, Black Hair, Body Image, Standards of Black BeautyTwo-Time Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas Says “Stop Talking About” Her Hair

Two-Time Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas Says “Stop Talking About” Her Hair

Since it seems like some people (and media outlets) out there seem to have difficulty understanding that a young Black gymnast just won two gold medals, Gabby Douglas is here to remind you about what’s important:

One of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life happened tonight, as I waited for the final score on floor in the Olympic all-around final. I had finished and was in first place, but Russian gymnast Viktoria Komova was the last gymnast to go and had done an amazing floor routine. My heart was absolutely racing.

Do I have it? Do I not have it? Will I be first? Second?

My coach, Liang Chow, said, “You’re the Olympic champion! You have it!”

But I couldn’t believe him until I saw the scoreboard. When I finally saw the results, I was speechless. Tears of joy streamed down my face, and I started waving to the crowd and my family in the stands.

When my mom first took me to Chow’s gym two years ago, she told him I wanted to be an Olympic champion someday. He told her he would do his best. He jokes now that he wasn’t so sure he could do it.

He has pushed me so hard, and some days I would wonder, “Why do I have to do this?” In the end, though, he believed in me and all the hard work really did pay off. He and his wife Li have shaped me into a better gymnast than I ever thought I could be.

When I first got here to London, I was in some pain from a tweaked muscle. I was feeling a little down. But Chow reminded me that everyone has pain. He said, “Don’t focus on that, you’re at the Olympics! If you don’t push it now, you’ll regret it.” He got me refocused, and, of course, he was right. When I got to the competition and all the nerves kicked in, I didn’t feel a thing.

Tonight, I didn’t think about avoiding mistakes — that’s what gets you into trouble. Instead, I just thought about going out there and representing Team USA, my coaches, my family and myself as best as I could. I just wanted to enjoy the moment. Chow told me not to fear what might happen, but to just believe in myself.

People have asked if I felt like I was on fire here in London, but I just feel normal, the same as I do every day in practice. The difference has been that I was ready to seize the moment, to focus and to trust in what I can do.

You say you want to do it and you dream about it every day, but then when it happens, it’s hard to believe it really has. Tonight, when the U.S. flag was raised and the national anthem played, there were so many camera flashes going off I felt like I was at a concert.

And the crazy thing was, they were all taking pictures of me.

And, after all that beautiful writing, she was still asked about her hair. Equally elegant, she replied:

Women’s gymnastics all-around champion Gabby Douglas likes her hairstyle just fine, thanks.

The 16-year-old said Sunday she was a little confused when she logged onto her computer after winning her second gold medal in three days and discovered people were debating her pulled-back look.

”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.

”Nothing is going to change,” she said. ”I’m going to wear my hair like this during beam and bar finals. You might as well just stop talking about it.”

The bubbly teenager is the first African-American gymnast to win her sport’s biggest prize. She had no idea she was lighting up social media until she Googled herself hours after winning her gold medal.

”I don’t think people should be worried about that,” she said. ”We’re all champions and we’re all winners. I just say that it’s kind of, a stupid and crazy thought to think about my hair.”

She tooooooold y’all. Mmhmm.

I know y’all are dying to know what I have to say about this foolishness… and I’ve seen all the snappy comebacks people have had in her defense – “well, at least her hair is hers, what’s that foolishness on our head?” or “she just won two gold medals at age 16, what’ve you done with your life?” – but I can’t even say that someone who would say “we’re all champions and winners” after slaughtering her competition would be okay with knowing other people were being put down in her defense.

What I will say, is that I’ve seen an unbelievably display of poor sportsmanship and really unbecoming conduct among our competitors this year, and it’s not getting anywhere near as much attention as our gold medalist’s hair. I’m shocked that instead of calling out poor behavior and emphasizing the importance of positivity in such a competitive arena, we’d rather nitpick our gold medalists (and yes, I’m talking about Serena and her c-walk.) It “gets more ratings” and website traffic to dissect a teenage girl’s style choices than to talk about the ridiculous conduct of some of the competitors.

And that, I must admit, is what’s most troublesome about this. We’d rather create a pile-on on a young girl about her hair choices than simply set that aside. It’s far too easy for us to put a young girl on an international stage and present as if The Black Delegation doesn’t support her because she doesn’t “represent us” perfectly. I’m sorry, but she represents The United States of America – a far larger delegation – and all many of us are concerned with is whether or not she sticks it… whether or not she brings home the gold. A few people might’ve cared about her ponytail, but far more cared about her performance. Shame on the media for fabricating this entire thing, and pretending otherwise.

Those of us who are regularly, consistently active know that it is a challenge to keep up our training regimens as well as our appearances to a socially-acceptable standard, and many of us have simply given up the responsibility of looking the way someone else thinks we should. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t women out there who don’t do so effortlessly, but it does mean that all of us understand the challenge, and we all know that point where you have the opportunity to decide, “this just doesn’t matter to me as much anymore.” Luckily for Gabby, she’s realized this at age 16. Some of us don’t realize it until we hit our middle-aged years.

Maybe this should be an opportunity for us to come together and reassess whether or not our priorities are in order as a country. Our media believes it’s a smart idea to discuss a few negative tweets in response to Gabby’s hair than to discuss the poor sportsmanship of people sent to an international competition to represent the best of their country. We don’t reemphasize the importance of separating the competition from real life and knowing where each starts and ends. Instead, our media inflates a story about Black women collectively putting down a young “one of our own.”

