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Controversy over Gabby Douglas' hair highlights ongoing debate

As the gymnast competed in London, detractors on Twitter criticized not her performance, but her hair.
by Yvette Walker Modified: August 3, 2012 at 7:22 pm •  Published: August 3, 2012
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Linda Jones of Dallas, who does not straighten her hair, is reclaiming the idea of “bad hair” and turning it into a positive. Jones is a journalist and the founder of A Nappy Hair Affair, which organizes grassroots hair grooming sessions that are known as Hair Days. She also is author of “Nappyisms: Affirmations for Nappy-Headed People and Wannabes!” Thursday morning Jones posted on Facebook: “I don't care if she was wearing a Mr. T Mohawk, Gabby represented for us all.”

In a private Facebook conversation Thursday night, Jones told me her group's message goes deeper than hair. “It is to promote positive images of people of African descent. Gabby, our young role model, does that hands down.

“Whoever made those disparaging remarks about Gabby's hair while she was going for the gold, has bought pettiness to a new low. It smacks of jealousy to me — and also idleness.”

At first, I was afraid that Douglas' brilliant performance at the Olympics might become just another chapter in the tired, old story about black women's hair.

But social media trends are brief, and backlash against the trolls soon took over. Thursday, as Douglas soared and jumped and tumbled and strutted to her gold, there were few criticisms of her hair to be found on Twitter. In fact, some of the original “haters” seemed to change their tune.

After Douglas won the individual all-around gold, an interviewer asked her what it all meant to her. She credited God, her family and endurance.

“Hard days ... that's where champions are made,” she said.

Exactly, Gabby — in the gym, not in the hair salon.

Yvette Walker is night news director for The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, and is the E.K. Gaylord Media Ethics chair at the University of Central Oklahoma. She wears her hair straightened — but does not castigate any woman who chooses not to.

by Yvette Walker
Night News and Presentation Director
Yvette Walker is Director of Presentation and Custom Publishing at The Oklahoman. She supervises the look and feel of the paper, as well as coordinates content in several special sections and niche publications. Previously, she managed online...
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