First and foremost, let’s talk about Gabby Douglas.
When Gabby Douglas won Olympic gold I was so deeply moved by her that I immediately began to search for .gifs of her mother crying in her brother’s arms at the ceremony. You know, for Tumblr. I thought about what it would mean if I began to call a 16-year-old girl my hero at the age of 22, but I was honestly so partial to her fuschia Olympic uniform that I gave up on whether or not it was embarrassing. Gabby Douglas is amazing. She made history, and she is amazing. End of story.
While I perused the Internet for the best high-quality photos of the USA Olympic Gymnastics team for my blog, countless others turned to Twitter for a different kind of conversation about Gabby Douglas. This conversation was about her hair. About her hair, and whether or not it somehow disqualified her from her historic achievements. This woman’s mother went into bankruptcy to get her daughter to the Olympics and all these haters on the Internet can do is wobble around in their desk chairs and make fun of her hair:
I mean, can you even imagine?
A conversation on Douglas’ hair, however, wasn’t had. Even the lamestream media couldn’t join in on this one, and writers started using it as a punch line. The conversation ended mostly with everyone pretending it had never happened before. Because Gabby Douglas is a black 16-year-old girl and she won the Olympics and no one has ever made fun of a black 16-year-old Olympian’s hair before, and isn’t the fact that Douglas had the opportunity to excel in front of millions of people and have her hair mocked for it really the important part? End of story.
I don’t find anything weird about an Olympian pulling and gelling her hair back before a competition, and I don’t think anyone else really does either. That’s because there’s a missing piece here. That’s because this isn’t about an Olympian’s hair. This is about Gabby Douglas’ hair. If Russia had won nobody — not one person — would have found it noteworthy that those girls were wearing some heavy eye shadow, okay? But Gabby Douglas is different. Her hair doesn’t quite look like everyone else’s. And this incident is just one more exemplification of the idea that natural hair on a person of color is weird, unseemly, unacceptable, worth laughing at, worth pointing out, worth dwelling on. It isn’t the first time people pretended natural hair wasn’t a thing anymore, or that nobody has it anymore. It isn’t the first or last time people felt entitled to use public space to mock a person of color for being a person of color — especially when they’ve outperformed everyone else in the room.
Do you not believe me? Then ask me. Ask anybody who walks around like me. Ask anybody who walks around with me. Gabby Douglas is right to be astonished that people give a fuck about an Olympian’s hairdo. I’m still astonished every time people talk to me about mine. I have a little bit of a fro situation going on.
The first time my afro needed touching-up, I walked into the salon like I owned it, sure everyone inside would be excited to see someone with such unique and creative locks. I was on some Kanye shit. But the woman at the desk looked up when I coughed, dropped her pen, and then looked back down. She gestured to a coworker to come speak for her. She was laughing at me. A man appeared to help her, and he started laughing too. As I set up my appointment out of mostly desperation, he asked me to repeat everything up to five times because he was so distracted by it, by the volume and the depth and the slightly-tilted spherical shape that was my hair, that he literally couldn’t function. He was taking deep breaths. Eventually, he sprinted away.
Months later I was put up in a hotel in Midtown of New York City for a conference. I was living the high life. I was on some Ke$ha shit. I wore a green jacket, skinny jeans, and my fro – at its highest. I was there to speak at a conference about girls’ empowerment. I was there because at the age of 20 I’d already done some incredible work around women’s rights. But one woman, when she was boarding the elevator I had just gotten off of in the Hotel Bentley, did a double take. She looked at me as if I was begging her for change. She paused before passing through the open double doors. “Good god,” she muttered.
Later that day when I walked to the conference buildings I noticed people pulling their children away from me on the street.
Having had my afro now for over 2 years, this is all commonplace. It’s not that these incidents have stopped, or have gotten easier or better. I’m merely desensitized. I’m so used to the pointing, the staring, the whispering, the giggling, that I sort of just exist in spite of it, or next to it, or a few feet away from it. Sometimes, if I’m on my Drake shit, I merely feed off of it. I strut through it. Once my friend Libby just shook her head while we were walking down the street. “God, it’s like you just aren’t even allowed to exist.” And yet I do.
This kind of shit is typical. It happens almost daily, at least weekly, sometimes multiple times in one day or in one room. But until now we haven’t been talking about it on the Internet like we should. Gabby Douglas had the opportunity to respond to those tweets, to that horrible ignorance that even started those tweets, and she did it well:
“I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair?” said Douglas, the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in team and all-around competition. “I’m like, `I just made history and people are focused on my hair?’ It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.”
Douglas uses gel, clips and a ponytail holder to keep things in place while she competes, a style she’s worn for years.
She added she has no plans to change her hairstyle anytime soon.
It kind of got me thinking that maybe posting a list of the all-time stupidest shit anyone has ever said to me about my hair would make me feel better. Like maybe I could finally end the conversation on my terms by giving them back one ounce of the embarrassment they tried to give me.
From now on I will always be on my Gabby Douglas shit.
Sh*t People Said About My Hair
1. Every single person in existence ever on the planet: “Can I touch it? I’m sorry I just had to touch it. Haha! Did you even feel that? I was touching it. God, how do you get it to do that?” ”
- My second hair stylist, mid-shampoo: “Why don’t you just wear a wig?”
My mother’s friend: “So, how was the eighties dance party last night?”
An old white dude caught laughing at me and pointing at me from approximately five feet away on the metro with his two white, blonde, blue-eyed little girls: “Sorry, sorry, I just… is that even real?”
A random boy at the party I threw in 2010 when I turned nineteen, and had had my hair for only 2 months: “You need a perm.”
6. My third hair stylist: “So you want me to blow it out straight, right?
- Dude at a bar, who I ignored multiple times and attempted walking away from and didn’t know, not even at all, and spoke whispering into my ear: “God, your hair is amazing. I just – it makes me want to do such dirty, unspeakable things to you. I would break that ‘fro in half. Because you fucking suck.”
My fourth hairstylist: “Oh my God, you know who you remind me of? Oh God, I can’t even think of her. Her name, I – I can’t remember it but you look just like her. She was in charge of the Black Panthers once. You look just like her.” (This hairstylist asked me emotionally why I never called back, weeks after.)
