It’s not enough to stretch your body to the limits of human perfection to win acclaim for your country as an Olympian, nope — you have to be perfect in every other way, too.
That’s the hard lesson Gabby Douglasis learning as her reputation takes hit after hit in a storm of social media criticism.
The first wave attacked her hair. Back in 2012, a quick google search of the 4-foot-11 gymnast would yield petty commentary about her Black tresses instead of her uneven bar dominance.
This year’s Olympic games in Rio brought in a whole new tide of hate, with questions popping up about Gabby’s breast size and patriotism. Just last week, viewers were outraged when Gabby didn’t put her hand over her heart during the “Star-Spangled Banner,” flaming rumors she wasn’t proud to be American. In reality, the gymnast was just overwhelmed.
Her mother, who has had to sit on the sidelines of numerous heart-pounding competitions, couldn’t stand by and allow the world to tear apart her daughter any longer. In an interview with Reuters, proud mom Natalie Hawkins defended her child fiercely:
“She’s had to deal with people criticizing her hair, or people accusing her of bleaching her skin. They said she had breast enhancements, they said she wasn’t smiling enough, she’s unpatriotic. Then it went to not supporting your team mates. Now you’re ‘Crabby Gabby.’
“You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?”
Hawkins dismissed critics of Gabby’s patriotism, explaining they come from a military family:
“We grew up in the military community. My mom spent almost 30 years in the military, my dad’s a two-time Vietnam vet. Because of that it was so insulting that they would accuse my daughter of being unpatriotic when we are so tied to the military family. “
She continued, “When the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ is played, most military members either salute or stand to attention.”
Hawkins explained her despondent 20-year-old is at a loss, saying, “I’m being attacked for everything I do so I might as well not do anything. Because no matter what I do, I am being attacked.”
Unfortunately, knowing your truth doesn’t come as easy as making others believe it. Perhaps this fight for understanding has affected Gabby’s performance this Olympics. She was unable to compete for the all-around Olympic title because of the “two athletes per country” rule, and she placed seventh on the uneven bars competition that earned her the nickname “the Flying Squirrel.”
Luckily, fans have rallied around the athlete with hashtags like #Love4GabbyUSA, with hopes of filling her mentions with messages of adoration versus criticism.