the hair olympics

gabby douglas is bomb. at only 16, she’s the first black woman to win an olympic gold medal in gymnastics. it most certainly took hard work and sacrifice on the parts of both her and her family for gabby to compete on an olympic level. i’ve read her mother worked several jobs to fund her gymnastics training.

in the wake of gabby’s tremendous achievement, black people are whispering about the biggest scandal to hit the olympics since we found out michael phelps smokes weed–gabby douglas’ hair. many bloggers and commentators have come out supporting gabby. in fact, jezebel posted an article entitled “haters need to shut the hell up about gabby douglas’ hair.” while i’m happy gabby has her band of supporters, i think this hair fiasco begs for a deeper analysis.

black women have a history of getting their hair “did.” the bi-weekly trips to the beauty salon are an element of the shared black experience. every black woman knows a sista who takes her hair very seriously. if you’re reading this and you can’t think of someone, then that person is most likely you. our mothers and grandmothers start us young with a painstaking focus on our braids, beads, hot presses, pony tails, and relaxers–a little black girl’s hair becomes a source of family pride. this fetishization of black hair has created an unhealthy imprint on our collective psyche. in fact, many sistas don’t participate in physical activities like working out or swimming because of a phobia that others will see us with our hair undone.

in light of the foregoing cultural context, it came as no surprise that black folks were aghast at the combination of gel, hair clips, and weave that rests atop gabby douglas’ 16-year-old head. i won’t lie, her hair style was the first thing i noticed when watching her olympic performance. however, the fact that we’re having this conversation as part of a national dialogue is embarrassing. it’s clearly emblematic of our mental conditioning that a black woman’s hair is her primary source of beauty, and that a woman should always be concerned with being pretty–even when participating in a sport on the olympic level. sistas must re-define this destructive and sexist standard. let’s start by cheering for our newest heroine and ceasing the negative commentary.


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