There's a common question asked of survivors when they come forward with claims of sexual assault or harassment. It has to do with how they looked when the violence occurred. Yes, I'm talking about the cliche, "What were you wearing?" line of questioning. It teaches women that their bodies are inherently sexual and always open to assault, especially if they don't dress "modestly." But now an Olympic gold medalist is pushing back against that notion in a powerful way. Aly Raisman posed nude in the 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue as a PSA that women do not have to be modest in order to be treated with respect and dignity.
Raisman, a six-time Olympic medalist, is perhaps most recently known for delivering a harrowing testimony against USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced from 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing over 160 women and girls. During her 13-minute statement, one of the most powerful things she said was, “Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force and you are nothing. The tables have turned, Larry. We have our voices, and we are not going anywhere."
She finished her testimony with this powerful promise: "Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere."
In her Sports Illustrated spread, Raisman has shared the same message. She did it through Sports Illustrated's newest "In Her Own Words" project, which is part of the magazine's evolution in response to our time's ongoing demand for women's equality. In photos shot by a female photographer Taylor Ballantyne, Raisman posed nude with the phrases “trust yourself,” "survivor," “live for you,” and “abuse is never okay” written in paint down her arms, leg, and back.
Her message is clear: If a woman decides not to be "modest," it doesn't mean she's deserving of abuse or harassment.
"I hope that we can one day get to a point where everyone realizes that women do not have to be modest to be respected," Raisman told SI Swim. "We are free to draw confidence and happiness in our own way, and it is never for someone else to choose for us or to even judge us for that matter."
SI Swim editor MJ Day shared that the "In Her Own Words" project was designed to let women share their stories using their own perspective and their own insight, rather than letting news outlets and the public distort their narratives with their own input.
"It’s so simple, yet so difficult for many in this industry to find control over how their identity is portrayed or interpreted or judged," Day shared with People. "We want to give this control directly to the women to own their story and image throughout the whole creative process. The results are inspiring."
Seeing how much Raisman has been in the public eye this year for sharing her story as a survivor, and how many people still push back against the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, this spread is especially powerful. And Raisman's message is one we all need to hear over and over again until women are respected no matter what they are or aren't wearing.