How many people can say they’ve created a memorable legacy by the age of 26? Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in the U.S., is one of the few people who can. Biles seems to have it all and do it all. She just got married to the man of her dreams, has a flourishing career as the greatest gymnast of all time, and is building a home that she hopes to have a family in. Did we mention that she also has enviable abs?
Outside of gymnastics and love and marriage, Biles also finds the time to pursue a mission she holds dear–instilling confidence in young girls. To help carry out that work, the gymnast has launched a new collection with Athleta G!RL titled “Because I Can,” which was recently released on August 28. It is comprised of T-shirts, tights, bras, pants and shorts in vibrant colors, including orange and lavender.
The name of the campaign was Biles’ idea, born out of her response to a memorable interview question.
“They basically asked why I keep pushing the boundaries whenever I’m already so far ahead of the competition. And it was simple–because I can. At the end of the day, gymnastics is what I do, but hopefully in a couple of years if I retire and I look back, I want to know that I gave it my all,” she tells ESSENCE.
The gymnast is definitely giving it her all and is ahead of the competition by a long shot. She recently became the first gymnast (male or female) to receive eight U.S. all-around titles on August 27. It takes confidence and extraordinary talent to achieve these feats and Biles wants other young people to have that confidence, too.
“I think it’s important, especially at that age when they’re starting sports and going through puberty, that they have confidence to know that they can do anything that they put their minds to,” she says.
She continues, “I think at that age your mind starts to wonder and you want to give up or quit. So I think these daily reminders on some of these items of clothing [are] really wonderful for them to just see and then to know that, oh, ‘Simone said this.’ Go for it full force and you can do anything.”
Young people in this generation have a whole host of new threats to their self-esteem and social media could be a culprit for that. Studies show teen girls who spend more time on social media tend to have greater challenges with their mental health. Biles agrees that such platforms can be a threat to young girls’ confidence.
“I think it’s a great thing that the kids can have to keep them entertained and all of that stuff. But I think having good role models sets that apart as well,” she says. Some of her role models growing up have been Serena Williams, Gabrielle Union and Michelle Obama because they speak up for what they believe in.
Biles adds that gymnasts can be great role models for young people’s self-confidence, especially because of their physique, which doesn’t always perfectly fit into society’s body image standards. Speaking of which, Biles said one of her biggest challenges when it came to feeling good about herself was having a different body type relative to her peers. While in the gym with other athletes, sometimes for more than 36 hours a week, she didn’t feel like an anomaly, but as soon as she stepped out of the gym, she did.
“People would [tell] me like, oh you’re stronger than half the guys.’ And I’m like, yes, but look what I can do in the gym.”
The gymnast has opened up in the past about how she was bullied for having muscles. “I struggled with that for a couple years growing up,” she says. “But then I realized God gave me this body for a reason, so I’m going to use it and it helps me in the gym and that’s kind of my superpower. So I started taking a different outlook on it and then that’s what helped me realize it doesn’t matter what I look like in or out of the gym, look at what I can do and God gave me this talent so I’m gonna use it.”
“I think growing up as a little girl and for the kids it doesn’t matter what you look like or what you want to do, it matters about your heart, your grit and your perseverance,” she adds. “And that will propel you in life through whatever you’re going through.”
As we know, self-confidence is something we continue building for the rest of our lives making it a journey versus a destination. Biles says she’s currently working on building her self-confidence to be as strong outside of the gym as it is when she’s inside.
“I always felt super confident in the gym and then kind of a little bit lost in the world,” she says. However, now she knows what she wants to accomplish beyond the gym and has goals she’s working towards. It may not seem like she has much confidence to build in the gym, but after a two-year break, the gymnast is working through self-doubt, “especially after everything that happened in Tokyo,” she says. Biles pulled out of the team finals during the Olympics due to mental health challenges.
“I still go to weekly therapy and I think that’s a really wonderful thing. And, it was kind of a taboo topic before the last Olympics, before you have Kevin Love, Naomi Osaka, me speaking about mental health. I think it helps so many people around the world because I feel like everybody is fighting something that most people might not recognize or know,” she says.
Aside from therapy, her support system keeps her grounded and she has a wholesome one. Her NFL-playing husband Jonathan Owens is always rooting for her out loud in addition to her parents, friends and family.
“I have a really great family. I have a great husband. I have great agents, doctors, everyone that I surround myself with, everybody has helped. I really do think it takes a village and we kind of have all curated me to who I am today. So I can’t take the credit alone every time I go up and I stand on that podium and whether it’s gold medal, bronze medal, whatever it is, I feel like it’s not just for me, it’s for everybody who has helped me get there,” she says.
Before getting back to dazzling an audience on a mat, Biles has a final message for the young people out there.
“I would say fake it ’til you make it. That really helped me kind of lean into that character of who I wanted to be and who I wanted to become,” she says.
I tell her faking it until you make it is a form of manifestation anyway–you just believe that you are until you are. She agrees.