In a day and age when women's appearances are perpetually scrutinized, the controversy over Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas's hair is particularly maddening and egregious, since Douglas has just made history by becoming the first African-American gymnast to ever win the all-around individual title in the Olympics. The Twitter-sphere criticism of Douglas has stirred up quite a few arguments, with many wondering why people are focusing on an athlete's hair — calling it "unkempt" and "embarrassing" — rather than on her victories.
Proving to her critics and supporters alike that she's both mature and down-to-earth, the 16-year-old responded to the controversy: "I just simply gelled it back, put some clips in it and put it in a bun. Are you kidding me? I just made history. And you're focusing on my hair?"
Douglas' hairstyle choice makes complete sense given the sport she competes in. Gymnastics requires balance, focus and an excellent awareness of one's surroundings, making the most integral element of a hairstyle its practicality. Plus, if her hair is naturally coarse and she had opted to straighten it completely, it may have become more hassle than it was worth, as it could have frizzed up once her scalp became increasingly sweaty throughout the routine. And what hairstyle is really worth sacrificing the quality of an Olympic performance for?
It's a shame that there's so much focus on looks and sex appeal when it comes to female Olympians, from the women's volleyball teams' uniforms constantly being judged (and ogled) for their sexiness to the criticism surrounding UK weightlifter Zoe Smith's appearance. But black women's hair decisions are often a particular source of controversy for the media. A recent example of this is Oprah's decision to wear her hair natural on the September 2012 issue of O magazine, a choice she says makes her feel "unencumbered" but that has led to some critics clucking that it couldn't even be her natural hair. However, many supporters feel that it is important to see black women, especially ones who are in the media eye, embracing their natural hair textures — and we agree!
Hair and Olympics aside, the larger picture is: We have to remember to teach young girls that their achievements matter more than their looks — including when it comes to dating, relationships and any other interactions with the opposite sex. Otherwise they will continue to internalize negative opinions about their bodies.
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