I was a little girl who wanted to be called pretty in the 1970s. I knew that to be cute you were supposed to have long, lustrous hair. My mother spent endless hours straightening and braiding my hair. As a Catholic school girl, I wore long pigtails with ribbons attached to it. I was proud of my tresses. Always dreading that my hair would “kink” if I sweat or my “kitchen” would show.
Historically, long, straight tresses — along with pale, white skin — defined beauty in the United States. Black women, our complexions the hues of a cocoa rainbow and our hair often kinky and short, didn’t fit the Euro-centric ideal, and we were made to feel less soft, less lovely, less womanly.
Hair became a thing that we obsessed over, cooking it with hot combs, slapping on lye, and assigning it the attributes of good hair and bad hair. While black women may spend the equivalent of a small nation’s gross domestic product getting our hair woven, twisted, or permed, it is not sheer vanity that drives us. Rightly or wrongly, the broader world sometimes sees our hair as a window into who we are. The treatment of Gabby Douglas is a perfect example.
Read this tweet:
Thats an olympic sport too! RT @EbonyKeira: In Olympic news, why hasn't anyone tried to fix Gabby Douglas' hair?—
Spotswood Rice (@DrKillaCal) July 29, 2012
Read this quote:
“I love how she’s doing her thing and winning. But I just hate the way her hair looks with all those pins and gel. I wish someone could have helped her make it look better since she’s being seen all over the world. She representing for black women everywhere”- says 22-year-old Latisha Jenkins of Detroit to “The Daily Beast”
The gold medal victory of Gabrielle “Gabby, The Flying Squirrel” Douglas was used as a moment to critique her hair. Did you not see the hours of skill that the young lady poured into her uneven bars, floor routine, vault and balance beam? Yet, twitter timelines were filled with condemnations of “look at those pins, clips, gel and naps”. First, she was wearing her hair in the same formation as her teammates. It’s regulation to have your hair in a ponytail, out of your face and tucked away. You didn’t talk about Ali’s stray ends, or Jourdyn’s dullness. No, you zeroed in on the self-hatred that is the reason why we fry our hair within inches of its life.