Gabby Douglas' mom weighs in on hair controversy

Dave Hogan / NBC News

Gabby Douglas and her mom, Natalie Hawkins, on TODAY after Team USA's gold-medal win.

Just before the scoreboard showed that Gabby Douglas had won the gold in individual gymnastics last week, her mom Natalie Hawkins had only one reaction: relief. It was relief that came after ten years of training, after her daughter said she dreamt of being an Olympian, and after she let her daughter move away from home at 14 to chase her dreams.

The relief didn't last long, as Hawkins soon found herself defending her daughter's hair, which had been swiftly criticized for being both “unkempt” and “embarrassing” very soon after Douglas made Olympic history.

In an interview with gymnastics gold medalist Dominique Dawes, Hawkins said when she first saw the comments she was confused. "Because I was looking at the pictures and I was like, 'I'm missing it,' because I don't see what they're talking about. I mean, she doesn't have fly-aways all sticking out, it's not like it's all over her head. It's pulled back into a ponytail."

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Gabby Douglas has been deflecting online commentary about her hair.

Hawkins went on to describe the specific way gymnasts must tie their hair back so that it doesn't interfere with their tumbling. 

As her daughter competed, Hawkins thought of Douglas sharing a place in the history books alongside Dawes, who was the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in gymnastics. Hawkins told Dawes that when she imagined Gabby winning the gold she thought of her sharing "that amazing feat with people like the likes of you, and so that was exciting for me to know, that she would be counted on a level and in a category with you and all the other gymnastic greats."

She was not considering her daughter's ponytail.

According to Dawes, it shouldn't be a consideration. "As an athlete you are not focused on your appearance or you're not going to make those achievements," she said.

The attention over Douglas's hair gained ground once it hit Twitter. One user tweeted, “I love Gabby Douglas, but I'm mad at whoever keeps letting her wear that half wig and that silky ponytail on the back of some nappy hair.” Another suggested she did not belong on camera.

If Douglas has been fazed she hasn’t shown it, continuing to wear her hair the same way throughout the games. Fans have encouraged her along the way, many coming to her defense. TODAY's Al Roker tweeted Tuesday, "Anybody who has a problem w/Gabby Douglas' hair needs to sit down and be quiet. Enjoy and focus on the accomplishments."

When Hawkins spoke about the hair controversy to, she said that she herself was once guilty of prioritizing her daughter's hair before her training, and had to be reminded that it had nothing to do with her career. “It was actually her coach who told me that,” she said. “I was trying to get her into a hair appointment and I wanted to move her training schedule around and he said to me, ‘She’s beautiful. You don’t need to change her hair. We need to focus on training.’"

Douglas lives and trains in Des Moines, Iowa, with a host family, Hawkins reminded "She lives with a white host family and they don’t know anything about taking care of her hair," she said. "And there’s no black salons in their area — not one. We had to work really hard to find a stylist to come and do her hair... It’s really been African-American women that have come out and attacked her. They don’t know about gymnastics. She has to keep her hair in a ponytail 28-30 hours a week."

Hair, especially among African-American women, has long been a cause of contentious discussion. As reported last week, media queen Oprah recently went au naturel for the cover of her magazine's September issue, which hits the stands today. The cover has sparked everything from widespread support to accusations that she isn’t wearing her real hair.

Douglas herself has summed up the controversy, echoing her mom’s statements in an interview with the Associated Press. "'I just made history and people are focused on my hair? It can be bald or short; it doesn't matter about (my) hair,'" she said.

More: Gabby Douglas: Gold medals are made of sweat, blood and tears
Video: Gabby Douglas is welcomed by gymnastics legends Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson, and Nastia Liukin
Golden Gabby! Read Shawn Johnson's analysis of gymnastics all-around finals 
TODAY Moms: Sweet photo of white dad doing black daughter's hair goes viral

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  • 1 vote
Reply#1 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 11:53 AM EDT
Comment author avatarSheryl Powellvia Facebook

We have been to the mountain top, but we have not climbed over the

hurdles of hair haters. I can not believe that hair is even an issue.

We have been to the mountain top. Now we must learn to accept ourselves

in our natural Black beauty, remembering that GOD was our original


    #1.1 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:53 PM EDT

    I cannot believe peop[le can be so petty in someone's hair. She was not there for a style show. She was awwesome, and we all as American's should be so proud of her. We were not watching the olympics for what someone's hair looked like, but for what they can do and what they have achieved. She and her mother should be so very proud, and ignore those people that only have time for picking things apart. Ridiculous

    • 2 votes
    #1.2 - Wed Aug 8, 2012 11:42 AM EDT
    Comment author avatarWendy Walkervia Facebook

    CONGRATS GABBY!!! Don't worry about your hair.

    • 3 votes
    Reply#2 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:12 PM EDT

    I don't get it....her hair looks fine. It is out of her face and not flying around, what else are they suppose to do?

