistakes I make only prove I’m worth trying. And you, my friends, are worth everything.