The somersaults, tumbles, flips, dips, and stuck landings at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships this past June set off a deluge of gifs, video-embedded tweets, and TikToks. But even with all the stunning, “I-would-bust-my-ass-if-I-ever-tried-that” acrobatics, a simple moment, related only tangentially to athleticism, struck a chord with many folks online.
Simone Biles, the world’s most decorated gymnast, was filmed carefully, dutifully tying a ribbon into her teammate Zoe Miller’s hair. She placed it, rather unfussily, at the base of Miller’s high bun. You can tell it’s something she’s done a million times before, a manifestation of the camaraderie between her and her teammates. It was almost like a natural reflex as Miller plopped down in front of Biles, who wordlessly went to work adding the flourish to her look.
It’s easy to understand why this simple action went viral. These gymnasts routinely perform feats that many of us couldn’t even begin to imagine executing. But tying a bow into someone else’s hair? It’s something many of us have done — in high school before a basketball game, for our younger siblings as we got ready for church, for the itty-bitty flower girl at a friend’s wedding.
This moment also gave us a brief glimpse into what hair maintenance is like for competitive gymnasts, who are obligated to follow a simple standard put forth by the National Women’s Program Committee. According to the 2020/2021 USA women’s Gymnastics rules and policy handbook, an athlete’s hair must be secured and pulled back enough to not obstruct their vision. These (rather practical) regulations are meant to optimize the performance of any professional gymnast on the mat. But for Black gymnasts, who are often subject to extra scrutiny from the public for their appearance, the rules provide an opportunity to put the versatility of Black hairstyling on display.