Olympic Hair Controversy: REALLY???

Gabby Douglas — what hair problem!?

First, let me say, itʻs not a real controversy, although it sure reads like one!

People didnʻt like her hair clips, her hair style, a debate about black womenʻs hair that is a longterm American obsession. (See Vanessa Williams informative history of African American hairstyles here!)

Williams concludes:

“Sisters need to relax. It shouldn’t matter how black women wear their hair. But it does, says Tina Opie, an assistant professor of management at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., because “hair is identity.” For black women who “see hair as a signifier of identity — of class, ethnicity, of gender — it matters. So when these black women see Gabby Douglas wearing her hair in a way they see as sub-par, they view it as a threat, something that will negatively impact how others view them as well. She’s a representative of the collective,” Opie said. Opie says this undermines the argument that the haters are themselves self-hating, as some observers have suggested. “If they didn’t care about being black women, they wouldn’t care about how she looks. What they’re saying is, ‘Listen, Gabby, you’re on the international stage representing us, so do it well!’ ” But, Opie says, the women who cringe at the sight of Douglas’s frizzy edges and kinky kitchen (translation: the tight, curled hair at the nape of the neck) need to ask themselves: “Does her hair trump her performance? She’s won two gold medals and for the discussion to be about her hair as opposed to the great honor she’s bestowing on African Americans and the United States, I think we really have to ask ourselves: Why?”

One of the best retorts to those who seem to have gotten themselves all tangled up over Douglas’s hair was this gem on Twitter from @AmandaMarcotte: “If you want to ride Gabby Douglas for her hair, you should be open to her coming over to critique your muscle tone.”

So, you may be asking, what does this have to do with leadership?

Pay attention. Great achievers are often criticized by trivia, as if we need them to be perfect because we want them to represent the most perfect us! Or maybe, we want to bring them down a notch. Most leaders learn to weather these tempests-in-a-teapot by keeping a balanced perspective. The limelight often means feeling like theyʻre being nibbled to death by ducks, as the saying goes.

Gabbyʻs comment in Sundayʻs Post:  “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.” (Check out the above link to find a video feature, noting that she is the first African-American to win this honor! And, sheʻs 16. 16!)

So, as the leaders in whatever field step up to accept accolades, or just do their jobs, pay attention to the duck nibbling — thatʻs all it is. ALL OUR LEADERS FACE THIS DEMEANING AND PETTY CRITIQUE. Letʻs either be bold enough to stop the ducks in their tracks — or letʻs just quietly not play along.




  1. I am really looking forward to part 2 of this Blog


    1. Gabby Douglas and the controversies about her hair makes an interesting story within the ways sheʻs marketed herself since. I donʻt know if anyone is tracking the way she “does” her hair outside the Olympics, or thinking about the physical part of her identity. Iʻm more interested in the stories sheʻs telling herself, and what that says about her as a role model and public figure. There are a lot of other articles about Douglas in the blog, although I havenʻt focused on her hair so much. (Itʻs amazing — she still gets questions about the comments! The power of Twitter…)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: