Last week, Gabby Douglas became the first African-American woman ever to take gold in the all-around individual title in gymnastics. She was immediately congratulated by President Obama, and is already on the side of a cereal box. But despite the 16-year-old’s achievements and collection of gold medals, last week the Internet practically exploded about something else: her hair.
The Daily Beast’s Allison Samuels examined the backlash, explaining that “hair is always a sore spot for black women culturally, but it has often reached a fever pitch when it involves women of color engaging in sports and other demanding physical activities.” As 16-year-old Lisa J. Floyd of Los Angeles told her of Douglas: “I can’t imagine winning all she has and then reading headlines about how bad your hair looks… I’m the same age and I’d be somewhere crying if I read that about myself. I hope she stands strong and just ignores it.’’
On Sunday, Douglas did just that. After her victory, she reportedly logged online to find that people were mocking her pulled-back bun. “I don’t know where this is coming from,” she told the Associated Press. “What’s wrong with my hair? 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.” She continues: “Nothing is going to change. I’m going to wear my hair like this during beam and bar finals. You might as well stop talking about it.”
Now, Fashionista interviews Douglas' mother, Natalie Hawkins, about the controversy. "We made a huge joke out of it and I was quick to try to diffuse that situation. Because I thought, “How ignorant is it of people to comment on her hair and she still has more competitions to go," she said. "Are you trying to ruin her self confidence? She has to go out there and feel good about herself, and if she feels good about herself on that floor, who are YOU to criticize her?"
Hawkins, who famously allowed Douglas to move to Iowa to train at age 14 (and live with a host family), explained further: "She lives with a white host family and they don’t know anything about taking care of her hair. And there’s no black salons in their area [in Iowa]–not one. We had to work really hard to find a stylist to come and do her hair."