Simone Biles' lifetime of hard work paid off at the 2016 Olympics, where she took home a record five medals. And yet when she posted an Instagram of a well-deserved vacation, someone was compelled to criticize. Of course Biles shut down the troll on Twitter, telling the writer of the comment to train for 14 years and win a handful of Olympic medals before offering input on her life. But while the gymnast had the perfect response, these trolls symbolize a larger issue with the high standards that society places on female role models. Biles is certainly not the first professional athlete to take a break, but the fact that she came under fire for it is a byproduct of the impossible expectations put on women in the spotlight.
The incident began when Biles posted a photo from her family vacation in Hawaii. One person wrote on Instagram, "Seems like you have partied nonstop for a year #trash #unfollow #suckyassrolemodel." The gymnast responded to the troll on Instagram and posted a screenshot of the comment thread on Twitter. "Comments like this have me shook. I really wanted to blur her name out so she doesn't get attention. but it is what it is...
#BLOCK," she wrote in response.
On the original photo, Biles called out the user, writing, "talk to me when you train for 14 years and earn 5 Olympic medals. I think kids would say otherwise. My year off is well deserved! Take a couple seats." It was a funny and accurate response, but she shouldn't have to remind anyone of her many accomplishments for them to be respectful in the first place.
For women, any deviation from absolute sportsmanship and graciousness, in and outside of, competition comes under heavy criticism. In one of the most famous examples, tennis star Jennifer Capriati was arrested for marijuana possession in the 90s, and it permanently tarnished her career. And yet male athletes have caused similar controversies and emerged with their career's relatively unscathed. After all, Michael Phelps pled guilty to a DUI charge in 2014, and it has not permanently tarnished his athletic reputation. "I think female athletes, as well as women in general, are held to much higher standards than men," said tennis player Martina Navratilova in a 2012 interview with ESPNW. "...Women are much less likely to get in trouble, but it doesn't mean if they do they should be punished more."
On top of that, the criticism of Biles doesn't take into account the fact that, yes, she is a world-champion gymnast, but she's also only 20 years old. It's understandable that, after years of intense training and competition, she would take some time off just to enjoy being young. Regardless, it's absurd that a family vacation to the beach could cause controversy at all.
The comment on Biles' vacation pic accuses the gymnast of "partying nonstop" when she's only been relaxing and attending press events, which are part of an Olympian's career obligation. But the troll then slammed the athlete for failing to be a role model, of course, because the expectation that athletes must be someone to look up to in addition to being a strong competitor is disproportionately placed on women. Obviously, Biles appreciates the young athletes she's inspired, but that doesn't mean she should bear the enormous responsibility of leading future generations even while she's harmlessly on vacation with her family.
Thankfully, Biles realized how ridiculous the comment was, and she was right to call out the Instagram troll. It's just a shame that she's forced to defend her reputation when she's done nothing wrong.