Women in the London 2012 Olympics – The Price of Progress: “I AM NOT MY HAIR”

During the Opening Ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics, I was excited and moved by the number of women who were flag bearers for so many of the 205 countries participating that night.

For the first time in history, the United States team had more women (269) than men (261). While the 40th anniversary of Title IX might have been the impetus for the United States celebration, every country participating had at least one female athlete. Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia sent women to the Olympics for the first time ever. I am happy that I soaked up the historic moment during the opening event because it wasn’t long before sexism and malignant ignorance forced some of these young athletes to remind their critics that they had brawn, brains and backbone.

Hooray to the women athletes who responded directly to their critics about everything from their hair and feet to their level of attractiveness. You see their critics were not debating their athletic prowess or their right to fair, just competition.

Gabby Douglas became the first woman of color gymnast to win an individual all-around gold medal. Her story and the sacrifices made by her and her family has made her a media magnet. Imagine the number of little girls who saw their future in her smile. She was barely off the podium with her medal shining around her neck before the tweets and updates about her hair started flying in cyberspace. Far too many people complained about her hair not being curled or professionally done.  She works out 5-6 hours a day, sweating, stretching and jumping to be the last one standing with a gold medal—-pardon her if she wasn’t thinking about her coiffed do.

“I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair?” said Douglas, “I’m like, `I just made history and people are focused on my hair?……. Nothing is going to change,” she said. “I’m going to wear my hair like this during beam and bar finals. You might as well just stop talking about it.”

Gabby, I am humming India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair”.

Then there is 6 ft ‘1, 17-year-old high school swimmer Missy Franklin who has earned four gold medals and holds three world records, yet commentators and online stories referenced her shoe size.  While Missy has taken the comments in stride and dismissed them because she is accustomed to people making fun of her size. She recently told a reporter, “I think it’s helped me so much. God has blessed me with an excellent swimmer’s body.”

One of the best exchanges about women Olympians and their self-image came from Zoe Smith an 18-year old British weightlifter that wrote a blog in response to her critics. Some of the men online complained that she wasn’t attractive enough for their taste. Her ire was evident to ‘close-minded, ignorant chauvinistic twerps’.

Smith said women weightlifters “don’t lift weights in order to look hot’ for men and ‘couldn’t give a toss’ if it made them more attractive. Most of the people that do think like this seem to be chauvinistic, pig-headed blokes who feel emasculated by the fact that we are stronger than them. Simple as that.” Young girls who labeled her ‘weird’ because of her muscular build particularly saddened her. “You’d think that young women around the same age as us would commend us,” she added.

In all the progress that has been made in the name of women athletes, it is unfortunate that the battle for equality continues on and off the field.


Beverly Isom

Blogging While Blue


  1. MSUNDASTOOD says:

    It is sad that some people, mostly black women are talking about Ms. Gabby hair instead of not only the history she has made but the hard work it took for her to get to where she is. Why is it soo hard to just compliment a Female athlete for what she do, not what she look like?

    • Margaret says:

      People’s focus as usual is on the wrong thing, Ms. Gabby has made history, she is a beautiful black women and her hair is just as beautiful. I agree with so many responders to this issue, compliment her on her accomplishments not her hair and again her hair is beautiful such as she.

    • Actually, mostly it’s been the media critiquing her hair. I have yet to read any significant criticism of her hair from black women themselves.

      • jewellthief says:

        Actually, the criticism came from women via twitter during her competition….the media was ‘clued’ in later…..

    • because they are just flat jealous and she did her thing 100% gabby we all are proud of you that baby don’t need no perm she was just herself and she did what she had to do gabby alabama is so proud of you sweety you stood up to a nation and show our children that they could do anything if they put there mind to it rather if they are of what ever color keep up the good work that talker proably wanted some attention because she may not be getting it from no were not even from her man if she was a woman or viversal girl i love you more and more beleave in your self why do peoples try to cut black peoples down 1st we will never know is it that natural tan we can’t sale or they can’t bye if they could half the world would be all black go to the beach in florida or anywere else and see if you can get a spot on the beach ……….not one spot

  2. !!** Just want you to no that I have your back in prayer. Gabby everyone don’ t no the lord as there presonel saviour. You just keep him frist in your life and pepole want get you down. we have a lot of haters in the world. But we have to praying for them. Iam just happy for you you just keep doing what you do because you are so good at what you do. !!** BE BLESSED I PRAY THAT HEAVEN KEEP SMILEING UP ON YOU. I LOVE YOU IN JESUS NAME. !!!***

  3. How cruel we are:
    We speak of bullying by children in school’s children mirror adult behavior: Has America acquired the attitude of ; anything we think that we can’t measure up to ourselves we set out to destroy ?
    To whomever spoke out about Gabby’s hair were you avenged by tearing down her self confidence? To the brother on Fox 45 News bashing her dress , did her defeat represent America enough for you ? Shame on us for tearing down the confidence and self esteem of one of our “Best “professional athlete’s .
    I Pray for “Change” of attitudes within the United States of America. Betty Merritt

  4. Gabrielle is such a beautiful spirit and she’s making history. I am not only disappointed in the silly comments made but very angry at the media source making it their business to deliver such asinine news to her. I wish her mother had read them first so that she could block her daughter from ever seeing them until it was all over. I saw her last performance. No bubbly personality, or smile nor confident stride in her walk. I felt the pain for her. Is it too hard to see that when your in a group you do as they do? Didn’t the people see that? Was it even that important. Gabby is ‘nicknamed’ the ‘flying squirrel’! Know what that means? SHE’S GOT IT GOING ON!!! “Dearest Gabrielle, I am so sorry the American media is so disrespectful. How unsupported you must feel. We don’t there are many of us who cheered you and loved everything about you. I heard your interview when you said “This isn’t a black sport and that people look at you and whisper “Blacks don’t do that (gymnastic) and you said ‘oh yes we do’. I was was so proud you said that. YOu reminded me of my 17 year old niece. Please know that one or two posts does NOT represent US black women. Ignore the naysayers and continue to represent us. I look forward to seeing you in the future. Keep up the GREAT WORK. You have a beautiful family.

