Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas Triumphs at the Olympics…Despite Disses About The State of Her Hair and About Her Blackness
I don’t know who is worse: the Bagger-types and haters of black people who are populating You Tube, saying that blackness had nothing to do with this girl’s achievement, or the African Americans who are hating on how Gabby Douglas, 16, wore her hair when she cinched an uncommon, once in a lifetime distinction—two Olympic gold medals this week. And for an African American woman in gymnastics, one of the whitest sports on the planet? Despite the ongoing contempt of certain whites who think their color is the only one that matters along with the color green, I’m pissed more at the black sistas and sistas of color who felt that they had to pile on at a great moment in history, if not African American athletic history.
I mean, I smiled the rest of the week thinking of that girl with the biggest, most beautiful smile I’d seen in a while. I wanted a tenth of that confidence, that burning, blinding fire she possessed. Gabrielle Douglas had finally arrived. All the pain, sacrifice and self-doubt. Gone. It was a smile of complete confidence, of owning herself and her body and the moment to come and beyond. She was in that Zone. That bar, that floor was nothing except hers.
Those other girls on Team USA paled—and that is the word, paled—in comparison. Jordyn Wieber was supposed to be the golden girl, and the media promoted that meme until the cows came home, but guess what happened? Wieber cracked and Gabby rose to the challenge.
Were these online sistas jealous, then? Perhaps, but this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This is all tied up with the code of black people having to represent themselves, albeit positively, to the wider world. No, this is serious business brought down through the generations. It means not embarrassing anyone back home in Ghetto or Hood Podunk with bad behavior or negative appearance.
Adherence to this code transmits something about how you were raised and what kind of people you came from. It is rooted in acceptance–of which we have had little lately either from each other or the wider world. For black women, hair is still a controversial topic. If your hair is seen to look different, unkempt, out-of-fashion, it nails you as a certain kind of person in the community. Never mind that you might be the most gentle, warm, girl-next-door, cultured, studious and professional of individuals. If your hair is through, there is something intrinsically wrong with you as a black person.
Didn’t they know that in order for Gabby to win that gold, she had to sweat? Imagine if Gabby Douglas had been a swimmer. I know I got a lot of flack back in the day for swimming—a “white” sport—rather than running track–at least, I would save my hair. First, the cutting comments. This was from Photobucket, via The Loop 21:
What are they are going to do next? Dog her dancing skills?
Sorry, but there aren’t that many hair braiders in Iowa, not that Gabby had time to sit in a a chair for half a day talking trash, gossip, and ordering new cosmetics, jewelry or greasy food out. Her mother reluctantly sent her, at 14, to West Des Moines to prepare for excellence, not to merely focus on her looks. (Her sister Arielle, seven years her senior, intercedes for the other children with their mother, and that is how Gabby got to focus on her skills.) Gabby was home-schooled; she did not matriculate at a public high school, so she had few if any black peers during these two years. She attended Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance Institute, headed by Chinese American Liang Chow, who came to this country in 1991. So it was intense: school, work, church, home, 24/7.
Focusing within and becoming disciplined is not self-hatred. Furthermore, The Olympics is not a reality show or competition no matter how much trash talk has been on Twitter lately between competitors. Thankfully, some folks with better sensibilities are in support of Gabby, but reading about such nonsense is galling, to say the least.
Why do we do this to each other? Why can’t we just be happy for her accomplishments? Making it to the Olympics is a big deal. Winning a medal is a bigger deal. If you just read over the comments like I initially did, you might just write the authors of these comments off as haters. I was real close to doing that. But as I re-read some of the comments, I realized that the comments were only symptoms of a series of the author’s underlying issues. It’s kind of like stank breath. The funk coming from the mouth is not the issue. It’s the bacteria, remnants of rotting food, or the rotten tooth causing the odor that’s the real problem. In my world, these are the issues those three comments really touch on:
1) A large number of Black women do not work out because of their beloved hairstyle. This is so sad and this is why Sporty Afros was created. We are here to help women with their workout hair care solutions and crush excuses such as “I can’t workout because of my hair.”
