New York Times

Tessica Brown, the “Gorilla Glue Girl,” never wanted to go viral on TikTok

Tessica Brown had made a big mistake. In January, the 40-year-old day care owner decided to gel down her hair in a long, braided ponytail.

By now, you’ve probably heard the story: Brown realized she was all out of Got2b Glued Blasting Freeze spray, which is a common heavy-duty hairspray known for its lasting hold. She figured she would just improvise, but the solution she came up with turned out to be an even bigger problem — one that has turned her misfortune into a wildly viral tale. Since her video, Brown has spawned sticky copycats, weathered blowback online, and connected with a manager, who aims to turn her viral 15 minutes into something longer term.

On Zoom, Brown gave me the rundown of her situation. When she applied the Gorilla Glue clear adhesive spray, she had no idea she would end up with hair that wouldn’t budge. But the damage was done. Brown was stuck with her ponytail hairstyle for over a month, frozen in place and fearing for the worst. She had accidentally created what can only be described as a helmet on her scalp. In her viral video, she clicks her nails against her scalp, and it makes a sound like a marble countertop.

Originally posted on TikTok, Brown’s video was a plea for help and a warning to those who might consider Gorilla Glue as an alternative to hairspray. As of this writing, it has been viewed more than 37 million times.

The video had much to offer. There was a tinge of good humor from Brown, as she proclaimed “stiff where?????,” a reference to a classic AAVE-based joke, generally meant to imply hair has been done well. While Brown was genuinely unsure how to get the superglue off her scalp, well wishes and hecklers alike flocked to her page in droves. There were a handful of jokes and puns (“she’s got 2b kidding me!”) Some people tried to make helpful suggestions — coconut oil, Goo Gone, vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and the like — but home remedies were no match for the superglue. It soon became clear that Brown would need professional help.

She went to the emergency room at St. Bernard Parish Hospital in Chalmette, Louisiana, hoping to fix her situation, but all the staff could offer was acetone to remove the glue, which would have taken hours to apply. Days later, Brown cut off her ponytail in hopes to help hack away at the glue, but it was still no use. She was out of ideas, until she got a call from a stranger who connected her with Dr. Michael Obeng, a renowned plastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills. On February 10, Obeng performed surgery on Brown for free (the procedure would typically run around $12,500).

On the morning of February 11, TMZ first reported that Brown had finally gotten the glue removed. She was put under light anesthesia, and Obeng went to work using a homemade solvent of medical-grade adhesive remover, an ingredient called MGD, some acetone, aloe vera, and olive oil. The main ingredient of Gorilla Glue is polyurethane, which is a polymer used to prevent water damage on wood. Obeng, who has a background in chemistry, figured any polymer has some kind of solvent. He tested his mixture on a dummy with human hair and knew he could solve her problem.

I spoke with Brown on February 16, just days after her successful surgery with Obeng. Over Zoom from her home in Violet, Louisiana, Brown told me she feels much better now and is relieved the ordeal is finally over. Every day, her ponytail seemed to get tighter and tighter. “It was like ants dancing in my hair. I couldn’t get in it to scratch it. It was bad business,” she said.

Since then, all the pain has subsided, aside from a light tingling sensation. Still, she experienced immense stress from the entire ordeal, even losing weight. During our interview, she wore her old work pants — just a few weeks ago, they had fit, but now they could not stay up without a belt.

Brown was put under partial anesthesia for the four-hour procedure. She was in and out of sleep the whole time. She spoke drowsily throughout but has no memory of it. “I only heard me talking when I saw the TMZ video,” she said.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘Did you have a feeling that he was going to be able to get it out?’” she says of Obeng. “I knew he was going to get it out. If he was going to call me from Violet to come to Beverly Hills, I knew he knew what he was doing,” she said. She said feels beyond grateful to the doctor. “I’m trying to write him a letter. I think it’s going to be a book by the time I’m finished.”

“I only went to social media to try to get help because we tried everything that we can possibly try,” she said of her viral video. “I wish I wouldn’t even have posted it.” She was running out the door when she spotted the Gorilla Glue. Contrary to what some have suggested it wasn’t a mix-up with Moco de Gorila’s gel, Gorilla Snot. Brown simply figured that she was in a jam, and that she could use the adhesive, slick her hair down, go out, and wash out the makeshift hairspray as soon as she returned home.

When she realized she was stuck, Brown was frightened, but she hoped she could fix it on her own. She even hid it from her mom for a week — she didn’t want to hear the maternal scolding.

She’s scheduled to go to Beverly Hills on the 22nd to meet with Dr. Obeng again for a follow-up appointment. Until then, she’s leaving her head alone. No deep conditioning treatments or styles of any sort, just rest and the oil that the doctor gave her.

Obeng could not be reached in time for an interview for this report, but he is apparently considering selling the special solution he concocted to melt the glue off Brown’s scalp.