  5. Gabby, you have made our USA so proud. You are a classy, beautiful young lady who are is so admired by millions of people, especially, here at home. The women who represented our country are my idols….they had a goal, worked for it, and went all the way! Do not read the trashy comments, they do not represent the majority of us who think you, gals, are just fabulous! Congratulations on your accomplishments, and reaching your goals….. THIS IS ONE WOMAN WHO IS SO PROUD OF ALL OF OUR MEDAL WINNERS!

  6. Dolores Robinson says:

    This is just another example of how we as black people hate our selves. Maybe hate is too strong a word, but we certainly are not happy with ourselves. Our hair is nappy. Get over it!! This young woman Won 2 Gold metals in the Olympics!! At what age??? Cheer her on in every way you can! I am a senior citizen and have seen this kind of self “dislike” in many form throughout my 76 years. I thought we had, at least on the surface gotten over it. But I guess there will always be that group of self haters who will find a way to hate on someone as honorable and as spectacular, rwspectable and dignified as GABBY DOUGLAS. Indeed, You are not your hair!

  7. Charles White says:

    Your DaD is part of you and worth more than money. Stay as close as you can! My best advice

  8. Naomi Bundy says:

    This just goes to show, how lost we are as a race and need God more than ever. It’s time we focus on what’s in the heart, given by God, and not how a person looks! Thank GOD Gabby is a strong Christian, and has ignored what has been said. The bible teaches to pray for those who spitefully use you and say ALL manner against you falsely. Thank you GOD allowing Gabby, to show his spirit, and ignore people! I will continue to keep you and your family in my prayers.

  9. its sad of so many foolish people, baby keep up the good work u have went where those that haven’t been so they have a problem don’t let them give u a self esteem spirit keep your head up toward heaven where your strenght came from be bless because God is on your side n he loves u i’m very happy for u

  10. jewellthief says:

    loved how the comedian W. Kamau Bell put it:
    Gabby’s got nappy hair and gold medals
    I got nappy hair and a TV show
    you’re sittin at home w/ a perm, a burning scalp and a hot comb DOING NOTHING!!!

  11. Good morning Gabby,
    First and foremost, I want to congratulate you on your accomplishments. I am a black women and loved everything you did for the olympics. I have never watched the olympics as much as I have this summer…….and it all began with your competitions. I was so excited for you!! I grew up believing I had “horrible hair”…..and the more I relaxed it…….the more it thinned and broke off. I believe we have to embrace our hair and wear it, however we feel most comfortable and reject negative criticism. God did not make a mistake when he made us. He loves us “Just like he made us” Praise The Lord!

  12. Gwendolyn says:

    Gabby, just want to congratulate you and I think you are the perfect role model for the little girls and young teens of today. African Americans especially needed to see that if you keep it real you too can achieve your goals.

    Anytime sometime put negativity out their lets you know one thing I Am Doing Something Right!!!! Now Have The Courage To Follow Me!!!

    Listen To India Arie’s I Am Not My Hair

  13. Dennis Anderson says:

    The good thing about the internet is that it has provided access for intelligent, thoughtful people to make helpful comments and suggestions on important and interesting topics. The bad thing about the internet is that it has provided access for ignorant, thoughtless people to make useless, derisive, self-serving comments on important and interesting topics. Unfortunately, the cacophony of the latter often drowns out the reason of the former. It has been my experience that most of the haters have miserable lives and miserable self-images and delude themselves to believe that they are somehow enhanced by detracting from others. The really scary thing is that people with this level of sophistication are eligible to vote.

  14. You are a smart, talented young woman that is on her way to the top. Ignore the naysayers, that’s all they are with no sense, skills or talent. As they talk negative about you, you are making leaps and bounds. Re: your dad, I have one of those. love him as best you can. his loss. Your mom, treasure her. Moms are always there. Keep God first, ALWAYS.

    • Charles White says:

      I don’t beleive DAD loves you any less than MOM. You will need both, in the den of evil you are likely to encounter.

  15. Rawandreal1 says:

    We know you aren’t Gabby. The silly girls who thought you were: “are their’s”…

  16. LostintheUS says:

    Gabby Douglas is a beautiful and accomplished young American. She is a sight to behold and brings joy in her performance. As an American mom and grandmom, I am also very proud of her.

  17. Thank you for writing this article. I am so proud of Gabby.

  18. Gabby and All the beautiful young women of the Olympics ignore all this negativity. I am 71 yzar old grandma that wishes only to tell you we are proud of all of your ladies and or guys too. I dont care about color sexuality or hatefulness. I care that you have given us all something to be so very proud of. If we had no metals I would still be as proud of you because you had the nerve to go out and try for our country. Do not allow anyone to bring you down due to their stupidity.