Shawn Johnson is using her voice (and face) to campaign for body positivity. (Photo: Getty Images)
With the 2016 Rio Olympic Games only a few days away, we jumped at the chance to catch up with former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson. The veteran gold medalist has been keeping busy since hanging up her leotard. She has won Season 8 of Dancing With the Stars, released a YA novel called The Flip Side, and recently tied the knot to NFL player Andrew East of the Oakland Raiders.
Now Johnson has teamed up with Dove for its powerful new movement #MyBeautyMySay. The body-positive campaign focuses on advocating for female athletes who are judged on their looks while their achievements are often overshadowed. Yahoo Beauty talked with the 24-year-old about Dove’s latest campaign, gaining confidence, and her advice to the current Olympic gymnasts.
“With female athletes and females in general I feel like we always tear women down based on their looks instead of what they’re doing, whether it’s in a boardroom or on a gym floor,” Johnson explained at the Dove #MyBeautyMySay press event in New York City. “Now we want to change that conversation and give women the respect that they deserve.”
Johnson knows all too well the struggles of growing up in the spotlight and being criticized for her appearance. She even opened up about her battle with body confidence in a short film released by I Am Second. However, she didn’t let the media or society dictate her happiness. Johnson surrounded herself with the people who really cared about her, and she advises young gymnasts to do the same. “One of the most important things is to surround yourself with a safe zone of people, your family, parents, and good friends,” she says. “Over the years, learn how to filter through [negative comments] because people will always say negative things, and we have to learn how to tell them they’re wrong in a kind way.”
As for the best advice she’s ever received? It would have to be from her mom, of course. “When I was little, she would say to me almost everyday, ‘Be unique and be different,’” says Johnson. “Society wants every woman in the world to be that runway model that we all see instead of embracing the fact that we’re all different and we’re supposed to do that.”
Since retiring from the sport, Johnson has made significant changes to her lifestyle. “I went from someone who had a really intense and ongoing training schedule as a professional gymnast to someone who was able to evolve my understanding of health, fitness, and nutrition to fit my post-competitive day-to-day life,” she says. Her guilty pleasure? She indulges in chocolate, which proves she’s just like us.
Johnson is now heading to the Olympics. She won’t be competing this time around, but she’ll be on the other side as a correspondent for Yahoo Sports. And she can step into this new role with assurance, having learned through the sport that “you truly earn and work for your respect and have to be proud of yourself.”
She adds, “In gymnastics when you have to want to learn a skill, you have to fall on your face a million times before you succeed and when you do succeed you don’t need other people to tell you ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Good Job,’ or ‘You deserved it.’ You truly feel it, so I feel like you can kind of take that into anything in your life afterwards.”