Why Gabby Douglas Is More Than Her Hair


Forget for a moment that Gabby Douglas is the first African American woman to win a gold in the individual All-Around competition. Let this sink in: Gabby is the first American woman to snag gold in both the All-Around gymnastics competition and the team competition. Not even the great Mary Lou-Retton achieved this feat.Image

But some people are focusing on something  far more important than her recent accomplishments. If you aren’t on Twitter, or your head’s been buried under a rock, then you’re probably unaware of the current hot topic in the blogosphere: Gabby’s hair. Yep, her hair. Check out these tweets:

Young Skipper [@Sarocious] tweeted: “We, as a community, gotta fix Gabby Douglas’s hair.”

Brandy [@shestaken] tweeted: “Congrats to Gabby Douglas on her gold medal! I wish I could say the same.about that hair! Omg horrible!”

The Huffington Post ran an article about the attention Gabby’s hair has received on Twitter. The discussion even prompted celebrities like Gabrielle Union and Serena Williams to weigh in. Union tweeted:  “Any1 who insults a TEEN whose accomplished so much while displaying grace & dignity is beyond lame & should be ashamed of themselves #byehaters”

Union’s response only highlights the fact that winning two Olympic gold medals (and she could win more)  despite personal hardships is not enough to silence the chatter about Gabby’s hair. Some Twitter users like MisDoscentavos insisted that Gabby  do something with her hair, tweeting:

“on another note, gabby douglas gotta do something with this hair! these clips and this brown gel residue aint it!”

 Why? Did her hair  stand in the way of her getting two gold medals? Did her hair stand in the way of her picture being front and center on the Wheaties box? Why must she do something, other than what she already has, with her hair? Hasn’t Gabby achieved enough–both in gymnastics and in her personal life? Gabby, as has been widely publicized, has been living with a host family in Iowa since the age of 14. Multiple curveballs were thrown her way and she and hit each one with that resounding crack that comes when the baseball bat strikes the ball for a home run. You want to be a gymnast? Sure, you’ll just have to leave behind your family and go to Iowa to do it. Done.  You want to follow in the footsteps of Dominique Dawes? You’ll have to do it while your father is stationed away overseas. Done. You want the gold? You’ll just have to beat the Russians in every event. Done. Gabby not only beat the formidable Russians, but she never trailed them. Gabby  is batting a .408 and we’re still focusing on her hair? 

Allen Iverson, in a tone of bitter disbelief, once responded to those questioning his work ethic with “We talking about practice, man? Practice?”  I can only mutter in the same disbelieving tone:  We talking about Gabby’s hair?  Her hair, man? After watching the lovely Dominique Dawes at the 1996 Olympics, I wondered when we would see another young black woman compete at such a high level. Now I am wondering if all this hair talk will overshadow Gabby’s  success.

People’s reasons for critiquing Gabby’s hair are numerous. Some people have tried to say that they’re just concerned about the overall health of her hair. Um, Gabby Douglas is not your child and unless you’re CEO of the Save-a-Child’s-Hair organization, then I’m going to need you to stop with the shenanigans. Gabby has both a mother and father who love her dearly. Let them do their jobs as parents to make sure that her body and hair are healthy. I’m well aware of the pain we women put ourselves through to look beautiful. And, I understand that many of us want to make sure that our fellow sister is doing all she can to maintain lustrous hair and healthy edges, but stop it. Stop tweeting Gabby links with products she should use on her hair. When I went natural, some of my associates demanded that I return to the perm because the natural look did not suit my face. And yes, my hair has also been petted by a white person expressing shock at its soft texture. Both these examples are extremely rude and annoying. But if you are one of the people insisting Gabby do something with her hair, you are performing the same sort of obnoxious behavior. Quite simply, Gabby can do whatever she likes with her hair because YOU DO NOT OWN HER HAIR.

This is a point that one of my followers on Twitter rightly pointed out to me whilst I expressed my outrage over the fact Gabby’s hair had become the focus of discussion. “Are you forgetting,” she tweeted, “that a woman’s body is a battleground, and in particular that of a black woman?” This is an excellent point that we must always keep in mind. A woman’s body, particularly a black woman’s body, is never quite her own. The black female body is there to be publicly criticized, derided, dissected, and virtually consumed beneath the gaze. The focus on Gabby’s hair is eerily reminiscent of the focus on President Obama’s daughters’ kinky hair. Or, even the way that Michelle Obama’s derriere was derided by an US congressman. The black woman’s body is always already objectified. If you had fantasies of running a comb through Gabby’s hair while watching her soar on the uneven bars, then please do yourself a favor next time and turn off the TV, as it’s obvious you are missing out on the beautiful artistry taking place. It’s like looking at Michael Phelps and instead of seeing the most decorated Olympian of all time you only see his crooked teeth.  History’s being made right in front of your eyes, and you’re too busy focusing on Gabby’s hair. Seriously?

If you want to see perfectly coifed hair, go see Beyonce in concert. Although it’s not a contact sport, the physical intensity of gymnastics rivals that of football, hockey, and other intense sports. McKayla Maroney flat-out nailed her vault with a broken toe. Gabby excelled at the highest level despite pain flaring up from a lingering injury (If I cut my finger chopping up onions, I’m out of commission for a week but I digress…).  If Gabby had been more concerned about her hair, I doubt she would have had the intestinal fortitude to leave her family and compete in the Olympics.

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When I visualize myself at sixteen, I remember how I hated walking into a room full of people because I felt like the spotlight shone only on me. Every pimple, every bulge, every imperfection was on display. Clad in a leotard, Gabby performs in front of thousands with a self-confidence that makes you think she is the only person in the room.  Performing with a determination so absent in her teenagers her age is a mark of her precocious spirit. This is not to say that other teenagers her age are under-achievers because they do not have a gold medal. But whereas most teens are worried about that pimple on their forehead , she is worried about perfecting the difficult Amanar vault. This is what makes her unique. Gabby is so much more than her hair. To focus on her hair diminishes the success she has achieved as a gymnast, daughter, and sister. Dominique Dawes, reacting to Gabby’s impressive victory, could not hold back her tears  (see video below).  I am not asking that we shed tears for Gabby (although I did!). Simply, that we commend Gabby, as Dawes did, for a job well done. Everything else is just noise.

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~ by Miss Tea on August 3, 2012.

2 Responses to “Why Gabby Douglas Is More Than Her Hair”

  1. Interesting piece!

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