Gabby Douglas is a 16 year old gymnast competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics. She is getting worldwide notoriety because, not only is she extremely talented in her field, she is also a Black American woman. In fact, she is the first Black American woman to win gold for individual and team performance at the Olympic Games. The last time we saw a performance like this we were watching Dominique Dawes in 1996.
Her story is inspirational, moving and now she is a role model for young black girls everywhere. However, her glory is being overshadowed. Instead of congratulating and applauding Gabby after her big win, many people took to their social media pages to criticize her…about her hair.
Now, a day after her amazing performances, most articles that should be focusing on this milestone in Olympic and Black American history – are focusing on the backlash that Gabby received for her hair.
So, what exactly was wrong with her hair? Absolutely nothing. Gabby is an athlete, so in an effort to keep fly aways from obstructing her vision she used gel and several clips to keep her hair down – while pulling it into a high ponytail. A very similar hairstyle to the other girls on her team. While watching her compete, the last thing a person should noticed is her hair. Therefore, it was shocking to find so many negative comments on Facebook,Twitter etc. within seconds of her performance. The most sad part? Most of the people criticizing her were other black women.
Never mind the fact that she made history or the physical and emotional toll it takes to compete at this level – it seemed that Gabby was doing something terribly wrong. And that was not fiercely worrying about the appearance of her hair.
As a black woman, I know what it feels like to feel shame about my hair. It is something that each and every black woman must overcome in her life. There are many historic theories and thoughts on where this shame comes from, but personally, I think we are forced to believe that in comparison, our hair is ugly to women of other races. This is done with TV shows, magazines and especially famous black women who don long blonde wigs. Basically, hair is a sore spot for black women.
The extremes we go through to feel good about our hair is outrageous, this is why I am so startled by the “hate” that Gabby is receiving….from us. Have we forgotten what it feels like to be a 16 year old black girl?
Despite the negative backlash, Gabby has received support from black women such as Beyonce, Michelle Obama and Carol’s Daughter (natural beauty product company for Black women). But to me, this isn’t enough. As a community, we need to lift up those that are doing monumental things, not put them down. We need to support each other, not hold each other back.
My only hope is that years from now, no one will talk about this backlash. I hope they will remember her the way she should be remembered – as a strong, beautiful, inspiring Olympian. And Gabby, there are always going to be people in your life that will try to hold you back and put you down. I hope you know by now, you can flip right over them.
You can send Gabby some well deserved congratulations, love and support on her Twitter @gabrielledoug