    • 6 votes
    Reply#3 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:29 PM EDT

    I guarantee you that the African American women (girls) who have commented on her NOTHING about cometing in ANYTHING!!!!! Gabby's hair is how it SHOULD BE FOR WHAT SHE IS DOING IN THE OLYMPICS.....dummies! Thats the trouble with a lot of these African American (girls) I say young girls because they're the only ones who would make such STUPID comments.....they pay ENTIRELY TOO MUCH ATTENTION TO THEIR HAIR AND NOT ENOUGH ATTENTION TO WHATS INSIDE THE HEAD. They would rather spend hundreds of dollars.....THAT THEY DON'T HAVE, on that STUPID SH— T THAT THEY CALL A HAIRSTYLE, THAN INVEST IN A CAREER, AN EDUCATION, A SPORT....ANYTHING. Bunch of dummies who couldn't hold a candle to Gabby. GABBY...IF YOU READ THIS POST....DON'T YOU DARE PAY ATTENTION TO THOSE IGNORANT PEOPLE. THEY HAVEN'T GOT A POT TO PISS IN. YOU HAVE IT ALL AND MORE...INCLUDING THE BRAINS, CLASS, AMBITION AND FORTITUDE TO PURSUE YOUR DREAMS...NOT HAIRSTYLES. MUCH SUCCESS TO YOU IN ALL YOU DO.

    • 2 votes
    Reply#4 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:39 PM EDT

    Absolutely right! If they paid more attention to their education, they wouldn't have made those ignorant comments in the first place. I pray Gabby has a lot of smart people around her telling her the truth. Gabby, those girls saying these stupid things are liars. They only say it to get you off your game. Remember this, you're beautiful and talented and people who try to knock you down are sometimes spiteful, jealous or ignorant. Pay them no mind and keep focussed on your goals. My husband and I cried when you won gold. We were so proud of you and your family. We love your amazing spirit. Keep smiling and follow your heart...

    • 1 vote
    #4.1 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 4:39 PM EDT

    Her hair was perfect for the activity she was doing. How dare anyone down her for her hair. Celebrate the incredible accomplishment she has achieved. Go Gabby, you are as cute as a button and so talented!

    • 5 votes
    Reply#5 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:39 PM EDT


    • 3 votes
    Reply#6 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:39 PM EDT

    I think she looks great. She has an amazing smile on her face and the only thing that matters is that she did it. She made it to the gold. GO GABBY!!!!

    • 4 votes
    Reply#7 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:40 PM EDT

    ps....did i say that your hair looks mahvalous dahling.......its just fine. smile

    • 3 votes
    Reply#8 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:41 PM EDT

    I have to admit I am as bad as the rest but not because of her hair. I think she is a beautiful young lady but I hope that in the future she gets braces. Her smile is fantastic as it is but I think after braces they won't even notice her hair because her smile will blind them. Even if she doesn't I am proud of that young lady.

    • 2 votes
    Reply#9 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:42 PM EDT

    I am ashamed to admit that I agree with you 100%! Her teeth need to be fixed ASAP. I never noticed the hair at all

    • 1 vote
    #9.1 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:14 PM EDT

    Perhaps she likes her teeth; for the most part it is a USA thing that all teeth have to look perfect and all lined up. Way for the dentists to make a fortune!

    Visit England and surrounding countries where people do not have to have perfect teeth but might know their neighbors, have universal health care for all of their citizens, have gardens, and are not so critical on appearances; Hugh Grant and many actors from England do not have perfect teeth and it gives them a unique appearance.

    It is for such expectations that USA citizens live above their means getting teeth straight, fake boobs put in, and lypo-suctioned thin only to get fat in another year and repeat the whole process! $$$ Most of them can't even afford any of it and end up broke in the end.

      #9.2 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 2:11 PM EDT

      OMG. The girl won Team Gold and All Around Gold. Get over her hair and teeth. Celebrate her victories. Some of those gymnast had so many clips in their hair, that looked ridiculous.

      As to her teeth, I was thinking Crest should hire her and Missy Franklin - that's a lot of white smiling teeth.

      • 2 votes
      #9.3 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 3:35 PM EDT

      She just got on the box of Corn Flake's for a bucketful of $$$. I'm sure if her teeth are bothering HER, she has the means to have them altered. I personally think she has an amazing smile. Congrats, Gabby, your hard work has rewarded you with something few people will ever experience. Cheers, and keep smiling.

      • 2 votes
      #9.4 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 4:25 PM EDT
      Comment author avatarMarlene Bradshawvia Facebook

      Seriously, the young lady made history and people are commenting on her hair. Anyone notice, Maroney's hair, pulled back ponytail. Shes a beautiful young lady and congratulations. xoxox

      • 2 votes
      Reply#10 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:47 PM EDT

      Gabby is a beautiful girl and one of the most amazing athletes in the world! If this was a beauty pagent, I'd be worried about her hair, but it's not. A pony tail is required for safety, but she could also go Halle Berry and super short. She has a gorgeous face and smile that would really carry that look.

