Naomi Osaka. This week marks the power of a woman of color - an athlete, a champion - and the choice to say "yes" to her own mental health. The struggle is real when it comes to women, especially women of color, to stand up and say, "I have to step back so I can take care of myself, so I can come back to being myself. My pain is real. My pain is to be acknowledged." For many women of color, bearing one's pain in silence is encouraged and expected. The pain felt by women of color has a long history of being doubted, unless you're a "delicate woman" of the blonde, fair-of-skin type. My menstrual pains were doubted, not only by my Ecuadorian dad (who looked to my step-mom to validate my pain), but also by my step-mom (a white Polish-Transylvanian-Canadian woman). When the extremeness of my pain was validated by a white male gynecologist, then it was true. I was nine-years-old, going on ten. Menstrual pain is just the beginning, as it carries on through work-life and motherhood. For women who have received forced sterilizations at the border, their pain has been barely accounted for or acknowledge. Similarly ignored are thousands of Indigenous women, black women, disabled women, and other marginalized women. Their pain has fallen on deaf ears, often under the guise of scientific research and assumptions of pain tolerance. "Keep your shoulders back and take it." Millions of girls and women continue to hear such messages regarding their pain and health. Osaka, who is Haitian-Japanese, is in a unique position at this particular moment in time to take world sports to task as incredibly intense expectations are normalized for women athletes. She's choosing not to shoulder it any longer, and her back couldn't be any more straight. Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month came to a close recently, as the hate, harm, and racism that the community has faced dangerously heightened. I hope awareness and support like what Osaka is experiencing sticks. Community pain is very real, and so is the mental health break needed to process it. From what I hear from my Chinese-Canadian sister-in-law in Toronto, Asian hate is not reaching the same heights as it has in America, yet I worry about what my niece and nephew face as bi-racial kids. Hate is continuously being uncovered. Some is acknowledged, such as the Japanese Internment camps, or the horrors of Latin American refugees at the border; others less known, such as the heart-wrenching story written for Men'sHealth.com by Jason Ve. As AAPI Heritage Month crossed into Pride Month, it was critical for him as a member of the LGBTQ+ community to poignantly discuss his pain: "'No Asians': Two Words I've Faced My Entire Life That I’m Finally Confronting Today, I grew up bottling up this sense of shame for my heritage, my race and my identity.” Like Ve's, some stories are now being brought into the spotlight. Last month, 215 bodies of children found at a hidden burial ground of an Indian Residential school were uncovered in Kamloops, BC, Canada. The largest of such residential schools, it was run by the Roman Catholic Church with the goal to "erase the Indian" out of each child. Prime Minister Trudeau is calling for reparations and apologies from the Pope, and the Canadian government, as well as a path for healing as dictated by the First Nation's peoples.
The point being that Ve's pain,
and the pain of the people of the First Nation are finally being validated and acknowledged, with attempts towards awareness and rectification. Osaka's declaration to the media is one woman's path towards her own personal healing sure to inspire women of color to do so for themselves globally. Image by 李磊瑜伽 from Pixabay
I can tell you that I was not able to do what Osaka has done at the age of 23. It brings tears to my eyes thinking of the internal Warrior Goddess strength Osaka possesses to say "No More." At this moment, Will Smith, Serena and Venus Williams, Pam Shriver, the "Calm" app, and others are coming forward in support of her decision to step out of the French Open. She has been fined $15,000 for not fulfilling her media obligations. "Calm" announced on Twitter that they have agreed to pay-it-forward by donating the same amount to France's Laureus Sport for Good, in her name:
"But this is bigger than any individual player. "Calm will also pay the fine for players opting out of 2021 Grand Slam media appearances for mental health reasons, and we will match the fine with a $15,000 donation to @LaureusSport. #MentalHealthIsHealth 🧠"
The pandemic has been hellish for the world, and it's moments like these that give me hope and pause that the lessons learned are not being completely wasted. Another example can (hopefully) be found in Nike. They too have supported Osaka's decision. Yet in the past, Nike has been abandoned by other female athletes they sponsored or supported including Mary Cain, Simone Biles, and Allyson Felix, as New York Times Opinion writer, Lindsey Crouse wrote:
"In April, Simone Biles, age 24, left the almighty Nike for a sponsor, Athleta, that she said would 'support me not just as an athlete but just as an individual.' Her move came after Allyson Felix, a decorated track and field athlete, challenged Nike in 2019 for penalizing pregnant athletes and joined Athleta. (Nike has since changed its policy.)"
What we are witnessing is a ripple effect.
Mental health is an awareness propelled to the forefront, as a reaction to the pandemic, to the murders of Black and Brown people, to Black Lives Matter protests, and to anti-racism rallies. It was not too long ago when depression wasn't named or even admitted as a real health issue. My dad struggled with severe depression in his 50's, spending the entire miserable time in complete denial. He would be horrified to learn that I shared this truth. The truth was that my step-mom and I tip-toed around the dark cloud that strangled the house for most of my university years, until I could no longer bear it's weight and moved out.
Today, mental health awareness is not only common language, it is transforming businesses. It's transforming people. I've heard "nope" from friends, family, and colleagues about returning to their old jobs. Nope to the hours, to the pay, to their old bosses. What they went through before is no longer tolerable for their sense of well-being, self-respect, and mental health. Unheard of things such as people leaving intolerable situations, reinventing themselves, and for some it has meant relocating for self-healing. Osaka is leading the way.
© Isabel Alvear, June 2021 For more information on this topic and more, please "click" on the highlighted links. Drop a comment below, like, and share.