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Why the big hairy deal over Gabby Douglas’ ponytail?

US gymnast Gabrielle Douglas looks wh

US gymnast Gabrielle Douglas looks on wh

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Updated: September 8, 2012 6:12AM



When gold-medalist Gabby Douglas stepped into the arena at the London Olympics, I knew black women were going to have something to say about her hair.

But before social media took over the world, the conversation about the 16-year-old’s hair would not have made it out of the living room.

Now that Facebook and Twitter have given everyone the tools to broadcast an opinion, it only took seconds for the debate over Gabby’s ponytail to become a brawl.

“I love how she’s doing her thing and winning,” Latisha Jenkins, 22, of Detroit, told the Daily Beast shortly after Douglas won gold.

“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 is representing for black women everywhere,” Jenkins concluded.

“I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair?” Gabby said in an interview with the Associated Press. “I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair? I don’t think people should be worried about that.’ ”

That’s what you’d expect a 16-year-old to say.

I raised two daughters and have two granddaughters. Our biggest fights were about hair. It’s a curse that has been handed down through the generations. At one point, I warned my eldest granddaughter that I wasn’t going to take her shopping as long as she was tormenting her gorgeous curly hair with gooey gels and an army of hair clips. Needless to say, we didn’t go shopping for a long while.

Her mother, whose parents emigrated from India, didn’t have a clue as to what to do to groom her daughter’s hair after she shampooed it. By the time my granddaughter reached her teens, she was experimenting with all kinds of gels to control the curls and frizz.

Some of us noticed Gabby’s rough pony­tail not because we are haters but because we’ve been there. Whether black people should have been tweeting about it is another story. The criticism about Gabby’s hair has made the commentators appear petty and small-minded.

“I think it is absolutely horrible,” said Lucretia London, a natural hairstylist at Red Karma Salon. “I was upset that it even made CNN. Why are we making such a big deal over her hair when she has achieved so much?” Still, London admitted that Gabby’s hair did make an unfortunate first impression.

“I did have a quick thought that I wish someone had done her hair,” London said. “But that’s because I do hair. It was a thought. It was nothing verbal. I was ecstatic about her winning gold.

“The problem is people have made a big deal of her hair. The girl is perspiring. Half the white girls’ hair was looking a mess, too. They had lots of bobby pins and clips. Why is it just” Gabby?

The fact that Gabby spent the last two years living with a white family in Iowa likely explains the hairstyle. In fact, the average white person would not think there’s anything wrong with her hair.

But black women have hair issues.

African-American women have alternated between embracing straight hair as the desirable standard of beauty and saying to heck with it and wearing it natural.

But a black woman’s desire to keep up her hair no matter what state it is in has built a billion-dollar industry.

It doesn’t matter whether she wears a flowing weave, kinky braids, puffy Afro, knotty dreads or a press and curl, as long as the hairstyle is freshly done.

“From a hairstylist point of view, I wish I could have done [Gabby’s] hair,” London said. “I would have slicked it, molded it and put her under the dryer and given her a nicer ponytail. “I didn’t see any of that when I was watching her. I used to be a gymnast as a kid and I was just elated over her performance.”

Obviously, some of the people who contributed to this firestorm were haters,” London said.

But I think most critics were upset that no one was around to make sure Gabby’s hair was properly laid.



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