Gabby Douglas is finally speaking out about the cyberbullying she experienced during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
This past summer, the three-time gold-medal-winning Olympic gymnast made headlines for more than just her gravity-defying athletic abilities. Douglas was repeatedly berated online for “disrespecting” her country by not putting her hand on her heart, for not smiling enough and for not styling her hair in a way that pleased every individual watching the Olympics.
“I had take off social media before the Olympics. Then after team finals in Rio, I Googled myself and there was just so much noise,” Douglas told Teen Vogue’s editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth. “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.”
The harassment became so bad Douglas said she cried every day after practice. “People thought I was just a target,” she said. “I’m not a target, I’m a human being. I’m an athlete.”
Douglas said she wants people to understand that she’s not “Crabby Gabby” ― as Twitter bullies nicknamed her during the Olympics ― she’s a bubbly, energetic and happy person.
She explained to Welteroth:
Going from 2012, I was this smiley, bubbly Gabby. And in 2014 to 2016, I was like, I’ll be a little more mature, a little more sass. And everyone was like, what’s wrong with her? She’s not smiling, something’s wrong. 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.
Douglas’ one piece of advice to anyone experiencing cyberbullying? Stand up for yourself and know that you will always get through it.
“I felt like the world was against me, but it’s not,” she said. “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.”
Watch the full Teen Vogue Facebook Live segment below.