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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was first published on

Before gymnast Gabby Douglas’ feet could touch the floor in a historic performance at the 2012 Olympics, her precious prize had already been tarnished by black folk getting all in her hair, literally. These black folk were upset that Gabby’s hair wasn’t properly done.

Never mind the wunderkind was sweating while flying to unimaginable heights to snag an honor no black person had ever achieved: an all around individual Gold medal in gymnastics. I was angered over the rowdy twitter chatter of the hair police and so glad the young heroine wouldn’t be distracted by the “hairsterical” taunts of this malicious pep squad.  

I mean if they wanted to get metaphorical about “hair” then all they had to do was look. Were they oblivious to her tiny frame coiling like “Kitt Curls” on the balancing beam? Did they miss her “locked” body “twist” itself up in the air? Did they ignore her graceful “waves” and her “split (second) endings” in breath-taking floor exercises? You want hair? We got hair! But please, none of the madness that she wasn’t cosmetologically correct!

When I saw Gabby’s innocent smile and beautiful face, she bore striking resemblance to another young girl who had fiercely pursued her dream decades before: Oprah Winfrey. I immediately tweeted a photo of Oprah holding a microphone when she was about Gabby’s age. Ironically, the day after Gabby was crowned, Oprah faced stern rebukes for appearing with her natural hair on the upcoming September cover of her O Magazine.   Oprah said she likes to “let loose” in her spare time.

But why do we recoil at black women’s choices about how they wear their hair? As if some hair is better than other hair, as if some hair is preferable to other hair. Well, sisters, let me let you in on a public secret: There ain’t no such thing as “good hair.”

Hair politics are pretty ancient. A multi-billion dollar industry grew from the urge, first expressed thousands of years ago, to flick insects or mud from mangled locks by taking a fish bone or carved whale rib to remove the debris.

So many of us – perhaps too many of us – have set off like Christopher Columbus in search of “good hair,” and like that confused pioneer, we’ve ended up lost on foreign shores claiming something as ours that really doesn’t belong to us. Plus we’ve got to resist seeing ourselves through the eyes of those who didn’t love us to begin with, who sought to subdue us by making us believe we were inferior in every sense.

Some brave black women have fought such colonizing ideas about hair. Think of Grace Jones with her legendary gleaming skull, Susan Taylor with her elegant and flowing braids, and  Whoopi Goldberg with her lovely locks featured daily on national television.

And it’s not just a black thing. Some Asian women are warned against wearing pigtails because they’ll look like peasants. Scarf squads trail some Middle-Eastern sisters lest a lock of hair slip into view. Some married orthodox Jewish women shave their heads only to buy wigs  (sheitel) sanctioned by the Talmud.  And Christian women have been set up by the Bible (1 Corinthians 11:15) for Hairanonia –the fear of not having a “crowning glory.”   

Gabby’s critics forced me to reflect on my “hairstory,” and to recall my critics. When I was one of a few blacks girls in grade school, a white girl named Blondie teased me about my kinky hair as her braids slapped my face when she spun around to play with other classmates. In the late sixties, I cut my ties with “colonizing” styles by clipping away my perm to wear an Afro. I was shocked and saddened when some of my Afrocentirc sisters told me that my natural was too nappy!  

So, after blow-outs and hot picks didn’t spare my Angela Davis-lke ‘fro, I lightly permed my natural hair to be at one with my Kente cloth sisterhood. I grew so tired of their relentless gaze that I took to wearing African hair-wraps called Geles.  


Over the years, I’ve changed my hairstyle to reflect my evolving belief that my hair should please me regardless of what others think. When I turned 50 I had my hair twisted; by 55 I was back to perms and sometimes weaves. I suffer from a mild case of Alopecia and wear blended and occasionally full wigs. At 60, I claim full follicular freedom: I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of my hair.

I pray the same for Gabby. I hope the uplifting words of Serena, Beyoncé, Gabrielle Union, Michael Eric Dyson and Oprah echo in her ears as she goes for more gold at the Olympics. And as the torch of the 2012 games is eventually extinguished, I hope the flames of our self-hatred and our hairanoia will likewise die out.  


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7 thoughts on “Hairanoia

  1. TigreNoir on said:

    African hair is as distinctive as our hips and breasts. We love our hips and breast… why not our hair? We have been brainwashed to believe that Caucasians represent the epitome of beauty. We have lost self-adulation. The Afro was the answer in the 60s and remains so.We can’t just love part of ourselves.

  2. Robina on said:

    The brass nerves of some to dare talk about Gabby’s hair 1) as if it was a priority over her routine, 2) as if it wouldn’t sweat out even if it were coiffed, 3) as though she wanted 101 fake (or real) braids swinging around in her face while competing. Did anyone say that she was focused on what really mattered and why she was at the Olympics (and the answer is/was not her hair)? Moreover, did some of you forget that your hair used to look the same as Gabby’s (or worse) before you started investing a small fortune in the weave/wig industry. An overwhelming majority of black women don’t even expose their real hair (let alone what condition it’s in). Gabby’s hair looks better than most who sport rusty looking/unrefreshed weaves. Gabby’s “live” looks better than most with “memorex”. Check the Ella Fitzgerald commercial.

  3. rita1love on said:

    well with her hair she now has enough money to do with what ever she wants to do with it, now what ya hater going to say to that!!!! Maybe ya should ask her to borrow some to go get ur hair fix. Ya black folk (the compliner, haters, jealouser) need to get a life. GOD DONT LIKE UGLY. Gabby I woldnt change a thing to your hair. We are so proud of you.

  4. DCLady on said:

    AMEN! I pray everyday for those who lack self respect and love for themselves, it’s so embarrassing for the world to see black americans act this way. Shame on all of you and I will continue to pray for your deliverance from ignorance

  5. Just want to be free of pain on said:

    Its sad we treat adults like this but when you have a child doing what 99.1% of americans cant do… what does it say about us as a people on how we treat our children.This childs mother did something most of us would never do SHE WENT INTO DEBT TO MAKE HER childs dream come true, AND HER DAD IS FIGHTING IN THE MILITARY COME ON MAN……….As A over 50 black man its truly acts like this that make me wish I was not black…FOR EVERYONE OF YOU THAT SAW HER HAIR AND NOT HER SKILLS SHAME ON YOU AND YOUR FAMILY,,,,SHE IS A STAR,,ITS CLEAR YOU ARE NOT AND THE BEST YOU CAN DO IS CHECK HER HAIR….YOU AND EVERYONE OF YOU COULD HOLD HER DOWN THATS WHY SHE HAS GOLD AND YOU DONT…SHAME ON YOU,,,,MOST OF YOU BLACK WOMEN GOT HORSE HAIR ANYWAY,,,YEA i SAID IT,,GO SWIN THEN CHECK YOUR DO….HATERS

  6. Just want to be free of pain on said:

    WOW……you are so right it hurt my feelings and to hear the white people talking about it I just had to leave the room….praying the conversation was over when I returned its not laughing matter…

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