Brown said she believes Obeng was divinely sent to her by a person she describes as another godsend — Gina Rodriguez, now her manager, and the stranger who connected her with Obeng. Throughout the ordeal, so many people were trying to contact Brown that she stopped responding to calls and messages. She picked up Rodriguez’s call on a whim. “Miss Gina called me and said, ‘Hey, I have a doctor out here in Beverly Hills and he wants to take it out. We’re about to fly you out.’” Rodriguez then began fielding Brown’s phone calls for her, to filter out all the noise.

Rodriguez is an executive producer based in California and the CEO of GiToni Productions, which her website describes as a “full service entertainment company.” The site notes that the company represents a variety of viral stars, such as Mama June of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo fame, and a more recently beloved character, Nathan Apodaca, also known as @Doggface208, who blew up on TikTok after posting a video of himself longboarding while drinking cranberry juice and listening to Fleetwood Mac. Other clients include Real Housewives, mob wives, and sports wives; various Love & Hip Hop and Jersey Shore cast members; and, in a very different vein, JonJelyn and Timothy Savage, the parents of Joycelyn Savage, one of R. Kelly’s alleged girlfriends and a main subject of the documentary Surviving R. Kelly.

So where does Tessica Brown fit into this roster? That’s yet to be seen. Currently, she’s selling merch (most notably, T-shirts with her photo on it that read “Bonded for Life”), but Brown says when she next meets with Rodriguez in person, they plan to discuss “exactly how everything is going to be disbursed.” They’ll also discuss more of what her future might look like concerning endorsement deals. Like most viral stars, sticking to the bit will probably pay off for Brown. It’s a strange opportunity, but one that is difficult to walk away from. “Everything fell in place, except all of the negative stuff,” she said. “This is what I needed. I needed somebody. But I didn’t think for one second that I was going to be all the way in Beverly Hills.”

During the ordeal, Brown set up a GoFundMe to pay for possible medical expenses, but since she received her surgery for free, she’s donating the funds to Obeng’s foundation, Restore Worldwide. She will also donate to three families in need in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Of course, there are those who believe Brown was in this for money and fame — that she’s some kind of terrifying scheme genius who, in a moment of convoluted brilliance, decided to superglue her head and wait for it to pay dividends on social media. But Brown says she never wanted any of the attention this brought. She was just hoping to get help. She’s now sporting a short haircut, chopped down neatly by a local barber. “I’m trying to get with it,” she said. “I’m going to have to get some big earrings and some longer lashes to balance it out.”

Before all this, she was just focusing on her businesses: her dance team, the Dazzling Divaz, which is heavily involved in charity work, and Tessica’s Little Angels day care. Brown says some people have suggested that parents should think about pulling their kids from her day care because of the incident. “So you think what, I’m gonna spray it [superglue] on their hair? Like, what are you really trying to say?” she said.

According to an email from NetBase Quid, since Brown’s February 3 post, there have been 1.4 million posts across social media platforms about her and the incident. Brown said the negative comments have been brutal, but she’s been trying to shake it off. After all, without all the attention, she may never have gotten help. Erroneously using Gorilla Glue as a hair product is a mistake, but the worst part of the situation may be the trauma of sharing that development with an internet that largely mobs to ridicule Black women.

Brown has stated repeatedly that she doesn’t like being nicknamed “the Gorilla Glue Girl,” especially since the label has taken a toll on her children. Her 11-year-old daughter came home from school crying one day because of comments from her classmates. The mother of five says that even the teachers at her daughters’ school have been talking about the story.

“Clout is something I will never chase, I promise you,” she said. “[The dance team] was in a commercial. They were in the newspaper. They were in a magazine. That’s enough clout for me. I don’t need all of this, because this was just way, way too much. And truly, who would want to go through the pain that I went through for clout?” she asked.

Enter Avani Reyes — a person who apparently would want to go through all that pain for clout. The New York Post reported that the 20-year-old TikToker is the first copycat of Brown’s. Unsurprisingly, Reyes is not being met with the same level of sympathy, even though she claims she put Gorilla Glue in her hair accidentally. Then there’s Len Martin, a man who so doubted Brown’s claim that he applied Gorilla Glue to his lip and stuck a red Solo cup to it. He had to have it peeled off at the ER. There are people who would love to be in Brown’s position. Being thrust into the spotlight, although stressful, can be extremely lucrative.

However, Brown’s main goal now is to help others. “I’m going to use my platform to try to let everybody know you’re not your hair, because I’m not my hair at this point,” she said. “If you’re a beautiful person inside, you’ll be that same beautiful person on the outside.” As for the whole ordeal, she says now that she’s gotten the surgery and her hair is free again with only a few thin patches, she wouldn’t probably undo any of this. “I just wish I had put a hat on that day.”


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bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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