At this point, it should go without saying that gymnast Aly Raisman is a superhero to young girls and adult women alike. There are the Olympic gold medals, sure, but more important is her incredibly brave and public testimony made against the doctor who sexually abused her and dozens of other girls for years, as well as the system that allowed it to go on.
To say that being a part of a fashion campaign only adds to her growing legacy as a role model might seem hyperbolic, but Raisman hasn't aligned herself with just any brand. She's been named an #AerieReal Role Model, giving her yet another platform to speak to her fans and followers about the importance of self-confidence.
"Living in the social media world, there's so many filters and there's so much pressure to look like you have the perfect life," Raisman says. "Aerie is changing that, and I think it's incredible."
Working with Aerie has been meaningful for Raisman's beyond her goals of changing society for women. She began working with the company a few months ago, smack in the middle of her public fight against her sexual abuser. Participating in the campaign, and meeting fellow Aerie Role Models Iskra Lawrence, Yara Shahidi and Rachel Platten, gave her a new support system that proved invaluable behind the scenes.
"They've just been so incredibly supportive and it means a lot, because obviously the last few months — I don't have to explain, it's been mentally draining," Raisman says. "It's a lot of stress, it's a lot of anxiety, coming public, but also dealing with this privately for a while. It's so nice to have their support and that means a lot to me."
We got the chance to chat with Raisman about her new #AerieReal Role Model gig, what it's been like to have a support system of so many women and how she manages her own body insecurities. Believe it or not, her poise under pressure doesn't mean she wasn't nervous posing in her underwear.
What made you want to work with Aerie?
I love how Aerie doesn't Photoshop anything. I think it's so wonderful for young girls and women to see that, because we put so much pressure on ourselves. I'm very proud to be a part of it. I think it's so important for people to understand that it's my body, I can do whatever I want with it, and women don't have to be modest to be respected.
What does it mean to be an Aerie role model?
Being a role model and then being a part of Aerie's brand is very important to me. I love everything that they stand for. They could not have been more supportive with everything going on right now in my personal life; it's been very public, but they've been incredibly supportive and that's why I love working with them, because they encourage you to be real. They encourage you to talk about your insecurities; they encourage you to talk about tough times you're going through, because in our society, everyone just wants to show their life is perfect. But I think being a role model is about being real and being honest, and showing who you truly are. Sometimes it's hard and sometimes it's scary, but I think people respond really well to it.
You have very dedicated fans who are following you and look up to you. How are you hoping that they respond to this campaign?
I hope that people respond with more inner confidence to know that we also have insecurities. We're normal just like everyone else. Know that this isn't something where it's just easy for us to be in our bra and underwear on a billboard or an ad. It's nerve-racking for us, too, but I think that's what's so important is to be honest with people. I think it's so important to teach these young girls that are growing up to love your body and to focus what's on the inside — that's far more important than what's on the outside. Society puts so much pressure on women to have these perfect body types, and it's very hard no matter who you are. I think it affects everyone.
Obviously being a part of gymnastics, you experienced that kind of pressure about your own body. How did you go about finding that confidence for yourself?
I would talk about it a lot with my mom. For anyone that's struggling with insecurities and body dysmorphia, I would say just talk about it with someone that you trust; for each person it's different, but for me, it was my mom, and just talking about it really helped me realize that it's what's on the inside that matters. I realized when I'm happy and I'm around people that make me happy and are supportive of me, I feel more confident. When you're around people that make you feel insecure, that's no good. Focus on the way people make you feel, because if people are making fun of you and teasing you about your body, obviously it's not a healthy environment for you to be in.
What has it meant to you to have the support of so many women?
I think it's just such an incredible time for women. Even being a part of this campaign — all three of these girls, I've just met them within the last few months and the three of them are so incredible that we've bonded. They've been so supportive of everything that I'm going through, and that means a lot to me. It's nice that even though we didn't know each other before this campaign, we all had the same mindset that it's important for women to support each other and it's important for us to all be there for each other.
I think that's really special, and really unique, and it's cool that we're all so honest with each other because obviously on set, there were times where some of us were just nervous and uncomfortable, myself included, and having each other to talk about it, it was really empowering. I'm excited to continue to work with them. Even the conversations we've had about the stuff we can do for women and the younger generation; it's very important to me because I want change, so I'm very grateful for that.