Friday, February 23, 2007

Women's Issue - Hair Matters

This is a light hearted post. Now, the Bible says that a woman's crowning glory is her hair. Women all over the world spend a fortune on their hair. But is hair more than a beauty accessory? A few weeks ago, i took a bold step and did something radical to my hair. Taurean Minx saw it at the concert. A twisty type of thing. Very very interesting the responses i got. I am usually very simple - hair pulled back into a ponytail, braids sometimes and of course my haircut. But nothing extraordinary. My twisty hairstyle made me feel different. Wilder. And then, i attracted a different crowd. People asking me if i had a lighter and cigarettes. I was even asked if had some weed. All because of the twisty hairstyle. Let's not even talk about work and clients. I am back to my ponytail and feeling more like myself and after the experiences with my hair, i realize, that hair is more than strands at the top of your head.

Anyway, i found this article by a lady called Malena Amusa on hair matters which i find very interesting:

This past winter, I noticed something very unsettling while I was visiting my family in St. Louis.
Almost all the black women I encountered were sporting lavishly long hair weaves, fake locks that can add length and volume after being sewed or glued to the scalp. Weaves come in straight, curly and kinky textures. But most black women with weaves wear them to extend and straighten the appearance of their naturally coiled and nappy hair.


Everywhere I turned, from the church to the mall, black women suited up in this straight-hair uniform. Was I missing something? I thought. Would my close-cut Afro set me too far apart from other black women?

Natural, kinky hair--which is most associated with blackness--has also been tied to inferiority in the United States. We can thank entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, the late 19th century inventor of the hot pressing comb--literally a comb-shaped iron--for the subsequent years of black women burning their disobedient hair into submission. Still today among African Americans, there exists a strata between those with "bad hair" and "good hair," the latter being hair that is most in sync with the dominant culture.

Walk into any pharmacy and you'll see a deluge of harsh chemical products that promise black women unnappy hair. Many believe this is a demonstration of self-loathing.

The January 2007 copy of Essence magazine I picked up didn't help. "Look Beautiful in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s . . . Real Women and Celebs Share Beauty and Health Secrets," the cover read. Featured were three celebrities with flowing, bouncy weaves and another woman whose silver hair was visibly straightened to suppress the real curl underneath.
Essence had made it clear: There was no way to be nappy-haired and beautiful at any age.

Myopic Beauty Image
This perplexed me because around St. Louis, so many everyday women who have no celebrity stakes to claim were subscribing to this myopic image of beauty wrapped around these hair weaves that, by the way, can take hours to glue onto the scalp and cost hundreds of dollars.
I wanted to walk in their shoes and understand them, so I decided to get a long, straight wig. Without the labor-intensive process, I achieved the luscious locks of a weave so I could learn what the non-celebrity woman had to gain from emulating the straight hair of non-African woman.

After several days of wearing the wig and interviewing black women, I found that the straight-hair phenomenon has little to do with a need to fit into mainstream social settings. Rather, these long weaves may reflect our desire to try on a different feminine persona that has historically been appropriated for white women.

Throughout time, weaves and wigs have served as costumes for black women to put on when they want to look sexy, such as in the 2006 movie "Dream Girls" that's loosely based on the 1960s rise of the Supremes, a Motown sensation.

In the opening scene of the movie, before the Dreams enter their first big show, they shift their poofy, European-hair wigs around. Finding a perfect fit, they then put on a killer show. As the Dreams become more successful and switch from mostly black to mostly white audiences, their hair get-ups become longer and bigger. The Dreams begin to look like white women in black face. And when one of the members gets kicked out of the band because of her hefty appearance, she quickly reverts to wearing an Afro.

Buying a Wig
I knew my hair was being mistaken for my femininity upon entering the Asian-owned beauty-supply store in my predominantly black neighborhood where I went to buy my wig. Perhaps because the elderly Asian sales lady kept saying: "Oh you pretty . . . with the wig."


It became even clearer once I returned home with the long, black, straight wig in hand and saw the label name Nikita. Even the manufacturers figured that by wearing this wig, I was to transform myself into another woman.

A few weeks later, I moved to New York and met an actress and professor of aesthetic studies at the University of Texas-Dallas. Venus Opal Reese has interviewed hundreds of black women in researching this hair transformation.

During the opening night of her one-woman play "Split Ends," which takes an in-depth look at black women and their historical tangle with hair, Reese bombarded a small stage wearing a skimpy dress and a Tina Turner wig just as wild as her flailing arms. Seconds later, the wig flew off and fell to the floor. As the crowd yelped with laughter, Reese hurried to pick it up, and kept waving the hair in her hand as if still attached to her swirling head.

"Being a woman is a performance," she said in the skit. "It's a full-time, thankless job."

Dressing Up in Drag
Her point was to show that by wearing weaves and wigs, black women are dressing up in their own drag, whereby they can become the type of woman they aren't otherwise expected to be. Black women weaving up has so much to do with our need to feel feminine and strong at different points in our lives, Reese argued later in a phone interview.
"Hair is a navigator," she said. "It's a negotiator, it's a deal-breaker."

I'd say. In a world where black women are constantly blunted by racial and sexual discrimination, it makes sense that we'd begin adopting counter-representations of ourselves.
That's what the wig did for me. It gave me the freedom to be aloof, to flirt and to smile without fear of not receiving smiles in return.

