It seems like it happened simultaneously: the announcement that Oprah was wearing natural hair on the September issue of O, the Oprah magazine, and the beginning of the onslaught of criticism about Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas's hair. Really? I thought; this is news?
Oprah's big reveal of her natural hair on O's cover, accompanied by Twitter pix of her in the company of her wigs reminded me of the news, around Oscar time, of Viola Davis's wigs vs. natural hair, which I admitted I had been unaware of. In fact, Oprah had a touching interview with Ms. Davis about that issue, among others — I wonder if that influenced her decision to go au natural at all...
But the virtual hysteria over Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas's hair, even as she is performing super-human feats of physical dexterity and winning the U.S. all kinds of gold and goodwill, has been beyond baffling.
I turned to writer/actress Nancy Giles, a longtime contributor on CBS Sunday Morning, with her natural hair, she emphasizes. I had laughed and learned a lot seeing her solo piece, Things My Afro Taught Me, a few years back and thought she might have some insight. Like, why is this all this noise happening about hair right now?!
"OK, this is my theory," she told me. "I think it's because President Obama is the White House, and more importantly Michelle Obama. She is a revelation. She's graceful and beautiful and proud; she has a black woman's shape. [She's more of a role model] not like a singer or actress. I think her hair is pressed but her daughters have had all kinds of hairstyles, [including] braids and Afro-puffs ...
This visibility has been very freeing."
A high-profile focus on style in a reputable arena has given a microphone to what has always been a quiet conversation before, if that. I certainly don't remember hair being a headliner topic at the Olympics!
Oh, well I suppose there was Dorothy Hamill's beloved bowl haircut. And Nancy brought up "Flo-Jo's nails" regarding runner Florence Griffith Joyner. I myself noted runner Blessing Okagbare's wig and false eyelashes.
As women, we have the right to experiment," Nancy avers.
But this newly opened door has blown in some dirt too. Nancy reminded me of radio jock Don Imus's comment about the Rutger's women's basketball team as "nappy headed hos." But what has been equally upsetting, if not more, she says, is that most of the recent attacks "have been by women! Women being sexist about other women! That the focus is in any way on [Gabby Douglas's] appearance ... how ignorant and sad."
Agreed. I've ranted about this before, too. How can we expect to advance if we spend our valuable time pulling each other down?
It might be indicative of Oprah's instinctive perfect timing that she publishes a natural hair cover now — further sanctioning acceptance of who we are as women. Nancy told me she saw a girl with an Afro on a box of Corn Chex and almost cried — a mainstream example of a more pervasive acceptance.
The thing about being a woman is that it's all about flexibility and choice," Nancy Giles says.
Gabby Douglas is certainly flexible; she's also a 16-year-old athlete who's chosen to represent the USA in excellence in gymnastics. Can we let her wear her hair however she chooses to perform at her best?
Nancy Giles' next show is called The Accidental Pundette — can't wait to see what I learn from that!
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