9. The four Megabus operators operating the bus after mine, which I had missed, as I got my things out of my suitcase outside to bring on board: “Look at her on her Michael Jackson shit. Look at that fucking Michael Jackson bush!”
10. The man following me swiftly on the sidewalk and screaming after me one morning while I’m on the phone and walking to the Metro: “Ma’am! Ma’am excuse me – ma’am, I just – where are you from?”
Wait, I’m confused– this may sound ignorant, but what is even noteworthy about Gabby Douglas’ hair?
Also, people suck about natural hair. They need to mind their own business and appreciate all sorts of hair! And not the appreciation where it’s like, “ooooh, can I touch it?”
Same here. I may be blind or may even sound ignorant as well but I don’t get what’s so noteworthy about her hair?
Also, I can kinda totally relate to your shit being told to you as my dad had and afro for ages until he was too old and got hair loss. But anyway, as an non-afroamerican in Europa, this was kind of a big deal and he was constantly told the same shit about his hair. But well, I think afros are awesome :)
Because I guess that when a black girl with natural hair does an intense workout, the sweat at the back of her neck causes it to get a little frizzy and that is like the worst thing anyone can imagine.
Wait, I would expect that kind of racist shit to come from white people, but according to those twitter avatars she’s also getting criticized by other black folks…? What’s up with that?
And I can’t believe these things people have told you, my God. Especially that dude with his two little girls! Pointing and laughing? Jesus, way to educate them asshole!
PS : I’m so jealous of your hair Carmen, it’s fierce.
In my experience, black people are MUCH, MUCH harder on other black people than is anyone else.
I have noticed this in a lot of different groups. It’s crazy. I think there’s so much internalized stuff there it’s like no one can escape the notion that one subgroup must tear down another in order to rise above. It reminds me of the not trans enough stuff that is like a goddamn disease in the trans community. It’s so easy to pick up the tools of the oppressor.
This post examines the crabs-in-a-barrel phenomenon in re: Gabby Douglas in thoughtful (and painful) detail: http://www.afrostateofmind.com/dear-gabby-hurt-sistas-hurt-other-sistas.
I have noticed it in the “groups” I’m in, too (Jewish, bi, femme) and while it manifests differently in each of these groups (will the evaluation be on body, sexual choices, or heel height?), it always hurts the most when it’s your own group judging. Empathy to you, Carmen, and to Gabby. xo
Thank you for that link. It’s a great read.
And to you.
It’s really sad that people don’t have a problem with black women truly being black women. You can’t wind for loosing. Damn every idiot with an opinion God gave me kinky curly hair and I’m going to wear it confidently!!
You do you, my friend. :)
I know I’m showing my white person ignorance here, but people really say that shit? Really?
It just would never occur to me to open up my mouth and comment publicly on someone’s appearance, regardless of how unusual I found it. What the fuck is wrong with people?
And also, as an admirer of women of all ethnicities, I have to say that I think weaves and wigs are not awesome and I waaaaaay prefer the look of natural hair on women of color.
Also, my sister in law has natural hair and she totally rocks it and I really really hope that no one has said anything mean to her about it but now I realize that’s probably not true even though she’s like, the sweetest person in the whole world.
Anyway, your hair rocks. So does Gabby Douglas.
wow so sure all the black people on here with natural hair will be relieved to know their hair meets with your approval.
Instead of looking for ally cookies with your self congratulatory rubbish ‘oh look at me I’m all enlightened and accepting’ repeat after me.
You can wear your hair however you want to wear it and if I hear or see people ripping on it for whatever reason I will pull them up on it because you shouldn’t have to deal with that shit. I won’t do it only because you’re looking or listening. I won’t do it looking for praise from the people around me. I will do it because I want to be a decent human being and part of that is fighting other people backwards ideas and actions.
wait you say it would never occur to you to open up your mouth and comment publicly on someone’s appearance, in the same comment where you say you prefer one specific “look” for a group of people? Do you not see how those are the same thing? No one is looking for anyone else’s approval of their hair choices and by putting commenting on your preference you are just enforcing this stupid idea that they should be.
Last week I was completely confused. I heard about the situation, from my sister, who heard it on NPR. She was livid because being a woman of color, society has this constant perception of what your hair ought to look like. I watched the movie Good Hair with my sister’s and mom last summer and we all have natural hair now, but we also don’t go around telling women with relaxed hair or extensions that they need to change their ways to fit this new idea. Unitl last summer I chemically straightened my hair up to four times a year. Hair is an expression of who you are, and sometimes it just needs to be functional. Paul Mooney said “When your hair is nappy, white people aren’t happy and when your hair is straight white people are great” but the most annoying part of the Gabby D Hair Sitch is that women of color are trying to tear down another successful woman of color over something fucking stupid that we only care about now because for years the majority has made us feel shame about it.
It happens to me sometimes. Older black women will ask me if I want the number to the lady who does their hair. I am only one year into my transition and because I didn’t want to cut my hair it is taking longer, and there are days I want to just relax it again because going out when it doesn’t do what you need it to is stressful. But this transition is giving me time to form a healthier relationship with my hair. For a long time I wanted straight hair so I could look like my friends, but now I want my hair to do whatever it does best.
Thank you Carmen.
My GF has hair like yours. It was the first thing I noticed about her and I LOVED it! I saw her at pride and all I could think of was: Can I please press my face in the back of your neck? So I asked her out on a date just to find out that she HATES her hair. Hates it! Because everyone always wants to touch it and she looks so different from everyone else, etc.
So she cut it all off. Entirely. We’re still together 3 years later and her hair has grown back. I think she is starting to like it and I’m in heaven, because I can press my face in the back of her neck all the time now. How can anyone not like this kind of hair? It’s THE BEST!!!
Me and my friends were irate! I mean seriously, what is a conversation about her hair going to prove, disprove, do for any damn body.
Her hair looked fine to me.
I’m Black, so I’ll say this. Most of the idiots rambling about her hair were Black, and to that, I die. Me=Dead. Ugh.
