This week, the world was introduced to Tessica Brown, a young woman from Louisiana who made possibly the most unfortunate haircare mixup in history. Instead of using regular hairspray on her hair, she grabbed a can of Gorilla Glue spray adhesive and went to town.
The result was, well, exactly what you think would happen if you coated your head in industrial-strength glue.
Her hair became an impenetrable helmet, and as her social media videos about the incident racked up millions of views, people became obsessed with her predicament.
Do you roll your eyes at someone who’s gotten themselves into such a situation? Do you feel bad?
Cynicism or empathy: It’s a choice we often face as we observe an endless parade of online strangers whipping out their mistakes, poor decisions and unfortunate mishaps for all the world to see.
Reaction to her mistake was mixed
While there are plenty of laughs being had at Brown’s expense, it seems like a good portion of people chiming in on the situation genuinely felt bad and wanted to help the poor woman. The comments sections of her videos became little brainstorming summits, with people trading all the adhesive solvent tips they could.
Even Chance the Rapper mentioned it, saying he was glad people were helping Brown and said it was hard to laugh at the video since she seemed to be in such distress.
The incident obviously inspired a lot of eye rolls, too. After all, people do all kinds of dangerous, bizarre things for a little bit of social media clout. Hazardous stunts of yore, like the cinnamon challenge in the early 2010s, even launched the careers of a few successful Youtubers, and the Tide Pod challenge still lingers online as a meme about the follies (and chemical poisonings) of youth. We wake up every morning in a world where super gluing your hair to your head is not the worst career choice you could make.
In the case of Gorilla Glue Girl, it’s hard to know what to think. Brown knew she was using Gorilla Glue, but who among us hasn’t had a similar experience and grabbed a can of something, thinking it was something else? If you’ve never left the house with a little bit of spray deodorant in your hair or slicked up your counters with PAM when you meant to reach for the Lysol, congratulations. You’re just built different.
It’s also worth noting some eagle-eyed TikTok users pointed out there is a line of haircare called “Moco de Gorila” which features a gorilla on the packaging, and Brown’s preferred hairspray is called “Got 2b Glued.” Coincidence? Maybe.
Then again, we DID survive a time when people were shoving entire spoonfuls of dry cinnamon in their mouths.
Len Martin, a “challenge mythbuster” of sorts, tried the so-called “The Gorilla Glue Challenge,” and stuck a red solo cup to his lip. Shockingly – shockingly! – it fused with his lip straight away, and he had to get it peeled off at the hospital.
Here’s the catch, though. Martin says he was doing it to prove what many internet cynics have suspected: That Brown was overplaying the situation for clout. He says, definitively and with firsthand evidence (and perhaps a little less lip), that she is not lying about how much it sucks to have Gorilla Glue in places it doesn’t belong.
So there’s another part of the puzzle sorted. Mixups do happen, and when they do, it really is unpleasant, even if you did it on purpose.
She’s suffered painful consequences
Whether Brown knew the outcome when she put Gorilla Glue in her hair, she clearly struggled in the aftermath, visiting the hospital and trying various removal methods.
“Just shave it all off,” said some people. Others pointed out that hair means a lot to some people, and they completely understood Brown’s insistence that she wanted to salvage her hair by any means possible. From this, another conversation arose about the relationship between Black women and their hair, and the rigid beauty stereotypes they have to contend with.
“So many are being dismissive of [her],” Sunny Hostin of “The View” said on Twitter. “Given the history of how black women are targeted and still battle the pervasive belief that our natural hair is unprofessional, unkempt, or in some way ‘a statement’ pls show her some grace and understanding.”
Brown eventually relented and had her long ponytail cut off. A Beverly Hills surgeon offered his services, for free, to help her un-Gorilla Glue herself and she took him up on it. After a four-hour-long surgery, Brown’s head is blessedly glue-free. The secret? According to Dr. Michael Obeng who did the procedure, he used medical-grade adhesive remover, aloe vera, olive oil and even acetone.
In a video of the surgery, Brown can be seen weeping, running her hands through her much shorter, but finally normal-feeling hair, and it’s hard not to feel relief for her.
Regardless of intent, everyone stands to gain a little bit here: Brown has gotten plenty of love, and has finally gotten free of her Gorilla Glue nightmare. She and her family also started a fundraiser for her predicament. The surgeon who helped her and the copycats warning about the “Gorilla Glue Challenge” get a little bit of secondary fame. Even Gorilla Glue looks cool coming into a TikTok comment section with advice, even if they’ve had to put out multiple statements urging people not to misuse their product.
As this yarn winds itself further into the fabric of weird internet history, Brown still insists it was an honest mistake and, by all accounts, reacted exactly like someone who put glue in their hair would. Plenty of people believe her and showed her kindness – or at least have suspended their disbelief enough to be genuinely invested in her well-being.
We already know that much of what we see on social media is exaggerated, augmented and tactically packaged to the point that the story often means more than the reality. So Gorilla Glue Girl, the person, may not be as central to the discourse as Gorilla Glue Girl, the parable – of mistakes, of a hard-to-remove substance, of cultural beauty standards, of the consequences of one’s actions.
How we react to her misfortune is another personality test that reveals the conditions we set on our empathy – and how much we need to believe in order to share it.