America loves a sweetheart.
The only thing America loves more than a sweetheart is yanking that sweetheart off her high horse and watching her be torn to shreds by a hungry mob of fans who live such perfect, unsullied, charitable, morally superior lives that even the suggestion of imperfection cannot be tolerated in their midst.
Its a tale as old as time and one that Olympic champion Gabby Douglas is seeing unfold in her own life.
In 2012 Douglas was an Olympic darling. She was the first black woman to become an all-around gold medalist and the first to win gold in both the individual and team competitions. Lifetime produced a biopic about the gymnast, “The Gabby Douglas Story”.
However it wasn’t long before the first cracks began to show. Black Americans, especially women made a big deal about her hair, complaining that she didn’t put enough care into it for someone who was a national figure.
It didn’t matter that she’d done the impossible. She was ridiculed mercilessly.
…and even Simone Biles has taken her fair share of criticism for having the audacity to be training instead of in the hair salon.
Douglas has also been raked over the coals for not placing her hand over her heart on the podium during the national anthem and been accused of being cold and distant and unaccessible. In an interview Douglas finally broke:
“Geez,” Douglas said, her eyes beginning to well up with tears, but never, ever, breaking. “I’ve been trying to stay off the internet because it is so much negativity. And … ah … I’m like, ‘What?’ … When they talk about my hair or me not putting my hand on my heart or me being salty in the stands and, you know, really criticizing me … and it doesn’t feel good. For me, it was a little bit hurtful.
Its a sad close to what has been a brilliant, ground-breaking career.
Americans are fickle. We will build you up overnight and tear you down just as fast once we realize you’re actually human.
Every election cycle there is no shortage of people saying, “We need a real, down-to-earth, regular citizen to run. No more politicians! We just need a “real” person.” That’s a dirty lie we tell ourselves so that we can seem above the political fray. Everyone wants a “regular” person to run for president until that regular person opens their mouth and says the type of thing that any “regular” person would say…then its the social guillotine for said person.
We don’t want our celebrities and politicians to be “real”. We want them to be perfect. Real is what I see when I put on my jeans and look at my muffin-top or stare at that cluttered office. Our celebrities feed into our desire to know that there could be some type of “perfection” out there if we work hard enough, or are lucky enough.
We love Justin Bieber’s inspiring story of being abandoned by his douchebag of a father, raised by a loving, Christian mom who chose his life over the recommended abortion, and eventually becoming one of the most famous and talented artists in the world. We loved him at 12 but then Bieber made the mistake of growing up and doing what all other boys do at his age – acting out, being a dumbass, pushing his boundaries. The extent of his “growth” was most certainly amplified by unlimited amounts of money and poor supervision but is this so different from what any other 14 or 16-year-old in America would have done with in the same situation? It doesn’t matter because there was/is no sympathy for the young artist. He doesn’t get the luxury of imperfection. He rode the waves of adoration to fame and success and now they’re dashing him on the rocks.
We also suffer from grossly stunted attention spans. Gabby may have broken ground in 2012 but 2016 is the year of Simone Biles. At age 20 Douglas is just about to age out of international gymnastics competition. Sure she’s plucky, but human emoji Laurie Hernandez is so cute and 4 years younger!
Once we’ve decided its time to move on to a new sweetheart its not difficult to begin picking apart the former sweethearts for daring to be human.
Douglas doesn’t deserve to be treated this way, to not even receive the benefit of the doubt. We may see the cameras on her sullen face, but we can’t see the physical pain or perhaps the travel fatigue, the nasty summer cold she might be dealing with or the personal issues that are clouding her world. We immediately leap to condemnation if she does not display the right amount of appreciation and humility. Its sad. Its unfair.
It behooves us to remember that while the U.S. team is full of women of color this year, that’s because of Gabby Douglas (and perhaps Dominique Dawes before her). Not only does Douglas deserve the space to be herself even if she’s a little prickly from time to time… I dare say she’s earned it.