When I watched Simone Biles warm up before eventually withdrawing from the women’s gymnastics team event at the Tokyo Olympics last week, the hardest part wasn’t watching her fall out of her vault. It wasn’t even watching her eyes as she clearly lost her sense of where she was in the air.
It was after, when she walked back to her teammates and they asked her if she was OK—clearly sensing that something was very wrong with the woman we all know as the GOAT of women’s gymnastics. But Simone put on a smile (that didn’t reach her eyes) and said two words that sounded too familiar:
How many of us have said those words, knowing they were a lie? How many of us have said them fighting back tears or pushing down anger or pretending we didn’t just have a panic attack in the bathroom?
We say we’re fine because we want to be fine—we want to pretend. But often, we also say we’re fine because we know the alternative—the truth—is uncomfortable. And we’ve been taught for our whole lives that making other people uncomfortable is a lot worse than being uncomfortable ourselves.
So we say we’re fine when we’re not. We try to push through and push down and put on a smile.
And every time we do, we shrink a little bit more so we can fit more easily into the cute little box the world wants to keep us in. Everyone’s box has a different label, but for many of us, our labels all boil down to the same thing—a label we were given when we were too young to understand all that it would ask of us:
A Good Girl is always fine. She never makes a scene, never makes herself the center of attention, never asks for more than what she’s given. A Good Girl takes care of the people around her, and she’s often so busy doing this that she forgets to take care of herself. A Good Girl is self-sacrificial, always putting the needs of others above her own.
A Good Girl is selfless.
Because a sense of self is too big to fit in that tiny box.