Badass Woman spotlights women who not only have a voice but defy the irrelevant preconceptions of gender.
Aly Raisman is a woman on a mission. The 24-year-old gymnast-turned-activist has spent the past several months tirelessly campaigning for survivors of sexual abuse, doing interview after interview about her own traumatic experiences and fighting for justice for all the women in the gymnastics community. But even a badass needs a break.
When we meet at her family’s home just outside Boston on a warm spring afternoon, she’s gearing up for a day poolside. Wearing a simple black T with denim shorts, her dark hair swept up into her usual high ponytail, she cheerfully invites me to come sit next to her on a chaise lounge in the backyard. With Gibson and Magic, her two fluffy white dogs, curled up at her feet, and mom, Lynn, and younger brother, Brett, hanging out under an umbrella nearby, Raisman chats amiably about her plans for the summer. She intends to travel, spend time at her family’s house on Cape Cod, and catch up with her pals.
But she’s also preparing to tell her story again. Even on a relaxing day by the pool she’ll continue talking about what happened to her, she says. Until things change.
Her story has been well documented. Last fall, in her memoir, Fierce, Raisman revealed how disgraced physician Larry Nassar sexually abused her—and countless other young women—while he worked as the team doctor for USA Gymnastics. The decision to come forward was not easy.
“I was very nervous because I didn’t know how people would take it,” she says. “But I knew it was the right thing. If someone wasn’t advocating for change in the sport of gymnastics, then nothing would be done.”
Since then she has brought a wave of attention to the issue and set off a firestorm. After Raisman spoke at Nassar’s sentencing hearing in January alongside more than 150 other women, Nassar, 55, received an additional 40 to 175 years in prison for sex crimes. (He had already been sentenced to 60 years for child-pornography convictions.)
Raisman was relieved by the outcome of the case but says that when it comes to seeking justice for herself and other survivors, she’s only getting started.
“Just because an abuser is in jail, it’s not the end, or it doesn’t mean justice has been served,” she says. “Obviously, there were people who knew [about the abuse] who didn’t do the right thing,” she continues, frustration building in her voice. “The policies weren’t right. The adults around weren’t educated. There’s the question also: Who should have known who didn’t know? It’s so important to figure out.”
Raisman says officials at USA Gymnastics still refuse to sit down and talk with her and other survivors. “I don’t get it—it’s unbelievable,” she says, shaking her head. So in February she filed a lawsuit against both USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, alleging that the organizations didn’t do enough to stop Nassar’s abuse. It’s the only way she can find out which officials allowed Nassar to remain employed, she says. “There has been no investigation. And I want answers. ”
Meanwhile, Raisman has found that it’s difficult for her to slow down sometimes. “The last few months I wasn’t putting myself first at all,” she says, sighing. “I was so obsessed with trying to make change and do everything that I could. Now I’m realizing that this is not going to get fixed overnight, so I still have to make time for my family and friends and, of course, myself.”
On a rare day off, Raisman likes to keep it simple: swimming, reading, watching documentaries (she just finished one on Princess Diana), and cooking with vegetables and herbs from the family garden. “I focus on things that help me relax and take my mind off all that has happened,” she says.
VIDEO: Badass Women: Aly Raisman, The Heroine
Besides regularly seeing a therapist, Raisman receives acupuncture and meditates up to three times a day. “I was getting a lot of headaches from traveling, but since I’ve started meditating, I rarely get them,” she says. “Overall, I’ve been trying to listen to my body more.” She has found other temporary remedies. “I put peppermint oil over my eyebrows when I get a headache. And before bed I put lavender oil on my skin to help me relax, then I diffuse another oil in my room and meditate with an app until I fall asleep.”
The soothing techniques have been valuable and necessary. Women approach her all the time to talk about their own experiences and get her advice. “When I go shopping or out to dinner, people want to share their stories about abuse, which is something I never expected,” she says.
Though she feels honored to lend an ear, it’s hard when they go into graphic detail. “I am very triggered, sometimes for a few days,” she says. “I want to support them, but I make sure that I take good care of myself after.”
To give herself some space this summer, Raisman is living at home with her mom, dad, brother, and two sisters.
“I feel like the last year or two was so stressful and emotionally draining,” she says. “To have the support of my family is really nice. They make me laugh.”
Later this year she plans to move into her own apartment in Boston. She’s excited to do all of the young-adult-in-the-city stuff she missed out on while she was winning gold medals in 2012 and 2016. “I can’t wait,” she says. “I haven’t started picking out the furniture, but it will be a nice thing to look forward to.”
In the meantime, she has plenty on her plate. In March she partnered with Darkness to Light, an advocacy group for the prevention of childhood sexual abuse, to help educate adults involved in youth sports. She is encouraging parents, teachers, and coaches to take the group’s Stewards of Children prevention program. (The program is available online, and Raisman will cover the $10 cost for anyone who wishes to complete it.) “We have to create an environment where everyone is educated,” she says.
She has been touring the country, speaking at colleges and universities about sexual assault on campus and
how academic institutions can better handle reports of abuse. “I think our society has to do a much better job of understanding. It’s not just Hollywood [actresses] or Olympic gymnasts who are affected by this,” she says.
Raisman also occasionally models for brands that support her message, like Aerie, which currently sells a Survivor swimsuit that Raisman helped design, with proceeds benefiting Darkness to Light. “If a brand isn’t supportive of the #MeToo movement, then I don’t want to be associated with it,” she says.
She takes a similar approach to media appearances. In February she posed for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue because she found the soul-baring theme of the shoot empowering. Raisman joined models like Sailor Brinkley Cook and Robyn Lawley in having phrases that were important to them painted on their skin. “I had ‘Women don’t have to be modest to be respected’ down my body, and I think that speaks for itself,” she says. “It’s the truth. It doesn’t matter what anyone is wearing: It never means they’re asking for it.”
Being thrust into the spotlight presents its own set of challenges. “Speaking out isn’t easy. I’ve learned that it’s OK not to be OK,” she says. So whenever she gets weighed down by how supremely messed up everything is, the thing that keeps her going is her peers. “Sometimes it’s hard not to be pissed off. Why is our world like this? Why are there so many bad people out there?” she says. “But we’re at the beginning of a really hopeful future where the next generation is going to change things. I hope that one day there is a generation that never has to say ‘#MeToo.’ ”
For the time being, she is determined to secure full justice in the Nassar case. That means she probably won’t compete at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. “I’m not training right now,” she says, though she stays active with a mix of swimming, boxing, and cycling. “I always want to be involved in gymnastics, but I can make more change outside the sport.”
Perhaps that could eventually lead to a career in politics.
“It’s funny because people keep telling me that,” she says, smiling, when the subject of running for office comes up. “I feel very flattered. I don’t know enough about politics right now, but I definitely want to keep having a voice. This problem is far from over.”
Fashion editor: Andreas Kokkino. Hair: Christian Marc for Forward Artists. Makeup: Valery Gherman for The Wall Group. Manicure: Betina Goldstein for Lowe and Co. Worldwide. Production: Kelsey Stevens Productions. Location: Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, Santa Monica.
For more stories like this, pick up the August issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download July 6.