Abuse comes in many different forms. It may not always leave a mark on your skin, but this does not mean that verbal abuse is any less traumatic.
The extreme pressure athletes come under, a story that has occasionally made the headlines, is one side of this inhuman reality. The decision of superstar US gymnast Simone Biles to withdraw from the women’s Olympic finals in Tokyo on Tuesday in a bid to protect her mental and physical health exposed the problem for the whole world to see.
The resilience against overexposure and superhuman stamina that star athletes must possess in order to meet the ever-growing expectations come at a price. Even this banal association takes time to grasp. For example, harsh as the criticism may be against the extreme commodification of sports and the overexploitation of its protagonists, it took a fumbled landing from Biles for most of us to take a solid step toward understanding human limits. For there are limits. And the over-investment, the profit-making, knows no red lines. But people do. And Biles is not the only one, nor is she alone in all this.
The truth is it took a lockdown for all of us, super athletes as well as ordinary people, to re-evaluate our strength. The impact of inhuman pressure on the performance of health workers in public hospitals, for example, has been widely discussed during the pandemic. Doctors and nurses were congratulated and are now exiting the spotlight. The images of doctors collapsing from exhaustion and superhuman effort are still vivid. But is our public health system being bolstered so as to be better prepared against such challenges?
The pandemic has shown that a return to what we used to consider “normal” is impossible. Perhaps it’s better that way. Because the abuse of souls and bodies was part of that “normality.”
The famous among us have to shoulder the weight of the world. The cure largely depends on them too. The wounds will only have a chance to heal when they are exposed, when the words are heard, when they are printed, when they become images. When the abused souls trapped inside those abused bodies open up to the world.