From bold, colorful hair hues and unusual clothing to the bright feathers flowing out from under her helmet, Danielle Goldstein isn’t afraid to break the mold. But when you stand out in a crowd, you open yourself up to criticism, and people have been vocal about Goldstein’s style. On March 1, Goldstein posted a video on Instagram to address the online comments she’s received and why she feels it’s important to embrace her individuality. The Chronicle caught up with her to discuss the topic further.
For me, the feathers and the clothing choices I make, I make them for very personal reasons. I make them because I think the feathers are beautiful; I think that they’re fun, and I think why not? I wear yoga clothes not because I want to make some crazy statement, but because I think I look better in them; I feel better in them; I feel more comfortable. When I look in the mirror, I feel better about myself wearing that clothing than when I wear regular breeches.
It’s literally a simple matter of when you go to get dressed in the morning, do you look in the mirror and say, “OK I look good. I feel good.” And that’s the sort of attitude you want to project to the world. I much prefer to feel good about myself when I walk outside than feel like, “Ugh, I have to wear this clothing because this is what everybody else wears.” That’s just not who I am. I never have been that way, and I don’t think that’s a good way to be.
I want people to feel good about themselves whether it’s by putting feathers in their hair or by specifically not putting feathers in their hair. It has to come from a place of feeling good about yourself, so for me, that’s how it plays into the sport these days. I didn’t mean it to be that way, but I think the better I feel about myself just looking in the mirror and walking outside, the better I’m going to feel about sitting on the horse, the better I feel about myself. I think all of those things translate into a more confident rider, person, everything.
The more self-confident I feel in the person I am and the image I project to the world, for sure that reflects in how I feel like I’m riding. I feel like I’m riding better. I feel like I’m more honest with my faults in the riding, and I can address them and try to improve them. All of that sort of goes together; when you have that confidence of everything in your life, it also reflects the sport.
For me, it didn’t really start with wanting to do something for the sport. It came just because I was always somebody who thought outside of the box and thought of myself as a little bit left of center so to speak. I was always a bit of a quirky, fun person. I always like to play with fashion and try out different things and be a bit different than everybody else.
It didn’t really come from a place of wanting to make a statement in the sport; it just has evolved into that. The sport is so traditional, and it’s so deeply conservative that I don’t think that’s necessarily so good. It’s not that I’m against tradition. I think tradition is there for a reason, and I appreciate that wholeheartedly, but I think that to be conservative doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t be who you are. You can be within a framework of something, but you can also express yourself.
I didn’t think anybody would care. Why would anybody care what I did to my hair? It’s my hair; it’s not like it’s anybody else’s. But I think it turned into people feeling like they could express themselves in whichever way they wanted to, so for me, it’s the feathers; it’s the hair; it’s different things.
Two days ago, I got a message from a mother who said her 11-year-old son overheard me talking about the feathers and stuff at the horse show. She said he came home, and he was inspired. He had always wanted to paint his toenails sparkly green, and because he’d heard me and seen my feathers he decided he was going to do it, so he could express himself. Things like that are so amazing to me. I never expected it to have any influence on anyone else other than myself.
I think it’s amazing. I think in the world it is really hard to just be who you are. The world puts on so many restrictions, and everyone feels like we have to fit in this little box, especially in the horse world. We all look like little [clones]. Before everyone had trouble telling who I am with my helmet on.
The horse show world especially, and the world at large, doesn’t open itself up for people who want to be different. You open yourself up to criticism that way, and it doesn’t feel good to be criticized. Nobody likes that. I welcome it because I’m so comfortable with myself, but I’m telling you, 10, 15 years ago, I wasn’t. I was always a little bit walking the line, but I never felt the kind of self-confidence I feel today.
The more feathers I put in my hair, and the more I put myself out there, actually the stronger I feel about myself, the better I feel and the stronger I feel about who I am and who I want to be and the kind of person I want to be in the world. That sort of makes your heart swell, and I never really felt that before.
