Friday, August 3, 2012
I've been very excited about the Olympic this year. So of course I have been very proud of America's female Olympic team, especially Gabrielle Douglas. The 16-year old from Virginia Beach twisted, tumbled, flipped and twirled her way to win a gold medal yesterday.
Apparently the journey has presented plenty of challenges to young Gabby. She injured her hamstring and consequently fell a few times during the U.S. nationals. But with hard work, including practicing six to seven times a day, she was able to travel with the United States and join the Olympic team this year.
But what are people focusing on? Her hair. No seriously. My friend informed me that her hair was a target of controversy in the past two days. Apparently people-mostly black women- were annoyed that her hair was not presentable and even embarrassing her fellow black people. Thankfully there were sensible, respectful people who defended her and retorted, "She just won a gold medal! What the hell is your problem?!"
This blog is about mental health with a focus on the black community. At first it may appear as if this post is off topic but I told my friend I had to blog about this story in particular. It is because I was Gabby, in fact we all were. Words, that is our interactions with people affect our emotional well being. Women, especially black women, are held to ridiculously high beauty standards. Even worse, we harshly scrutinize other women's appearances, further contributing to the oppressive treatment of women. This is one of the causes of the cycle of low self-esteem that plagues our community.
We were all sixteen once. And when I was sixteen, I was fragile, impressionable and sensitive. Gabby is only sixteen and she is a public figure. She's not an entertainer like Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber. She's an athlete and her appearance is not a real factor in her occupation. She excels in what she does and is quite phenomenal. How awful it is for petty people who potentially take away from her happiness to criticize her for her hair of all things!
Then I realized how deep the importance of hair is for many black women. This is a very general statement but as a black woman who has had her share of shade from other black women, I can attest that black women place a lot of their esteem into their hair. Our hair is commonly referred to as our glory and for the most part I can dig it. But too often does hair become something that makes us insecure. In other words, many black women cannot go anywhere without their hair done. This insecurity pours over to other people. Our insecurities have the potential to cause great harm to others, Gabby in particular.
Gabrielle Douglass is now being torn apart because her hair is not up to par. Hopefully, she is mature and confident enough to ignore the shallow criticism, and celebrate her recent accomplishments. But I worry that this would be too big of a feat for the teenager and the negativity will overshadow her success. So I ask you to be respectful of Gabby and recognize that a few years ago, she was you. Only, you probably did not have a gold medal.
This post is cross listed at LeChele's new blog on black people and mental health issues, Black with the Blues.