Little girls across the United States grow up with the dreams of possessing the poise and grace of a gymnasts. Many are enrolled in tumbling classes, practice flips, stick landings and compete in competitions. As they grow up, some transition to cheerleading while others give up altogether. Financial reasons, size limitations and mere changes of heart tug these youth into different directions. However, even in adulthood they still reminisce of the time they wanted to dress in a leotard, soar through the sky, smile big, feel beautiful and shine as a star.
Sixteen year old Gabrielle “Flying Squirrel” Douglas represents that small percentage that got to live out her dream and achieve big. As the first American to win team and all-around gold in the same Olympics and the first African-American woman to win gold in the women’s all-around, the 4-foot-11 teen with the golden small and chic moves has earned her spot as a heroin and legend.
Douglas, a Virginia Beach native, has been a formal gymnast since age 6. She moved to Iowa two years ago to train with elite coach Liang Chow. After winning several small titles, Douglas went on to beat reigning world all-around champion Jordyn Wieber and win the the Olympic trials competition. She earned the only guaranteed spot on the United States team and this, in turn, started her journey to the gold in London.
The path was not an easy one to walk. The young star’s mother, Natalie Hawkins, was a single mother of three who worked hard to make not just ends meet, but to make her child’s wishes come true. Hawkins told the Washington Times how difficult it was to agree to let her daughter move in with a host family in another country to train. However, she knew how important this was to the young star, and allowed her to go. The decision turned out to be wise, as Douglas returned from from London with two gold medals, one in the women’s team gymnastic competition and the other in the individual all-around competition.
During the games, Douglas unwarrantedly received harsh criticism, not for her talent, but for the condition of her hair. While competing, Douglas was seen not sporting a ponytail with human hair extensions in the back for length. Her natural hair was slicked back with gel and held in place by clips. African American women let this fact overshadow the great victories the superstar achieved, and instead tweeted and placed Facebook status claiming Douglas’ hair made them look bad.
How a person who is breaking stereotypes and giving hope to the younger generations is a bad representation is never going to make sense to me. As an African American woman, I know how difficult it is to maintain chemically processed hair when doing strenuous activities that cause you to sweat. I also know how hard it is to gain acceptance for having natural hair because its considered too kinky and “nappy.” Douglas is more than a superficial beauty queen, she posses an inner and outer beauty that radiates at all time. At only 16, she has a pizazz that some adults could never fashion. Her style is beautiful and a few strands of displaced hair, is a perfect symbol of hard work and dedication.
I am proud of her ability to shake her critics, and hope those who did speak out against her will learn that societies standard that “black hair is bad” is wrong. Until then, I will continue to support Douglas as I sit back and wait to root for her to win big all over agin at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Congratulations Gabby! You Rock!