U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas may have won gold medals for her country, but bullies won't give her a break.
The gymnast's mom, Natalie Hawkins, says they've been "brought to tears" over cruel comments people have made about Douglas: "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 teammates. Now you're 'Crabby Gabby,'" Hawkins told Reuters. "You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?"
You have to wonder how much the bullying has affected Douglas, who just finished seventh in her final performance at the Olympics, following a mistake performing her first handstand. The bullying is nothing new. Despite the fact that Douglas was the first African American to win the individual all-around event back in 2012, many people decided to shame her over the state of her hair instead of giving her the congratulations she deserved.
Writer Tiya Miles wrote an editorial for CNN's In America in 2012, commenting on the fact that she was saddened by what came up when she googled "Gabby Douglas hair" following Douglas' gold-winning performance: "I was dismayed to find a string of posts by African American women and men debating Douglas’ hairstyle and the perceived imperfection that while her hair was straightened, parts of it had turned visibly kinky during her performance." She stresses that people ought to have focused on the amazing feats Douglas had accomplished rather than whether or not she'd conformed to so-called beauty standards.
But many don't seem to have learned from their mistakes. Douglas is getting bullied about her physical appearance yet again as she wins another gold four years later with her team in Rio. People started trolling her once again about her hair — her edges in particular (which looked fine to me, but then again, I was more focused on her performance, because isn't that the point?).
If you were mad about Gabby's hair in 2012...& you're mad about it AGAIN in 2016...that's not her lack of growth, but yours. #GabbyDouglas— Ocielia Gibson (@Ocielia) August 9, 2016
And to top it all off, people are calling her "un-American" now too. Hawkins also confronted bullies who called her daughter unpatriotic at the Olympics four years ago because Douglas stood at attention during the national anthem, but she didn't put her hand on her heart. Hawkins stressed that Douglas grew up in a military community and some of her family members have spent years serving their country in the military. "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," Hawkins said, adding that during the "Star-Spangled Banner," "most military members either salute or stand to attention," as opposed to placing their hands on their hearts.
It's great to see a mom going to bat for her daughter against bullies who seem to focus on everything but Douglas' history-making successes. She pointed out that those attacking her daughter have no idea just how much Douglas has on her plate: "They keep attacking her about not smiling but they don't know what she is dealing with. If they did, this would not be a conversation. They would [understand]. But this is not the time or place to tell that story."
Douglas speaks about her mother's impact on her in a tweet sponsored by Gillette Venus: "l'll never forget when my mom told me to ignore nervous energy & let my inner fierceness shine!" Those sound like great words to live by. Let's hope Douglas continues to stay focused on her goals and not the words of people who have nothing better to do than troll her from the safe comfort of their couches.
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