Simone Biles Does Not Owe Other Black Women Slicked Down Edges
by: Toni A. Wilson, Director of Culture & Narrative Shift
This past weekend, Simone Biles, Olympic medalist and one of the greatest gymnasts in history, married the love of her life, NFL player Justin Owens, and quickly changed all of her social media handles to “Simone Biles Owens.” She blissfully shared pictures of their intimate ceremony, which included their first kiss as husband and wife and a photoshoot on top of a building, which I can infer was meant to symbolize the magnitude of their love and feeling as if they’re on “top of the world.”
Not so soon after releasing her intimate wedding photos, there came a slew of anti-Black hate comments rooted in misogynoir and directed straight to Simone’s hair. Simone rocked a high ponytail for her big day and since she didn’t decide to gel her edges down the internet caught fire.
Black Hair Is Interrogated
We police our own hair because we’ve been told it deserves policing.
Black women are sometimes our own worst enemies. We’ve learned how society hates us and have had no problem replicating that hatred and imparting harmful ideologies thought about us, towards each other. Simone Biles Owen’s wedding day hair is no different. Hair is complicated for Black women — especially Black hair that’s seen in public. We’ve been conditioned to believe there are “professional” Black hairstyles or “special occasion” Black hairstyles and oftentimes the way our hair naturally grows and flows is never associated with either.
Comments about Simone’s hair read, “I mean it is her wedding day. She could’ve done something better than that” to “Why didn’t she just get a lace front? It would’ve looked better than whatever she has going on up there” and then got more and more weird and full out rude. Biles Owens’ even stepped in on Twitter to “defend” herself stating she lives in Houston Texas and people often forget that so her edges are bound to sweat out. She also added, “but they can keep complaining idc idc idc.”
The idea of a Black woman having to defend her choice of hairstyle on one of the happiest days of her life is something very particular to the Black woman’s experience and unfortunately is only something I’d imagine Black folks having backlash for.
How Black Girls Learn To Hate Their Hair
The disgusting attacks on Black girls’ hair start so young and carry throughout the rest of our lives. We remember the relentless remarks about Blue Ivy’s hair when she was a baby and a toddler and we currently see those same remarks often being made about Kaavia James Wade whenever her mom, Gabrielle Union, posts her on Instagram — “She could’ve done something with that baby’s hair before putting her on camera.” Or when Gabby Douglas, a fellow Olympic medal-winning gymnast, was a child winning medals but still being taunted by social media and the press about her hair.
Black girls learn at an early age that no parts of their bodies belong to them; not even the hair that’s growing out of their own heads. Everything we do is up for commentary. But what would the world look like if we all thought of ourselves as free, like Simone Biles?
If we all detached ourselves from the ways white supremacy and internalized racism have taught us to feel about ourselves and if we dared to show up on our biggest days without the thought of what white America believes femininity to be and how Black women are supposed to perform it.
The Trifecta: Colorism, Featurism, Texturism
There’s also an added layer here of featurism, texturism, and colorism which all inform each other and how Black women and girls who look like Simone Biles Owens move through the world. We’re used to “messy ponytails and messy buns” being associated with white women, biracial women, light-skinned women, and women with looser textured hair and coils.
Simone is a dark-skinned Black woman with Black features and 4c textured hair that she often wears in a silk-pressed ponytail. Whenever harsh criticisms surrounding hair happen, I’m always privy to how the discourse would shift or be a bit different if the person at hand looked or presented in a different way.
As Black girls and women, if you don’t have a strong understanding of self and unshakeable confidence, the world and the media will eat you alive — they seek to destroy you.
Simone Biles Owens owes none of us an explanation of her chosen hairstyle for her wedding day. She doesn’t owe an explanation as to why her edges weren’t slicked down or why she didn’t choose a hairstyle deemed more “special” for the occasion. It is unfair to continually ascribe people’s ideas of what hair should look like and be onto other Black women and girls. Attacks on Simone Biles Owens’ hair is one of the many reasons why legislators and senators have rallied around supporting The Crown Act; a bill that protects Black folks from workplace discrimination based on race-styled hair such as twists, locs, fros, braids, and knots. This bill has been passed in states like California, Louisiana, Maine, Virginia, New York, Delaware, New Jersey, U.S Virgin Islands, and others with Minnesota being the most recent. It is a special kind of pain that we still need to legislate Black hair in 2023.
Textured hair isn’t bad. Messy edges and ponytails on Black women are not the end of the world. Black hair is special. Just as it is. Black hair is professional and it’s absolutely for special occasions, especially wedding days. We must continue to unlearn the toxic ideologies anti-Blackness has forced us to live under.
And we must reject subjecting ourselves and our communities to these internalized thoughts. We deserve the best of each other.
Congratulations to Simone Biles Owens on your new and beautiful union! Wishing you nothing but the most beautiful things the world has to offer.
Toni Wilson is the Director of Culture & Narrative Shift at Girls for Gender Equity. She is also a social worker, organizer, cultural critic, plus size influencer, fat liberationist and BlackFeminist from Brooklyn with roots in Jamaica. She can be found @ FatBlackLuxury.