Sixteen-year-old Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas is having a busy year, what with the gold medals and the Corn Flakes box and the interview with Oprah. But while most of the news regarding the bubbly teen is good, some of it remains negative. And in a piece by Buzz Bissinger for the October issue of Vanity Fair, Gabby again opens up about how she was treated while training at Excalibur Gymnastics in Virginia Beach. Once, she left her clothes by her locker, only to come back and find them gone — she had no shirt wear to leave the locker room, and "other gymnasts started laughing at her." Then there was, as previously discussed, the "she's our slave" comment. But, according to Bissinger:
Even more painful was an incident several years ago at a party where Gabby says an Excalibur staff member told her she might want to consider reconstructive surgery on her nose because of its flatness. Some other gymnasts had teased Gabby about her appearance, and she found the nose comment "very hurtful."
Excalibur President and CEO Gustavo Moure has denied that anyone in the gym was ever "knowingly involved in any type of bullying or racist treatment." But there's no motivation for Gabby to lie to Oprah and Vanity Fair. If the incident happened when she described — several years ago — she would have been 12 or 13. Obviously something happened that upset her enough to get stuck in her head.
Often in intense situations — training to get into the Olympics, for instance — there's an urge to alleviate the overwhelming pressure, focus and drive with jokes. Most sports have locker room antics: pranks, teasing, and hijinks are methods of letting off steam. But sometimes aggression goes unchecked and "jokes" involve exploiting and othering. It goes without saying that Gabby Douglas does not need a nose job, but let's just reiterate: Gabby Douglas does not need a nose job. There's nothing wrong with her nose, or, as some asshole nobodies have suggested, her hair. There's something wrong with our culture's incredibly narrow standards of beauty, brainwashing people into thinking anything outside the accepted needs "fixing." If someone suggested that Gabby needed a nose job, even in jest, it was an extremely loaded statement, one that managed to:
- Make her feel like there's something wrong with her.
- Remind her that her features are like those typically associated with those of African descent.
- Insinuate that there is something wrong with looking as though you are of African descent.
- Declare that her face needs to be cured or fixed by a medical professional.
- Assert that a thinner (more Anglo-Saxon) nose would be the superior choice.
A pretty tough load for a 13-year-old to shoulder, whether or not she's preparing for the Olympics. Still, VF reports that no one will fess up:
Dena Walker [the head coach at Excalibur and a financial partner] says that coaches at the gym, which has been home to many African-American athletes, are on the lookout for racial animus and take action should something happen. Walker denies that anyone suggested Gabby get a nose job, calling the allegation "a joke," and notes that Gabby never reported any of these incidents. According to Natalie, Gabby does have a tendency to keep things inside, and told her mother about these incidents only recently. "I was flabbergasted," says Natalie.
America's Golden Girl [Vanity Fair]