Gabby Douglas: A Hero, Her Hair, My Heartache

Take Charge on 08.17.12
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Photo: sampics/Corbis

A funny thing happened when I first saw Gabby Douglas. I fell in love with her; my five-year-old spit-fire self, my sixteen-year-old dedicated track-star self and my 49 1/2 year-old mother-of-two self all loved her instantly. Gabby grabbed my heart with that winning smile, perfect athleticism and the look in her eye. I was cheering her on as if I were her mother, just like the rest of the country. Then it happened.

The haters. They always show up no matter what you do or how well you do it, and they were coming for Gabby. They couldn't go after her skill (she was flawless at the start of the Olympics), they couldn't go after her dedication (she moved from her home, lived with strangers, battled homesickness and put her body through torture to be one of those five girls), so what did they do? They went after her hair.

The haters took to Twitter to trash America's sweetheart. But you want to know what really tore me up? The fact that the most vociferous among them, the ones spewing the most vitriol, looked like her; they were women of color. Now, the reasons are far too numerous for me to detail in this space but suffice it to say, hair is a huge deal to women, even more to women of color. It's less about the follicles and more about falling in line; presenting an acceptable standard of beauty for which black women spend millions to achieve. Luckily, that is changing as more and more women (myself included) embrace their natural locks and the freedom that comes with that.

Gabby's locks, whether chemically straightened or naturally curly, were not the thing I was watching for. Neither were the judges. But it was the only thing a small group of small-minded people could see. In a country with the kind of obesity problems we have and where video games reign supreme, shouldn't we be applauding Gabby for providing a great example of the what we can do with practice, drive and determination? Don't say it; we know what the answer is.

Hair's the thing: Gabby is and always will be a hero to me.

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