I Am What an Athlete Looks Like — Don’t Let Your Image Search Fool You

5-time Olympic medalist Nastia Liukin breaks down why we need to disrupt the societal biases reflected in search that can limit women.

Olympic Medalist Nastia Liukin. Image courtesy of the author.
Olympic Medalist Nastia Liukin. Image courtesy of the author.

Nastia Liukin, 5-time Olympic medalist and world-renowned gymnast, sat down with Thrive Global Studios to explain how diversifying and expanding what we see in search results with Pantene’s new search tool,  S.H.E., will improve women’s lives.

As a girl, I was always perceived as the weak and skinny one, so a lot of people said that I wasn’t strong enough to become an Olympian. Back in grade school, boys would tease, “Oh, I bet you can’t do this or do that.” Meanwhile, I could probably do more pull-ups, push-ups, and flips than they could. It wasn’t a bullying thing, but an issue of perception — someone looking at you and thinking that you’re not capable of something based on appearance.

Perceiving limitations in someone based on their gender is uniquely damaging. The drop rate for quitting sports before the age of ten is much higher for girls than boys, according to a study conducted by Mattel.  They just give up — partly because they don’t have as much cultural reinforcement for pursuing sports. Athletics and sports, as a whole, are definitely an extremely male dominated space, in terms of pay, media coverage and interest. 

That’s why I’m so excited by S.H.E., a new Chrome Extension launched by Pantene, that’s working to expand and diversify search results to ensure women are given the visibility they deserve when terms like “greatest athletes”  or “famous scientists” are searched. 

Once I became a 5-time Olympic medalist in gymnastics, I made it a priority to align and connect with other athletes. Being able to find allies is crucial. I spend a lot of time advocating and empowering young girls and women in their own sports, whether that’s gymnastics, basketball, or soccer. I even created a foundation to that end. I think it’s critical to lift each other up.

Men and women should be equal, no matter what industry or sport they’re in. Lucky for me, gymnastics is more highly populated by women, which has given me the courage to recognize and say, “It really should be like this all across the board.” That’s always been my mission and my goal. I’m always happy to get behind the message that no matter what your gender, race, religion, or beliefs are, you can truly be anything. 

I’m not a mom yet, but I hope to be one day. If I’m blessed to become one, I don’t want my child — or myself — to be put in a box. Efforts like S.H.E., which help women see themselves in powerful roles across industries, are important to expanding our self perceptions and sense of what’s possible.

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