I loved Flo Jo.

Growing up, I loved her because she was a sprinter, and so was I. She was fast and beautiful. Commentators exchanged countless words over her attire, hair and ornate nails. They left me wondering why jewelry and make up were so controversial.

Raging debates on appearances aside, the proof was in the pudding.

Years later, seeing Flo Jo again sparked a deeper sense of appreciation. (Thanks, Tara). I loved her then and perhaps more now, because she was unabashedly herself. Or at least, she represented herself the way she chose and did so unapologetically.

There’s so much power in that.

I spent my youth as a shrinking violet. Even as an adult, I entered rooms with my head down, eyes lowered. Hiding. Striving for invisibility. I didn’t want to take up too much space, or be noticed at all really.

Except that’s not completely true. I waged an ongoing internal battle. In middle school, I was the stereotypical nerd; adorned with requisite thick glasses, good grades, questionable fashion choices, and uncertain body image. Yet, still I tried out (and made) the cheerleading team. High school wasn’t much different. Shy, and often soft-spoken, I still had great fun snapping my hair along with 20 other members of our somewhat exclusive dance team, dressed in fishnets, boots, and short sequin dresses.

Grad school found me maintaining the balancing act. How does one prove she belongs in rooms with men who dominate conversations, while nursing the sinking feeling the imposter (me) may be found out any minute?  It’s tiring really, being a shrinking violet.

In recent years I’ve claimed victory over that internal battle. I speak up and invite others to join me. I enter rooms with poise; sometimes even with a hint of drama. I wear colors or accessories that pop, just because they’re cheerful.

Flo Jo got criticized, in essence, for being too loud. And off she ran with her gold anyway. To that I think three things:

  • She is an Olympic gold medalist. You can talk about her fashion choices all day and night, but you can’t erase her spot in sport history. (For another example see Williams, Serena).
  • She was not afraid to take up space, to cause a stir, to be noticed. She centered herself – detractors, marginalizers, and silencers be damned.
  • It’s really not about you. It’s about her, and how she chose to represent herself. And that’s absolutely awesome.

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