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Gabby Douglas and Black Women Everywhere: Kinky, Soft, Nappy, Straight … Who Cares?!

Gabby Douglas and Black Women Everywhere: Kinky, Soft, Nappy, Straight … Who Cares?!

Written by Francesca Witcher

Like many over the past week, I have been tuning into numerous Olympic events, and gymnastics has been one of my favorites–not only because I love watching very skilled women do some incredible feats but because 16-year-old Gabby Douglas–the second African American woman gymnast to make the U.S. Olympic team–led her squad to an Olympic gold medal in the team competition and now has won gold in the women’s all-around.

Watching Douglas, I have felt a sense of pride that she is representing both U.S. gymnastics and black women around the world. However, I have been disappointed by the conversations happening on Twitter and around the blogosphere about her hair. There have been harsh comments that it’s too kinky, curly, nappy, unprofessional or unpolished. Beyond the criticisms themselves, it’s alarming how many of the comments have come from black women:

She needs some gel and a brush.

Someone needs to give her a hair intervention.

Similarly, a couple of weeks ago a photo of Beyoncé’s baby, seven-month-old Blue Ivy Carter, brought forth hateful blogs and comments:

Beyoncé really screwed up, having a baby by Jay-Z. His nose and lips are never going to look right on a girl.

Let’s pray Beyoncé’s genes kick in as B.I.C. gets older. All the money and talent in the world won’t take away from having Jay-Z’s features.

Nappy-headed kid. Wish Beyoncé had married a nice-looking man instead of Jay-Z.

I was speechless when I read these. While I just wanted to see more of Beyoncé’s adorable new baby, these people were waiting to see if she had African American features that they apparently see as ugly and unattractive. I was reminded yet again of how much black bodies and black hair continued to be politicized.

Growing up as an African American girl, my hair style and look determined my mood, confidence and self-esteem. I worried that if my hair was not long enough or straight enough to fit into a swinging and bouncy ponytail that I was going to be looked at strangely or feel unaccepted among both my black and white peers. When I was 10, I used to get into fights with my mother about getting a perm and making sure every strand of hair was straight on my head before I went to school. I was also very self-conscious about my lips.

Now, as a young black woman, I have come to realize that all of the anxieties I had about my hair and whether I would be socially accepted are a product of white popular culture being flooded with messages that associate black women with straight, long and blond hair as being “good,” “likeable,” “successful” and “sexually appealing,” while black women with kinky and curly hair are associated with pejorative terms. While this is the reality of U.S. culture, it is upsetting that too many black women feed into these messages. It is not uncommon to walk down the street and see black women with long weaves (usually from India) and often in a vibrant blond color. In all fairness to my black sisters, many black women have become part of the natural hair movement and rejected the white popular culture’s notion of beauty. However, there are still too many sisters that both consciously and unconsciously feed into a notion of “the more white, the better.”

Criticisms about Gabby Douglas’ hair have only reinforced these norms about when blackness does or doesn’t look beautiful. Why can’t some of my sisters just appreciate Douglas’s accomplishments and what she now represents for all black women and girls around the globe? Who cares if her hair is bone straight, wavy, curly or kinky? For goodness sake, she should be able to wear her hair any way that she feels comfortable. C’mon, my sisters, we can do better than this! We need to take pride in the accomplishment our little sister has made thus far and celebrate her amazing achievements!

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.

 

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153 comments

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11:49AM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

This is ridiculously sad, and a sad commentary on our culture and both the racism still inherent in it, as well as the stupid attention to superficial issues at the expense of substantive ones.

I have recently read that Beyonce, Miley Cyrus and Scarlett Johansson, have use Black Diamond Nail Polish, selling at $250,000 a bottle: What a vain waste of money on superficiality,that might otherwise have gone to some deserving charity!!

11:21AM PDT on Aug 20, 2012

I couldn't believe Gabby Douglas' HAIR was getting more attention than her amazing athleticism! To the shallow idiots who started this "hair issue", I have two questions... 1) How is a gymnast SUPPOSED to wear her hair, without it getting in her face and causing an accident?! And 2) What IS this: The Olympics or a Beauty Contest?! It is a truely damaged person that has to put others down in order to feel better about theirself!

11:04AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Theresa W. That is a really great question.
Gabby has something that Beyounce will never have & that is a nice ordinary name we all can pronounce & spell. And the quality of her personality out shines anything Beyounce could ever do including having a baby. And, I feel Gabby will wait until she is wise & old enough to marry & have a child.
Gabby has done & learned so much more than so many of her peers ever will. Gabby's mother deserves a great deal of credit for doing the right thing & standing by Gabby all the way.

Now, leave her hair out of this!!!!!!!

9:13AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

When did we gloss over all her accomplishments, and go straight to how her hair looks?

Have you EVER heard of any male athlete's hair overshadowing their accomplishments?

Idiots!

7:46AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Why do they confuse her with Beyonce?

6:01AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Very touching article. Very well written.

5:29AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

On TV I saw a magnificent performance by this beautiful girl. I didn't notice her hair. Sorry.

10:17AM PDT on Aug 11, 2012

Why do we as people continue to waste valuable time and social resources on stupid, non-productive, trivial matters such as the "hairstyle" of a young, aspiring African American girl living out her Olympic dream?

This young lady's overall accomplishments since pursuing her Olympic dream far exceeds her sweating out her "kinky" hair!

So to all of Gabby's critics out there, please take a moment to notice:

This young lady won two gold medals, and the (cash) prize money for every gold medal won in this years Olympics is worth $25,000, which mean's that Gabby has already earned at least $50,000 before taxes.

Add to that the new 5 year, $10 million dollars endorsement Gabby just signed with Kelloggs Corn Flakes, and there's NOT a hairstylist in the world this young lady can't afford!

If people (namely Gabby's critics) would focused more on the ignorance "INSIDE" of their own heads instead of what's on top of Gabby's head....this wouldn't even be a topic! Gabrielle Douglas was competing for a gold medal. She was NOT auditioning for Glamour, Bazzar, Cosmopolitan, Runway Live, or Vogue magazines!

As a proud American, I salute this brave young lady immensely for helping to open doors of hope, and opportunity for many other young, aspiring, African girls, NOT only in the United States, but throughout the entire world.

"Congratulations Gabby!

We are very proud of you!"


@ http://www.gcpublications.net

7:17AM PDT on Aug 11, 2012

Well written and mature reporting. Thank you.

9:08PM PDT on Aug 10, 2012

No matter how Gabby's hair looks even if she decides to go bald she'll still be beautiful outside and inside.

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