I made several outings with the wig. During one trip, I went to a mall. The weave made my confidence soar. Heading there, I drove faster than usual. And every time I reached to pick up my cell phone, I dramatically tossed my hair back and said "Haloh!" roaring and perky like a valley girl. I was ready to explode onto the mall scene and attract all kinds of men.

As I entered the sliding doors, my hair swooshed about my face and I loved it. And after some time, I noticed that I was moving around like a butterfly, flighty and irregular. I couldn't stop giggling like a school girl and tossing my hair lightly back as I rolled my eyes sensuously around while talking.

The wig had changed me; with it, I felt excited to become Nikita, who I assumed was a fun-loving white woman.

I believed I could seduce with my hair without thinking men wouldn't return my vibes because I was too black. Whatever that feeling--call it femininity if you like--I had more of it. And while I hated the persistent itch of the wig and those fluffy bangs scratching my eyes, for the first time, I saw clearly the power of weaves.

8 comments:

LondonBuki said...

I don't fix weaves - not cos I don't like them but 'cos of my running. As for braids - I LOVE wet 'n' wavy but I can't do it all the time 'cos my hair breaks easily.

I have noticed I get more attention when I have my wet and wavy hair... when I look at my pictures, I can even see it in the way I pose! I am HOT! LOL!!!

Oh well, I am taking out my curly braids tonight and probably not doing braids this year so I guess I'll have to work with my natural hair(READ: RELAXED hair! LOL).

I actually found the lady's article funny... and you were asked for weed?

Calabar Gal said...

I find it difficult to comb my weaves too. Wigs are more my thing. Different strokes for diferent folks eh? LOL!!!

Olawunmi said...

e nappy hair!!! (ok, this is probably due to the fact that i wear my hair long and nappy. lol) i happen to love nappy, natural hair on women too.

there's something lo-maintenance about it that i like. that and the fact that we can shower together without my needing a telling off for pouring water on her delicate hair. its hard to be a man i swear...

Soul said...

hmmm,
see I like the article but I think the writer has generalised for the lot of us.
I have natural hair because I honestly like it. I keep cutting my hair shorter and shorter every year.. because to me, their was nothing sexier than wearing a spiked afro every summer.
I mean I stopped traffic. I'd be walking and grown ass men would be tooting their horns and snapping their fingers..
black men were flocking to me like I was going out of fashion, white men would come up to me and say 'I love your style' and try to chat me up.
The only people who really seemed to have a problem with me was women.
Straight black women hated to see my hair, they kept trying to fix me or it. They presumed I had an agenda, or I was trying to say something. They thought I had 'let myself go' they couldn't understand why I didn't want to be part of their group.
I was okay with gay black women, they'd see me and say ohh I like the way you styled your hair, who did it?. I'd tell them 'the wind'.
And that was soo true. I would wake up come it straight up, step outside and the wind would blow it in style.

Anyway, in my experience both gay and straight white women had a problem with my hair.
A lot of straight white women automatically presumed I was out of the running when guys came to chat us up in the bar.. i mean they would say within my earshot.. 'look at her hair' and laugh!.
It pissed them off when many of the white guys they had their eyes on would come over and chat to me, they would actually try to butt into the conversation and start flicking their hair in my face.. I thought it was kinda hilarious but that's the way things happened.

Gay white women seemed to think that I wanted to fight them. They seemed to think I walked around with an agenda.

It was ironic... soo many presumed that my hair made me 'Afrocentric', more well read, only interested in 'conscious music' that I didn't eat meat and that I was a feminist.

What everybody seemed to miss.. was how goddamn fucking sexy I felt.
The guy I was dating at the time, loved the fact that I would step in and under the shower with him.
I never stopped touching my hair.
I used it in soo many different ways...
like when I wanted to look studios I would stick my pencil into the right corner at an angle..
When thinking, I would twirl the loose strands around my fingers really fast..
And when I wanted to get my ex's attention i would sit lower my eyes slightly, cross my legs, lean back and slowly twirl the ends.

I've never had a weave, not because I'm against them but because I get irritated easily, I always presumed they'd just irritate the hell out of me, in addition I also can't stand bad weaves and unfortunately most of the women I see walking aorund have horrible weaves.

Nowadays, when I feel like something different, I braid my hair.
But ultimately I have to say, my sexiness is not tied up in my hair it really is tied up in all of me.

Anonymous said...

@ soul...hmmm. i like that. my sexiness is tied up in all of me.I had long luscious relaxed hair that just started fallin out this winter and got me all wound up. Thanks for sharing this...it gives me a brand new outlook.

omohemi Benson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
omohemi Benson said...

This post reminds me of india.arie song "I am not my hair".

I love braids but I haven't done it in a long while now,because it just breaks my hair

kulutempa said...

i think she's generalizing more than a little bit. it's clear to me that she was experiencing the euphoria that most women feel when they've got a new hairdo, and that is has very little to do with whether the hair was straight or kinky. i've had my hair natural for four years now and it's going to stay that way because i absolutely love it that way. i've never felt hotter, and men have never thought me hotter than when i rock my messy 'fro. twists, packed back, air-dried - it's just hot! and when you feel good about yourself, people tend to think you look good, too. methinks this author might have more of a complex about her natural than she lets on.

nice post! i'm a big fan of natural beauty, from hair to skin to clothes...it's very inspiring, i think.