How 'Aesthetic Violence' & Social Media Caused a Fuss Over Gabby Douglas' Hair
9 months ago
Focus on the 16-year-old gymnast turns sour
Gabrielle Douglas made history at the 2012 Olympics Thursday when she became the first African American to win the Women’s Individual All-Around gold medal. Earlier this week, she helped usher the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team to its first gold medal win since 1996.
In most instances, these kinds of victories -- especially when achieved at the ripe age of 16 -- would unleash an unending chorus of praise. And while Douglas has certainly become a fan favorite, she has also faced a wave of criticism - one that her counterparts (teammates McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber) have managed to avoid.
A quick search on Twitter reveals that Douglas' hair has proven to be a pain - not in her side, but in others'. While most of us can pat down a pesky flyaway at a moment's notice, those watching the Olympics from their couches are annoyed by Douglas' "edges," "hair clips," and "brown gel residue."
Ironically, many of her critics are of color themselves.
Ingrid Banks, Associate Professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said, "Black women have the right to 'criticize' their own on a number of issues, but I view the criticism of Gabby Douglas' hair as a form of 'aesthetic violence' that occurs within black communities [and] has deep historical roots dating back to the late nineteenth century [when] black people equated 'proper grooming' standards as a weapon in the fight against segregation. The criticism of her hair is historical in nature, yet it illustrates, in a painful manner, how black people continue to hold on to outdated ideas that are no less problematic today as they were in the past."
The cynical reviews are only magnified by the modern-day power of social media, especially virtual 140 character bully pulpits like Twitter.
Alexandria Williams, co-founder of Sporty Afros, said, "We live in a society where everyone feels the need to comment and add their two cents in. Unfortunately, we often are more negative than positive [but] there are more important things to focus on."