Since 2015, when WWE evolved from using female performers as secondary or tertiary characters to making them fully equal Superstars, the company has enthusiastically used its global platform to advance gender equality. And it made history this year at WrestleMania 37 in April, when WWE Superstars Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks became the first African American women to main event WrestleMania. Belair, who earned the right to wrestle for the title after becoming the first African American woman to win the Royal Rumble in January, defeated Banks for her first Women’s SmackDown Championship. The moment won “Best WWE Moment of the Year” at the 2021 ESPYS.

Bianca recently sat down with us to share her perspective on the implications of her success and the continuing effort to eliminate gender bias.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an Olympic hurdler and gymnast. I would watch videos of FloJo, Gail Devers and Dominic Dawes, and they inspired me to run track and do gymnastics. I wasn’t conscious of it then, but my eyes always naturally gravitated to them because they looked like me and since I saw them succeed, I knew I could too. They set the standard for how far I could dream. I didn’t know it then, but now I know that is called representation. That representation inspired me, got me into sports, took me to a D1 college, got me a college degree and led me to where I am today. Women in sports influenced the trajectory of my life and contributed to the success I have experienced.

I believe that success is whatever we define it to be. For one, success is not comparing ourselves or accepting when others try to force us into a certain mold to make them feel comfortable. We should embrace our talents and embrace what makes us unique so we can confidently tackle any opportunity that comes our way. Success is not just doing the bare minimum; it’s one upping our own selves each time, going above and beyond to do better than we did the day before. Success is getting inspired by others instead of becoming jealous and using that inspiration to achieve our own goals and in return inspiring others. Success isn’t a one-person journey; it’s leaning on and acknowledging those that helped you along the way. Success is reaching back when you have reached the top.

Women are achieving new goals every day, defining and redefining success, shattering glass ceilings, getting our seats at the table and pulling up a chair next to us so the next woman can eat too.

People ask what more do women need to do to amplify our presence and voice. The answer is nothing because we always show up and show out when given the opportunity! Women are now being acknowledged and celebrated for our talents and not just merely for our gender. There is no more “she did good for a woman,” now it is “she did great and just happens to be a woman.” We are redefining what it means to be a successful woman.

But regardless of how a woman defines herself and success, I believe representation is not a request, it is a requirement. Representation helps all of us understand how we fit into this world and makes us realize we can go after what we want. It is also a requirement that there is accurate and diverse representation because we all deserve to be represented and seen in our whole true selves.

This is especially true for athletes and performers whose influence is fueled by the power of media. Media influences society by telling people how to feel, think and act, therefore, accurate and diverse representation is a responsibility that must be taken seriously. As public figures, you aren’t just representing your talents, you are representing your culture; you are the face of your people. Many of us look to media to understand our place in this world and WWE continues to be the example by amplifying our presence and voices as African American women by taking strides for representations, diversity and inclusion.

The WWE female Superstars of today illustrate how much progress we’ve made, especially over the past few years. And, I’m so thankful for the women that came before me; Naomi, Alicia Fox, Jaqueline, just to name a few, who helped blaze the trail and show me what is possible. Together we keep pushing the boundaries, taking risks, and using our voices and platforms to have a broader impact inside the ring and outside the ring in society. We had Evolution, the first all-women’s pay-per-view event, we main-event on a weekly basis and we are increasing our presence in male-dominating areas outside the ring. We main evented WrestleMania and we won an ESPY, both in a span of three months.

To see my name as a WWE Superstar and SmackDown Women’s Champion on the same list of other ESPY women winners like Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Candace Parker, Simone Biles and others is an honor that I will always cherish. We continue to make Herstory, and people want it and support it, but there’s still work to do.

So, while I’m grateful for the success I’ve had, I continue to seek inspiration wherever I can find it to be the absolute best version of myself. My mama is my biggest role model and the wisest woman I know who instilled in me how to mentally stay in the game. My daddy is one of the most successful men I know who instilled in me the grit and the don’t mess with me attitude. Being blessed with two amazing parents provided me with stability, love, encouragement and confidence. My husband is a constant source of support and love. He taught me how to give myself permission to live for me! Outside of my family, I admire women like Regina King, Viola Davis, Issa Rae, Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and Angela Davis. There are all unapologetically who they are and utilize their talents to the fullest potential. Nothing is impossible for them. There are so many inspirations out there – both female and male – that we all should look up to and emulate.

With those incredible role models in mind, I say to young girls who want to be WWE Superstars, or who yearn for any dream: do not be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself. WORK. Stay true to yourself. Be unapologetically you. Be unique. The greatest gift you can give someone is yourself. Because there is only ONE YOU! That is your superpower!

And if someone tells you that you can’t do something, you answer “Says who? Not me.”