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'Strong Black woman' stigma and Simone Biles

Mental health experts said Simone Biles' withdrawal could be a pivotal moment in Black women's history.

ATLANTA — Simone Biles' withdrawal from Thursday's individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympics has sparked a global conversation around mental health and the stigma that society often places on Black women to be strong.

“I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health,” Simone Biles said on Thursday.

The announcement marks the second time in recent months that a world class Black athlete has publicly prioritized their mental health over competing. Simone Biles' withdrawal comes just months after tennis Champion Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open citing similar reasons.

Mental health experts said the dialogue that's been sparked by these two elite Black athletes is critical to changing the stigma surrounding the idea of a "strong Black woman."

“It has been incredibly detrimental to our health. I think Simone shared an example of this when she shared a tweet yesterday that said the support has been really powerful...it’s important for us to know we are worthy outside of our accomplishments and goals," Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, Podcast host of Therapy for Black Girls explained. 

Clinical Director with CHRIS 180 Counseling Center Gwinnett, Ashleigh Dennis-Silas said the notion has roots in enslavement, "It goes back to slavery....being able to support and keep your family together the best that you could and also being able to maintain that love, support, and connection."

Dennis-Silas added that the notion has been transforming over time and that recent announcements by athletes could be a pivotal moment in completing changing the definition behind "strong."

“I think it's creating room for dialogue about a new kind of strength…that there is strength in vulnerability…in tenuous…asking for help…and living in the truth. And what is true for these athletes does not diminish their level of strength by saying this is a great deal of pressure," Dennis-Silas explained. 


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