The aftermath of Ronda Rousey's defeat and what we can learn from it.

It was the kick to the face heard 'round the world.

Ever since the shocking knockout of then-undefeated mixed martial arts champion Ronda Rousey by Holly Holm last month, Rousey has been humiliated and in hiding. Until now.



One of the punches before the final kick, which was so graphic, I refrained from posting. Photo by Paul Crock/Getty Images.

This week, the fighter and cultural phenom opened up to ESPN Magazine's Ramona Shelburne in her first interview since her punishing defeat.

The interview (which you should definitely read in its entirety if you have the time) covers everything from Rousey's days since the fight to her team's reactions to the loss, her career leading up to this moment, and her controversial romantic relationship with a boyfriend accused of domestic violence in a previous relationship. But the opening quote from Rousey sums up the conversation's central and surprising theme:

"I'm just really f---ing sad."

That's right. The brash fighter known for her bravado is openly mourning her crushing defeat.

As a lifelong boxing fan (yes, boxing, MMA's graying older cousin), I've seen quite a few upsets and fallen champions in my day. But I've never seen any quite as openly despondent as Rousey in this interview.

"I just feel so embarrassed. How I fought after that is such an embarrassing representation of myself."

While most athletes who are "good sports" give the obligatory congratulations to their opponent, when champions lose, there is typically still a hint of bravado glimmering beneath the surface. Especially when the losing champion was known for confidence. Swollen-eyed and bloody-lipped, they say things like: "They fought a better fight than me, but it won't happen again" or "Congratulations to the winner; I hope they enjoy their brief time with my title."

Not Rousey. At least not here.

Some might see her sudden lack of cockiness as evidence of a well-deserved humbling that was long overdue. The fighter has made her fair share of enemies both inside the ring (she famously refused to touch gloves with Holm before the fight) and outside of it (see the backlash over her transphobic remarks about transgender fighters).

But it's impossible to hear Rousey now without thinking of the complicated relationship that women — particularly highly successful women — often have with failure.

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

See, for any ambitious person, the societal narratives around failure are downright confusing: It's something we're supposed to embrace to get ahead ... and yet, success only comes by being a consistent winner. How's that for a conundrum?

But for women, the dilemma gets even trickier. There's often the added pressure of being the first, the only woman (think Hillary Clinton) or of having to work twice as hard as the boys for respect (think Serena Williams). Under that pressure, failure can feel like a setback of epic proportions.

"You can't succeed without failing first" is the popular adage. But for women, there's often an addendum: "Failure is the key to your success, but you can't fail without confirming the sexist naysayers, losing ground, losing respect, losing your position, or opening yourself up to public ridicule."

Are these results 100% unique to women? Of course not. But the topic of women and failure has been heavily studied, and the research provides an interesting backdrop for Rousey's post-loss despair.

Research shows that women are generally more afraid to fail and that failure hits them harder than their male counterparts.

That fear can affect women's long-term trajectory and standing in their fields. Everything from would-be female scientists dropping out of STEM programs to women avoiding entrepreneurship to female journalists pitching fewer stories has been linked, in part, to women's fear of rejection.

"Every American heroine should brace herself for the backlash. We want superwomen, but when we find them, it freaks us the hell out." — Ramona Shelburne in an interview with Ronda Rousey

There are many theories about why that's the case. Maybe it's because, as children, girls are often praised for their innate abilities while boys are praised for their valiant efforts. That can lead boys to grow into men accustomed to risk while girls become women who avoid situations that don't guarantee perfection.

Or perhaps it's simply the result of living in a sexist society, where the consequences of failure are much harsher for women. In this regard, their fear is often justified.

But whatever the reason for women's enhanced sensitivity to failure, experts Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons say of the leading research, "We've spilled more ink on whether women believe in themselves and not enough on what happens when women fail."

So what happens when this thing we fear so much actually occurs?

That question is why Rousey is an interesting case study. It's rare for us to see wildly successful women known for winning lose in a crushing and public defeat.

In the interview, Shelburne directly calls out the questions about what Rousey's loss may have "represented" (emphasis added):

Shelburne: "Now we're left wondering what really ended that night in Australia. The Rousey Myth of Invincibility? The idea that one woman could fly in on a cape and take down male hegemony with an armbar?"


Rousey: "I feel like I'm grieving the death of the person who could've done that."

When Rousey was defeated, the mocking and criticism was unlike any that I've seen in recent sports history.

To be fair, most opinionated, strong women who fail in public are familiar with backlash. As Shelburne noted in the profile, "Every American heroine should brace herself for the backlash. We want superwomen, but when we find them, it freaks us the hell out."


But I, for one, am glad we get to see such an open reaction from Rousey in the ESPN interview because there are two powerful things we can learn from it:

1. It's OK to be more transparent about the pain of defeat.

While Rousey may have been physically hiding from the paparazzi, she isn't hiding behind a facade of impenetrability and stoicism that women so often feel the need to project to the world. She is, as the writer observed "being vulnerable when everyone thought she was invincible."

In other words, she's revealing herself as human. What would happen if more of us did the same?

What if we stopped saying "It's OK!" or "I'm fine!"and just admitted "This hurts and has knocked me for a loop. I am still trying to recover."

Perhaps if we did, it wouldn't just offer us healthy emotional release, it would give folks a better understanding of how much strength and resolve it takes to get back up.

Which leads to the second lesson that we can learn from Rousey:

2. Fighters always get back in the ring.

The only time Rousey's confidence shines through is when she's discussing her imminent return and the potential for a rematch:

"I need to come back. I need to beat this chick. Who knows if I'm going to pop my teeth out or break my jaw or rip my lip open. I have to f---ing do it."

Later in the interview, when asked the question "So, are you going to fight again?" Rousey answered simply, "What else am I going to f---ing do?"

What else indeed. Rousey is a fighter and a champion. And champions never let defeat truly defeat them. Even with her pain and embarrassment in the present moment, she's already made a decision to get back in the arena with the confidence that failure is merely a comma not a period in the story of her life.

"I always say you have to be willing to get your heart broken. That's just what f---ing happens when you try."

What if all women, if given the opportunity, always chose to do the same?

Photo by Paul Crock/Getty Images.

Ultimately, time will tell whether or not this defeat changes the trajectory of Rousey's career. Did it mar her legacy? Did it "appropriately" humble her, as many in the public stated (even though arrogance is typically praised in male fighters)? Will it empower her to be better and victorious the next time around? Fight fans will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, her public failure, public grief, and desire for a public reprise can serve as an example to women: We undefeated overachievers can survive the knockouts of life just as well as the boys.

And we, too, can always get back up.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
True

Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

Keep Reading Show less
Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
True

Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

Looking for some good gift ideas that wont break the bank? We've got you covered with these five suggestions available at our very own Upworthy Market! You can feel good about your purchases, too. That's because every item you buy from the Upworthy Market directly supports the artisans who crafted it.


Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

Keep Reading Show less