Simone Biles is giving Black women permission to remove their superhero capes and take care of themselves

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Simone Biles is giving Black women permission to remove their superhero capes and take care of themselves
Simone Biles at the Tokyo Olympics. LOIC VENANCE/Getty Images
  • Simone Biles dropped out of some gymnastics events at the Olympics for her mental health.
  • Biles is showing other Black women that it's OK to take care of ourselves.
  • Naomi Osaka and Biles are inviting us to examine what we should be prioritizing and when.

Despite being paid the least and disrespected the most, Black women are often expected to carry some of society's heaviest burdens.

You may remember that there was no shortage of calls for Black women to "save us" last year when it was time to vote in US elections. And while many others are afforded off days, Black women rarely are.

After the death of George Floyd, many people gave advice to "check in on your Black friends," and this turned into Black women tending to others' feelings of guilt. It was an additional burden when we were already struggling to make sense of what was happening.

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The expectation that Black women remain strong while still smiling and never losing our cool is one that many Black women have adopted, too.

So this week, when Simone Biles, the undisputed GOAT of gymnastics, decided not to continue participating in the team finals at the Olympics because her head wasn't in it, it was a powerful reminder that it's OK for Black women to take off our Superwoman capes.

This decision was particularly impactful because it came on the heels of the tennis star Naomi Osaka's similar decision to withdraw from both the French Open and Wimbledon because she needed to tend to her mental health. Biles even indicated that her choice was influenced by the decisions she had seen Osaka make.

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Biles and Osaka have an abundance of privileges that may allow them to make mental-health decisions with greater ease than most of us. Their actions are still an invitation for us to examine where boundaries need to be set in the name of well-being. They're also an invitation for us to do a better job of asking for help.

We don't have to do everything on our own

When Biles decided she could no longer participate, she trusted that her teammates could help her carry the load of the competition.

There are probably several people in our own lives who are ready to step up if we let them know that we need help. But part of the trap set by the "Strong Black Woman" stereotype is the expectation that asking for help is a weakness.

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It is especially important for us to examine our relationship to this stereotype at a time when so much has been upended. In the past 18 months, we have been hyperfocused on keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. We have lost loved ones. We have had to work and teach from home, and we have contended with continuing instances of racial violence and injustice.

Yet we are expected to keep showing up and being productive. Many of us haven't stopped to think about what we need to refuel and what restoration might look like.

We need to remember that it's OK to stop when we need to

Giving ourselves permission to stop is not something Black women practice regularly, but it can be a lifesaving gesture. Biles showed that by immediately recognizing how dangerous her vault had been and pulling out of the competition after getting "the twisties."

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There is power in these actions - not only for the people taking them, but for observers. Biles saying "I can't do this today" silently unlocked for many other Black women the possibility that they, too, might be able to step away from something that has become too much.

Dr. Joy Harden Bradford is a licensed psychologist, a speaker, and the host of the wildly popular mental-health podcast "Therapy for Black Girls." She received her bachelor's degree in psychology from Xavier University of Louisiana, her master's degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling from Arkansas State, and her Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Georgia.

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