Five-Ring Circus

Is Aly Raisman’s “25 Things You Didn’t Know About Me” List for Us Weekly a Thinly Veiled Cry for Help?

U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman clings to the balance beam for dear life during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Olympic gymnast and newly crowned 2016 team gold medalist Aly Raisman wrote a “25 Things” list for Us Weekly, and as we’ve come to expect from Raisman, it is a bravura performance on the level of her floor routines. She loves sushi and Celine Dion; she is obsessed with her dogs. It’s riveting stuff.

But look closer. The “25 Things” list is a difficult balance beam to walk, a highly codified poetic form not unlike the sonnet. Last year, Slate’s Ruth Graham celebrated the charmingly odd nature of the feature: It “should be polished and anodyne: It’s a glossy tabloid feature written by stars themselves (or at least written by assistants and approved by stars). In reality, it is often gloriously weird.”

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Raisman’s list seems to follow this pattern. One way to read this piece is to shrug and understand that, while Ms. Raisman has mastered many things at age 22, writing a 25-item list full of information about herself that is factual, interesting, not available elsewhere, and not just plugs for her sponsors may have been slightly beyond her grasp.

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Taken at face value, this list might be merely a frothy, light-as-air exercise undertaken by an elite athlete who probably does not have a whole lot of time to do anything but practice extremely difficult tumbling combinations. That would be the charitable way to interpret it, anyway. The uncharitable interpretation is that Aly Raisman is using Us Weekly to send us all a coded message that she is in dire need of help. Let’s go through the evidence.

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The strangeness begins around item No. 6, which is when Raisman drops this nugget: “I train inside all day, so I love walking outside—I love the fresh air!”

Doesn’t that strike you as a bit odd? She … enjoys … breathing? Here is where a reader might begin to get worried for our new friend Aly Raisman. Going outside is that much of a novelty that she had to call it out, not hiding it in the teens but placing it at No. 6 with a bullet? Being an elite athlete under the Karolyis’ stewardship sounds great. No wonder—skip to the next one—that her “favorite part of the day is coming home after practice and putting my Revision Skincare products on my face.” And later, No. 23: “I love the beach.” Someone who has been denied fresh air for several years would love the beach.

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The theme recurs at No. 11. Is this—“My arms get so tired from bar routines that I sometimes don’t brush my hair!”—the writing of a well woman? There’s such a thing as gymnasticking too hard!

Later, Raisman claims she “can literally shop until I drop.” The musings of a normal, well-adjusted young woman raised under late capitalism or a worrisome indication of past suffering, perhaps after being denied fresh air?

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Despite these traumatic associations with shopping, she says in No. 14 that she would like to go shopping with Taylor Swift and Blake Lively. In No. 16, she tells us, “I have watched Gossip Girl the whole way through twice and have no shame watching it again.” Why should she feel shame about enjoying a program expressly intended for entertainment? Only someone living under gulaglike conditions would say such a thing.

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These troubling psychological trends continue. For instance, so single-mindedly devoted to gymnastics is she that no one has told her about the special shoes you wear on the ice to combat its slippery nature: “I would be a horrible hockey player or ice-skater—I can’t walk on the ice without wiping out.” You’re not supposed to walk there, Aly. In No. 10, she says she is a “professional shower singer and car singer.” Aly, I hate to break it to you, but no such professions exist.

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Toward the end of the list, Raisman admits that she is sleep-deprived. It’s plain as day in No. 24: “I daydream about the Olympics 24/7.” Instead of spending eight or even six or four hours sleeping, she stays awake, envisioning the Olympics each and every hour of the day. Dark.

Perhaps that’s why she doesn’t even support Team USA. In No. 21, she admits that Lilia Podkopayeva, a known Ukrainian, is her favorite gymnast.

I want Aly Raisman to medal in the all-around and individual event finals as much as the next gymnastics fan. But maybe we would serve her best by freeing her to watch as much Gossip Girl as she wants and breathe as much air as she damn well pleases. Lather on those Revision Skincare products, Aly. You’ve earned it.

See more of Slate’s Olympics coverage.

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