Today’s Olympians are the Teen Role Models We Needed

Like you, I pretended not to care about the Olympics until this weekend when the Olympics started and all I watched were the Olympics. And then, even more like you, I watched swimming and gymnastics and decided I wanted to be Penny Oleksiak and Simone Biles.

And, like, duh. At 16 and 19, Oleksiak and Biles are killing it. They are killing it alongside their teammates who are also killing it, which makes me think two very important things:

1) I bet I’d make a great Olympic athlete (JK: right now I am typing this on my bed and already want to nap), and

2) Why the hell did it take me for so long to be a person?

I say this because at 16 (and even at 19), the narrative I was following was in no way my own. I wasn’t following my dreams or pursuing my goals. The summer I turned 16, I spent my summer sitting in a parking lot across from my house, watching boys I had crushes on skateboard. I wasn’t even skateboarding myself. I just . . . watched them. And that’s it. And then, when I started dressing the part of a skateboarding enthusiast, I only did it because I wanted to make the boys like me. (They did not.) Evidently, everything I did was for everybody else. Or more realistically, everything I did was for the approval of men.

Which, like, no. Woof. And while I don’t know the backstory behind the young women we’ve been admiring/who’ve been restoring our faith in the world as we know it, I do know that at their young-ass ages, they are very much in charge of themselves. They are training and working and challenging. They are forces to be reckoned with. They are living their actual dreams and sure as hell not compromising those dreams by bending to the will of someone else’s mediocrity. They can’t be. They’re at the Olympics. They’re fucking great. Because that’s how the Olympics work. They’re 100% not sitting on the sidelines, watching someone else do.

And at 16, that was a message I needed to hear. Or see. (Or something.) At 16, I was afraid to be interesting or original or great. I was afraid to try and to fail and to assert myself in a way that could make me feel strong and proud and special. I wanted to blend, and I was afraid that if I didn’t, boys wouldn’t like me — or worse: that the girls I wanted to be wouldn’t like me, either. And I think it’s easy to fall into that trap (even as adults) because to stand up and own yourself can be terrifying. It means you have to be okay with who you are. And shit son, that’s a tall order.

But sometimes all you need to do is look at the young women we’ve been seeing in action this weekend. And while we can’t go back in time and tweak our own youths and teen years, we can do another two things:

1) We can remind ourselves that we’re also boss-ass bitches, capable of achieving the shit we want — even if it takes forever and makes you want to curl up, try not to cry, then cry hard, and

2) Remind the teen girls in our lives, or the ones we meet, or who are reading this that their goals are theirs; that their dreams are to be prioritized and anyone who tries to dull them with mediocrity needs to be told to shut it down.

And maybe instead of watching someone skateboard, just do it yourself.

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, topstory

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