For the record…I want to touch your hair….it looks awesome! Although, I am under no false impression that you wouldn’t feel it ;)
I am white and I have quite a fro going on myself. Trust me- in the uk its becoming more common…in fact, a lot of girls these days are back combing the life out of their locks to try to achieve this look…We as women can inspire people with our look and we should embrace this, just as you have! Right on sista!
:D Live ..love.. laugh.. thats life baby! x
File under #completelymissingthepointofhairpolitics
The “right on sista” part killed me.
AHHHHHHHHHH! And I’m done.
. <— the point
wait. what is this? …what?
You *had* to be drunk and stoned when you posted this….sooo drunk and stoned.
Look… I’m going to say this as nicely as possible. If you want to be an ally to ANY cause (queer politics, feminism, anti-racism), there are 3 things you need to do as an ally.
1. Stand up for the group that you are claiming alliance with, even in the face of social disapproval from your peers. Cut off ignorant or bigoted statements with a “wow” or a “really?” or a “I can’t believe that what you actually think about _____.”
2. Listen to mainstream discourses with a critical mind. In general, mainstream= white, cis, male, straight and generally clueless, fetishistic or outright bigoted. Seek out other perspectives and choose to spend your money and energy on products and entertainment that support or feature the group you are allied with. Educate yourself, it’s not the job of individuals to be a representative and spokesperson for their entire group.
and most important:
3. SHUT THE FUCK UP. SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN. Listen to what the marginalized people are trying to tell you, and stop interrupting or trying to make their narratives fit into yours. These are NOT your stories. They might challenge your idea of yourself as a good or fair-minded persons. It’s very easy to shoehorn your own privileged perspective into these discussion but in order to truly be an ally, you have to be willing to put your preconceived notions aside and really listen. Once you have listened and understood, THEN you can tell others what you have learned.
The comment I am responding to demonstrates a failure to do any of the above. Now, you might be very naive or uninformed, so I’m trying to be gentle here but please, seriously, shut. the fuck. up. about racial issues until you know what the fuck you’re talking about.
how dare #7!!!! how dare he ugh that makes me mad >.< also, carmen i would never ask to touch your hair! ^.^ lol
Maybe it’s because I’m in the UK or maybe I’m just showing my white privilege but genuinely, what is the issue with her hair? Don’t all the gymnasts gel their hair back?
I hadn’t heard people had critiqued Gabby Douglas’ hair, how amazingly ignorant and dumb. I can’t say anything about it occurred to me one way or the other at the time (I mean who cares about the hair?), but now that I think about it from a practical view point wouldn’t having gel in your hair to keep it in place be entirely sensible for a gymnast if you’re doing all that whirling around?
Also your Afro is cool. Don’t let the bastards get you down.
I…I don’t get it. What’s wrong with her hair? Isn’t that just how lot of gymnasts put their hair up? I am so confused…it’s just…normal hair.
Ahh, finally an article I feel like I might be able to contribute to some. Though I do appreciate the love that you are shedding on Gabby for her hair, and the overall respect you have for women of color with natural hair – I think that it is a bit skewed.
First off, the tweets that are referenced are all from people of color. This to me, automatically makes it NOT a racist statement or even an attack. Being biracial, I’ve had input from people who are black, and people who are white. Honestly, when people who don’t have hair like me (white people) make a comment about my hair, I put on the brakes. Skkkkrrt! Are you trying to tell me about my hair? You have NO IDEA about my hair. Point blank. You ain’t got it, you don’t know. Shout out to the afro you rocked, but ultimately there is still a major difference in hair texture, thickness, roots, and the way it should be taken care of. Black people however, often share much more similar hair and therefore ARE more knowledgeable about how to take care of hair like theirs(though I’m sure everyone can think of an anomaly). In my family maybe by tradition but also by culture, it is appropriate for everyone to make comments about each others hair. Regardless of age, I believe that blacks usually partake in a culture where it is okay to talk about someones hair.
This leads me to the next thing, none of the tweets mention natural hair and so I’m a little confused as to why that is the basis of discussion. People were not talking about the fact that her hair is natural they were talking about the style and the gel. After doing some google research, I feel pretty safe to say that gabby’s hair is NOT natural. She definitely has a relaxer in her hair. For those of you who have watched Good Hair (not necessarily the best source of information since last time I checked, Chris Rock was a comedian and performer, but still…) relaxers are bad for you hair. Another thing bad for Black relaxed hair… GEL. Pulling your hair back into a bun or ponytail using a hair tie and gel is very bad for your hair. It’s bad for your edges, and leads to breakage. It basically rips your hair out and prevents it from growing strong and being naturally healthy.
So basically what I’m saying is that the issue is not that Gabby’s hair is natural (because it isn’t) and therefore our praise of her natural hair is, well, not correct. I think what a lot of people see, is a white family taking care of a black girl and not knowing how to do her hair properly (not knowing how to take care of it so that it can appear and be healthy). Which is also something that is very common. People take on children of a different race (which is great! Like I said, I’m biracial and love mixed families) and they have no idea how to manage something like the child’s hair because it is so different from their own. I hope I don’t sound like a broken record or rude, but I felt like it was important to point out these things out.
Meshell, your comment made me feel better about people.
I don’t think anyone, least of all the Twitter posters, were commenting on Gabby’s family. They thought they were being witty, commenting on something most people didn’t even notice instead of on what everyone was focused on. They did it for cheap laughs, without being cognizant of the fact that they were playing into a larger problem–not about natural hair, not about relaxed hair, but about self-hatred, about being down on a woman who looks like you because she looks like you, and because you know that in a million, trillion years you could never accomplish what she has at sixteen.
My mother used to talk about “crabs-in-a-barrel” syndrome: when a bunch of similar people are trapped, stuck together in an uncomfortable situation, they don’t help each other out. Instead, they crawl on each other, each one trying to shove the other back, but dooming themselves to stay in the barrel by refusing to cooperate. When one crab starts to reach the top, the others actually work to bring him back. This is exactly that. It’s not about her hair–it’s about getting ahead of her station. She (and the Twitterverse) need/s to be reminded not to get too big for her britches. Yeah, she might have accomplished something no one in history has, but look, her hair sucks! At the end of the day, she’s not special–she’s just another one of us, with imperfect hair, to boot.
