by Maddy Forbess
Aly Raisman posed for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s latest project ‘In Her Own Words.’ After her statement against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar last month, Raisman continues using her own voice to protect and to support other sexual assault victims. In the wake of the highly-publicized sexual assault case against Dr. Nassar, Raisman has taken to the media to reclaim her body—to regain control of her own narrative. The ‘In Her Own Words’ project has enabled Raisman to express her own voice and strength by using her body as a canvas. Each participant in the project is allowed to choose words that resonate with her. Aly chose the word “survivor.” Then the words were written across her naked body to convey the powerful and persistent message.
The empowering concept of the “In Her Own Words” project ties into Raisman’s ongoing efforts to dedicate her life to providing women with a strong voice. She told People Magazine that “she won’t be silenced” in her latest cover interview. Aly Raisman is a model athlete, but beyond that, she has given women everywhere the courage to share their stories. In recent interviews about her participation in the “In Her Own Words” project and swimsuit photoshoot for Sports Illustrated, Raisman has made it abundantly clear that her work is not over. In our day and age, in which women feel pressured and judged by numerous forces—social media, their male peers, themselves—to act as if everything is perfect, Aly strives to create a more nurturing environment for women. She is doing just that by exposing her own hardships, insecurities, and personal experiences to the world.
By taking part in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s campaign, Aly Raisman is spreading awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault in today’s society. She is putting her own body out there in the public eye for a noble cause, despite the fact that it must be incredibly difficult given her own experience. Yet, she makes a point that women should not have to be ashamed of being victims. Women should not be afraid to re-enter society because it was not their fault that they were sexually assaulted. Self-blame will not help anyone, and Raisman speaks to the fact that victim-blaming is a harmful, and disrespectful way of treating women who have been subject to such abuse.
Raisman is a living, breathing role model for the women out there who need a brave soul to pave their way. She has gone one step further with regard to the slut-shaming notion. No one should be told what to wear, how to dress her body, or how to present herself. Each and every girl is entitled to the basic right—the basic freedom—to construct her own identity. It is for no one else to dictate. Another phrase Aly chose to have written on her body, from her shoulder to her toes, is incredibly poignant and speaks to this principle: “women do not have to be modest to be respected”. Raisman continues to voice her opinion that women should not have to dress a certain way in order to garner respect. Women should be entitled to this basic level of respect in their daily lives, regardless of how conservatively they decide to dress.
The Olympic gymnast vows to keep reminding people that women do not have to be ashamed of being survivors because one moment does not define you. And, she makes it clear that the leotards she wears do not mean she is promiscuous. They are part of her uniform as a world class athlete. They signify something about her passion for sports and her dedication to an athletic endeavor. They do not mean she is slutty or that she “is asking for it.” Women are so much more beautiful than their looks. Women are so much more dignified than the clothes they choose to wear. As women, we have the right to our own happiness and confidence; it is not for anyone else to judge for us. Aly Raisman articulates these powerful themes as a spokeswoman, athlete, and survivor to all the women out there seeking an ally. One word, alone, is not enough to describe her. She represents strength in a time when women desperately need a role model. Turn to her whenever you need a reminder there is always someone out their fighting for you.