“They’re not going to see me as Simone the gymnast, they’re going to see Simone the sexual abuse survivor.”
Simone Biles is an Olympic gold-winning medallist for the United States, and an inspiration to many young girls - particularly black girls - who haven’t previously seen themselves represented on the world gymnastics stage.
Biles was also one of the gymnasts sexually abused by then USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. She’s now spoken about the way she initially denied what had happened to her because she didn’t want people to view her as “Simone the sexual abuse survivor”.
Speaking to actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas for a new video on the latter’s YouTube channel, Biles talks about going to therapy, which she thinks needs to be normalised, to come to terms with what Nassar did.
Biles says she initially asked a friend “the definition of sexually abused, because some of my other friends had it worse than me”.
She continues: “And they’re like, no, if he did that you’ve been sexually abused.
“And I kind of brushed it off. I am not willing to put that out for the world to see, they’re not going to see me as Simone the gymnast, they’re going to see Simone the sexual abuse survivor.
“So I denied it and I buried it. I was very depressed, I never left my room, I was sleeping all the time. I told one of my lawyers, I said ‘I’m sleeping all the time because it’s the closest thing to death’.”
The first person Biles told about the abuse was her mother, after reading a story about one of her friends coming out and “bawling” at it. She rang her mum, and told her, after which detectives came, which was when Biles realised the seriousness of the situation.
“It wasn’t easy but I feel like I’m a stronger woman today,” says Biles. “And I feel like telling my story has helped younger girls.”
Biles has previously spoken about not being “emotionally ready” to attend Nassar’s sentencing.
Nassar was accused of abusing 156 women, including Biles’ Olympic teammate Aly Raisman. He was sentenced to 175 years in prison, and during his trial the women came forward to speak powerfully and openly about what Nassar had done to them and the impact it had on their lives.
In the interview with Chopra Jonas, Biles also speaks about the pressure to be perfect, which she says is “hardest part of my career”. “I feel like always meeting people’s needs, every single day, all the time, is probably the hardest thing that I go through,” she continues.
“I feel like if I don’t meet their needs, then I’ve failed. Even at the Olympics everybody wanted me to win six golds, or this or that, and I didn’t meet those needs and I was really down on myself, especially after the beam, even though I still medalled. Everything was like ‘what the heck is a bronze?’.”
Chopra Jonas made the video, which also features interviews with actress Awkwafina and fashion designer Diane Von Furstenburg, to ask them for the one piece of advice they think has changed their lives.
Biles advises Chopra Jonas to take risks. “Even in 2018 I took a lot of risks, and I did things that terrify me,” she says. “It made me realise who I was as a person.”
In speaking openly about her sexual abuse, and in continuing to compete on a global stage even when she could comfortably retire with her gold medals, Biles continues to take risks, and we admire her for that.