Aly Raisman is using her platform as an Olympian to empower herself and others.
Last month, the gold-medal winning gymnast delivered a chilling testimony in court about the abuse she and her fellow athletes endured at the hand of Team USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing over 160 women and girls.
Since then, Raisman, 23, has teamed with clothing brand Aerie, starring in its new #AerieReal campaign un-retouched to encourage tolerance, acceptance and body positivity. And now she’s joining Sports Illustrated Swim‘s new franchise, “In Her Own Words,” posing completely nude with only the phrases “trust yourself,” “live for you,” and “abuse is never okay” written on her body.
“I would like to remind everyone that being a survivor is nothing to be ashamed of, and going through a hard time does not define you,” Raisman told SI Swim. “I hope that we can one day get to a point where everyone realizes that women do not have to be modest to be respected. We are free to draw confidence and happiness in our own way, and it is never for someone else to choose for us or to even judge us for that matter.”
She added that taking part in “In Her Own Words,” alongside models Sailor Brinkley Cook, Paulina Porizkova and Robyn Lawley, is a reminder that every one has personal hurdles to overcome.
“For me, ‘In Her Own Words’ serves as a reminder that we are all humans, we are all battling something, and it is ok to not be ok,” she shared. “We are not alone and we need each other.”
SI Swim Editor MJ Day said this year’s issue is all about delivering an empowered message that not only celebrates women’s diverse bodies, but also the platforms that are important to them.
“The ‘In Her Own Words’ project is the evolution of the messaging of the SI Swimsuit issue that we have been consistently promoting in the issue for years,” Day told PEOPLE. “The idea of allowing women to celebrate and evolve and harness their own power in a creative environment and allow them a platform to speak to who they truly are and who they want to be.”
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Day added: “It’s so simple, yet so difficult for many in this industry to find control over how their identity is portrayed or interpreted or judged. We want to give this control directly to the women to own their story and image throughout the whole creative process. The results are inspiring.”
In a recent cover interview with PEOPLE, Raisman acknowledged that for her, realizing the extent of Nasar’s abuse and coming to terms with it has been very difficult.
“You never really want to say, ‘I was sexually abused,’ but you have to process it. You can’t push it aside forever, which is what I did for a long time,” she shared. “I’m still processing it and coping with it.”
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But through platforms like “In Her Own Words,” she’s finding her voice. And she’s hoping to be an agent of change in the sport of gymnastics and beyond.
“You lose a part of yourself when you’re abused,” she said. “I lost a part of myself, and I’m getting it back by speaking out.”
“I’m just starting to realize how strong I am,” she added, “and I won’t be silenced.”