Fine, let’s go there: The Olympics and Black Hair (pt. one)

BLACK HAIR has been all up in the media over the past couple days with the “controversy” about Gabby Douglass’ hair. First of all, I don’t even like calling this a “controversy”…it’s more like a social media snowballing of people’s over the top opinions about her hair. Let’s hope that all calms down because she just won gold! I mean, really…shhh. Just stop that.

Now before getting into all that, I want to take a step back and talk about my Olympic hair highlight thus far: JASMINE BREIDBURG. No she is not an athlete competeting for a medal, but she was prominently featured in the Opening Ceremony during the “digital-love-story-celebrating-the-inventor-of-the-internet-with-an-#allbritisheverything rave” sort of thang that went on. I don’t know really what was happening because I was in AWE with this girl’s hair! To see the curls so front and center being broadcast around the world was a very positive way for me to open up the games. I was also a big fan to see that her parents in the performance were an interracial couple. It was a subtle, yet bold statement to make on a global scale about the true nature of families these days.

Jasmine Breinburg at the Opening Ceremonies. This girl and her curls are about to be capital F FAMOUS!

Gorgeous hair. Great casting. Plus one for the natural curlies and multi-ethnic and beautifully mixed folks of the world.

In the next installation of this series I’m going to be discussing the actual African American athletes and the pressures they face when it comes to their physical appearance. There are many people who think that we should focus on athletic performance and not an athlete’s hair, which I get—it’s about winning medals not a swimsuit pageant. But the bottom line is, HELLO!!!!! BLACK PEOPLE ARE ***ALWAYS*** THINKING ABOUT THEIR HAIR. That’s why the ethnic hair care market is an $8 billion dollar a year industry segment. That’s why people are [rightfully] investing in the natural hair movement. That’s why you’re reading this very blog at this very moment. As I always say, “it’s just hair, but it’s not just hair.” It can be dyed, cut, bleached and it will grow. But there are so many social and cultural implications and weight attached to our hair that gives it a much deeper meaning.

As much as I want to say that Gabby and the other athletes “should ignore their hair”, we all know darn well that’s not possible. As African American females, natural or relaxed, athletes or spectators, how our hair is presented is always a factor to be considered. I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong, nor am I saying that their hair needs to be a primary focus or priority. When it comes to being an African-American athlete there is a double standard, pressures and unique challenges that exists when it comes to their hair.

I’m really looking forward to exploring and discussing (not criticizing or speaking negatively about) these issues with you next week!

Happy weekend, y’all!

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13 Comments

  1. She’s 16 and she’s not living with her parents! people need to give this girl a break. I know sixteen year old girls that look just like this and they are not athletes. She will find out what works for her and it may even take longer because she is an athlete and does not have time to play vanity in the mirror like some other teenagers. Maybe some of these professionals that have commented (not necessarily negative) like Damone Roberts and Larry Simms will help her out. She’s a beautiful girl and she is great.

  2. I don’t think anyone should be ctiticizing Gabby Douglas’s hair or any other athelete’s for that matter. We should be recognizing the greatness of her even competing in the Olympics since there are so few African-Americans who compete in gymnastics. So billion dollar hair industry or not it’s totally absurd and uncalled for. Her hair doesn’t look any worse than any of the others. She has it slicked back in a ponytail. Standard hairstyle in gymnastics. Fly aways are normal when flipping, flying, jumping, and sweating. Shallow is what this type of criticism is! Frankly I’m embarrassed that African-Americans can never be supportive of eachother. It’s the 21st century and there are only 1 or 2 blacks represented in gymnastics and swimming. I think that should be the focus. Why aren’t there more of us? How can we get more of us out there competing like Gabby Douglas?

    • Just thought I’d comment on why there aren’t more black athletes in certain sports–>lack of resources. The reasons are myriad depending on which sport it is. For instance, many African Americans in the U.S. don’t swim either because they have no access to a pool or if there was a pool, no-one took the initiative to teach them at a young age. Did you know that kids with parents who can’t swim, are also more likely not to know? The history of segregation also dealt a heavy blow, because many older people were denied access to a pool when they were young.

      Similar reasons may also exist for black people in other parts of the world. Cultural or religious reasons too. For instance, muslim girls are required to cover up, that may make it difficult for some to venture into some sports where the attire is considered revealing. I personally witnessed this in high school.

