Olympian McKayla Maroney Addresses Lip Injection Rumors

For two decades, McKayla dedicated her life to her sport. Now she's figuring out what happens next.

McKayla Maroney
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Four years after gymnast McKayla Maroney won a team gold medal and a silver medal on vault in the 2012 Olympics, she's redefining her career. She's trading in the gym for the recording studio; bedazzled leotards and scrunchies for highlighter and lip liner. After nearly two decades committing 40-plus hours a week to her sport, the 20-year-old California native is acting (she's appeared on Hart of Dixie and Bones, with an upcoming role on Superstore) and working on her first album — she wants to be the female Drake.

McKayla's new hustle means that she's still in the spotlight — and facing the ugly rumors that come hand-in-hand with fame. When a video of her appeared during the Olympic Trials (opens in new tab) this past weekend, some fans wondered if she'd gotten lip injections. Seventeen.com called up McKayla so she could set the record straight on gymnastics, the "not impressed" meme, and those plastic surgery rumors.

What was it like for you to watch the Olympic Trials (opens in new tab)?

You know, I really thought I was going to be there. Even six or seven months ago. But I ended up having some different health issues and I didn't even realize that I was starting to fall out of love with the sport and in love with music. Watching the Trials was definitely weird because I'm used to competing. But to watch [Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, and Madison Kocian] do as well as they did — these girls, their lives are about to be totally changed. And they're a gold-medal team. I'm still excited for them.

Was there anything about the Trials that surprised you?

There was drama with Gabby, but nothing about that was surprising to me. [Editor's note: ICYMI, Gabby Douglas finished seventh in the Olympic trials but was still named to the five-person Olympic team, which surprised some viewers.] Basically, Gabby had been training to come back for this next Olympics, and she had a little bit of a rough first day and she fell on beam. Other girls didn't fall. They did pretty good routines. But Gabby, at the end of the day, she was the one who got picked. So some people were like, "Why did she get picked over girls who didn't fall?" It has to do with the lineup — they need her on the events that she didn't fall on. They need her especially on bars. I get why people would be like, "Wait, that doesn't make sense! She didn't get first!" [The scoring system] is confusing for people.

After the Trials, did you text your former teammates Gabby and Aly to tell them congratulations?

Yeah! I made them a video and was, like, crying, I was so excited. And I sent it to the girls. I mean, they're totally on a high right now. They're like, "Thank you, we love you." So it was just super sweet. They're off probably today, then they're back in the gym training for this next Olympics. They don't even have time to celebrate.

Are you planning to go to Rio?

That's something that has not been decided yet. I've been given a couple of opportunities to go there, but I've been busy with music at home. It's just depending on how I feel and how safe it is. My mom hasn't wanted me to go just with everything [Editor's note: Zika] that's been going on over there.

What's going on with your music career?

For the last year, I was just figuring out my sound. I've loved writing songs since I was really young. I thought I was going to be like Sia and sell my songs to people. But after they were done, I was like, "I'm not going to sell these to anybody! I want to sing them." I have some demos done and I'm going to be showing them to some bigger people in the industry and we'll see where that takes me. In the next couple of months, I think I'll have a single out, and I'm excited for people to hop on this new journey of mine.

What does your music sound like?

My biggest inspiration is Drake. I love the way that he tells stories. It has a little bit of a Calypso jam vibe. He's real and always lyrically driven in all the melodies. If there's one person I want to sound like, it's him.

You're getting into acting, with roles in Hart of Dixie, Superstore, and Bones. How does it feel to be in front of the camera as an actress after years of being filmed on TV for gymnastics?

Gymnastics, you get one shot; acting, it's like, do it again, do it again, do it again. So that was the one thing that I found very different. You're allowed to get different tries and you're more expressive in a way when you're working with people. In gymnastics, you're so on your own and individual.

How does it feel to move on from gymnastics after almost two decades?

I was a gymnast my whole life. I mean, I'd go to Starbucks and people would be like, "Are you going to the next Olympics?" And when I'd say no, they'd literally look sad. So it was very hard for me to get excited about anything else. I thought that I had to do gymnastics forever. To be excited about this new piece of myself and this new part of my life is very special for me.

It was very hard for me to get excited about anything else — I thought I had to do gymnastics forever

Is college something that ever interested in you?

