In under 11 seconds, Florence Griffith Joyner, aka “Flo-Jo,” changed the world of sports forever.
With a record-breaking time of 10.49 seconds, Joyner solidified her place in the track and field hall of fame, setting the still-standing record for the fastest women’s 100-meter race, effectively becoming the fastest woman ever.
On the 25th anniversary of her passing, we remember the speed, strength and power Joyner displayed, which ushered in a new vanguard of Black athletic excellence, which can be seen in the cynic-defying victories of present-day track stars à la Sha’Carri Richardson.
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But the Los Angeles native’s trailblazing influence extends beyond the tracks she transformed or the records she broke, as her iconic sense of personal style has become almost as renowned as her athletic feats. Now, two and a half decades later, her influence in the beauty and culture space can still be seen in the beauty trends of today, most notably, of course, her iconic claws.
Almost as famous as the athletic prowess that made her a household name, Flo-Jo’s nails are widely regarded as the genesis for the acrylic stylings worn by Black women today, a trend that has sparked endless dialogues regarding what constitutes culture vulturism, respectability politics and appropriation. But whether it be the colorful, curved extensions worn by rap darlings like Cardi B, Saweetie and Flo Milli, or the long frosted tips associated with the now nostalgic aesthetic of the ’90s, Flo Jo’s influence is evident.
Beyoncé paid homage to the athlete’s signature sets in 2018, dressing as the decorated athlete for Halloween, and multiple museums have acknowledged the intricate tastemaking of Joyner’s unique sets. In 1995, New York City’s Guggenheim Museum featured her nails as wearable art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem featured photos of her nails from the 1988 Summer Olympics in 2015 for their “Salon Style” exhibit.
And while many of her manicured predecessors lean on the help of acrylics and other means of extensions, Joyner shared in interviews that she was often sporting her own nails, a feat almost as remarkable as her run times.
But beyond the aesthetic barriers broken by these designs, Flo-Jo’s nails represent something much larger: the duality of Black beauty. Her trendsetting tips are equal parts relic and a reminder that greatness is not reliant upon compliance with the status quo. In a world that has persevered the trends and expressions of Black people from the state of our hair to the length of our nails, Flo-Jo’s successes while expressing herself in all of her long nail glory is proof that we do not have to shrink ourselves to succeed.