I agree pulling your hair back is bad for your hair, but she is a gymnast. What else was she going to do with it? When she isn’t competing she has relaxed hair that she doesn’t seem (from pictures)to pull back or aggressively gel. Also olympic gymnastics=room full of white girls with hair gel and clips and both of those things are bad for all hair.
I think some black people talk about hair in a critical way, but not most or all and I think it comes from a position of ignorance especially if you do it after a child wins a gold medal. You are more than your hair.
I think natural hair is healthier, but I think it is about whether or not you feel comfortable. I think weave is okay and Gabby’s hair is relaxed and her ponytail is an extension. I think it is also safe to assume that despite having moved in with a white family I doubt they made the decision to relax her hair…and in reality it is more manageable if you don’t know how to properly care for black hair.
The comments weren’t racist, they were at best ratchet, uneducated, and backwards. I believe Carmen’s relevance is that criticizing someone’s hair is inappropriate whether natural or not. You can win a gold medal or just be generally awesome and if you are ethnic and female some hater is going to talk shit about your hair.
yes, it definitely was. hair politics exist in every community – and among their intersections. the race of her detractors doesn’t matter — what matters is that as a girl she’s never going to be her actions, she’s going to be how she looks when she does them, and as long as her hair doesn’t look like every other gymnast’s hair, she’s gonna get flack for it.
I think there is an element of shame in the comments too. Like: ‘Please don’t judge me based on the way *she* looks – most of us can do better, she just hasn’t a clue, and there she is, standing up and representing us all!’ It’s awful and painful (for the commenters themselves as well as the person who is the target of the comments) and it is so unnecessary.
I think it does go back to racism, and to being more respected the whiter you are, or can appear to be. In my culture, at least (sub-Saharan African biracial community) the closer to the white standard your hair is, or can appear to be, the better. So the longer and straighter you can get your hair to look, the better, and the more admired your hair will be. Short, kinky hair is pitied. Relaxed, straightened hair is ubiquitous. If you don’t relax or straighten your hair, you are thought to be ‘letting yourself go’. One woman actually said to my older sister: ‘Why are you going out with that boy? If you marry him, think of your children’s hair!’ (Admittedly, she was unusually colourist, even for that community.)
As a biracial person I am sick of being judged for my hair and told what I should do with it (and yes, having it touched uninvited). It’s a means of controlling people – especially women – that somehow people in my culture just cannot let go of and it drives me nuts. After I stopped keeping my hair ‘tidy’ my mother said to me, ‘Are you really… comfortable… with your hair like that?’ That was my mum being tactful.
Unrelated to the control/shame issue: Out-of-the blue comment my sister had from a (white) fellow student when she was at university in the 90s, ‘Does your hair *smell* like a sheep when it’s wet, too?’
I know when my sister was s a gymnast and was one of about 3 white kids in her gym class almost all the black girls used to put their hair in braids and then wrap it into a bun so I’m inclinded to agree with you that it was probably a case of whoever did her hair for the comp just wasn’t familiar enough with her hair type to deal with it properly so just did what they’d do with a white gymnast’s hair.
I think when people ask to touch your hair (#1) it is because they are intrigued, it is different, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the whole point is you are embracing the fact that is it different? I agree it is inappropriate to ask to touch someones hair that you don’t know, and I understand that it could get annoying, but unfortunately it comes with the territory of not fitting the stereotypical look.
I am a Latina with an afro that I have been wearing naturally for 28 years, so when I read your comment I felt I had to respond. Rethink you sentiment that people with curly hair should just put up with this kind of treatment, because its insulting for several reasons.
There is NOTHING different about having curly hair. So why should people with curly hair be subjected to complete strangers running their grubby fingers through our hair bc they’re “intrigued”? That’s ridiculous. Having curly hair shouldn’t come with ANY territory. I should not have to be subjected to this type of behavior from strangers bc I happen to have curly hair. It shouldn’t come with the territory because its JUST hair, for crying out loud.
People with curly hair don’t have to embrace anything. I own my hair and have done so for my entire life, but I certainly don’t have to allow anyone to touch my hair in order to embrace my identity. I shouldn’t have to straighten my hair just to fit in with the “stereotype”. I should be able to walk down the street without being subjected to harassment (for serious, its harassment, y’all!) from people who are “intrigued” by my hair.
Saying that people with curly hair should just put up with the curiosity/harassment/hostility others display towards us bc it “comes with the territory” is like saying a woman should put up with street harassment for the same reasons. Women should be in public and be subjected to nothing. Just like people with curly hair. Is that comparison going too far? Possibly. But then telling me I should accept racist comments, unwanted physical contact, public humiliation, and body shaming bc it comes with the territory of having curly hair is upsetting.
lol whoa! you blew my comment way out of context, I said people shouldn’t touch it, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to say something/look. For me personally, I wouldn’t even look twice at an afro, mohawk, bald headed woman etc.Anything short of a third-functioning leg is not going to catch my interest. That being said, most people live in their sheltered bubbles, so ya, an afro might be something new to them. To equate my comment to condoning sexual harassment and racism is a little far-fetched, sorry.
I didn’t blow your comment out of context. I gave you an example and a perspective on how the context of your comment was ignorant. Equating your comment to harassment is not far-fetched, bc the original topic is about how a person is harassed bc of their hair.
I think we have our wires crossed, you said, “There is NOTHING different about having curly hair.”. This is true. However, curly hair doesn’t equate to an afro or other alternative hairstyle. So if someone with straight hair grew it down to their legs (I’ve seen it), essentially having a rope for hair, people are going to look. I interpreted the article as she wanted to have the alternative haircut that fit her natural hair, and thus, she got unwanted attention. You can still have natural hair without an alternative haircut, correct? The Gabby Douglas part of the story is completely different situation, and I was not referring to that at all.
Got it. Wasn’t trying to be hostile to you, personally, but wanted to put in my two cents on the topic of “Othering” a person for their hair. Respect.