  3. As an athlete, hair is not the primary focus – it just isn’t. Think of the many times you’ve seen venus and serena with bad weaves, yet they creamed their competition. Many track & field athletes have weaves that aren’t the best. think of the athletes from third world countries who are black and just appear to not give a hoot about hairstyle, but again are excellent athletes. but my point is as an athlete your primary focus, primary priority is on your sport not the aesthetics of how you look. Black spectators invest too much time in how the athlete looks esp the hair, but for the athlete its not the primary focus.

  4. What amazes me is people focus on her outward appearance instead of being in awe of the humility and grace Gabby exhibits. When she spoke during interviews, all I could do was smile. I hear her youth, I hear her appreciation and I hear the praises coming out of her. What a down to earth young lady.
    She is a jewel that we should edify and not find ways to tear down. I hope we can see what Gabby means to gymnasts, in terms of role modeling, and embrace that. Hair issues (if you can even call it that) will take care of itself.

    Finally, who doesn’t have hair issues, especially after sweating and flipping continously? Her ponytail looked fine and appropriate. Please just celebrate Gabby Douglas and her family.

  5. I agree with all of the above comments. It is honestly so distasteful that the only thing we can do is sit around and discuss a SIXTEEN year old’s bad hair! – ____- And a 16 year old who won a gold medal at that! I was in complete disbelief and every time I hear a discussion of this I continually SMH. I can’t even describe how upsetting this is. Instead of celebrating her victory we’re criticizing her hair? Lol. I’m in disbelief.

    While I do agree that black hair is a huge part of any woman or even man’s life, I don’t agree that the topic of Gabby Douglas’ hair should be the topic of anyone’s twitter/facebook/instagram/tumbler or any other social media network. She just won a GOLD MEDAL. Not only that, she was the FIRST– let me repeat that: the FIRST– Black women to win a gold medal in that area (all around gymnastics.) She is a black 16 year old girl: WAKE UP everyone. This is some huge stuff and yet we’re focused on the little girl’s hair. All I can do is SMH!

  6. What Chinyere just said.

  7. I wish the discussions included the internalized racism that makes hair so important to some of us and helps people understand the criticism (even though it is wrong on many levels). There is a reason why some people think that her hair should be perfect at all times. And it is deeper than jealousy, or crabs in a barrell, or black people not supporting themselves (although the fixation on hair at the expense of other things is problematic).

    Instead, we get black people AND white people jumping in on how black people treat each other, ignoring the fact that they ignored Gabby b/c they were so busy weeping for Jordan Wieber, and also ignoring the fact that black female athletes and their looks are frequently attacked by people of ALL races…

  8. Hi Cassidy,
    Hey I have a question:
    Remember my daughter Simone (I’m Elizabeth, Jacob’s sister)
    Well, the lady who has trimmed and styled Simone’s hair the last few times has recommended “CHI enviro smoothing treatment” for Simone’s hair. It is supposed to be a safe alternative to harmful keratin treatments and it would allow her to wear her hair down and curly but without getting as tangled as it does and it would be more moisturized…..
    Do you know anything about this??!!
    Please advise :)

    Elizabeth

  9. I agree with you 100% and I am so glad that you made this statement. There’s a double standard and heavy society pressure on us, both intra- and inter-culturally when it comes to our appearance. Especially on Black women, and most of that is rooted in racism. People need to stop with the “it’s just hair” statements and acknowledge that very real truth. And an intelligent, solution-oriented discussion about that will IN NO WAY diminish Gabby’s accomplishments.

  10. I don’t think we should be criticising Gabby’s hair or any other athletes for that matter. It’s damn near impossible to be perfectly coiffed all the time when you spend your time sweating and working vigorously to excel at your sport.

    However, there should still be an attempt to look decent–(I should say here, I thought Gabby’s hair was okay). I think this is one reason to share the knowledge on good hair care practices for “black-hair”. I’m sure that some of these athletes do struggle with maintaining their manes. They are not on a catwalk but their images are beamed worldwide and they want to look AND feel confident. Appearance is a part of that. And let’s not kid ourselves either, some young girls and even grown women balk at the idea of participating in sports because they are afraid sweat will mess up their do’s. Personally, learning a little bit more about hair in general gave me a boost in confidence to go to the gym or swim whenever I wanted irrespective of the style I was wearing at the time.

  11. Cassidy, per this post and the one on essence, what do you say or do when everyday people dis your hair? i think i know what to do when someone I have to deal with in a professional manner disses my hair, but what about everyday people, partners, friends, lovers, dis your hair? I just don’t know what to do beyond roll my eyes and make a joke about ignorant comments. Thoughts???

  12. Pingback: The Olympics and Black Hair (Part 2)

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