Kinky, Soft, Nappy, Straight … Who Cares?!

Like many over the past week, I have been tuning into numerous Olympic events, and gymnastics has been one of my favorites–not only because I love watching very skilled women do some incredible feats but because 16-year-old Gabby Douglas–the second African American woman gymnast to make the U.S. Olympic team–led her squad to an Olympic gold medal in the team competition and now has won gold in the women’s all-around.

Watching Douglas, I have felt a sense of pride that she is representing both U.S. gymnastics and black women around the world. However, I have been disappointed by the conversations happening on Twitter and around the blogosphere about her hair. There have been harsh comments that it’s too kinky, curly, nappy, unprofessional or unpolished. Beyond the criticisms themselves, it’s alarming how many of the comments have come from black women:

She needs some gel and a brush.

Someone needs to give her a hair intervention.

Similarly, a couple of weeks ago a photo of Beyoncé’s baby, seven-month-old Blue Ivy Carter, brought forth hateful blogs and comments:

Beyoncé really screwed up, having a baby by Jay-Z. His nose and lips are never going to look right on a girl.

Let’s pray Beyoncé’s genes kick in as B.I.C. gets older. All the money and talent in the world won’t take away from having Jay-Z’s features.

Nappy-headed kid. Wish Beyoncé had married a nice-looking man instead of Jay-Z.

I was speechless when I read these. While I just wanted to see more of Beyoncé’s adorable new baby, these people were waiting to see if she had African American features that they apparently see as ugly and unattractive. I was reminded yet again of how much black bodies and black hair continued to be politicized.

Growing up as an African American girl, my hair style and look determined my mood, confidence and self-esteem. I worried that if my hair was not long enough or straight enough to fit into a swinging and bouncy ponytail that I was going to be looked at strangely or feel unaccepted among both my black and white peers. When I was 10, I used to get into fights with my mother about getting a perm and making sure every strand of hair was straight on my head before I went to school. I was also very self-conscious about my lips.

Now, as a young black woman, I have come to realize that all of the anxieties I had about my hair and whether I would be socially accepted are a product of white popular culture being flooded with messages that associate black women with straight, long and blond hair as being “good,” “likeable,” “successful” and “sexually appealing,” while black women with kinky and curly hair are associated with pejorative terms. While this is the reality of U.S. culture, it is upsetting that too many black women feed into these messages. It is not uncommon to walk down the street and see black women with long weaves (usually from India) and often in a vibrant blond color. In all fairness to my black sisters, many black women have become part of the natural hair movement and rejected the white popular culture’s notion of beauty. However, there are still too many sisters that both consciously and unconsciously feed into a notion of “the more white, the better.”

Criticisms about Gabby Douglas’ hair have only reinforced these norms about when blackness does or doesn’t look beautiful. Why can’t some of my sisters just appreciate Douglas’s accomplishments and what she now represents for all black women and girls around the globe? Who cares if her hair is bone straight, wavy, curly or kinky? For goodness sake, she should be able to wear her hair any way that she feels comfortable. C’mon, my sisters, we can do better than this! We need to take pride in the accomplishment our little sister has made thus far and celebrate her amazing achievements!

Photo of a hair weave product from Bare & Natural.

Comments

  1. Claudia Vargas says:

    Latina women with curly hair can also relate to the feeling of not having “perfect” hair.

    • Ana Cristina says:

      Definitely! Especially in Latin Countries where straight hair is consider professional and presentable.
      I am sooo in for natural hair!

  2. So wait, Gabby Douglas should be able to wear her hair any way she wants to, but women who wear weaves or dyed hair aren’t being true to their black selves? Why can’t a woman just have the hair she wants without being criticized either way?

  3. melissa calderon says:

    This topic gets me going every time it comes up in the cultural conversation. Great article and insights on a very relevant topic for our culture.This topic is so deep too. It goes back in our cultures history and not many people realize that or take the time to educate themselves about this history.

  4. I think all those comments about “nappy” hair and Douglas’ hair being too “kinky” are just wrong and even bordering on racist. I am proud of her for having the confidence of wearing her hair the way it is naturally and hope she doesn’t give in to the straightener!! She sure looked beautiful with that gold medal!

  5. You given the oxygen of publicity to comments from a few highly ignorant self hating blacks. We know this self hating comments, all you can do is look and look away, and not dignify their comments with further publicity.

    • @KaylaWildflower says:

      100% agreed! I’m disgusted by the amount of media jumping on the bandwagon of a stupid twitter trend. You don’t see them jumping on “hoodlicenseplates” or “hoodbreakfastcereals,” etc. The publicity about Gabby should have been about her accomplishments.

  6. Im appalled at the ignorance of these women who would denigrate a child; any child but especially one who has just won a Gold medal in the Olympics. Apparently, Gabby has her mind set on accomplishing more than just how does my weave look today as most black women are doing today. U self hating black women shame our race when u can’t give kudos for amazing accomplishments at such a young age when all u can focus on is her hair. It shouldn’t matter if she was bald. She is an amazingly talented young lady that deserves your support, not your self loathing comments. What have you contributed to this society besides making your beauticians rich. Learn to love your true selves and quit hating on others because they have better priorities than you!

  7. Agree wholeheartedly….Good God people, she won a gold medal in the Olympics for her courage, hard work, stamina, talent, determination and grace…! hair?…what the Hell?…

  8. MareRocks says:

    Hey, I wear my hair like that! It’s easy, low maintenance, and the hair is out of my eyes. Can’t understand $K’s on weaves.

