As a black woman I am often asked about my hair. Actually I’m asked about the hair of the entire population of black women as I, Heather Barmore, represent them all. But I digress.
Over the last 28+ years I have had an adorable afro – then again, as a six-month-old, pretty much everything is adorable. Then there were the hot comb years where I spent every Sunday with my mother threatening to give me something to cry about as she took a smoking piece of metal to the nape of my neck. Then the relaxer and the ensuing burns and hair breakage. How could I forget the braids that were once so tight that my scalp bled? Then back to the relaxer. And then finally the moment when I moved to Spain for six months and chopped off all of my hair. My hair is currently in its natural state. It’s tight ringlets that I define with hair product. It’s long enough that I can pull it back and…can I be honest here? It’s really not that fascinating. Or at least I don’t find it fascinating. It’s just hair on my head and there’s a lot of it but I don’t have deep philosophical thoughts as to the state of my hair each morning. It’s just there.
A photo so you can see why I’m all ‘meh’ about my hair:
That I give my own hair little thought means nothing because we all know that it’s what other people think that counts. I should pause here to say that it’s hard to discuss how other black women discuss hair without rolling my eyes after every sentence because it’s ridiculous. Then again, I have nothing to compare it to as I’ve never thought to ask a white woman what she thinks of another white woman’s hair. Again, it’s not something I’m constantly thinking about.
So, when the topic of Gabby Douglas’ hair came up last week, I was torn between rolling my eyes because, I don’t know, I’m not about to worry about and/or criticize the hair of a woman who can do this:
I can’t do that. Can you?
It’s also spectacularly irrelevant to the fact that Gabby Douglas is GABBY FREAKING DOUGLAS. Olympic champion. Gold medalist. First African-American woman to win the All-Around Gymnastics Olympic Gold. Ever. But of course, as we black women are wont to do, we had to talk about her hair. So! Let’s!
It’s pulled back. Strategically I might add. Because who wants flyaways when doing triple back handsprings in a floor routine? I wouldn’t. Unfortunately, gel doesn’t always do its job so a few hair clips are in order. Yes? Yes. The half-pony is…well…it’s a half-pony. It’s irrelevant. It’s all irrelevant but here we are – as black women – once again finding fault with one another over something that most people won’t notice.
The reason? Well, going back to my own hair history with my relaxers and straightening solutions, I did all of it, no matter the harm done to my hair and plenty was done, in a quest to be pretty. I went to school in upstate New York with girls who had gorgeous straight hair. I thought that was what my hair should look like so any bit of kink to it instantly made me unattractive. Black women in the United States have unfortunately grown up in a place surrounded by Euro-centric beauty (lighter skin, straight hair) which has caused many of us to question our own beauty. It has become a leading discussion as to whether or not a black woman can be successful based on whether or not her hair is natural. It’s sad really and I cannot tell you the number of times, I , as a child, wished for lighter skin because I would be prettier. My hair should be able to be easily brushed and whipped around. I wanted to be a Pantene commercial so I straightened and manipulated for years.
My cousin is 11 and is going through what I went through back then. She wants straight hair and her mother will not allow her to put chemicals in it. The good news is that she is now sees me with my very natural (well, except for the color but that’s a whole different story) hair and is now fascinated with her own. But not all young women of color have that. And while I once upon a time wanted hair like in a Pantene commercial, an actual Pantene commercial model thinks my hair – with the curly bits that aren’t as curly as other bits – is awesome. You can even ask her.
All of this to say that I, as a black woman, don’t care about Gabby Douglas’ hair. I, as a black woman who has gone through the gamut of unhealthy hair decisions, now is fully accepting of my hair. Because it’s just that: HAIR. The unfortunate thing is that no matter how accepting Gabby Douglas or I are of our own hair, others will not be. I will continue to have to discuss whether or not my hair in its natural state is professional enough or will hinder my career. Gabby can do 15 cartwheels on a balance beam and people will always ask why Gabby chose to put a bobby-pin in that particular spot. The only response for women like Gabby and myself is to shrug and go about our business.
At least Gabby can point to her gold medals and say, “Do YOU have one of these? I think not. Now keep it moving.”
I’m gonna need a gold medal.