Monday, August 6, 2012

Gabby’s Hair-Why Do We Care?

Gabby Douglas Ponytail
“gabby douglas gotta do something with this hair! these clips and this brown gel residue aint it”
“Gabby Douglas needs to tame the beady beads in the back of her hair.”

“Why hasn’t anyone tried to fix Gabby Douglas’ hair?”

The media has been all aflutter recently with Gabrielle Douglas’s gold medal win in the team component, as well as the All-Around competition, the only American to ever do both. Douglas is of course also the first African-American competitor to do both as well, in a sport normally dominated by whites and Asians. Rather than talk about her amazing feats and gravity defying stunts, most of the articles I’ve read revolve around her hair, and what some nitwits on Twitter and other social media platforms have said about her hair.

Apparently there were some people who felt her hair was not “done” enough, and others who thought that her edges needed some work.  Before we go any further, so we can all be on the same page with this, a mini-primer:

By saying that her edges needed work, the commentator was basically saying that they thought that Gabby was a little overdue in needing a relaxer touch-up, a process which is usually done every 6-8 weeks, or the person possibly meant that if Douglas's hair was straightened via hot comb, that she could use a little heat around her roots, which were starting to revert back to their naturally curly state, usually considered a hair faux pas if the rest of the hair is otherwise straight.

I was first alerted to gossip about Douglas’s hair by a friend of mine earlier this week, and I have watched it explode in the mainstream media since then.  I have resisted writing about it, because, in the end, I don’t think it really matters.  Olympic gymnastics is the only competition I make sure to watch, not only because of the grace, artistry, and difficulty that the gymnasts demonstrate, but because I get to snark on the girls quite a bit.  I have said jokingly, out loud to my son, while watching the gymnasts, “someone really needs to dial back on the eye shadow!”, and “did the glitter fairy explode all over her head?”  I did notice that at times Douglas’s hair was not up to speed, but I figured, like most reasonable adults, that she had bigger things on her mind, like WINNING A GOLD MEDAL to care very much about her hair in detail.  I don’t use Twitter, but to my understanding, it seems to consist mostly of people’s thought diarrhea caught in the written form, in real time.  So I wasn’t very surprised that a handful of people had something to say about Douglas’s hair.  I’m also positive that the small number of people who criticized her hair were swamped by the millions of people who Facebooked, Tweeted, and just talked on the phone about how proud they were of her.

So why all the fuss then, if only a relatively few people had something to say about Douglas’s hair?  I believe that the topic is only a partially sublimated way to talk about that other third rail of American politics, race.  On the night that she won the All-Around, NBC had a very uncomfortable-looking Bob Costas very tentatively mention that Gabrielle Douglas was the first African-American to win that particular competition.  He looked very awkward, as if there was something wrong in mentioning that fact.  Then, we get all of these articles that talk about the fact that Douglas’s hair was criticized, by other black people no less (!), and then of course, the response articles to explain What It All Means for black people in America.  All for what seems to be a few stray “mean girl” type comments on the internet, of the type that you can find on any black gossip board, about almost any black celebrity who is in the public eye long enough.  It’s about the equivalent of the “OMG, she is sooo fat!” that you find about white female celebrities on the same type of gossip boards.

Frankly, I have been more disturbed by the lack of coverage for Douglas, period, than anything else.  I’m not the only one.  While I realize that it has taken the media awhile to jump ship from the front-runner Weiber’s fan base, onto Douglas’s, I think it took entirely too long.  While Douglas, one of five on the team, managed to score 33% of the points, and was the only person to compete in all four events, I felt sure that that the media would go full steam behind her.  Instead, that night became a redemptive storyline arc for Weiber.  I don’t even think Douglas’s mom was identified as such until the All-Arounds.  They camera would often pan to Weiber’s family, where they were identified and their reactions carefully scrutinized.  The camera would occasionally flash to an unidentified black family that we were forced to assume must be Douglas’s, though it very well could be a random family out to enjoy some gymnastics. As Douglas herself once stated: I have an advantage because I’m the underdog and I’m black and no one thinks I’d ever win,” she said. “Well, I’m going to inspire so many people. Everybody will be talking about, how did she come up so fast? But I’m ready to shine.” I would much rather be talking about the shine around her neck, than the lack of shine in her hair.  Gabby agrees.

Gabrielle Douglas


  1. Yeah I thought the focus on Weiber and her brave comeback was stupid. I guess they had a certain narrative set up and couldn't figure out how to segue.

    What I liked and was drawn to about Gabby from the start of the gymnastics coverage at the Olympics (I didn't watch trials or anything) was that she just seemed so calm and so centered. The coverage on girl events is usually all about the athletes' "nerves" and I liked how Gabby just didn't fit that narrative. She was just uber-competent, professional, even. That makes her a great role model for girl athletes, who need good examples of women and girls getting the job done, not fluttering.

    For the record: I think it's strange that gymnasts wear makeup. Do any other athletes wear makeup? Doesn't that make them break out all the time?

  2. PS Awesome hair primer video. Pretty hilarious.

  3. I LOVE THIS ARTICLE!! I especially love the video . . . hehe . . .

  4. It's funny because the narrative constructed around Gabby before the Olympics is that she was prone to nerves and did not hold up well under pressure. The American gymnastics coach stated that she did not see Gabby as being "Olympic material." So In many ways, Douglas was definitely the underdog going into the competition.

    I think the gymnasts wear makeup, bedazzled leotards, glitter and such as a nod to the peformative aspects of the competition. The ice skaters (men and women) in the Winter Olympics also tend to wear makeup, likely for the same reason.

  5. But the guy gymnasts don't wear makeup...

  6. The guy gymnasts also don't "dance" to any sort of music. It really doesn't seem to be the equivalent of women's gymnastics, but it is also a lot less popular than women's gymnastics, so there is that.

  7. So synchronized swimmers wear makeup, too -’s-tribute-to-the-king-of-pop-photo/

    And now there's a whole thing about women olympians who are "fat" -

  8. It's not like they didn't have time to talk about both Weiber and Douglas - instead they kept saying the same thing over and over and over again - "I'll bet Weiber's sad right now...". I really started hating that color man. Totally sappy, totally boring, and trite trite trite. Saturday night live needs to rake him over the coals.

    Regarding makeup and so on, clearly there are some old habits dying hard about male and female roles in performance. Females dance and do ballet. Males amaze with feats of strength and agility. I guess I'm a little bit unsure value judgment-wise, but one thing is that the Russian women really own and affirm those gender roles and it does look good (I'm talking about floor routine). Maybe in the long run that dancy stuff will be relegated to the more artsy stuff that doesn't get on tv as much - rythmic gymnastics.

  9. The Russians do look very graceful, though their routines don't look as hard as the Americans. I did love all the diva behavior from them, at least they showed some flashes of real personality, unlike the Americans who seem to have a ton of media training.

  10. The Russians are definitely more graceful, but women's "artistic" gymnastics in general has been moving away from the more graceful, dancier elements towards feats of sheer athleticism and strength, like men's. Coming from a dance background, I wish they'd drop the music and pretense of dance in the women's floor exercise, because it almost always looks awful. Or stupid. Or both.

  11. Yeah, I agree. I'm happy to have dance competitions, but let's stick with the SYTYCD model, not one that's an ephemeral part of judging a sport.