Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas’ Hair & Policing Black Athletes (CFC Opinion)

Photo credit: Essence.com

I was talking to my friend Jane (of Passport Addict fame!) on the phone about the Olympic games last night and the subject of Gabby Douglas, the 16-year old, African-American, Olympic phenom came up.

Jane: “Did you hear what people are tweeting about Gabby Douglas?”
Me: “What? That she won the gold?”
Jane: “No! People are tweeting about her hair.”


(You can read the Huffington Post article, which features some of the hair tweets, here. Jezebel also has an article on it all here, too.) I planned to do a longer post about black women, exercise and hair, but this topic seemed too ripe to wait on.

I suppose on the one hand the tweets and comments about Gabby’s hair aren’t surprising- people will always have critical things to say about celebrities and public figures.

What bothers me is how the bright, supreme talent of a beautiful young black gymnast was (even slightly) over-shadowed by the ‘black beauty police’. Here we have a girl setting an example of women of color who are engaged in the most challenging test of physical fitness, and (black) people want to talk about her hair? About brown hair gel? About fish clips? Like, seriously?

Photo credit: Bossip.com

So all this gossip about Gabby got me thinking: Where does this fear of “unkempt black hair” come from? Why do so many black people cringe at the thought of kinky roots or a nappy nape? The obvious answer is history. Black people in America have long been depicted as unclean, unkempt and unprofessional. To combat that depiction, the black community has had to present itself as exceptionally clean, proper and put-together. It’s a defense mechanism- I get it.

But what I don’t get is the obsession with policing black hair when it comes to exercise and fitness.  Because looking “just-so” just has no place in the gym. On a treadmill. In a spin class. Kickboxing. I’m sorry, but your hair will be out of place. You will sweat. Your curls will fall.

And you know what? I think all that messiness in the gym is okay. In fact, I think it’s necessary, because when you’re working out, the focus can’t be on how you look on the outside, it has to be on what you’re doing for your body on the insideIt has to be about more than appearances; it has to be about you.

When I think about this young black girl who has dedicated her life to a sport, to being in peak shape for physical competition, to being the best- it doesn’t shock me that her hair isn’t perfect. How could it be? Why does it need to be?  I suppose because she’s a black Olympic athlete she should have a bottle of Fabu-laxer on stand-by after each of her floor routines?


These critiques do more to support the idea that the black community values hair over health, style over substance. If we truly want to move towards being a healthier community, we have to let go of the idea that looking better on the outside is more relevant than how we feel on the inside. We have to stop living according to an old defense mechanism that has become maladaptive. And we have to value our champions who set a physical example of greatness for us.

I hope Gabby hasn’t even heard about these tweets. And if she has, I hope that she’s shaking off all the haters and enjoying that Gold medal…because she’s truly a superstar (and I would love to interview her! 😉 ).

What do you think? Are black athletes held to a different beauty standard? Do you think Gabby should have done more/something different with her hair? Does the state of her hair matter (to you)? -CFC

UPDATE!!!: Check out what Dominique Dawes thinks about the Gabby Douglas hair gossip by clicking here!


About ChicFitChef

My "deserted island" checklist: a BCBG dress, a healthy & diabetic-friendly meal and a few workout DVDs. ;-)
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17 Responses to Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas’ Hair & Policing Black Athletes (CFC Opinion)

  1. I agree with a lot of the points in the articles talking about Gabby’s hair. However, as a woman who exercises and tries to maintain her appearance (hair included), I would be lying if I didn’t notice her hair (especially when I watched the trials.) I didn’t conflate the two though – my thoughts about her hair never once took away from how I looked at her talent, which is extraordinary. But, at the end of the day this discussion is needed in our community, and it looks like Ms. Gabby was the perfect catalyst.

    • aaliyah says:

      “this discussion is needed in our community”, maybe, but not at the way its presented. The “discussion” was nothing but a bunch of tasteless tweets criticizing this girl’s hair. What was the problem with it? It was pulled back as it should of been seeing she would be doing all sorts of backflips and backbends. This whole thing was a mess, it seems that as soon as one of our women gets to the top we have to tear them down. We as a people can do better.

