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Why are African-American women criticizing Gabby Douglas’ hair?

U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas rests between routines during artistic gymnastics women’s individual all-around competiti2012 Summer Olympics last week.  |

U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas rests between routines during the artistic gymnastics women’s individual all-around competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics last week. | Julie Jacobson~AP

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Updated: September 10, 2012 1:34PM



If I were Gabby’s daddy, I’d tell her, “You are beautiful just the way you are — whether your hair is in gel and bobby pins, whether thick or thin, or fashioned in woolen locks, or trimmed in a short natural, or even in two big Afro puffs.”

I’d tell her, “Girl, you’ve got the right stuff!”

If I were Gabby Douglas’ daddy, I’d tell her, “You can be happy with your hair nappy.”

I’d tell her that it’s not what’s on her head but what’s inside her head and heart that matters. That your hair was made by your creator, fashioned from DNA that makes you uniquely you. That your hair is beautiful the way it sprouts at its roots from your head.

That black hair is not a curse but your blessing.

That something so minuscule as hair is not the sum of you.

That should you someday choose to allow Revlon or Dark and Lovely to help accentuate your beauty, their effects will pale next to the beauty that is naturally and incomparably you.

I’d tell her the time has now come when all women — and men — should be judged by the content of their character, not the texture of their hair.

And yet, it is clear that chief among those who apparently have yet to get the hair memo are some African-American women.

That is evident from the criticism that continues to percolate over the hairdo of the 16-year-old gymnast who earned two Olympic gold medals. For such critics, Gabby’s performance may have been nearly flawless but she gets major deductions for her hairdo.

Too much gel. Too many hairpins. Too frayed at the edges and screaming for a good dose of perm, or maybe for a few fresh locks of Indian Remy hairweave — that “good” stuff.

Gabby’s hair, pulled back in a ponytail, to some, begged for a tighter, fresher look — one fit to better represent black women in this, her — their — global shining moment.

For the record, here’s one black male who was left scratching his shiny bald head, wondering why in hell, after a young woman who had persevered and trained for years to rise to world-class status, anyone — least of all anyone black — would give a rat’s fart what her hair looked like.

It speaks to me of something much deeper.

Of black women’s continued obsession with burning — by chemical relaxers and hot combs — for at least a century. It speaks of the love-hate relationship with their natural hair, especially where hair is more Afrocentric, coarse and curly, particularly in a world where the standard of beauty is more Eurocentric. It speaks to the current addiction to hairweave.

And while I believe sisters who criticize Gabby’s hair don’t mean any real harm, it is especially sad and only demonstrates how much further as a people we have to go — to grow.

If it were Don Imus making comments about Gabby’s hair the way he did in 2007 about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, black women and men would be up in arms.

But I ask, “What’s the difference?”

I can’t imagine any slave led to freedom by Harriet Tubman ever cared what the Underground Railroad leader’s hair looked like beneath her scarf.

I also can’t imagine any sister’s hairweave and nails looking more glamorous than some of those foul-mouthed, bed-hopping, brawling sisters on some reality TV shows, who give black women a bad name.

If I were Gabby’s daddy, I’d tell her what I tell my own 16-year-old daughter, “I am so proud. Just keep doing you, girl, do you.”

And that’s simply beautiful.



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