I love learning, so it's definitely something I could see myself doing when I'm 30 or something. I always wanted to go for music production and health and psychology. But my whole life, I was in a gym for eight hours a day. I'm ready to be young and have fun.

What was it like being the subject of such a hugely viral meme back in 2012?

Oh my god. All of this stuff happened so fast, like dominoes, and you really don't have time to think about it or respond. You're all of a sudden, like, "Oh, I'm on the Olympic team? Oh, we just won a gold medal? Oh, now I'm a meme?" I mean, that's how it happened. I had never fallen on a vault (opens in new tab) like that in my life, especially competing on a huge stage like that, and to be honest, I was really, really embarrassed. And I was sad that I couldn't have won the gold medal for my country, and I did that face for two seconds.

It got you some insane attention. Didn't you meet President Barack Obama and do the face with him?

Yes! He came up to me and he was like, "Being the president, I'm not impressed all the time. Every day, I have something that comes up that just doesn't impress me." And he was like, "Can I do the face with you?" By that time, I didn't even know, I had no words. I was like, "Of course! Yes!"

A lot of people were like, "Wow, you got more people to remember you from being a meme rather than winning a gold medal." That is insane, you guys. Even my bio on Instagram (opens in new tab) is like, "That girl that fell at the Olympics." Just as a joke. Because that's how people come up to me and that's what they say. That's how they remember me.

Wow. I mean, the one thing that I will always remember you for is sticking the landing in the Team Finals at the 2012 Olympics — how sharp and perfect that landing was.

Thank you. Aww. That means a lot to me.

So there have been some rumors that you've had lip injections. What do you want to say to those people?

Right! First of all, that I haven't. And I've posted a picture on Instagram last night that was like, "How do I make my face look like I didn't do anything to my face when I literally have not done anything to my face?"

Growing up in the social media world, it's tough. Your face changes, you get older, your face fills out, and you fall into liking makeup and different stuff like that. And for people saying that, for the most part — it would kind of hurt my feelings when you haven't done anything. You just kind of have to keep being yourself and move forward with what you love. I just haven't had anything to give to people, so they're almost just picking at anything that they can to find something to talk about me for. It's just one of those things right now and you just have to keep moving forward.

Social media can be rough. And you were 16 years old when you competed at the Olympics. It must have been difficult to have the whole world looking at you in a leotard and judging the way you look now.

Right! It's a very vulnerable position to be in. I was so young and I was not focused on what I looked like. I was focused on the gold medal. And now I'm just getting into entertainment and really looking at other girls who are wearing makeup. It's a thing now! I'm getting into fashion and I really enjoy it. I think it freaks people out to see somebody change just a little bit. I don't mean to freak anybody out. At the end of the day, I have changed. I can't blame anybody for saying, "Oh, she changed!" You know, because I have. And that's OK. It's good to keep evolving and growing. I think most people should be accepting with stuff like that, but you know, you can't force anybody into feeling a certain way. So for anybody who's judging it and not liking it, that's fine. Unfollow me. I don't really care.

How did you start getting into makeup?

One of my best friends, Alexa Losey (opens in new tab), is a YouTuber. She got me into the makeup and all the tutorials. And Halsey, she's one of my favorite singers, I love her makeup. She wears the BECCA Champagne Pop highlighter (opens in new tab), which is so in right now. And she overlines her lips. People are used to her doing that and they're not used to me doing that, so when I started, they freaked out. But it's OK.

A lot of girls hit their 20s and look different. It's normal. But when someone famous goes through that, people tend to get upset.

I know. Right. And then years go by and you go back and you don't look the same because makeup is crazy. Makeup and a camera can really make you look like a different person.

In the past, you've said that people told you not to post selfies to Instagram because it would hurt your gymnastics career. Now that you're pursuing a different path with music and with acting, do you think about social media differently?

A hundred percent. I mean, with gymnastics, I know I was making some people in that world mad because they thought that I wasn't focused on gymnastics. They were like, "Ugh, she won't get off social media, she's always tweeting." They wanted me to be America's sweetheart. And I think I've never fit into that cookie cutter person. I've always loved so many different things about social media and music and art and fashion. I always loved it. But I've been too scared to jump into it, knowing that people would be upset about it. So that's why I hid from it. And now, I'm not afraid to be myself.

They wanted me to be America's sweetheart. And I've never fit into that cookie cutter person. Now, I'm not afraid to be myself.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Hannah Orenstein
Hannah Orenstein