When I hear that some kids want to express themselves because of something they saw me do, that makes me think that the world is really headed in a good direction. I never thought that I meant to do all of these things, that I could influence some kid to feel good about themselves and feel better about themselves. That’s an incredible feeling. Over the last week and a half even, I’ve had random strangers come up and hug me and just be like, “Thank you for saying those things.” Those things make me feel better about myself. So that’s a really unbelievably special feeling.
Finding My Own Confidence
I keep thinking about what I want to say in my vows [for my wedding in May], and honestly, since I met my fiancé [Alan Waldman], he really was, and is, so amazingly supportive of me being different and being an individual. He’s a very altruistic and honest person, almost brutally honest. He sort of taught me to be honest, and the more that I’m honest with myself and honest with the things I want to project to the world, the more confident I feel. I think he inspired me to go down that path a bit more.
I always was willing to be out there and try things, but I was much more reserved about it. Learning from him that I could be so honest and open and then going out there and trying something that was maybe out of my comfort zone and then realizing that the feedback I got was so positive, made me feel like I could do it more, and I could do it again. I think that whole process got me to the point where I am now where I feel really confident trying things.
Even the white coat [I wore during the five-star Week 7 of the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida)], I looked in the mirror, and I thought, “Wow this is really something different.” My sponsor [Charles Ancona] wanted me to do it, and I always say to him, “If you want to try something new I’m your girl because I’m brave, and I’ll try it even if I get negative feedback.”
I always say to people, “The first one out in the battle gets the bloodiest.” It’s a little bit like that. If you’re not willing to take it and take the negative with the positive then you’re never going to get out there and try anything. That whole process, it gives you so much more confidence to try things because in the end, no matter what people say, if you feel good about yourself when you walk out there, it doesn’t matter.
Dealing With Criticism
I never get negative feedback to my face, but for sure I get snide comments and remarks and laughs and smiles. When I walk to a group of people, you can tell if they’re talking about you behind your back. Do they say it to my face? No. Do I think everybody approves? Definitely no. For sure people have their comments.
People in the high-level sport—I’m pretty close with most people—it’s a small, tight-knit group, so my best friends for sure will tell me to my face. But I think people, whether they would do it themselves or not, they’re never mean about it. I think they support the fact that I go out there, and I’m me, and I’m confident about it whether or not they would choose to do it themselves.
Nobody likes criticism. You’d be hard pressed to find a single person who enjoys criticism, [but] I like the valid criticism. I try to not read anything. I never even go online and look at those negative comments; I always get them sent to me. I have friends or people who will say, “Oh, did you see this?” and they’ll send me a screenshot. I never really go out there and look for it.
How do I handle it? I don’t like it, but I do appreciate when somebody makes a valid point. I can understand it if somebody says something that I think is valid. Some of the stuff I just think, who has time for this? Who is sitting at their computer thinking up these comments? I always think that’s so crazy.
A little bit you have to laugh at it. I have to laugh at myself. I also recognize that I look like a wacky, crazy, eccentric person. I don’t look like a normal person walking around the show. You have to know that. If you’re going to put yourself out there to such an extent you have to be able to laugh at yourself and say, “Yeah, I am wacky, but I like that about myself.”
You have to just sort of roll with it, and if it’s negative, and it hurts your feelings, what do I do? I make a post online, and I say, “I’m getting all of this negative crap, but I’m going to look at the bright side of it.” I’m going to look at the positive side and say, “Look at what else I’m getting. I’m getting these comments from kids and parents saying you inspired my kid to do something great that makes them feel good about themselves.” That’s how I handle it. I look at the positives, and that makes my heart feel so much better. Then the negative just sort of disappears.
I don’t really care. Honestly, what do the negative comments do? They make me want to put more feathers in my hair. I read that, and I was like, “Oh screw them! I’m putting more in.”
[The same night Goldstein posted on Instagram, her teammate on the Israeli team, Daniel Bluman, took to Facebook in support of her.] I woke up that morning to see Daniel’s post, and I called him immediately and was like, “Oh my God!” When I saw him I ran up to him and gave him a hug. That kind of support I never expected. I never asked for it. I never thought I would get it. I didn’t do it for anything like that, but to feel that kind of support within my team and from a friend like that, it was really amazing. I sort of was speechless honestly.