In Defense of Gabby Douglas' Hair

Why are people so focused on Gabby Douglas' hair?Gabby Douglas is proudly representing her country in the Olympics. She's poised under pressure, performing gravity-defying athletic feats in front of an international audience. She's 16 and the second female African American U.S. gymnast to ever make the team. But instead of lauding her achievements, some people are slamming her for... not getting her hair done.

Related: Raising an Olympian: Gabby Douglas

Photo: TwitterPhoto: Twitter

Seriously? Douglas is an incredible athlete. When you're doing something like this on a 3.9-inch wide wooden beam set four feet above the ground, the last thing you're worrying about is your hair.

Gabby Douglas dominates on the balance beam, Thursday, Aug. 2. (Photo: Getty Images/Streeter Lecka)Gabby Douglas dominates on the balance beam, Thursday, Aug. 2. (Photo: Getty Images/Streeter Lecka)

Some critics insist that Douglas needs to properly represent the African American community, and how her hair looks is part of that. And yet, most of the negative comments about her hair are coming from other African Americans.
Photo: TwitterPhoto: Twitter
"I find it sad that I have seen more Black women post criticizing comments about Gabby's hair than I have comments of praise about her athleticism or adding color to USA Gymnastics since Dominique Dawes," writes Monisha Randolph at SportyAfros.com.
Photo: TwitterPhoto: Twitter
Many African American women choose not to work out in order to protect their hairstyle, Randolph points out. "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," she writes. "Some of us are sitting up right now with our hair done but suffering from high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, obesity, and/or a lack of energy. Oh, but the hair is on point."

Hair has always held a special significance in the African American community. Emmy Award-winning comedian Chris Rock was so struck by his daughter's obsession with her friend's hair that he made a documentary about it, "Good Hair," in which he goes on a quest to better understand why hair is so important to so many black women.

"There's always this sort of pressure within the black community like, if you have good hair, you're prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears the Afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle," actress Nia Long told him when he interviewed her for his film.

"They say it's for the men, but it's really for the women. Because guys don't care" about a woman's hair, he points out. His theory is borne out in the stream of tweets about Douglas' hair -- the most critical comments are by women. (Thankfully, some of the most supportive ones since have been by African American women as well.)

Instead of worrying about whether her hair is perfect, Douglas is focused on making history and winning Olympic gold. She is representing all Americans, not just one single group. She's achieved more by age 16 than most of us do in a lifetime. Shouldn't we be cheering her on instead of tearing her down?

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