Umm… I’d just like to point out your identification of an ‘afro’ as an *alternative* style. Mabes this is part of the tension that goes along with actually having an afro. I didn’t intend for my hair to be perceived as breaking any molds or expectations, but it is perceived that way without any effort on my part. In my mind, I’m doing the same thing that a naturally straight-haired blond might to their hair: wash, condition, repeat. Skip the perm.
I think that’s why comparing hair-based ‘othering’ to sex/gender-based ‘othering’ or race-based othering is indeed a valid equation. I didn’t CHOOSE for my hair to grow the way it does, just as I didn’t CHOOSE the color of my skin or anything else about body I was born with.
I realize that changing your skin or gender are much more invasive and culturally controversial procedures than altering the texture of your hair, but sometimes I think it’d be nice if I could live my life without a naturally occuring part of my body being viewed as an intentional political statement or rebellion.
Did I get off topic? I don’t think so… I think that I said what I wanted to say.
“I think it’d be nice if I could live my life without a naturally occurring part of my body being viewed as an intentional political statement or rebellion.”
Yes! This. Exactly. Thank you <3
I didn’t take any notice to Gabby’s hair. But, you are right about the Russian’s “hooker blue” eye shadow! No offense to hookers. They’ve been wearing it for YEARS and no one has told them how unattractive it is?
I would love to have some natural curl in my hair! Instead, every 3-4 months I have to pay for a perm, otherwise my hair is straight and boring. And, well, i’m not straight so why should my hair be?
The reason gymnasts/synchronized swimmers wear the crazy makeup is so that their faces have definition. Remember, the judges are usually sitting very far away from the competitors. Especially if you have light hair and light skin, your face will look completely washed out.
uh also why is no one talking about how much fucking lighter whatever that magazine was made her? like her skin tone in that photo is roughy the same shade as the white girl sitting at the base of the stairs.
Jesus, I actually had to look at the photo again. I didn’t realize the girl at the bottom was white @___@
Its doubtful that the comments made by African American women are void of some of their own personal insecurities and strife when regarding the rejection of their own natural looks. The desire to be polished has caused some people to aspire to ‘white standards’ of beauty while this young athlete has rejected all concern for conformity, and instead had embraced her unrefined African hair to focus on what is important. What is equally beguiling is why the question of this athlete’s looks even entered the equation.
carmen, your hair is literally the most fierce thing i have ever seen. i am in complete awe.
so long as you are not a white straight cisgendered man, your appearance will be the first and foremost thing that is commented on. you will be too natural, too flamboyant, too butch, too slutty, too everything. i hate the world sometimes…
but i have to say this: no one should ever be on ke$ha shit, that dumbass makes racism normalized and that makes me angry and sad at the same time. sadgry. i wish she would disappear from pop culture altogether so people would stop being racist fucks in her name :(
Carmen: Much love! I am also a Latina with an afro (been wearin’ my curls as they are since I was a bb!) so reading your entries on hair just kills. Every time. Because I’ve been there and heard the exact same things and been subjected to the same treatment since I was a lil’ grrrl. Stay fierce, C. Thank you for writing about this experience; you’re putting words to the experience of so many out there. Courage!
thank you so much.
I agree with a lot that’s been said above. It’s such a shame that this is an issue, but it really doesn’t surprise me that the media & other ignorant people find some to criticize about a young woman of color succeeding.
Hair criticism has been a big part of my life, and I’ve experienced some variation of that whole list Carmen complied. And yeah, as a mixed woman, I’ve gotten it from both sides, and from people close to me. I relaxed my hair for a long time (and totally understand why she would as an athlete to not have to have as much maintenance when competing). For me, especially when I was in high school, it was a way to fit it – a method of social survival – one thing I could control that people wouldn’t question since my identity was always up for discussion. I’ve got natural hair now, after chopping off a lot of it and starting over. I love my fro now, but it’s taken a while.
holy shit you and i have parallel lives.
It’s amazing that people feel the need to criticize Gabby’s hair. For one thing, I think she’s gorgeous. For another, she’s 16 and she just won a freakin’ GOLD MEDAL doing stuff I (and 99.99% of the world’s population) will never be able to do. Plus, she’s competing in a sport–no wonder she has her hair pulled back and gelled. I don’t care what you look like or what kind of hair you have; if you don’t have your hair pulled back when you’re doing a sport, you just aren’t doing it right. (Although, side note, I have to admit that my friend’s and I did find the Russian girl’s intense eye makeup pretty weird.)
Carmen–I can’t believe how much crap you have to take for your choice in hairstyles. It’s something I (as a uber-white girl with curly, but not fro-worthy, hair) never would have thought about, especially because I think afros are kinda sorta super fabulous. Although I can totally sympathize with random people touching your hair. Hello? Boundaries? Nice article!
Even though I’ve never had an afro, #10 is a reaction I get more than I’d like to; the “where are you FROM?” question just says so much about how you’re perceived, that you don’t “belong” here in this current environment.
All this hair policing towards Gabby from women of color reminds me of how middle-eastern women point out any small difference towards their peers; nose too large, too much hair on your fair (upper lip mustache, unibrow). It all just falls into this Western-centric ideal of beauty and god forbid you don’t conform, because someone is going to tell you and shame you for it.
I tend to get the question “so…like…what are you?” and I always reply with “I’m a person” because at the end of the day, we are all just people trying to live our lives. But, it used to upset me when people would ask me that because I know I look ‘racially ambiguous’ to others.
Carmen-I love your hair. I’ve always been a bit jealous of people that can grow afros because of how beautiful afros are.
Yeah, seriously. It’s pretty ridic that women of all different races/backgrounds are supposed to look EXACTLY the same. I noticed this past year when my roommates and I were all preparing for interviews — it was a suite of four people, and one is half-Indian, one is half-Asian, another is half-black and Latina and I’m Jewish, so naturally our hair doesn’t all look the same. But we would ALL straighten our hair to make it look more “professional.” Which you start to realize is a word people use when they really mean “like a tall, skinny, blonde Anglo-Saxon girl.”
It makes me so frustrated that the focus of womens’ achievements always gets shifted to appearance instead of what they actually did!