      But for ANYONE who wants to critique her hair: get up on a balance beam and just try WALKING on it and see how you do. I would be willing to live the rest of my life WITHOUT hair for just 1/1000th of that ability!! Congratulations Gabby. Find it in your heart to pity those who cannot cheer on your accomplishments, and forgive their jealousy. They don't know any better.

      • 1 vote
      Reply#11 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:49 PM EDT

      That poor girl--one of the most talented and amazing athletes in the world and people need to open their petty, jealous mouths? Gabby, you are BEAUTIFUL! I think you would ROCK a super-short cut like Halle Berry, because you have a model's face and amazing smile. I am so proud that you and your team were representing the USA! My hubby and I have been cheering you every step of the way! Find it in your heart to pity and forgive those that can't get past their jealousy to give you the accolades that you deserve.

      • 2 votes
      Reply#12 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:55 PM EDT

      I think Gabrielle "Gabby" Douglas is a beautiful young girl. Anyone who is focused on the state of Gabby's hair is shallow & severely lacking in couth & manners. As a woman who undergoes brain surgery routinely for shunt revisions & has for 40 years, Gabby is lucky to have such gorgeous hair. As my mother always reminded me, "At least you have hair" when I would gripe about the limited shaving my brain surgeons always undertook so they could see what they were doing. Also, I love to watch gymnastics as I was & I am unable to do contact sports due to my hydrocephalus. I wish Gabby Douglas the best in her life & I am so happy for her & proud of her! Congratulations to Golden Gabby & her family! She deserves to revel in her success...not wallow in someone's misdirected anger.

      • 3 votes
      Reply#13 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:56 PM EDT

      Who cares!!! I find it really pathetic that this is really a discussion!! Move on people!

      • 5 votes
      Reply#14 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 12:59 PM EDT

      This is not a story. With 90m in endorsements coming, laugh all the way to the bank, closed#epicfail

      • 2 votes
      Reply#15 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:02 PM EDT


        #15.1 - Sun Aug 12, 2012 1:29 AM EDT

        Congrates to gabby Douglas on gold medal & her hair she is a very Pretty girl. Many more to come to Gabby Douglas((:*HUGS*<3

        • 2 votes
        Reply#16 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:03 PM EDT

        You are such a petty young lady, Gabby! Congratulations all your hard work to get you to a GOLD MEDIAL! You have truly been blessed, keep up the good work.

        • 2 votes
        Reply#17 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:12 PM EDT

        Are you kidding me? What is this, 1950? Gabby is a real
        cutie, and a fantastic talent. She just broke another barrier for women of
        color everywhere and people are thinking about her hair? She is an athlete
        first...her looks do not matter. It is just nice that she is so cute. She has it all. Go Gabby!

        • 3 votes
        Reply#18 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:13 PM EDT

        Don't you critics have anything better to do?

        I've lived with "challenging" hair all my life (50+ years) and learned to live with it. Why can't you?

        • 1 vote
        Reply#19 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:14 PM EDT

        Why would you even consider this article for publication?! With all the horrendous things going on you're actually making the world a worse place by using such an insignificant yet inflamatory item to stir up more dissention among people. Not a good choice. Bad article. Unworthy publication.

        • 3 votes
        Reply#20 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:20 PM EDT

        While I was watching her I wasn't even looking her hair, she put on an amazing show!! Way to go Gabby!! Who cares what people say, don't let them take away from your accomplishments!!

        • 2 votes
        Reply#21 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:21 PM EDT
        Comment author avatarKatie S. McPheronvia Facebook

        Gabby is one of the most beautiful young ladies I've ever seen. How she carries herself, how she gives God the Glory, how she acts under multitudes of pressure is a part of her beauty. What in the world is wrong with people??? HAIR?!!! People that think like this are so ignorant about the things that are important in life...Her heart and her personality are what matter...and she's been blessed beyond measure. Gabby, you are awesome and I'm so greatful to have been able to see you making this monumental accomplishment! CONGRATULATIONS!!! ...and God Bless!

        • 3 votes
        Reply#22 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:26 PM EDT

        Why this is a controversy, I have no idea. The problem is that we are looking for the negatives, instead of celebrating the positives.

        • 1 vote
        Reply#23 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:28 PM EDT

        Gabby is beautiful & talented...however her Mom saying that there are "no Black salons in the area, not one" is sooooo not true! Des Moines is a fairly large city with a lot of African Americans living there. I'm not saying Gabby needs to do anything differently with her hair, it looks great to me! But placing blame on the "white family" she lives with and the city, doesn't make it any better

          Reply#24 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:32 PM EDT

          Far too many shallow people in the world! Get a grip, and PLEASE, PLEASE,PLEASE, stop reading so many style magazines - you've been brainwashed!!!

            Reply#25 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 1:32 PM EDT
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