An Open Letter to Gabby Douglas
Mazal Tov! It was such a joy to watch you perform last night and take home the gold medal in gymnastics.
And yet, before I even knew you had won, I had already heard the hype about your hair.
“Really?” I thought. I quickly realized that I shouldn’t be surprised.
I’m a Jewish woman with a full head if kinky ethnic curls that I have spent much of my life trying to “control” with the correct mouse, gel, and other “product.” As a teenager, I spent far too many hours obsessing about the nature of my hair and responding to others’ discomfort with the fact that it often had an attitude of its own. Had I been an athlete, my hair would have been all over the place.
Now that I am adult, I am regularly surprised by the number of Jewish women who dedicate real time to straightening their curls every single morning, in order to disable their uncontrollable, natural, ethnic tresses. Today, a straightening iron seems to be a staple in the bathroom if every Jewish girl – except for me.
Growing up with crazy Jewish curls, I longed for the straight gentile manes that seemed flow so gracefully down the backs of my friends. As a kid, I never knew how to do my curly hair — I brushed it when it was dry (a big no-no), I never seemed to own the right “products”, and I generally didn’t “get” my curly ethnic locks. I got used to fairly regular discussion from the adults in my life about the behavior of my hair.
And yet, when my daughter was born with straight, fine hair, I felt a little sad that I would never be able to share with her the experience of having a “Jewfro.”
My uncontrollable hair has become an important, beloved part of my identity. I don’t always love what it does, but that’s okay. After all, not everything in life is neat and tidy. Simply put, everything doesn’t lay flat – And we wouldn’t want it to. There are hills and there are valleys. Sometimes we do everything right, and yet the outcome of a situation is all wrong. And sometimes we put in very little effort, and things naturally fall into place.
This is the story of life, and this is also the story of my hair. I usually can’t control it, and I have stopped trying. Instead, I try to work with it, knowing that there will be good hair days and there will also be bad ones, and that the crazy pizzazz is all part of what makes my hair unique. Sure, I care how it looks — I’m human. But I care much more about the important things in life — and those have nothing to do with my hair.
I look to the day when a woman can achieve success and nobody will care to comment on her hair. It won’t even matter. After all, when was the last time a male athlete had to stomach critique about his hairstyle?
As we say in Hebrew, kol Hakavod (many congratulations) on your incredible achievement. May you continue to move the people of America with your tremendous talent, strength, eloquence, and inner light.
Rabbi Rachel Kobrin
P.S. Just for the record, I actually thought your hair looked super-cute.
Rabbi Rachel Kobrin is a rabbi in Austin, Texas and is an alum of Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders fellowship. She also blogs for the Huffington Post.