When it comes to professional sports, competition is an essential part of the game. Without competition, Simone Biles wouldn’t be one of the best gymnasts ever, with five Olympic gold medals under her belt. But when the chalk settles, the lights dim, and she’s off the floor, the last thing Biles wants to compete against are unrealistic beauty standards perpetuated by the media and beauty industry—a competition that’s hard to escape when you’re always in the spotlight. Refusing to be defined by society’s idea of what “beautiful” looks like, Biles and a slew of other athletes are banding together with Japanese beauty brand SK-II to break the industry’s competitive threat with a new campaign: #NOCOMPETITION.
For Biles, beauty means finding strength in being your true self. “I feel the most beautiful when I’m in my raw natural state—like out of the shower with no makeup, chilling with my friends—because that is what I look like on a daily basis,” Biles tells ELLE.com. “I’m comfortable like that, then maybe I’ll add makeup to enhance those features rather than hide the things I don’t like about myself.”
Biles has seen her fair share of criticism. Back in 2017, she posted an image of herself on Twitter. She was at practice before her big debut as an honorary cheerleader for the Houston Texans, and her hair was a little messy from practice—we’ve all been there. But the tweet was inundated with negative reactions, as well as a few responses from fans defending her.
“I’ve experienced [criticism] as a gymnast my entire life. People think gymnastics is just about competing, but we’re constantly being picked apart,” she explains. “[The public] is always commenting on what we look like, our weight, our hair. Then, there are opinions on how big our shoulders are. Without those big shoulders, we won’t be able to do what we do, or be as powerful.”
Joining Biles and SK-II are Chinese Olympic medalist Liu Xiang, Japanese table tennis player and two-time Olympic medalist Ishikawa Kasumi, badminton duo Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo, pro surfer Mahina Maeda, and Japanese volleyball team Hinotori Nippon.
“Competition in beauty has always been present. But it is impossible to ignore how unhealthy it has become these days, fueled by culture, media, society and beauty brands like ours,” Sandeep Seth, chief executive officer of SK-II, said in a statement. “We all have part to play. As a beauty brand, our role is to help build confidence and spread positivity and not create pressure and toxicity.”