I am in awe of Olympic athletes. The commitment they show with their bruising training schedules is impressive. So is their stunning level of skill. On top of all that, the Olympic opportunity occurs just once every four years. The pressure once they get there seems almost unfathomable.
The athletes who make it to the Olympics deserve to bask in their moment – especially (but not only) if they make it to the medals podium. The Olympic games, and the medals ceremonies, should be all about the athletes and their amazing achievements.
But, of course, they are not. Matrimania – the over-the-top hyping of marriage, coupling, and weddings – is greedy. It saturates society, seeping into every nook and crevice. And now it has spoiled the Olympics, too.
The most recognized example was the wedding proposal made to diver He Zi when she was on the podium to receive her silver medal. Her boyfriend got down on his knee and proposed. When I looked for the story online so I could include a link to it here, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a whole slew of people also found the proposal offensive or inappropriate rather than heartwarming.
Many who objected to the proposal, and to public proposals more generally, condemn the pressure it puts on the woman (typically the one on the receiving end) to say yes. My objection is different: I think it cheapened He Zi’s accomplishment. Here she was, getting celebrated for an athletic feat that few athletes in the entire world ever achieve, and along comes her boyfriend, injecting himself into the scene with a marriage proposal. Marriage. There is hardly anything more ordinary than getting married. People do it all the time. Some try it over and over again. It is nothing like winning an Olympic medal.
What’s more, in making a public display of his proposal, the boyfriend took an event that should have been all about He Zi, the winning athlete, and made it about him.
Sunny Singh (who wrote a book called Single in the City), said this:
“It is a control mechanism, a way of saying ‘You may have just won an Olympic medal, or be a CEO or have designed a spacecraft, but really the most important thing is you’re my wife.’”
The boyfriend was, Singh added, robbing He Zi of the spotlight she had earned.
A second example is not quite so in-your-face, and I haven’t seen any commentary about it. It is a Hershey’s television commercial, in which Olympic gymnast and phenomenon Simone Biles opens a box of Hershey bars and reads the note inside it: “That one’s from my friend Caitlyn. It says ‘Hey Simone. You’re always encouraging me to go after my dreams. Well it’s my turn now. Love always, your future maid of honor.’”
Simone Biles strikes me as an impressive young woman, cool under pressure, savvy, smart, and sophisticated. She makes her own life choices. But in this ad, a big part of her life has been predetermined – she is going to get married. That’s just assumed.
And that’s just sad.