Commentary: Focus on Gabby's accomplishment, not her hair

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverAugust 6, 2012 

There are people out there criticizing gold-medal-winning Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas for not paying more attention to her hair.

Most of them appear to be black women.

For them, I have but one question: Are y’all crazy?

Nevermind that Douglas has made history by winning two gold medals: some are complaining that she didn’t get her hair permed before she made it.

A Detroit woman named Latisha Jenkins reportedly told The Daily Beast online newspaper “I love how she’s doing her thing and winning, … but I just hate the way her hair looks with all those pins and gel. I wish someone could have helped her make it look better since she’s being seen all over the world. She representing for black women everywhere.”

Oy. Someone buy that woman a verb.

Others asked why she didn’t take her hair fixer to London with her. Then there was this, from Larry Sims, the guy who does the hair and expensive weaves for several black female celebrities: “It’s taboo culturally to be seen in public with a kinky hairline and your ponytail is straight... The textures don’t match her own hair... I think black girls in particular view her as a representation of themselves for the world to see. She just needs some Smooth and Shine gel and she’d be OK.”

Larry, you’re an idiot, and I hope your celebrity clientele realizes it. That child is already OK and a great representative for all girls.

It is enough to make one cry — and enough to make you realize that people don’t have to be in chains to be enslaved — that even in her finest hour, an outstanding young lady is subjected to such petty criticism from the very demographic that should be celebrating unreservedly her successes.

Misguided attempt at help

Sadder, still, is the fact that, of the scores of negative comments about her hair that I read, few of them were gratuitously mean: In other words, these women — get this — actually thought they were doing her a favor by suggesting that a 16-year-old world-class athlete spend more time on her hair than on her craft.

Since some statistics show that 80 percent of black women are overweight — and half qualify as obese — it’s a good bet that many of the so-called “sisters” offering tips about Gabby’s hair haven’t performed a backflip since learning they wouldn’t have to pay extra for Golden Corral’s Chocolate Wonderfall.

A few years ago at the Women’s Empowerment summit in Raleigh, Dr. Ian Smith warned black women that too many of them were getting too big and that their hair was the culprit.

Prior to that, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin sounded the same alarm, telling her fellow sistas not to let their hair kill them.

How, you ask, can hair kill someone? By using toxic sprays or dyes?

That, too, but mainly by putting more emphasis on one’s appearance than on one’s health. After spending big bucks to get their hair done, many aren’t about to sweat it out on a track or in a gym. That’s how you end up with beautiful hair and diabetes — or, as we call it, “the sugar” — and high blood pressure.

Years ago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said that after five minutes of talking to college students, he could tell if they spent more time on what was on their head than what was in it. Now, unfortunately, you don’t need five minutes — all you need is a glance — to tell if a woman is spending more time on what’s on her head than what goes in her belly.

Oh, I’m sorry. Do I sound angry, bitter?

You betcha. After reading some of the big-waisted, small-minded comments about that little girl, I reckon I am just about the angriest Negro God’s got right about now. Why don’t those women encourage each other, motivate their sisters to exercise more than their gums and their rancor?

Some do. A woman named Dawn Tucker called me months ago to tell me about a group she belongs to called Black Girls Run — and its name explains precisely what it is.

Tucker, 42, is dean for College and Career Readiness at Central Carolina Community College in Sanford, and two to three times a week, she said, she and several friends get together and exercise — hair be darned.

“It’s an opportunity for me to take my journey of fitness and health with likeminded people,” she told me when I called to ask her about the hair flap last week. “I know when I get up at 5 a.m., there’ll be three to five or more people out there to meet me. It’s drama-free. Nobody’s looking at what you’re wearing or how your hair looks. It’s about fitness.”

‘Jealousy and values’

Regarding the petty sniping at the giant little gymnast, Tucker said, “It’s just a matter of jealousy and values. A lot of people put a lot of value on their hair and appearance, but that’s not Gabby’s priority. I don’t understand why it’s a big deal. I just hate that there are people who for even one minute would focus on anything besides her talent and her gifts. I’d take her intellect, her gifts and her talent any day.”

So would the corpulent, keyboard-crunchers complaining about her coiffure — as long as they didn’t have to skip dessert or sweat out their hair.

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