Gabby Douglas and older sister Arielle talk Rio, female empowerment and their unbreakable bond
We all know and love Gabby Douglas, the world class gymnast, Olympic gold medalist and crucial member of the outstanding 2012 and 2016 Olympic gymnastic teams. She's a force to be reckoned with in the gym and on the competition floor, and there's no question the 20-year-old athlete will share a lifelong bond with the sport she's excelled in.
But what you may not know about Gabby is that the bond she shares with her older sister, Arielle Hawkins, is even more powerful.
Arielle and Gabby, or Gabrielle as her sister calls her, are not just sisters -- they've both been each other's personal "cheerleaders" and role models since they were kids. The pair truly captures the power of female empowerment -- and show a little positivity can go a long way.
So, it's no surprise the pair joined the #ActuallySheCan campaign, a movement for strong and driven individuals who provide young women with empowering advice.
See photos of the inspirational women behind #ActuallySheCan:
We caught up with Gabby and Arielle to talk about their involvement in the campaign, being raised in the gymnastics world -- and growing up with your best friend.
Check out our full conversation, which has been edited and condensed, with Gabby and Arielle below:
Can you talk about your relationship? Did you guys fight a lot growing up?
Arielle: We actually never fight! Gabrielle is both the peacemaker and the baby of the family. [Laughs] Our brother was the one that caused the trouble!
Arielle, you've supported your sister for so long with her gymnastics career, so now that you're getting started in fashion, how is Gabby supporting you?
A: One thing I can say about Gabrielle is that she has a beautiful spirit and has always been so supportive. She's always been one of my biggest cheerleaders since we were little, and our relationship hasn't changed since.
Gabby, being in the competitive gymnastics world for most of your life, have you found women you compete with typically build each other up or is it more of a cut-throat environment?
Gabby: For us, it's all about building each other up. When you sign onto gymnastics and do USAG, you have to be a team player. Team unity really is the key to success. If you're on a team and you're not "one" on the floor then you start to break down. One of team USAG's biggest components is that we're "one" on the floor and that's how we're so successful. Plus, we want to do our job -- and we want to look good!
Check out photos of Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas:
Did you ever witness or experience body-shaming growing up in a gym?
G: Never! I'm very grateful I have the body that I do now -- I'm very lean and slim, so I never second guessed myself.
Do you remember a moment in your gymnastics career when you didn't feel support from your peers or coaches — and how you got through that?
G: Here and there I felt like I didn't have support -- there's been a few times where I think, "Whoa, maybe I should just give up." But I've always had support from my family and my 2012 and 2016 coaches. There's always more love than hate.
As one of the oldest members of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team this year, did you feel like a mentor to the younger girls? Did you have tips for them having gone through it before?
G: Aly [Raisman] and I mostly shared with them how it can get so crazy on the media side of things because it's the Olympic games. But on the gymnastics side -- we all knew what we had to do because we're all high-level competitors. But I did feel like a mentor when the younger girls would ask "Do I have this Gabby? Can I do it?" And I'd be like "Absolutely."' I did feel a little bit like a big sister to them.
Arielle -- how did it make you feel with all the cyber bullying after Rio, and how did you help Gabby cope with that?
A: As a family, we really rallied behind her. It can be hard when you hear or you see negative things spoken about you. And we basically just told her: "Get off social media and don't read all that negativity. You have so much to rejoice over, so much to be positive about, and you have so many supports so many people that are rooting for you, and they outweigh the people trying to tear you down. And again, we know you, you know you, and the things that they're saying are not true -- so don't believe them." And that's what I would tell anybody: Don't focus on the negativity, and don't let your self esteem or self worth be tied to what somebody else says about you.
Gabby, being in the spotlight, do you feel a lot of pressure to be the perfect role model to young girls?
G: Not really! I just love to have fun. I feel like being "high-maintenance" is so not me. But I do love to set the standard and send my message to young girls. I don't feel pressure -- it's truly such an honor to have this platform and use it for good. And also -- my mom won't let me. [Laughs] My family keeps me so humble and so down to earth. There's no way I could go off the deep end.
Arielle, do you know a different side of Gabby that the public doesn't see?
A: She can be very silly and goofy. I think in front of a camera she can't be super giggly. But because gymnastics is so structured, when she gets home from the gym, she just wants to be a big ol' goofball. A lot of people don't see that she's a huge prankster and jokester all the time. She's a total comedian.
Who is your female mentor?
A: My mom! She was always my best friend growing up. She always gives me wonderful advice and one of my biggest cheerleaders. My mom's very strong and wise, and such a hard worker.
Gabby, has Arielle always been your role model?
G: She's the main one that got me through gymnastics, she's the main one that saw that talent in me. Thank you for getting me started in this crazy gymnastics career. I talk to her about everything -- [Laughs] Well, maybe not everything. She always puts me back on my track when I feel like I'm falling off. She's an amazing big sister, she's sacrificed a lot for me, and I'm so grateful to have that. That's why I'm so excited for her to be out there following her own dreams.