Gabby Douglas' Hair: Black Women's Obsession

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    Black hair care is a $90 billion industry. Thirty four percent of hair care products are purchased by black women and when it comes to the sale of hair weaves, black women are responsible for 65 percent of those purchases.

    We are obsessed with our manes; weaving, treating, growing, styling, we just love our hair. And although it may be a bit big-brotherish, the backlash about Gabby’s hair comes from a place deeper than arbitrary criticism.

    Last Tuesday, Gabrielle Douglas made history, as she was the first African American to take the gold in the Olympics for her all-around floor routine.

    The charismatic Gabby sauntered, spun and contoured her body in ways some of us couldn’t even dream of. Outfitted in a pink metallic leotard, the 16-year-old landed every single move flawlessly as she floated with perfection across the mat, yet at the end of the routine, amidst the celebratory tweets congratulating the girl who has sacrificed so much to reach the pinnacle of her fame, she was criticized.

    Not for her footwork, not for her beam presentation – but for her ponytail.

    On a broad spectrum, talking about a Gold Medalist’s hair after her win may sound out of this world, but I believe that the backlash Gabby has gotten for her hair isn’t actually a problem with Gabby, it is simply a reflection of our obsession with black hair.

    The 16-year-old has already made it clear that when she slips that gold medal over her head, the last thing she’s worrying about is the condition of her hair, but can we really be mad at the rest of those who commented on it?

    After the Olympic win, Fashionista landed an interview with Gabby Douglas’ mother, and her mom spoke on the hair backlash, saying this:

    I started hearing about [her hair] earlier this year actually. I started trying to be proactive about her hair before all of that happened. What is funny is I had someone come do her hair before the Olympics. We put all this effort into getting her hair done and they still didn’t like it!

    The interview continues on with Gabby’s mother speaking on all the trials and tribulations she has endured when it came to her daughter’s hair. Her mother actually did an entire interview about her hair – so it does matter. Her mother knows it matters. Her mother understands the obsession. 

    At 16, almost no one reading this, nor myself, has accomplished even a small portion of what Gabby has. We were caught up in the vanity of being a teen; while Gabby is consumed with continuing to trump records. She simply doesn’t care about her hair; she cares about winning.

    When Gabby took home the gold, the entire world was watching a black girl beat out every single slick ponytail in the stadium.

    When she took the mat, she represented every single black girl with a dream and quite frankly, other black women just wanted to see her look flawless doing it and leaving zero room for criticism.

    This is not a problem that the media created, I don’t think focusing on her hair is outshining her competitive edge, nor is it debunking the fact that she is a immaculate gymnast, it is just proving our absolute obsession when it comes to hair, and Gabby is a brave, brave girl for facing their criticism with a sparkling smile.

    But know this, whether Gabby won that gold or if her hair was laced and flawless, it would still be a topic of conversation.

    When Viola Davis hit the red carpet for the Oscars sporting natural hair, it was commented on. When Beyonce box braided her hair, we spoke about it. When a friend changes her hair, we comment on it. This is nothing new.

    We love hair, we talk about hair, and we obsess over hair.

    So while people may shut up about Gabby’s hair soon, it’s only a matter of time before the $90 billion hair industry gets them talking again, while she promenades along merrily with her crowning glory styled any way she pleases – gold medal in hand. 

    -Rachel H.

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