In 2012, Gabby Douglas was the star of the summer Olympics. And 2016 looked like it was going to be more of the same — the US Women’s gymnastics team won gold for the second time in a row, a beyond-impressive, near impossible feat, and the team members, aka the Fab Five, were beloved around the globe.
But for Douglas, a major shadow was cast over the event. She was relentlessly attacked by online trolls for everything from her hair to her smile, much of it stemming back to when she simply did not put her hand over her heart during a performance of the national anthem. The bullying was cruel and patently unfair.
Douglas discussed the cyberbullying and its effects in a Facebook Live interview with Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth. "I had to take off social media before the Olympics,” she said. “Then after team finals in Rio, I Googled myself and there was just so much noise. First it started with me not having my hand over my heart, then my hair, then me not being supportive. I was like, 'Oh my God, I have no idea where this is coming from. It was hard. It was very hard. People thought I was just a target. I'm not a target, I'm a human being. I'm an athlete."
The bullying was intense. Douglas cried every day and the attacks dampened the joy of winning a gold medal. It’s still completely insane to think about the time and energy that went into viciously attacking one of the most highly accomplished people in America. "Every single day I'd come back to the village after every single training practice and I literally bawled my eyes out," she said. "I would cry and cry and cry because people were being so mean."
Douglas also explained that people didn’t understand that she had matured in the four years since her first Olympics. “Everyone was like, what's wrong with her? She's not smiling, something's wrong,” she said. “And I'm like, no, this is mature Gabby. I love to laugh, there's nothing wrong with that. Just don't put me in a category, you know? Let me do what I need to do out on the floor."
She also offered valuable advice to fans who may be experiencing online bullying. “Don't even pay attention to it,” said Douglas. “I know I definitely did and I probably changed myself, but don't ever change yourself. You shouldn't feel pressure to change yourself. That's what I did and it ended up doing more damage. I felt like the world was against me, but it's not. There's people out there that love you guys and your life is very important and very valuable. Always be strong and you can overcome it. You really can."
(h/t Teen Vogue)
(Photo: Mary Clavering/Young Hollywood/Getty Images)
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