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WATCH: Profile Of 2012 Olympic Gymnastics Champion Gabrielle Douglas, On Fox Sports

London Olympics 2012 Gymnastics Champion Gabrielle Douglas Criticised By Haters Over Her Competition Hair

SPORT AND STYLE: Above right: London Olympics 2012 African American gymnastics champion Gabrielle Douglas with the ponytail hair that so offended a small minority of black spectators. Above left: A profile of the sports star's ponytail hair, held firm with clips and gel. Above lower left: the Olympic champion, nicknamed 'The Flying Squirrel', in full flow.

IT WAS NOT ENOUGH that Gabrielle Douglas won gold at the London Olympics 2012 — some spectators
decided to criticise her hairstyle instead. Are black women too obsessed with hair? By Ben Arogundade.

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SHE WON DOUBLE GOLD at London Olympics 2012, was congratulated by President Obama, appeared on the cover of a raft of magazines, from Time to Sports Illustrated, and became a role model for millions — but all these achievements were not enough for a small minority of haters who decided to take her to task over the choice of hairstyle she adopted while competing.

17-year-old Olympic gymnastics champion Gabrielle Douglas, who had trained from the age of six to make it to the Olympics in London 2012, made history by winning double gold in the individual and all-round competitions — the first time an American gymnast had ever reached these giddy heights.

HAIR HATERS GET DIGITAL
But just hours after Douglas, nicknamed “the Flying Squirrel”, won the all-round gymnastics title on August 2, 2012 the sports star was astonished to find that, when she logged onto her computer and Googled herself, she found a series of negative comments on social media sites deriding her hair choice during the competition (Douglas has chemically relaxed hair which, when competing, she wears in a simple ponytail, tied at the back and held with gel and clips).

The criticism, which actually started a few days before she won the gold for the all-round gymnastics event, is reported to have originated amongst young black women on Twitter and Facebook, who felt that Douglas’s hair did not best represent the community.

@stephaniebabe93 tweeted, “I know every black female looked at gabby douglas' hair and asked Why? Just why?”

@misDOScentavos, wrote, “Gabby Douglas gotta do something with this hair! these clips and this brown gel residue aint [sic] it!”

@thats_MYYlane, tweeted, “Gabby Douglas need to tame the beady beads in the back of her hair lol”

DOUGLAS COMES OUT FIGHTING
The press, drawn by the ignorance and outrageousness of such comments on social media sites, blew them up into a national news story, effectively giving false importance to the rants of a misguided few. “I don’t know where this is coming from,” Douglas told 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.” To her credit, the young Olympian remained defiant in the face of the hair haters. “Nothing is going to change. I’m going to wear my hair like this. You might as well stop talking about it.”

Douglas’s mother defended her daughter against the accusations, and the ignorance of those who knew little about how difficult it is to maintain a neat hairstyle when faced with the physical dynamics of the sport. “They don't know about gymnastics,” she said. “She has to keep her hair in a ponytail 28-30 hours a week.”

HARDER ON BLACK THAN WHITE
In fact, Douglas’s ponytail has been standard issue for all gymnasts for decades. During the London 2012 Olympics she was wearing the exact same hairstyle as her white competitors were during competition — and indeed hers was certainly neater and more robust than many of them — and yet, none of the white girls were criticized for their styles by black spectators or Twitter followers. This belies a disturbing reality — that black people are harder on themselves, at least aesthetically, than they are on their white counterparts. This insecurity perhaps comes as no surprise when one considers that historically black women have not been encouraged to love their natural hair.

Within the wider context, the negative comments from Douglas’s hair haters are entirely consistent with a tainted culture more obsessed with celebrity trivia than with achievement. We should perhaps be saddened, although not surprised, when we discover that certain elements within society favour style over substance — or in this case, hairstyle over gold medals.

More importantly, in the end, the story’s hype was rebalanced by the groundswell of people, black and white, who defended Douglas throughout the blogosphere and in newspaper comment sections in the days after the initial story broke. Internet newspaper The Huffington Post recorded almost 3,500 comments to their blog post about the hair haters, the overwhelming majority of which were firmly in favour of Douglas and her hair choice. “GABBY, STAY WHO YOU ARE....BECAUSE THAT'S WHO WE LOVE!!!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!! XOXOX!!!!!” wrote blogger Tiffany01.

Looking back now at the Gabby Douglas hair haters, the implications of stories like these is interesting to contemplate. Just how far should the press go in spinning international news items out of the random Twitter rants of a minority of attention-seekers? Can this really be classed as news?

Ben Arogundade's book BLACK BEAUTY is out now.

London 2012 Olympic gymnastics champion Gabrielle Douglas takes the stairs in a single graceful bound during a special Olympic photoshoot for Time magazine, by Martin Schoeller.

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The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Gabrielle Douglas hair” each month.

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