When I was a kid, I used to LOVE the Summer Olympics. I guess I should say that I loved the 1996 Summer Olympic Games that were held in Atlanta, because those are really the only ones I remember watching. I was twelve, which meant that I suddenly wanted to be a gymnast when I grew up, even though I would have started way too late in life to ever be properly trained, and nevermind the fact that I had all the coordination of a newborn giraffe. I couldn’t even do a proper cartwheel, let alone even contemplate doing a flip. When we did “tumbling” in gym class, I had the most pitiful somersault the likes of which I would not even dare to attempt today for fear of injury. But I’d walk along the railroad ties that formed our landscaping, pretending I was walking on a balance beam, feeling rather victorious when I jumped and landed back where I started. I had a poster in my room and probably persuaded a parental unit into purchasing the Wheaties box that they were on. (We never ate Wheaties.) I was a fangirl – but I suppose, being twelve, there were far worse people to look up to as role models.
It was more than the events themselves, though. It was the way the games were steeped in such magnificent tradition. The ceremony, the customs (both spoken and unspoken), the national pride, the flags, the beaming faces of the winners. Bob Costas and his heartfelt commentary and bios of the athletes. The significance of what certain historic occasions were about to go down. USA! USA! USA! I still can’t quite explain what it was that mesmerized me so much, but I was drawn into the pageantry and glory. I think I even owned a VHS copy of the highlights of those Olympics.
Then I pretty much ignored the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and forgot about the 2004 Olympics in Athens and only saw a snippet of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing because I was at my roommate’s house and her family was gathered around watching Michael Phelps win his record-breaking millionth gold medal. Which, I admit, was rather exciting to watch. But the magic that the 1996 Olympics held was gone, and I figured I’d never really get into them again.
Cue: 2012. I was a little more keenly aware of the London Games, because they were in our brethren country from whence we had once come from, or something. We’re tight with the UK, is what I mean. Plus they had that godawful logo that I’m not even going to show you because I’m sure you’ve seen it and I’m sure you know how bad it is. I happened to be in Denver visiting my friend Stacey and we were at a bar with a big ol’ screen playing the opening ceremonies. And then it was the parade of nations, and we inched closer to the screen until the couch (a glorious, plush leather couch, planted directly in front of the screen) was vacated and we snatched it up. The rest of our group was headed to the bar next door but we were determined to stay put and see it through until the end – or at least until the United States paraded on by. The entire bar cheered, which surprised me for some reason, and I felt a warm fuzzy glow, something resembling pride and excitement.
I didn’t follow the events that closely and I didn’t really watch much of it (except for the half hour of dressage that we watched on Sunday morning which, I’m sorry, is the most boring sport OF ALL TIME – it was just guys on horses trotting in a giant square. Lame.) but I couldn’t help but hear snippets and soundbites and I felt sad for Lolo Jones when the media tore her apart and I rolled my eyes when the world went on and on about how much of a manwhore Ryan Lochte was and then Michael Phelps won more medals than anybody ever and that was kind of cool, and then there was the gymnastics team which kept getting compared to my beloved 1996 “Magnificent Seven” team that won the gold after Kerri Strug’s dramatic medal-clinching vault performance (are they called performances? I don't know) on a busted up ankle. Except there were only five of them, and local Iowa heroine Shawn Johnson wasn’t among them because she’d injured herself and retired. (Yes, retired at 20. It blows my mind.). I think Shawn Johnson is adorable (I saw her in person once - she probably comes up to my chest. She's THAT tiny!) and her absence from the Olympics contributed to my overall indifference. I also feel compelled to always refer to her by her full name. So there's that.
I didn’t know anything about any of the "Fab Five" until I saw Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber being interviewed and little bits of coverage and then the greatest meme to come from the Olympics, which pretty much makes McKayla Maroney my favorite person ever now. (Especially after this clip). I’ll probably do more of my own ridiculous variations thereof.
So anyway, McKayla got her own meme, Jordyn got excluded from competing in the all-around finals because of a lame “two per country” rule even though she qualified, and… everyone was talking about Gabby Douglas and her hair.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this, because thanks to Twitter, even the lowest common denominators in society can blurt out their every thought and suddenly have it be a trending topic (bonus points if it's grammatically incorrect), but… seriously?
I had two initial reactions to this:
- Who the hell CARES? She’s a gymnast, and a gold-medal winning one at that. Do you honestly think that she cares about her hair? She has much more important things to focus on, like sticking landings and not falling off things or not breaking her neck when doing a flip (okay, maybe those would be MY personal concerns, because they are things that are very likely to happen if I were to attempt any of those things.) But she’s out there to work her ass off and do well, not obsess about her ponytail. She’s too busy gymnasticizing to worry about what her hair looks like. As long as it’s out of her face, boom: mission accomplished. Besides, have you actually looked at her? She’s gorgeous.
