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Magnolia Mama: Simone Biles Showcases the Stress of “Perfection”

Nearly everyone has an opinion about Simone Biles, widely known as the single greatest gymnast in the world. After she made the decision to pull out of the team competition at the recent summer Olympics due to mental health issues, there have been those who openly support her, and others who have criticized the decision. The critics have even gone so far as calling her a “quitter,” or “childish,” or “selfish.”

There are many reasons people criticized her decision. Our society often sends the message that we should forego our mental health when trying to succeed or reach a goal. For many children, prioritizing mental health can be challenging in a culture that teaches them to push through any and all adversity. 

In addition, we sometimes hold celebrities and athletes to higher standards. Many athletes have been celebrated for powering through immense physical pain. I wonder, however: What message is this sending to our kids? Is a gold medal, or straight As, or a high ACT score more important than physical and mental suffering? Just as it is with physical health, mental health can change day by day. We need to help our kids realize that taking care of mental health can make a big difference in wellbeing and performance. 

No matter one’s opinion of Biles’ choice, there are lessons to be learned from it. Health advocates and sports experts say the move by this decorated athlete helped put the issue of mental well-being front and center, shining a light on the struggles faced by both high-level athletes and everyday people. Luckily, mental health is becoming less and less of a taboo topic.

As a parent, I struggled with answering my children’s questions regarding Biles quitting the competition. I honestly wondered how this could happen to such an elite athlete. We rarely worry about the people who excel. The best students and athletes seem almost superhuman as they prove themselves day after day, test after test, that they are “perfection.” Why should we worry about them? 

Sometimes, though, it’s lonely at the top.

Even the most successful kids can falter in the brutal race to perfection. As we’ve seen time and time again, perfection can — and usually does — turn into a type of curse. 

I see both sides of the argument about Biles quitting, but if she’s saying she can’t do it, we need to listen to her. 

I also know that sometimes the right thing for kids to do is to push past the injury, or the anxiety, or the pressure, and keep going. Sometimes that’s how they’ll achieve greatness and discover what they can truly do. This has made me realize, however, that both great athletes and everyday children must listen to the voice inside their heads that says: “This is too much. I need a break.” 

Parents, teachers, coaches and even fans are well advised to listen, too. 

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