I am white, and I have moderately curly hair. My daughter is also white but has VERY curly hair. She doesn’t have an Afro, but she has gravity defying ringlets and lots of hair. Everyone comments on it. Everywhere we go. It gets old very fast, especially since she is not fond of strangers talking to her. The comments are always positive, but i still wish people would talk about something else! It starts with babies, all comments about girls focus on appearance.
I experienced the same thing as a child. I had a mass of strawberry blonde “gravity defying” ringlets (perfect way to describe them) as a child, and my mother said that people refused to give me haircuts because they didn’t want to get rid of them. Also, people in stores ALWAYS commented or tried to touch them, and the other kids at school often wanted to play with my hair, too. It’s little wonder why I wanted my hair cut off after junior high! When I was in high school, I used to chemically straighten it and kept it at chin length – then no one commented on it. (I live in a very humid area, and would stress all summer about it’s frizziness.) If I wore it curly, my mother told me it looked ‘wild’. I was really into science, and took comfort that lots of the photos of astronauts portrayed them with curly hair. Finally in college I got a pixie cut and felt like people were seeing something other than my hair! Even at that, comments were made about how short it was and people at work constantly asked why I’d cut it off. Thankfully, my girlfriend also has curly hair and understands. Now I’m considering growing it out and donating it, but it’s taken a long time to make peace with my hair.
I get the same shit about my graying hair. Is it really that big of a deal to see a woman with naturally graying hair? I doubt any one would say to a man with premature salt & pepper: “I love the color of your hair!” or “You’re so brave!” Or when I had dreadlocks and everyone on the street was either trying to sell me drugs, or bum drugs off of me!
Ditto. I’ve had hairstylists make jokes about my gray strands, people are shocked and just stare sometimes. Women aren’t allowed to age apparently, only men.
The same thing happens with a mohawk too. A guy offered me HEROIN today.
It’s kind of crazy because I think if you don’t have long straight white blonde hair, you’re sort of fucked. Different degrees of fucked to be sure but red hair cropped short is still A Deal, for example, which blows my mind a little. I knew that when I chose to wear it this way, but. Someone up thread also mentioned a mohawk, and grey hair. Obviously it’s not on the level of policing that black women receive in American society, but I can kind of grasp how appearance can translate to political for many, and how difference of even the tiniest kind can be a sign that it is okay to devalue someone. It scares me that we’ve arrived at such an ideal when so few people meet it.
It all just comes back to how narrow our standards of beauty and worth are and how we’ve internalized so much shit that everyone is so willing to tear one another down. Listen to women talk about an overweight friend sometime. That shit can be chilling. It ties in to generational trauma too, I think, for some groups. If one evidenced too many ‘deviant’ or ‘ethnic’ traits, well, one was hammered down, harmed, raped, murdered, or at the very least outcast socially. Even if there isn’t a conscious sense of passing down those ideas to one’s children, it happens. Name changes, appearance changes, behavioral changes, etc.
Furthermore the gender nonsense in sporting events makes my blood boil. Part of this is because Gabby is a woman and therefore everyone feels they have the right–almost the obligation–to comment on how she looks. Sure some people spread rumors about Michael Phelps and how much he eats etc etc but there’s an extraordinarily nitpicky and shameful tone when people get on a woman’s appearance.
I’m honestly confused, I remember watching her in the olympics and thinking her hair was really pretty. Why are people on the internet saying it looks bad?
That being said, I really dislike the mainstream media’s huge focus on women’s appearances in the olympics/sports in general. They are athletes and they don’t need to conform to anyone’s standards of attractiveness, they have incredible, powerful bodies which is beauty in and of itself.
no one has yet answered what people found wrong with her hair– also not even on huffington post, where i saw a reaction piece about this the other day. can anyone solve this mystery?
Carmen, I would ask to touch your hair, but I touch literally EVERYONE’S hair (with their permission cos consent is sexy)! I just … love hair! Any sort of hair; long, short, straight (gay! :P ) curly, fros, shaved, died, wig, bald, you name it, I’ll run my hands through it or over it while making love to you :P
I don’t understand how people could not love hair, it makes me sad. I think that you and Gabby and everyone else are special snowflakes with gorgeous hair :)
Wow, good for you for rocking your hair the way you want even though you get so much shit for it. People can be so brutal in criticizing people they don’t even know.
Also, Carmen, you are an absolutely fantastic writer. This was such a good article/story/commentary.
thank you very much! thank you so much.
What bothers me deeply about this is that what the fuck does her hair/appearance have to do with anything? She won a fucking gold medal at 16 and is a great role model. She is not her hair.
Any female athlete should only be judged on her abilities not looks. I mean Megan Rapinoe just happens to be sexy beast but most importantly she is a great athlete, like all those who competed in the Olympics.
And you know is really really gross? 40+ year old men commenting on the “little petite bodies” of the gymnasts and (almost) everyone but me was A-OK with it at the pub, I had to leave or I would have thrown up all over the place.
People said it was unkempt but, the fact of the matter is nothing is wrong with Gabby Douglas’ hair. It was just unsuccessful people who never amounted to anything trying to find flaws in someone who did something great rather than sitting around on her ass like them. I personally have a strong hate for people who critisize natural hair, I myself am white but my 10 year old cousin is mixed and have seen how much people hurt her when they talk about her hair. It’s just sad that people focus sooo much on appearances.
#7 That Dude at a Bar is incredibly creepy and inappropriate
That picture on the stairs blows my mind, I was never anywhere near that flexible (and she definitely got lightened in that picture)
Black females are so quick to talk sh*t about other black females, their hair usually being the topic of discussion. That is why I cannot say that I am too surprised by the morons on twitter and elsewhere making comments about her hair. The chick is an ATHLETE who is highly energetic and sweats as a result of that. Of course she is going to do what it takes to keep her hair out her face and presentable given the circumstances. What do these idiots think her hair is going to look like after she finishes a performance?! is it supposed to seem like she just hopped out the salon chair? She’s a black girl, with black hair. These little girls that are running their mouths need to get a reality check and worry about doing their homework…
Black women(and darker women of other ethnicities) seem to be pressured the most when it comes to appearance.
