I first came across Aly Raisman while watching the 2016 Summer Olympics. I had just moved to Laramie and didn’t know a soul, so Olympic gymnastics helped fill a lot of my time. Aly Raisman competed on the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team. While she won multiple medals–putting her at the center of attention–it was her confidence and poise that stuck out to me. She was beautiful, in every untraditional sense of the word.
After the Olympics ended, I kept up with her accomplishments and life happenings on Instagram. In the beginning, I followed her simply because she was an inspiring athlete. Most of her posts had to do with her gymnastics career and consequential rise to fame, which was just cool to see since she’s about my age. Slowly, she evolved from an inspiring athlete to an inspiring person. Her posts became less about gymnastics and more about social issues and lifestyle practices that she was passionate about.
She learned how to use her platform as a world-known athlete to induce change and spread kindness.
In November 2017, Aly came forward as one of the victims sexually abused by Olympic team physician Larry Nassar. Rather than keep the situation under wraps, as would be expected, she used her social media to make her positions clear and to directly oppose the stigma of the quiet, shameful victim. I cannot even imagine the courage it would take to publicly discuss such personal, atrocious events. Throughout the ordeal, she encouraged and publicly applauded her teammates for their roles in taking down Nassar. It was beautiful to see young women coming together not just to overcome their abuser, but to defy rape culture in our society. In January 2018, Aly faced Nassar head-on and read an impact statement at his sentencing. She and her teammates won ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award for their bravery and commitment.
Aly has also been active in promoting women’s self-beauty as an #AerieReal Role Model. Aerie (by American Eagle) recently began a brand campaign that recognizes beauty in all bodies by using untouched photos in their ads. As one of their Role Models, she regularly speaks at events and features in their ads herself.
I am generally opposed to admiring famous people, as we so often don’t know the truth behind the lives they market to us. Yet Aly Raisman is different. She worked hard to gain recognition for her athletic feats, and now uses that recognition to leave her mark on so many other aspects of modern society. Rather than use her money and fame to promote luxury, she uses it to promote humanity–and that deserves mad respect in my book. And when you look past her amazing accomplishments, she’s real–just like you or your best friend. She posts pictures at the Oscars and pictures on her couch. She advocates for voting and eating whole foods. Her Instagram is filled with positive quotes and support for mental health. She truly wants to leave this world better than she found it, and that’s how I strive to be.