Why Laurie Hernandez Isn't Afraid to Put Herself First: 'Self-Love Is Not Selfish'
Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez may only be 18 years old, but she's a pro at prioritizing. "The biggest thing is balance," she told Health in a recent interview. "I started homeschooling in third grade. My parents always made sure that I knew that gymnastics is something that I'm passionate about and education is a necessity."
Even with a packed schedule, Hernandez finds time to check in with herself: "At a very young age my mom had always reminded me that no matter what I did, my health was always to come first," she says.
This idea was reinforced when the gymnast began to struggle with her vision—and now she's partnering with Alcon Dailies AquaComfort Plus to tell her story: "At 12 we did my annual checkup to the optometrist, and we noticed that my vision wasn't so good. Getting contact lenses was a good alternative to making sure that I could see properly while doing gymnastics, because flipping with glasses on is hard," she says. "The day that I wore [contacts] for the first time, I caught a new release move on bars, which was pretty cool."
Here, Hernandez shares some of the other things that are important to her health, from self-talk to staying body positive.
On speaking to herself kindly
If you watched Hernandez compete in the 2016 Olympics, you may already know that her mantra is "I got this." The gymnast was caught on camera repeating this phrase to herself—and the moment became a viral internet meme. "Basically before I compete I'm like my own hype man," she says. "I get really nervous, and it's like nervous self-talk. But yeah it's [also] kind of positive self-talk... like, "You've been working hard for this, you're gonna be fine.'"
It was definitely weird for Hernandez to see this private moment with herself spread all over the internet. "People would use it in funny contexts like 'Going to eat my burrito today #IGotThis.' And I was like, 'What the heck?' But overall, just the origin of that phrase, it means so, so much to me."
On advice for people who may be struggling with self-love
"Put yourself first," says Hernandez. "Self-love is not selfish at all. It means that you're taking care of yourself, and like my mom reinforced to me, to make sure that I was safe and that I was healthy."
However, Hernandez knows that some people might be afraid to adopt this mindset. "I know quite a few people who would rather block out certain parts of themselves than go in and dig deep and figure out, you know, maybe why they are the way they are," she says. "And sometimes that can be a lot, but by doing that you're actually helping yourself become a better person, you're helping yourself communicate with others, and you're helping yourself grow," she continues. "I think it doesn't work if you're hindering your own growth."
On staying body positive
"I think [body positivity is] something that a lot of women struggle with," says Hernandez. As a gymnast, she feels even more pressure to look a certain way: "It's making sure that everything is perfect: Our routines are perfect, our leotards are perfect, our makeup is perfect... and that also comes with how we look. We want to make sure that we look perfect, too. So when our weight fluctuates, it kind of raises a big question mark, and we get a little confused. But as I've grown up I've noticed, you know what, it happens. We grow. It's fine. Like, to all the tweens out there who are going through puberty, it's completely normal."
On being a role model
"Representation does matter, absolutely," she says. "As an athlete and growing up and not seeing that many Hispanic gymnasts, it did raise a question mark, but at the same time I was pursuing a sport that I loved and being able to go to the Olympics and not only represent my country, but represent Hispanics, that meant a lot to me. And apparently it meant a lot to a lot of other families as well. So I'm grateful, and I don't take that for granted."
Hernandez adds that she even has her own role model: "Someone that I admire a bunch is Gina Rodriguez, just because she is a Hispanic actress who has goals just like anybody else."
On how she practices self-care
"I like any art form. I like music and painting and singing at the top of my lungs and taking long showers and cooking with my mom. Those are all things that make me happy, and I know that they make me happy, so whenever I'm home, that's my go-to. That's what I would do first."