Olympic athlete Gabby Douglas is 16 years old and has a gold medal in gymnastics under her belt. Oprah is 58, has millions of dollars and a media empire to her name. But today, I’ve read more about their hair than their accomplishments, because apparently, the public is fascinated with black hair, and why it can’t just look like white hair at all times.
Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart outlined the disappointing reactions to Gabby Douglas’ hair on blogs and Olympics recaps–essentially, more bloggers than you’d care to know have commented that, although her gold-medal win was great, her hair was disappointing. And so the chatter has become big news:
Likewise, O Magazine’s newest cover, to hit newsstands on August 6, is already getting media attention because it’s the first time she hasn’t straightened the kinks out of her hair for a shoot, which, as Buzzfeed notes, “looks quite different when she goes to the bother of getting it done.”
To be fair, Oprah herself wrote about her hair in the issue, according to a press release about the issue:
Winfrey writes that wearing her hair naturally – as she often does on weekends and on vacation – makes her feel unencumbered and that she once wanted to just cut it all off. “I wanted to wear it close-cropped a la Camille Cosby but her husband Bill convinced me otherwise. ‘Don’t do it,’ he said. ‘You’ve got the wrong head shape and you’ll disappoint yourself.’ I took his advice.”
But Douglas didn’t. And as Stewart noted, it’s perfectly acceptable that she isn’t worried about how her sweat affects her hair-do while she competes for gold medals at the Olympics. So notes about a stray curl or kink just seem mean, and point to two things: a) the public’s unhealthy fascination with black hair, and b) the underlying sexism that, despite the huge victories for women in this year’s Olympics, allows men and women to critique women for absurd things like hair and weight, even in the midst of our greatest accomplishments.