There is no doubt that Black women from all over turned the 2016 Summer Rio Olympics upside its head and further solidified that Black girls are in fact, magic. From the Simones, to Brianna Rollins. Similar to the contestants, Black communities from all over have been supportive of their representative athletes…well, some communities more than others.
Gabby Douglas is the gold medal winning gymnast for the U.S gymnastics team. But this didn’t seem good enough for some members of the Black community, specifically women. Many felt the need to voice their opinions and comment on Gabby’s physical appearances. The tweets show as follows:
Her edges. Gabby’s edges and how LAIT they are, is the only thing that seems to stand between her receiving respect in parts of her community. Not her medals, not the endorsements, not her talents, nope. Her hair. And I find this disturbing, disgusting, and disappointing.
Since the dawn of time, Black women have been under the microscope in regards to their hair, however and in whichever way it is worn; the scrutiny comes from members of all communities and is deeply rooted in generations of Euro-typical standards of beauty pressed into our colonized minds. But what hurts most is when the heckling comes from our own, and of course, in Gabby’s case, when it comes from women who look just like her.
So, this leads me to wonder a few things.
1. Why do we (the black community) enforce stereotypical femininity on our Black women, specifically Black female athletes?
In a current society that has proven over and over again that women are more than capable of doing anything and being anything, it is confusing to see these archaic ideals still being projected onto women and femmes. Women are still being held to specific standards of femininity.
What many of us fail to understand is that the standard of femininity is based off of a hegemonic prototype of femininity that belongs to white woman (again, going back to Eurocentric standards of beauty). More often than not, when we expect our Black women and femmes to be the epitome of what is feminine, we are comparing Black women to what is considered the prototype: white women. This in itself is dangerous because not only are Black women not considered feminine by default simply because they are not white, but, I also have to ask, where does that leave Black female athletes, who have strong and muscular bodies that are deemed “manly” (i.e the amazing Serena Williams), and who sweat out their edges while participating in their sport on camera, like Gabby Douglas.
Black women who participate in sports and athletic competition have little access to any form of femininity, according to this society, and because, in our society, women who are not deemed feminine are considered worthless, Black women like Douglas, are under constant attack, no matter what her accomplishments are.
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2. Why do Black women set ourselves at a higher standard than any other man or even any white person, regardless of gender, could ever set for us?
A significant majority of Gabby’s critics are Black women, who obviously failed to realize that when an athlete sweats, her hair becomes a mess and that having any protective style might pose a problem or a nuisance during competition, and above all else, Gabby’s hair has nothing to do with her athletic talents, not a thing. The ridiculously high standards Black women put on other Black women by shaming these women and their hair exemplifies the internalized misogynoir (that we have learned from white supremacy and Eurocentric standards) many women and femmes in the Black community are experiencing daily and have yet to unlearn. This public shaming further perpetuates the stereotypical notion that women can’t truly ever be happy for other women and they are in constant competition with one another.
Instead of being proud and happy for Douglas and her amazing and truly ground breaking accomplishments, her hair style choices are questioned. as if a Black woman were to sit at home and say “I can’t do that flippy thing, but hey, at least my hair doesn’t look like that.” It would take an act of self love to give praise to another Black woman without feeling as though doing so means you are taking away from yourself. And that act of self love is something that not many in our community have learned how to do yet. So not only does Gabby have to wow the judges in her routines, play nice for the public eye, and be a positive public U.S. figure, all at the age of 20, but if her hair is not up to par, then that is her downfall.
Fellow Black Women, I ask you: How on earth does that add up?
One could say that I am making the situation a lot deeper than what it really is, and perhaps I am, because after all, it is just hair. But hair shaming in the Black community, especially amongst women and femmes, is deeply rooted in the white colonization of black bodies and minds. Black hair is an important representation and symbol for the Black community, while we preserve through a society that enables white supremacy. The shaming of hair in it its natural state, on the body of a beautiful talented and successful young Black woman, like Gabby Douglas no less, sets us back into our colonized minds and divides us from each other.