  2. Celester says:

    Wow. I have gotten frustrated to no END, how many of my friends/family won’t come excercise/run/yoga because they don’t want to @$)(@$ up their hair. Yes mommie,auntie,cousin,ex,fellowactor, I do think your hair is gorgeous that Marta/Esme/Chante’ did at the Dominican Shops. They are beasts. But what concerns me more at this point is your muffintop/you running out of breath/being pre-diabetic. 😦 Society’s (double) Standards upset me sometimes.

  3. IW says:

    She’s also just 16. It takes a while to figure that stuff out! 🙂

  4. MK Persyn says:

    I’m not qualified to comment on the hair issue. ; ) But I WILL say that Gabby Douglas is amazing, grace and strength in motion, and gorgeous. As a fellow woman athlete–though one who could never approach her stature and accomplishments–I am so proud of her from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. YOU GO GABBY!

  5. Vickey Hayes says:

    I never paid attention to her hair just her talent. The judges won’t take off points for her hair., besides pulled back into a ponytail I think is just fine. She trying to win a competition not a man.

  6. Pingback: Are You Kidding Me? | Free Heart Of Truth

  7. Nekisha P. says:

    I agree with the fact that those comments are unfortunate. I too came out in support of Gabby!http://freeheartoftruth.com/are-you-kidding-me/ #commentlove

  8. Tim Walker says:

    You nuts talking about this sisters hair, can you say that you are ranked number one in anything. Not, get a life. If you put that much into your personal life you would not notice little things that don’t amount to nothing.

  9. Kandi says:

    Black women PLEASE stop. Realize that this is a 16 year old who just made history. If you actually worked out yourself, you would understand why hair gets messed up. We sweat when we exercise.
    I would rather see this than another black woman training her daughter to give give up success for appearance. This is from a black mom

  10. Stephany says:

    Are you kidding?!!! Are woman that jealous of each other that when we succeed we need to find something to talk about? Gabby is someone we should all be proud of. A young girl who worked hard and came out on top, the best in the world. Her hair pulled back in a ponytail, with clips looked like the rest of the competitors. So, if you are discussing the athletes, lets talk about how low Michael Phelps shorts are worn, the tatoos on one swimmer, the eye make-up on the Russian girls……This is from a white woman.

  11. Sophie says:

    There has been a lot of attention paid this Olympics to female athletes’ bodies, from the Australian swimmer who was called fat in a national newspaper, to the depiction of the female volleyball players, etc. And let us not forget that Vogue–that paean to mainstream, homogenized, and often shaming notions of female beauty–featured three Olympic athletes on their cover: the conventionally ‘hot’ (and white) Hope Solo and Ryan Lochte, and the already extraordinarily famous Serena Williams. I.e., they’re not really celebrating fitness and athleticism, but continuing to promote narrow ideas of beauty and fame. Is attention to Douglas’ hair different because of the deeply ingrained interconnections between race and beauty? Perhaps, but I think it’s a symptom of the very traditional demands we place on those in the spotlight, which touch on race, but also gender.

  12. Marcy Glickman says:

    I am proud of ALL American men and women representing our country as team USA in the London Olympics, 2012. Like Lochte, Franklin, Leyva, and others, Gabby Douglas gets the gold. America sent the best of the best who prepared and trained to make it there and win. Congratulations team USA….and keep smiling, Gabby. Those making negative comments need to get over it, and be ashamed. Go Team USA! By the way folks, I did say the OlYMPICS, didn’t I? Again, I repeat — this is the OLYMPICS!

  13. Tina Swilling says:

    i believe that the jealousy is so strong with some people that they have to find the smallest, most minute piece of whatever to be able to say something bad about. I am so proud of this little girl like she is a relative. Leave her alone and go find something to do with your life that people can be proud of, too.

  14. Pingback: Last Article Idea for Backlash Internship: Gabby Douglas’ Hair (Open for all Comments) | Timotheus "Pharaoh" Gordon

  15. Pingback: Being Black & Fit – 3 Myths Holding Us Back | ChicFitChef

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