Two-time Olympian Aly Raisman and Tablet’s unofficial Tablet mascot (she’s an eternal light burning forever before it as a light among the nations), is back in the public eye after a brief and well-deserved hiatus from gymnastic competition after the Rio Games. (It crazy to think the Games occurred the same year that we’re living in right now. Will 2016 ever end?) The Needham, Mass., native one is now one of the primary spokespeople for Reebok’s new #PerfectNever campaign, which seeks to promote strength and positive body image in young women (MMA fighter Ronda Rousey and supermodel Gigi Hadid are also participating).
Raisman shores up her participation in the campaign in a recent interview with Shape magazine, in which she discusses her own body image thusly: “Being in gymnastics, you’re always in a leotard…and you always have those days when you feel insecure. It’s completely normal, it happens to everyone. I try to start my day by looking in the mirror and picking out things that I like about myself instead of picking out what I don’t like about myself.”
Raisman has also hit back via Instagram at the preteen boys at her school who used to make fun of her for looking “too strong.”
“My muscular arms that were considered weird or gross when I was younger have made me one of the best gymnasts on the planet,” she wrote last month. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn’t look.”
It’s a powerful message coming from someone like Raisman, who is such an impeccable role model for young women—focused, mature, dedicated, and seemingly rock-solid about who she is and what she wants to accomplish. (I mean, no offense to Gigi Hadid, who is gorgeous and who I always click on pictures of to see what she’s wearing, but she’s made her career in an industry that is solely predicated on other people telling women what they should and shouldn’t look like; it’s because Hadid looks the way they want her to that she has a platform to espouse “positive body image” messages at all.)
But it’s especially potent for the young Jewish women who Raisman—always upfront about her Jewishness, even going so far as to choreograph her 2012 gold-medal-winning floor routine to Hava Nagila—represents. Jewish women, like many women of varying ethnicities who don’t generally match up to the leggy, blonde ideal deemed a “10” by our esteemed President-Elect, have traditionally been told by the culture at large that they aren’t pretty enough, thin enough, blonde enough, good enough. The difference is that due to the fact that so many culture makers, fashion designers, film producers, authors, etc. have been America Jews, particularly male American Jews, Jewish women have been told this repeatedly by men of their own ethnicity and culture (men who aren’t usually six foot two with ski slope noses themselves).
For someone of Raisman’s stature to come forward and say: Look, they have no right to do this to you; towards re-imagining the female body—and in particular, the Jewish female body—as something other than “OK, but not exactly January Jones,” is crucial for the self-esteem of young women at a time when their very personhood is on the line. We are more than the sum of our bodies. We’re ourselves.