I used to relax my hair for years, but recently stopped because I couldn’t justify doing it anymore. Like, why am I even doing this, damaging my hair for what? So I’ll appear more professional, less intimidating to others? Fuck that. This is my natural hair, deal with it America!
That being said, the natural look does get me shit from people on occasion, but really, they are assholes to even care about how straight my hair is or isn’t.
And, Carmen your fro is badass.
I’ve been quite surprised to find that a lot of people have actually missed the point of the Olympic Games. It’s an elite sporting competition, not a beauty pageant. It’s particularly disappointing that some people consider the first Games in which all participating countries have fielded female athletes (albeit some of them kicking and screaming) as an appropriate moment to rip them down because of how they look. Those of us who do have the privilege of participating in sports could be celebrating that fact, and remembering our peers in countries where women are still contesting their right to physical autonomy.
I’ve heard rude comments about how the female athletes are flat-chested, muscular, masculine, fat, lanky, now this hair thing… I’m sad that people see those things as negative but I’m astonished that they permit themselves to judge the athlete’s breasts or hair (???) and yet overlook the fact that these women have demolished the physical and psychological barriers that leave most of us on the floor, defied the limitations of the human body, the tribulations of constant brutal competition and the agonies of an extreme training regime and become the best in the world. I respect Gabby Douglas because she has conquered all that and claimed the title of champion before the age of majority. I really don’t care about her hair.
As a white woman with naturally dead straight hair I don’t feel qualified to comment on the discussion here with regards to hair and ethnicity. Carmen, with regards to your personal story, I have nothing to say except, sorry people are so crap, I think your hair is awesome!
With regards to the Gabby Douglas story, what I do want to say is that discussions that focus on looks rather than achievements seem to be the bane of successful women of all races in all spheres of achievements.
In Australia successful politicians and businesswomen are regularly critiqued for their hair and other aspects of their appearance. Much is made of our female primeminister being a ‘ranga’ and her natural hair is pretty much a national joke. Other state politicians and national senators have been similarly ridiculed for hair style choices.
I think deeper than it being solely about race(which in this case it definitely is as well) it is also fundamentally very gendered debate. Men of colour don’t seem to cop the same critcism for their hair?
I think a woman of any colour or creed who achieves something outside the ordinary automatically becomes a target for petty belittling comments about her appearance from other women.
Well I’m white and people used to talk shit to me about my
hair all the time. “WHY DON’T YOU EVER CURL IT” and “WHY CAN’T YOU EVER PUT IT UP” This was back in high school before I joined the military and have to put it up in a bun almost every day for work. Imagine what damage that shit does to my hair.
Carmen I saw your hair at the DC meet up last month at your house
and I thought it was pretty cool. Something crossed my mind when I was reading this article.
What crossed my mind was if you have so many people commenting daily on your hair and going out of their way to point at it
and make you feel bad then why don’t you just get rid of your
afro and rock something more “acceptable”. Wouldn’t that make life easier for you?
Here’s why not, it is YOUR hair. It is YOUR life and if it is the way you want to be, eff the haters seriously. Like we say around here YOU DO YOU. Why should we as women have to tailor our looks around some beauty standard if we do not have to? You should not change anything about yourself just because other people have a hard time keeping their fucking mouths shut and not be so fucking judgmental and close minded.
I hope this makes sense. If not you can blame it on the AL AL AL AL CAH ALCAHOLLLLLLL. My cat is jumping in my boxes I haven’t unpacked yet from my move. #nojudgment.
i’m glad you came to that meetup! isn’t my house so badass.
also i am glad you like my hair / got that i love it! i feel like some people think i don’t enjoy it – i so enjoy it. what i don’t like is putting up with ignant shit. whatever, though. i have drake. they just have their sad lives.
I almost got locked in your bathroom. I turned the lock and it got stuck or I might have had a little too much MIMOSAS to properly turn a door handle. Also I’m pretty sure I left a Trader
Joes bag at your house, Merry Christmas to you.
Yes I liked your hair and I am glad that you are confident enough to rock it.
It’s a requirement of the sport to keep your hair (if it’s long) pulled back tight and gelled. The coaches actually enforce this because having a neat appearance shows discipline and respect. If Gabby Douglas turned up to Olympic training (much less a competition!) without gelled hair & clips she would have her ass handed to her. People don’t seem to realise that it’s not really a personal choice. It’s like wearing a suit to work, basically.
Likewise with the “Russian hooker make-up.” Gymnasts wear make-up as part of their uniform, not necessarily because they think it looks good. Compare to ballet dancers, other dancers, any kind of performers– gymnasts are the same.
The only reason this is even an issue is because it’s been highly publicized and therefore reached the attention of people who have no idea about elite sport. It’s not like anyone ever made comments about Daiane Dos Santos :/
It’s kinda sad that any hairstyle that is not Western White Conformist (e.g. if a gymnast rocked up with Carmen’s afro) suddenly means you don’t have discipline or talent – as if the hair made a difference to your sporting ability!
My girlfriend and I were noting the differences between men and women’s gymnastics; like the female gymnasts are expected to have a full face of make-up and the male gymnasts aren’t? Even the uniforms the male gymnasts compete in are completely different than what the female gymnasts where. It’s comes off as gendered and it pisses me.
The men and women don’t even have the same *events*. That always annoys me. (I always wanted to try pommel horse when I was a kid!)
People (Americans especially) are really complacent. Really, finding things to criticise about celebrities is just popular culture. It’s kind of ridiculous to me though because Gabby’s hair looks fairly average to me.
Afros aren’t for everyone…
Thank you so much for writing this, Carmen.
so carmen, is your hair naturally fro-y? if not how do you get it to stand out on top? what did you do pre-fro? from one thick haired latina girl to another
hello! this is my one hundred percent natural hair. it isn’t natty light, or even natty ice. it is straight up carmen rios’ locks. i had an afro when i was four.
that being said, i can only grow it to a certain length before it splits up top and goes all art garfunkel on me, so.
pre-fro i used the chi straightening process, since it is the only in the history of time (i tried chemicals for 8 years) that works on my hair. it is permanent and the application would take up to 7 hours once a year. i still had to use an iron every day, sometimes multiple times a day. i carried one around.