I’m just… I’m not here for that.

Hopefully, I’m on the tail end of the discussion. Hopefully, everyone takes Gabby’s advice and simply “stops talking about” it. Hopefully, more people will understand the part of commitment where you are comfortable saying to yourself, “you know what? this just isn’t as important to me anymore.” And, most importantly, when a person says “this isn’t important to me anymore,” it won’t be hundreds of thousands of people nitpicking that choice.

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By | 2017-06-10T11:29:05+00:00 November 12th, 2013|Beauty, Black Hair, Body Image, Standards of Black Beauty|20 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Brownie de Paris August 6, 2012 at 2:34 PM - Reply

    After that, there’s nothing else to say….

  2. Oona Chestnut August 6, 2012 at 2:44 PM - Reply

    Great article! I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s sad that some people just can’t let others have their time in the spotlight. I also didn’t see anything wrong with Serena’s dance but that’s just my opinion. It doesn’t mean she is in a gang. It’s w dance that even I tried to do when the kids were doing it and we aren’t around any gang activity.

  3. Shannon August 6, 2012 at 2:55 PM - Reply

    OK, I am so totally out of the loop on this one. What was supposed to be wrong with her hair? From the pictures I’ve seen, she’s beautiful.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall August 6, 2012 at 3:42 PM - Reply

      This ^^ right here is why I didn’t want to write about this. Lots of people were quite fine not knowing that people were making mountains out of molehills.

      Nothing was wrong with her hair… but you wouldn’t know that if you kept an eye on the news. Just… ugh.

  4. Tiffany August 6, 2012 at 3:32 PM - Reply

    I have been waiting for this post and as usual you nailed it. The truth is while some people talked negatively about Gabby’s hair, it was the larger media that got a hold of the negativity and ran with it. That was easier for them to do instead of focusing on the fact that many outlets didn’t want to cover Gabby at all or make her apart of the story, until she won gold. Jordyn Weiber was supposed to be the star and when that didn’t happen, they did not want to see a little black girl front and center, so they needed some sort of distraction and as much as I appreciate all the people who came to her defense, they just gave media outlets more ammunition to run with the story.

    What the media also failed to mention is the fact that so many women athletes in this Olympics are being unfairly judged for their bodies and not their performance. There was an Australian swimmer who was basically called fat. I think I read the British decathalon gold medal winner was called overweight. But they don’t want to focus on their own biases and predjudices. They’d rather highlight the fact that some people on twitter made a few negative comments about Gabby’s hair and ignore all the people who were cheering her and other female athletes on.

  5. Tina August 6, 2012 at 3:45 PM - Reply

    So proud of little sis making that statement and reminding folk of the frivolity of their comments. I’m a Olympic gold medalist (insert expletive) !

  6. simone August 6, 2012 at 4:50 PM - Reply

    I’m so glad that she stuck up for herself. She is absolutely right, and I’m glad that she said “nothing is going to change” in no uncertain terms.

    unfortunately, people will always still nitpick at her. I saw on the internet that Fox News said she is unpatriotic b/c of her uniform; it lacks a flag motif, not red/white/blue or a combination of those colors (it was a pink uniform) and that “american exceptionalism” is dead.

    nevermind the fact that competing on the Olympic stage could arguably be one of the most patriotic things one can do

    nevermind the fact that her father has served overseas in Afghanistan for 2 year, so she understands patriotism and the sacrifices needed for such better than many

    nevermind that she probably didn’t even pick the uniforms

    nevermind the fact that such a uniform that fox news desires goes directly against the US flag code

    nevermind that Nastia Luikin (that nasty female judge) wore the exact same pink leotard in the 2008 Olympics and yet nothing was said. Or that in this Olympics, nothing was said about her teammates’ uniforms. or other sports’ uniforms (such as the swimmers)

    nevermind the fact that the US does not have a monopoly over the colors red, white, and blue

    all this mes…it just makes me tired. why? why try to tear this young lady down in her finest hour??

  7. Cassandre August 6, 2012 at 6:44 PM - Reply

    well said, it was truly sad that people were going there with her. she has accomplished something that none of us ever will and rather then lift her up and celebrate her, people were really trying to go there. i am proud of her and she’s the type of role model, aside from myself that i want for my daughter when she gets older. love your response #preach #truth

  8. Denise August 6, 2012 at 7:00 PM - Reply

    Kudos to this wonderful talented young lady! I hope her intelligent and mature comeback will make this ‘non-issue’ go away! I said it before, but I’ll say it one more time: what do/did they expect her to do with her hair?! The girl is tumbling, flying IN THE AIR, of course she’s going to secure her hair any way she can…. pins, ties, gel. She’s not going to be doing all that with her hair flying all over her face. Lol #teamGabby

  9. TJ August 6, 2012 at 10:58 PM - Reply

    Actually, I viewed the backlash as yet another attack on black standards of beauty. White people think her hair is fine, so who cares what black women think about black hair? It also reminded me of the articles you previously posted about researchers trying to figure out why “black women don’t care they’re fat.” The media seems to have decided that we can’t have our own opinions about our bodies, weight, hair or otherwise.

  10. marie August 7, 2012 at 2:31 AM - Reply

    Thanks for posting that! And you are right: we should stop talking about this, it is not at the level of her performance at the Olympics!

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