UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – OCTOBER 18: Actress / Olympic Athlete Gabby Douglas visits Hallmark’s “Home & Family” at Universal Studios Hollywood on October 18, 2018 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)
In 2012, then-16-year-old gymnast Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to win an individual all-around Olympic title, in addition to earning a team gold medal as part of the US women’s gymnastics team. Four years later, she continued to make history in Brazil, once again scoring gold on her own and with her team. Even with those incredible accomplishments on her side, Douglas was still scrutinized by the internet and media for one thing that plays no role in her athletic abilities: her hair.
Now, the athlete is opening up about her journey, revealing that she struggled behind closed doors with hair loss while she worked hard as a gymnast. “From a very young age, I always had to put my hair in a tight ponytail to do gymnastics,” Douglas wrote in an Instagram caption revealing her natural hair. “Due to that, my hair became completely damaged. I had bald spots on the back of my head. I was so embarrassed and self-conscious that I put a bunch of clips over the spots to try and cover them up.”
Douglas recalled that at some point she had to cut her hair due to damage, leaving her even more emotionally vulnerable. “Most days I didn’t even want to go to the gym because I felt so embarrassed that all my hair was gone,” she wrote. “I used to think: Why can’t I have healthy hair?”
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A post shared by Gabby Douglas (@gabbycvdouglas) on Sep 3, 2020 at 1:39pm PDT
Nevertheless, Douglas managed to achieve unbelievable success and share her gifts with the world in spite of her struggles growing up in the public eye. “Fast forward to both Olympics, and my hair was the topic of conversation,” she wrote. “Now, here I am today – no extensions – no clip-ins – no wigs – no chemicals – all me.”
Douglas’ powerful message sparked a discussion on Instagram about the unfair pressure put on Black women’s hair. “Your hair never defined you,” one fan wrote. “I was disgusted, but the people who criticized your hair when the focus should have been on your amazing talent. You are an inspiration.” Others agreed, adding that Douglas’ message is why representation is important. “I looked up to you and hearing the mean things they said about you (whom I thought was beautiful) hurt me as a little black girl and made me take second glances at my self and try to find things wrong with me,” said another supporter. “This is why representation matters.”