SELF

Former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson is tired of people pushing women in sports to be beautiful instead of focusing on their athletic achievements. So she teamed up with Dove to take a stand.


No woman—not even an accomplished athlete—is immune to the criticisms of society. And former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson understands this sad reality better than most. Despite winning a gold medal at Beijing’s 2008 Olympics at the young age of 16, Johnson was still subjected to a number of critiques about her appearance—something that motivated her to launch a body-positive campaign with Dove.

“I feel like our world today is pushing beauty over athleticism for young girls,” the athlete told Mashable. Johnson recounted things her mother used to tell her when she was feeling dejected from the appearance-based backlash coming her way. “Honey, look at your success,” her mother would say. “Look how happy you are when you are out there on the floor. Don’t let what someone else is saying affect you.” Though this was easier said than done, that mentality helped Johnson realize that the way people talk about women in sports tends to be a problem. “I want to be an advocate to change that,” she said.

Her Dove campaign, #MyBeautyMySay, sheds light on this sexist dilemma. The ads will feature images of female athletes that are slowly obscured by real discriminatory comments made about them, thus illustrating that the narrative tends to focus more on their appearances than their athleticism and skill. “I don’t care if people critique me,” Johnson said. “I want you to. But I want you to critique my performance. If you say my backflip wasn’t high enough, I can either [disagree] and say it was, or I can go home and work on it. If I do a backflip and you say, ‘Well, you just aren’t pretty enough,’ there’s nothing I can do with that. It’s a helpless feeling.”

The campaign launches tomorrow in New York City’s Times Square, and similar ads will appear in Los Angeles sometime soon.

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