  9. Barbara Mor says:

    Diversity — liberated in the 60s — was so powerfully healthy, creative & politically inspiring for so many of us. Including us white women; e.g. us thick- dark-curly/fuzzy Irished-haired girls were tormented by that bouncy blonde pony-tail also. Fashion is tyrannous & reactionary, contrary to all its ‘wild & wet’ claims.
    And the return of its coercions to conformity (for the job, for the career promotion, for the lover or mate or vote — is really really depressing, & sad.
    Gabby is quite beautiful, her hair is glorious, & it’s time for another Revolt,
    ya think????

  10. Yeah, I totally agree with this article. With media images depicting lighter & smoother hair as being sexier and more socially desireable, it not surprising that many women consider anything else ‘unattractive’. And despite Gabby Williams’ incredible accomplishment, with these ridiculous criticisms, the media has minimized her, shifting focus from her Olympic gold medaling to the style of her hair. However, I’m happy to read, in spite of these criticisms, she has managed to stay confident in the BEAUTIFUL & TALENTED individual that she is. In my most recent blog, I actually address these standards of physical attractiveness created by the media, and how young women can overcome this influence.

  11. Sarah London says:

    I have been tryin grow my hair out for the last 3 years. And was consistently getting breakage. I have black kinky hair. I also use a relaxer which I will NOT give up. Anywho, this past winter I had the most breakage in the crown area, so that if I pull my hair up it looks like a crown. Shallow in the center and long around the hairline. So I bought the Shielo VOLUME Collection out of desperation. And as one last go around before I get the clippers. But the VOLUME Shampoo and VOLUME Conditioner work! My hair less of my hair is falling out. And it just feels better after. Some of their products did not work so good on my hair, like the Shielo HYDRATE Mist. But the VOLUME regimen does work! Loyal customer here.

  12. I am so hurting for Gabby. There is nothing wrong with her appearance or her hair. She is a beautiful little girl. her personify and attitude is 100 percent in check . I watched the Olympics and those other little girls had such attitudes and poor dispositions that it was really disgusting. Hats off to her mother for realizing that she had a talent to nurture. Now let’s not forget the other fame who invested in this child for two years. They didn’t have toove this child but they did and the really did not have to open there home and uproot their lives for her. Great for them, No one is writing about the and no one is giving them their props. Now additionally the elephant is. Ow in the room and though he was in isible it didn’t take him long to show himself. We will all have to pray loud and hard for this child because she is now the one and only meal ticket for her family in Va. Given the financial woes of her mother. Yes her mother invested in her. Yes she sacrificed for her. But that is a mother’s job and Gabby has paid that debt three fold by her accomplishments. She should owe her nothing. This family will undoubtedly live high on the food chain and on the back of this child. I think this should’nt be. The hand writing us on the wall, this child will be broke before she is 19. God help her. Let us pray she it going to be broke.

  13. I am so hurting for Gabby. There is nothing wrong with her appearance or her hair. She is a beautiful little girl. her personify and attitude is 100 percent in check . I watched the Olympics and those other little girls had such attitudes and poor dispositions that it was really disgusting. Hats off to her mother for realizing that she had a talent to nurture. Now let’s not forget the other fame who invested in this child for two years. They didn’t have toove this child but they did and the really did not have to open there home and uproot their lives for her. Great for them, No one is writing about the and no one is giving them their props. Now additionally the elephant is. Ow in the room and though he was invisible it didn’t take him long to show himself. We will all have to pray loud and hard for this child because she is now the one and only meal ticket for her family in Va. Given the financial woes of her mother. Yes her mother invested in her. Yes she sacrificed for her. But that is a mother’s job and Gabby has paid that debt three fold by her accomplishments. She should owe her nothing. This family will undoubtedly live high on the food chain and on the back of this child. I think this should’nt be. The hand writing us on the wall, this child will be broke before she is 19. God help her. Let us pray she it going to be broke.

  14. @KaylaWildflower says:

    I disagree with the author on something. I think “the white popular culture’s notion of beauty” has evolved more quickly than black women’s notion of beauty. Look at TV commercials and print ads today. What I see ubiquitously is black people portrayed with glorious big soft curly afros. Now, in all truth, they are choosing people who look distinctly bi-racial, or very light-skinned blacks, so there is MUCH room for improvement, and choosing bi-racial people to represent blacks all the time drives me crazy. BUT, at least they’re portraying natural hair as the hip, cool, today way to be. In contrast, it seems many black women are still hung up on perming their hair straight and very upset with women who don’t.

  15. realAniram says:

    As a white girl with straight red hair, I’ve always wanted super curly black hair. As I grew older I realized that other girls wanted to change their hair just like I wanted to change mine, but when I was younger I was stupefied that others wouldn’t want their amazing hair with body, and instead wanted my flat dry emotionless strands.

  16. I agree with realAniram,curly black hair good for you.

  17. A factual correction to the first sentence of the article: Gabby is not the second African-American to make the US Olympic gymnastics team. Dominique Dawes, I presume, is the other one the author remembers, but she’s forgotting Dawes’s 2000 teammate and 2001 National Champion Tasha Schwikert, as well as the first African-American to make the US Team and to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics, Betty Okino. Having just attended the 2013 Hill’s Maryland Classic & Parkette’s Invitational, from the very large number of African-Americans gymnasts now competing at all levels it is obvious that a Dawes or Douglas will no longer be a rarity or novelty on future US teams, and perhaps this kind of nonsense will go away.

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