It’s difficult to argue against the idea that in 2016, online social currency is one of the most important things to which you can aspire, regardless of whether or not you’re achieving anything tangible in order to get it. We now live in a society that prizes social influence as much if not more than professional accomplishments, talent or any other measure by which people were once afforded acclaim. You can summit mountains, break world records, cure disease, transform lives through charity work or invent a groundbreaking device, yet it’s unlikely you’ll ever be as notable as Kim Kardashian. I’m not saying that Kim hasn’t achieved anything—her resume far exceeds mine at this point—just that the people and companies she works with care far more about her social sway than her business achievements.
I don’t mean to sound like a grump—I love that social media has democratized fame by providing anyone with a platform via which to be seen and heard, and I think it’s amazing that so many people I know have lucrative careers as a result of time invested in various social channels. That said, I can’t help but feel the Internet’s obsession with Olympic gymnast Simone Biles in recent weeks has been a breath of desperately needed fresh air. Rather than discussing reality stars ad nauseam, we’re buzzing about a world-class athlete who has worked tirelessly her entire young life to achieve one of the biggest goals one could ever hope to accomplish. That is inspiring. That is the example by which I want my young niece to fashion her dreams. That is substance. Simone Biles is not rich. She doesn’t have a host of advantages to which the rest of us cannot relate. She’s anyone, anywhere who has worked incredibly hard to turn her talents into positive, life-defining achievements.
Simone’s meeting with Zac Efron last week was as satisfying to watch as a rom-com in which the nerdy girl in school gets the attention of the most popular boy because she’s actually smart and interesting. It made my heart sing. She didn’t get to live out this fantasy of hers because she endlessly campaigned on social media for the attention. Rather, attention—and Zac—found her as a result of her showstopping performances at the Olympics, all of which required levels of discipline, strength and perseverance we cannot imagine. I hope this is just the beginning of our obsession with Simone and those like her, and of the lovely example she’s setting for young women everywhere. Ironically, she’s likely to become a reality TV star next spring by appearing on Dancing With the Stars, but I very much doubt she’ll transition from athlete to celebrity in a way that prioritizes the latter over the former. Or at least, I hope she won’t. These days, anyone can be famous, but just as before social media was born, it takes a truly special individual to become famous for a reason.