2) Many of us, Black women, have acquired the horrible habit of criticizing each other from head to toe with no regards of its repercussions. It’s almost like a sport to see how many laughs or likes one’s criticisms can get on Facebook or retweets on Twitter. Once again criticism has trumped compliments. And as a Black woman, this saddens me.
3) Putting more focus on Gabby’s hair and not her athleticism proves many of us are still missing the point on where true beauty, strength, and health lies. Some of us are sitting up right now with our hair done but suffering from high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, obesity, and/or a lack of energy. Oh, but the hair is on point. As mentioned earlier, I don’t know Gabby Douglas personally and I would never try to speak on her behalf. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that she considers her health and fitness level to be a little more important than her hair staying in place.
The endorsements are already rolling in for Gabby Douglas. First, it was Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Before that, it was Proctor and Gamble. P&G will probably use her for everything in their toiletries line, which includes the brands Olay, Pantene, and Secret. Eventually everyone will want a piece of her. And Gabby could easily return four years from now, in her early twenties, to try for Olympic gold again. The sky is the limit. Enough time and money to afford her all the hairdos she wants.
Experts have estimated the Olympic golden girl could bring in up to $10 million in endorsements over the next few years.
“Gabby Douglas is perfect for family oriented brands that are looking for someone that portrays all of those classic Middle America values,” said Robert Tuchman, a sports marketing analyst.
Douglas’ girl-next-door image could attract a variety of brands, from shoes and make-up to toothpaste and cars, analysts said.
The P&G and Kellogg deals will likely preclude competing personal care and food brands from making similar deals. But other categories seem wide open, such as apparel, Mr. Andrews noted. Still, he added, she is not likely to reach the sponsorship saturation of Mary Lou Retton, whose stardom and endorsement power lived on for years after becoming the first American woman to win all-around gold at the 1984 Olympics. “Nowadays both the companies and the athletes are a little bit more judicious in what deals they do,” Mr. Andrews said. “I’m sure she has representation who is going to carefully select a handful of partners that make the most sense so that she is not over-exposed.”
Also, because it’s usually difficult for gymnasts to compete in multiple Olympics, “it’s an intense burst” of attention, “but it has a very short shelf life,” said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp, a sports-business consulting firm. “Effectively, they are in competition with the … figure skaters,” he said. And in the current era, when the summer games are followed by the Winter Olympics just two years later, “by the winter of 2014, the same sponsors and the same media attention will be focused on the figure skaters,” he said, especially if there is a U.S. gold-winner on the rink.
Well, money will not buy Gabby Douglas happiness, but it will allow her to pay her debts, reward her parents and hosts, prepare for Brazil in 2016, and put a little away for a college scholarship. Let’s be frank, it’s not that she will be living large by any means, but she will be more comfortable and the money will pave the way to more achievement and a nest egg. If her parents are anything like Venus and Serena Williams’s—and it appears as if they are—there will be no craziness.
I’m proud of this young sister, and even if she doesn’t make it to Brazil, she is in the history books for all time.
Gabby Douglas will return to Olympic competition on August 6 and August 7. She will perform on the uneven bars on August 6 and then on the balance beam on August 7. It is entirely possible that she could take home two more gold medals in these categories. I wish her well.
- Gabby Douglas’ Impact Goes Far Beyond Sports (theroot.com)
- (Olympic Spoiler Alert) Gabby Douglas Wins Gold – Black Girls Rock! (goodmenproject.com)
- Gabby Douglas’ Hair Sparks Debate: Why? (thehollywoodgossip.com)
- Haters Need to Shut the Hell Up About Gabby Douglas’ Hair (jezebel.com)
- Forgive them, Gabby, They Know Not What They Do! (brownbetty253.com)
- Where Gabby Douglas Can’t Win (thedailybeast.com)
- Jeneé Osterheldt | Leave Gabby’s hair alone (kansascity.com)
- How Gabby Douglas Changed the World (totallytotallysports.com)
- Why Do People Care About Gabby Douglas’ Hair? (bossip.com)
- Racism Review: Gabrielle Douglas – Accenting Black Women’s Talent, Agency, Femininity (migranttales.net)