Ugh I totally don’t get it. Her hair looked NORMAL. I wear my hair like that all the time. What I don’t get even more is that they attacked her hair but no one said anything about MaKayla Maroney’s hair. THAT is an unconventional style that would warrant some kind of attention – I mean I’ve never seen that before. But why does everyone have a problem with how Gabby’s looks? I don’t get it. Is it a race thing?
Ok you both have awesome hair, just sayin’
Great article, Carmen. I was watching the olympics with a friend last night and they were showing gymnastics…I started just briefly mentioning to my friend the uproar about her hair but that turned into a complete backstory on you and the site, your article, your hair, and then that’s why I was talking about the gymnast.. and at the end she was quiet. Probably because I didn’t shut up for about 25 minutes. Anyhow, she wants a link to AS and this article now so it was a great chat on my end, anyway.
thank you for sharing, and for existing. you are the shit.
Ugh. I swear I want to quit twitter every other day. I feel like sometimes the fact that people can be more or less anonymous and given a platform is the best thing ever about the interwebs — viz. autostraddle :) But other times I feel like it makes so many people think they have the RIGHT to criticize other people’s appearances, etc. etc. Like the whole Hunger Games racist fuckery.
Also did anyone else see that video on Jimmy Kimmel of celebrities reading mean/bullying tweets about themselves? I feel like most responses were “This is hilarious!” and “Well they should know that people will be looking at/judging them all the time, what did they expect?” Which is all…true, I guess. But like, aren’t you human beings? Don’t you have any empathy at all? And where is the line, b/c will you say that a teenage girl who competes in the Olympics like, should have known she’d be on TV and should have expected people would be hateful and horrible to her?
Idk, man. People are the worst sometimes/a lot of the time.
Really enjoyed your article. I’m happy to have some hair.
Be Peace My Peeps!
since you all are now terrified to touch my hair, i want you to know: it’s okay once you know me, and it feels like cotton.
Man I totally relate to number one, it’s like the second question I get asked when people meet me.
Wait, don’t gymnasts have to gel their hair back for competitions? I thought that was the rules. Am I missing something?
Eh, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are shits.
(I didn’t actually feel this infuriated by people until I moved to the mid-fucking-west and figured out first hand that a multi-ethnic dyke cannot fit into Chicago’s racist fucked up schema.)
I used to work with this super badass organization that prepares young women to take over the world as their bad ass selves, during the summer of 2010. My favorite rule while working there was( and this was unbeknownst to the young women) that the staff was not allowed to comment on the appearance of the girls. I love this rule because we we not allowed to comment negatively not positively.
Here’s the thing: I WISH WE COULD ALL ADOPT THIS RULE. ESPECIALLY IN PUBLIC. See, compliments are a funny thing… For instance, being complimented on natural hair by someone other than a black person can make one feel icky and slightly powerless.
ICKY FEELINGS: Yes, the intent is complimentary, but a black woman complimenting black hair is recognition/validation of belonging (like the gay nod)but a non-black person complimenting an afro immediately opens the door for so much shit-fuckery. One is immediately othered. No matter the circumstance. No matter the goodfuckingintentions. (Intimate relationship are another issue though. Obviously, friends and lovers should be able to create the rules that work for them).
POWERLESS FEELINGS: when the Icky feelings arise, the complimented is powerless to deal, because she has to take into account the goodfuckingintentions of the complimentor, lest she be called shrewish and easily offended.
Also, let’s get personal: I’m a grown-ass-woman. I walked out of my house looking like this because I thought I looked damned good. I don’t need a self-esteem booster. I can call my best girl or my lover for that if I’m in need.
What’s the deal with her hair..? It looks like hair. I don’t get it. :/
this is really random and I’m super new to this site- but I just realized that there was a girl I saw a bunch of times at a bus stop on Wisconsin Ave next to the Friendship Heights metro station who had super cool hair….and now I’m wondering if it was you? I feel like it might be? I hadn’t even discovered autostraddle at the time. So I had no way of knowing that the cool hair girl was also super cool and wrote on autostraddle. If it actually was you.
One of my guy friend’s (universally annoying) friends said, “Your hair looks like my pubes!”
Tell me something. What is wrong with Gabby’s hair? I’m not just saying this to appear deep and pro nappy hair. I really don’t see what is wrong with her hair. I guess we have gotten so use to looking at black women with weaves, that we’re not use to seeing our own real hair. Plus she is an athlete, she is black and she is a girl. She is going to have a few fly aways. She looks like the normal black teen to me.Well she looks how the normal black teen use to look when I was growing up. Because I’ve noticed these young ladies are wearing a lot of weaves now. When I was a kid, we rocked the perms and the Braids. I mean, come on. You know how our hair does. Yeah I said it. I mean, it ain’t always gonna slick down into a perfect bun ect. And so what.
Also, I can relate to how you feel about your hair. I get stares and comments ( sometimes,not so nice) because I am large and tall. I thought the comments would go away after I graduated high school. Yet, I still get comment here and there well into my adulthood. I’ve had people follow me around stores thinking I was going to take something, because I was so big. I’ve had a lady try to accuse me of being a predator sly because I was sitting in a chucky cheese by myself waiting for my family to show up for my nieces birthday party. Seriously, the bitch was telling her kid, ( while I was quietly sitting in my booth, looking out the window, waiting form my mother and niece). “Don’t go over there………there may be a monster over there.” She was telling her kid not to go towards me. The stupid ho kept looking at me over her shoulder. Like, I am watching you. I’ve had people look at me and “go got damn!” I’ve people to treat me very nasty. You name it. Unless I have other people with me if I stay in a alone for too long I am target. And there’s something about when adults fuck with you that stings a little worse. Like when you are kid, you expect your peers to pick at you. Kids pick on each other. But adult prejudice is the worse.
Well, even though a lot of naturalistas get some unsavory remarks for wearing their hair natural, let’s also not forget that a lot of us are enjoying the journey so far. I think it’s just a matter of educating others about the natural hair movement. :)
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