Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gabby Douglas: She is Not Her Hair


In my last post in Deep Waters, I raved about Gabby Douglas. After watching her Olympic Gold performances and her even more inspiring interviews with reporters, I had to be the 4'11", 90-pound powerhouse's biggest fan.

Perhaps I still am.

This 16-year-old's courage to leave her home and family in Virginia to train in Iowa exceeds that of most adults I know.

...Her courage to shine and smile her way through the ups and downs of life on the uneven bars, the balance beam and the floor exercises of the Olympics, even when she'd lost her winning streak.

...And her courage to face the criticism and questions in cyberspace about her family's financial state, her absent father and worse of all -- her hair.

The ignorance that I've seen from others, mostly African Americans, about Gabby's hair, brought to mind a favorite song of mine by R&B recording artist India.Arie...

"I Am Not My Hair"

Little girl with the press and curl
Age eight I got a Jheri curl
Thirteen and I got a relaxer
I was a source of so much laughter
Fifteen when it all broke off
Eighteen and I went all natural
February, two thousand two
I went on and did 
What I had to do
Because it was time to change my life
To become the woman that I am inside
Ninety-seven dreadlocks all gone
I looked in the mirror for the first time
And saw that, hey

I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations no no
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am a soul that lives within

Good hair means curls and waves
Bad hair means you look like a slave
At the turn of the century
It's time for us to redefine who we be
You can shave it off
Like a South African beauty
Or get in on lock 
Like Bob Marley
You can rock it straight 
Like Oprah Winfrey
It's not what's on your head
It's what's underneath...


Most African American women have their own hair journey they could write a song about too. I certainly have my own. 

By the time I turned five, my mother had begun the bi-monthly ritual of straightening my hair with a pressing comb. At age ten, I got my first chemical relaxer. And at age thirty I broke my Mama's heart, cut it all off and rocked an Afro. Recently, I've settled for natural hair (chemical-straightener free), but I usually have it flat-ironed straight. 

The bottom line is we African American women have many choices regarding hair. I love the diversity and versatility. 

But why is the self-hatred concerning our hair so prevalent, so deeply embedded, that we have to Tweet and Facebook cruel comments about Gabby's hair looking less than perfect? 

Obviously hair was not her priority.

Gabby's priority was winning Olympic Gold Medals

Our priority should be the fact that she did.


 

Carla