Natural Talent vs. Natural Hair in the Olympics


Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Simone Manuel beat the odds while competing in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Gabby Douglas was already a household name after becoming the first African-American Olympian to receive a gold medal in gymnastics in 2012. This year during the games, her teammate Simone Biles won two gold medals in the individual all-around final and the vault final. Biles’ success made everyone question if she could possibly be the best gymnast ever.

Simone Manuel became the first African American woman to win gold in individual swimming during the Olympics. After setting an Olympic record finishing the 100-meter freestyle in 52.70 seconds, Manuel’s race remarks hit home.

“Coming into the race, I tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders,” Manuel said. “It’s something I carry with me.”

This was not the only race that was on her mind, and it wasn’t for viewers at home either.

“I want to be an inspiration, but I would like there to be a day when it is not ‘Simone the black swimmer,’ because the title ‘black swimmer’ makes it seem like I’m not supposed to be able to win a gold medal – or I’m not supposed to be able to break records – and that’s not true, because I work just as hard as anybody else,” Manuel said. “I want to win just like everybody else.”

Many viewers took to social media to scrutinize the three ladies: not their talent and effort during the games, but, more specifically, their natural hair. Users online declared that the unspoken rule of one’s hair always needing to look its best was broken. It shows that women can fall victim to public humiliation even if they are prolific athletes.

The ladies became more famous after social media memes spotlighted their coiled edges and frazzled hair. In fact, this social media shaming happened to Douglas before, when she was 16 years old competing in the 2012 games alongside her teammates, the Fierce Five.

Viewers took to Twitter and Instagram handles to start a “comb her hair” petition. This was another case of how online bullying and unfair beauty standards exist, even when one is a young, successful athlete. Gabby and Simone’s achievements have been overshadowed with headlines concerning their hair.

However, the three are taking the criticism with the most grace, choosing not to address the situation right away. Tweets referring to their hair targeted how their “edges should have been laid” versus bringing home the gold. Comments online suggested that the ladies will be critiqued by others even when their hair is on the red carpet. Many online Twitter users went back and forth about the topic.
“Gabby Douglas is an artistic gymnast,” one user wrote. “Her main focus is to win. Not impress ppl online. It’s not a beauty pageant.”

Another wrote, “No shade, but… Gabby Douglas’ hair.. C’mon, it’s 4 years later, you would think she would fix that. Especially for the Olympics.”

Recently, Douglas spoke out about social media critics, saying it’s been hard.

Although the 20 year old is the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the Individual All Around Champion, keyboard warriors have chosen to focus on her appearance.

“Either it was about my hair, or my hand not over my heart or I look depressed,” Douglas said in the wake of the Star Spangled Banner controversy. “It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It’s been kind of a lot to deal with.”

Many can agree that the ladies have accomplished more than most of us will in a lifetime. The question is, will the online punches continue to be thrown even when our youth are continuously breaking world records?