“My body is beautiful.”
That’s what Olympic gold gymnast Gabby Douglas reminds herself daily. But the 20-year-old Virginia native – who won both the individual all-around title and led her “Fierce Five” team to the gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games – wasn’t always so body confident.
Douglas has been ridiculed by Internet trolls for everything from her body to her hair, she says in the August issue of Teen Vogue.
“It was very tough,” Douglas said of the criticism she received after her history-making success at the age of 16. “Sometimes I would be in the bathroom, bawling my eyes out, wanting to quit. I felt like I was all alone.”
Gabby’s mother and manager Natalie Hawkins remembers the teasing well. “Everyone was talking about her arms, and she became very self-conscious about how muscular they were,” Hawkins explained.
It took another pro-athlete to help Douglas recognize the beauty in her muscular body: Serena Williams.
“Gabrielle saw the elegance with which Serena Williams handled all the negative criticism of her own body,” Hawkins recounted. “It was liberating for my daughter to see that. She said, ‘I don’t have to apologize to anyone about my body.’ ”
“When I came through it, I felt as if I could overcome anything,” Douglas said.
Douglas’s advice on how to handle criticism – ignore it! – might be helpful to teammate Simone Biles, who is expected to compete in her first Olympic Games this year.
The 19-year-old four-time U.S. all-around gymnastics champion joins Douglas on the Teen Vogue cover, explaining how she views her body as an advantage in competition.
“I was built this way for a reason, so I’m going to use it,” Biles said, describing her body as “stockier” that her fellow gymnasts’. “To go out there and prove what I can do has taught me a lot about who I am. We can push ourselves further. We always have more to give.”
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Biles has done just that, setting a new standard for technical proficiency in gymnastics with her signature floor-routing move called “The Biles.” The double layout with a half twist and forward landing was originally devised to relieve pain from a bone spur in her ankle, Biles tells the magazine.
As for her detractors – like Italian gymnast Carlotta Ferlito who suggested “we should also paint our skin black so we can win too” in 2013 – Biles is unbothered.
“I guess I just have really tough skin,” she told the magazine of the incident. “I was like, whatever.”
The U.S. Gymnastics Olympic Team Trials will be held from July 8 through 10 in San Jose, California. The Rio Olympics begin August 5.