- Have you SEEN the rest of the gymnasts and THEIR hair? It’s the last visible faction of the population that still uses scrunchies*, and they’ve collectively got more barrettes and clips among the lot of them than the number of condoms given to the Olympic Village. (Which, if you didn’t click that link, is a LOT.) But, alas, Gabby got the brunt of it, which I suppose is the peril of being in the spotlight.
*If you're interested in more gymnastic fashions, I stumbled on this post while I was looking for images. It's a retrospective of the various leotards over the years. Yes, it's awesome.
So yeah, you sit at home in your living room and make fun of the gymnasts’ hair and makeup and use of glitter, because they’re busy being superhuman athletes and winning medals and achieving their dreams, and you’re… doing what, exactly? Sitting at home watching TV, right. It saddens me because it’s a reflection on American culture that we’re so preoccupied with the way people look, holding them to that supermodel standard of beauty that not many of us can actually achieve. Her hair became a talking point – not the fact that she won TWO GOLD MEDALS.
Besides, she’s young. When I was her age, I had the WORST hair. I had those sausage-curl bangs that were rather unfortunately everywhere in the late 90s. If my hair wasn't up, it was probably haphazardly blowdried and frizzy and, well, big. I have very thick hair. Once I grew out my bangs, and decided to embrace the natural wave my hair took, rather than fighting it every day, I went kind of gel-happy and my hair, though no longer "big", was, well, crunchy. I would have made fun of my hair ALL THE TIME. In fact, I do, in hindsight. But I had the benefit of not being visible on a world stage, so my ridiculous “style” is fortunately filed away in the pages of history, or at least until I chose to scan a picture and post it on my blog for all to see.
Actually, hang on. I think I might do that right now.
This. This is what my hair looked like on a regular basis.
At least when I was having a "good" bang day.
And just for the sake of comparing apples to apples (as much as can be compared when we're talking about my lame-ass teenage self and an OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST), here are some of my high school sports pictures, circa age 16. The difference being? It was PICTURE DAY so I MADE AN EFFORT with my hair. And it was STILL ridiculous.
I think I must have some sort of bang-related trauma that I will someday need to address. It's... it's a rather unhealthy aversion, at this point.
Please note, this is probably the closest evidence we have to my natural color.
See? I bet your hair was awful when you were sixteen, too. Unless you were one of those pretty girls who had perfect hair, in which case, I hate you a little bit.
I wish I could find my passport, which had the worst picture ever. It expired last year which was probably just as well because if I had tried to use it, they would have never let me back into the country. In addition to being photographically youthful, I had The Bangs, while the rest of my hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, and I still had my braces at that point. (God, I SO do not miss those.) Probably some unruly eyebrows as well - though, I suppose it depends on what point in the year it was taken. I believe that was the year I discovered tweezers and then just went to town on them, taking them from one extreme to the other. I was probably wearing a choker, too. It was probably beaded. It's what 90s kids DID, you know. Plus I was about *cough* pounds skinnier. The point is, they would never ever believe it was me.
But, I can look back and laugh, and someday, when Gabby Douglas is my age and is a mega-millionaire from all of her endorsement deals, she can sit and roll around in her pile of gold medals and laugh at the world, because who gives a shit about her hair? She’s GABBY DOUGLAS, and she’s better than you.
Actually, I hope she’s doing that right now.
[In other news, by the time I finally got around to posting this:  Gabby has apparently hired a stylist, which, I guess that’s her prerogative, and I would do the same thing if I was suddenly thrust into the media spotlight, but I hope she did it for her, and not for the masses, because: screw them.  Gabby – along with fellow Iowa-based athletes Lolo Jones and Jake Varner – got a nice homecoming welcome earlier this month. I mean, technically, she’s a transplant, but we’ll totally take her. Between her and Shawn Johnson, we’ve got ourselves a nice gymnastics legacy going. In what will be a huge digression from everything, I’m now curious as to where all the athletes are from and what the “medal count” is for each state. I suspect somewhere like California has the most, but… I’m curious now. SOMEONE GET ME AN INFOGRAPHIC, STAT. Or at least a list of US medal winners, if I get bored enough, I could probably do the research myself.]
Why do you think we're so focused on athletes' looks, rather than their abilities?
Better yet: what did YOUR hair look like when you were 16? Bonus points if you can dig up a photo.