Dating back to bible verses, a woman’s hair has been tangled up in the idea of her identity and femininity. Long, flowing hair is still considered royal and delicate. It’s not surprising considering the first women to employ hairdressers were nobles who could afford to have their hair tended – think Marie Antoinette. Since then, the physical and symbolic connection of women and their hair has inspired trends and movements challenging and redefining the notion of femininity – and inspiring women to explore their identities and individualism. Let’s take a look at a few of these moments in time.
Women joined the workforce during World War I and cut off their hair because it was safer for working conditions. This is when the bob first gained popularity in the US. After men returned from war, women kept their hair short and took to the streets to fight for their right to vote. Physically, it was a shift towards something practical, but the bob symbolically represented a shift towards more equality between the sexes and the separation of what a woman “should” look like with what women wanted.
The issue of hair and what a woman’s hair should or should not look like extends to all cultures. For cultures which have experienced European colonization, hair has been colonized as well. Sleek, straight hair is the norm and kinky, textured hair is the “other.” Women have been pressured to relax their hair to fit the status quo of European beauty for years and the idea of going natural is akin to social suicide. Musical artists and prominent figures like _____ in the 60s brought the afro to prominence. Since then, going natural has been slowly moving to mainstream and many young people are making the switch.
Okay, this is a personal one. My mother always insisted I wear my hair long and, as my stylist, had the ultimate say in how much hair remained on my head. I loved my long hair, but eventually wanted something short. My mom refused to do it. I found a hairdresser who would and she cut my hair into some sort of mullet. In retrospect, it was not the best haircut, but I was in love with the feeling of deciding how I would present my hair to the world.
During the summer of 2013, I faced a bout of depression. During that time, in the days I spent not getting out of bed, I found an open letter written by Jada Pinkett Smith about her daughter, Willow, shaving her head and the criticism she faced for “letting” her daughter do that. Her response stated that Willow’s hair and body are her own and she gets to decide what she does with it. That same day, I made an appointment with the hip hair salon around the corner. I went in the next day and asked for a Bob Dylan-esque ‘do, “but I kind of want to buzz it.” My stylist encouraged me to follow what I really wanted. And I did. And I loved it. I shaved my head and I found a brand new feeling – wind in my scalp. I found beauty in experiencing something totally new, and in myself. I felt powerful. During a time when my own brain didn’t feel like it belonged to me, buzzing my hair liberated me. I was reminded that I belong only to myself – at least when I looked in the mirror.
Hair is the one accessory you don’t take off. Just like the accessories you choose to wear, they are a reflection of your lifestyle and identity. Instead of seeing hair as a part of some status quo of beauty, we should embrace it as we do jewelry or handbags – something fun, something we admire and something we love to show off. The sooner we can get to a point of loving ourselves (from long, flowing locks or afro or bald head to toe), the sooner we can focus on issues like equalizing pay between the sexes. Ladies, here’s to you and whatever you choose to do with your hair!
AFH Salon Coordinator