Olympic heroine's hair hankers some
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 25, 2013 11:03
The 2012 Olympics introduced the underdog tale of Gabrielle Douglas. An African-American gymnast, Douglas flipped and somersaulted her way into history at the summer games. She won gold medals in both the all-around and team competitions. Her vibrant smile graced news outlets nationwide, but as her fame grew, focus shifted from what was around her neck to what was on her head.
“Pink hair lotion should sign Gabby Douglas, if they fix that head they are miracle workers,” wrote twitter user @ItsKJLEE.
“Gabby Douglas hair looked a [GD] mess, I don’t care how you slice it and dice it,” wrote twitter user @FLYPersonified.
The 16 year-old brushed off the comments, but recently donned a sleek and smooth hairdo courtesy of celebrity stylist Ted Gibson. Still, the backhanded remarks did not cease.
“Gabby Douglas finally got her hair done!! It’s about time. Can’t go on Oprah with your hair a mess,” wrote Twitter user @Ariel_R_E_L.
The spectacle surrounding Douglas’ simple ponytail took precedence over her triumph.
Despite how far African-American women have come in society, natural hair – for some odd reason – continues to be an issue. In the case of Douglas and many other famous black women, success and credibility seem linked with their hair texture. Millions of black women suffer burns and hair loss for the sake of coiffed tresses.
On the surface, this issue is nothing more than an argument about what is and isn’t appropriate, but at its core, the racial connotations are glaring. To categorize hair texture – an emblem of African Americans – with trivial discussions such as whether pajamas or flip-flops are professional, belittles black culture.
N.C. Central University psychology sophomore Dante’ Johnson, who wore dreads in the past, sees natural hair as neither professional nor unprofessional.
“I think it’s just freedom from society,” said Johnson.
Johnson said the stigma mainly stems from slavery.
“If you can make a society forget about its history then you can create a new history,” said Johnson.
According to Ayana Bryd and Lori Tharps in their 2001 book “Hair Story,” African civilizations placed great significance on their crowning glory. Hair was used to denote rank, marital status and wealth among other aspects. It was also considered to have mystical abilities.
As the 15th century slave trade arose, Africans were stripped of their pride and identity. Harsh treatment amounted to tangled, damaged and disease ridden tresses. With the introduction of Madam C.J. Walker’s pioneering hair products, blacks were able to blend in with their European oppressors and achieve “good hair” – an ideal that still persists.
For accounting junior Ebony Watson good hair has nothing to do with its style.
“Good hair is healthy whether it’s bleached, cut, natural or permed,” said Watson.
Watson has been on her natural hair journey for two years and has received some negative reactions towards her kinky tresses. Several men have stated that they prefer straight hair while others have told her she’ll never get a job.
“I take it with a grain of salt. You either like it or you don’t,” said Watson.
Mass communication junior Jamila Johnson has experienced a smoother ride. After cutting her hair, or taking the “big chop,” she noticed that she received more compliments from men. Still, she feels that men’s perception of hair is narrow-minded.
“The way the media portrays women, men feel like they have to like women with straight, long hair,” said Johnson.
The scrutiny of Gabby Douglas along with Michelle Obama and Condoleezza Rice – to name a few – came largely from their own demographic.
“We are our own worst enemy. It’s been engrained in us from generation to generation that nappy hair is bad,” said Watson.
Despite the disapproval many women of color are finding their roots, so to speak.
Two months into her three-year hair journey, Chanel Laguna, a mass communication senior at NCCU, realized that her wild and curly hair had more to do with empowerment than appearance.
“Becoming natural is like taking off a mask that society wants you to wear,” said Laguna.
Altering one’s hair is not necessarily a condemnable act. The strands that adorn a person’s head are a versatile tool for self-expression.
When the reason for change is caused by shame rather than expression, and a young girl’s hair sours her glory, society must reconsider its definition of beauty and the lingering effects of racial intolerance.