As of yesterday, 16-year-old Gabby Douglas is officially an Olympic gold medalist. But some people watching her compete weren't focusing on her floor exercise — they were distracted by her hair.
Monisha Randolph, who runs a blog called Sporty Afros, has been dismayed with what she's seen:
So what's the big deal about Gabby's hair? From what I am reading on Facebook and Twitter, many African American women who are SITTING and WATCHING Gabby compete believe her hair is not "kept."
She needs some gel and a brush…
Someone needs to give her a hair intervention…
She has to "represent"…
And indeed, if you search "Gabby Douglas hair" on Twitter, you get quite a few results. A tragic amount, to be honest. As Randolph writes:
Have we forgotten that Gabby is competing at Olympics XXX? This is not America's Next Top Model that we're watching. These ladies are participating in a global athletic competition. And the last time I checked when you play a sport, you sweat. I know I do. And when a Black woman who has chosen to wear her hair straight begins to sweat, her hair will (not might) begin to revert back to its natural coily, curly, or kinky state. Does Gabby need to stop every five minutes to check her hair? No. When one experiences back-to-back intense workouts, that person learns what works best on their hair.
Randolph also points out: "A large number of Black women do not work out because of their beloved hairstyle. This is so sad and this is why Sporty Afros was created. We are here to help women with their workout hair care solutions and crush excuses such as 'I can't workout because of my hair.'"
Recently, a New York magazine writer called investing in the Naturally Curly website a "dumb" idea. This sparked a backlash; and as the blogger behind Black Girl With Long Hair writes, "I think there are people both within and outside of the black community who are still ignorant about the increasing influence of textured/natural hair on media, business and culture." There have also been controversies surrounding the hairstyles of First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters. (Even a Photoshopped mock-up of Michelle Obama with natural hair sparked a shitstorm of controversy.)
The point is that hair — black hair, especially — remains a hot-button issue. Hair is political, laden with subtext and meaning. Curly, textured hair — the kind a lot of black people have — is often called "wild." Straight hair — the kind a lot of white people have — is considered "polished" and "professional." We live in a culture where white people think it's okay to touch black people's hair. (It's not, FYI.) But for an athlete, the best hairstyle is the kind that lets you accomplish your goals. Even if she never won anything, her life is about her strength, flexibility and tumbling ability — not to mention dedication and focus. What's in her head, not what grows out of it. But since Gabby Douglas's hair did not stand in the way of a gold medal, it should be a non-issue.
Luckily, those critiquing Douglas's hair have drawn out voices of reason. There's a backlash, with many on Twitter defending the gymnast and scolding detractors:
A Black woman slandered Gabby Douglas, claiming 'she needs to get a perm first'. A 16 yr old repping THE COUNTRY & your focus is her hair?
Talking about Gabby Douglas' hair? At least it's hers. You got yours from one of Britain's Equestrian horses.
Gabby Douglas can fix her hair. Some of yall can fix yourselves and your lack of aspirations/accomplishments at 20 something.
Gabby Douglas is competing on a Gold Winning Team not a hair show. #KnockItOff
Gabby Douglas got real hair and real Olympic. All y'all got is weaves and envy.