On a cold January evening, in an angry insult to my feminism, I found a pair of kitchen scissors and ground my hair against their blades. In a fit of rage, surprised that I could still do such impulsive things, about two feet of hair fell to the floor.
I was surprised at how this violent act relieved me but halfway through the process panic ensued and I couldn't bring myself to finish the job. Holding the jagged edges of my hair to my face, my inner unamused voice said, “ it's just hair. It will grow back.”
It wasn’t a true impulsive act. I've been negotiating with myself about getting short hair as long as I can remember. Threatening my mother when the upkeep of combing it drained the blood from my hands rendering me temporarily numb when forming a ponytail. Or daydreaming about what my face would look like had it hadn't the revolution launching continuously atop of my scalp. I debated with wanting to be trendy if the shorter hair would make me appear forward-thinking and cosmopolitan. But none of these thoughts came to me when I did the dreadful act. It was the perceived expectation of beauty from my boyfriend that set me over the edge.
My first memory of hair is perhaps a foreshadow to my adulthood. I was about three years old and already revolting against its upkeep. To take our annual portraits, my mother dressed my sister and I in our Sunday Best; bright, flounce dresses with perfect big ribbon bows in the back and shiny black shoes. My hair was big and curly and only gained more oomph with the humidity. The act of taming it was a form of despotism, itself. Defeated by my defiance, my parents took me, unkempt hair and all for our portrait. I must have understood then at that studio, that hair was a form of beauty. I stood ashamed in the corner for my picture.
My grandmother loved the pretenses of hair care; thinning, white hair she had almost none left. Our conversations mostly inaudible, as her voice was beaten by three strokes, were communicated with hand gestures. She scrupulously taught by practice, massaging coconut oil in my scalp while running her hands through my hair. She finished this act of care by rubbing coconut oil into my eyebrows until they shone. I hated the scent of coconuts.
My sister known for her scintillating lectures on young women’s rite of passage taught me the art of hair removal. “You are to remove the hair under your armpits and your legs,” she commanded, in my head, she’s quite military. “If you get lazy, as I know you will, at least do the hair below your knees.”
“How often do I have to do this?”
“So that you’re always smooth. No one wants to be hairy.”
“What if I cut myself?”
“You’ll cut yourself but you’ll learn.”
My skin felt the softest when I removed all the hair. But I grew tired of this daily ritual and allowed the hair to grow out slightly protruding thru my skin like tiny daggers, stabbing anyone who got too close.
My first suitor was a hairy boy. He was in every one of my classes and had thick, long flowing hair that naturally parted in the middle. In his last year of short trousers, lanky hairy legs and arms exposed, without the courage to privately vet my interest, he resorted to using the grapevine. Our class perfect with a mischievous smile, beamed with curiosity while touting his virtues, "You couldn't find a kinder or more considerate boy." " He was sweeter than a sapodilla." "He is so soft-spoken. "
"Don’t you like him?”
Cornered by the imbroglio, I diverted the question into a question, “Why do we value good virtues at all?” “Will that lead to an adventurous life?” Unwavering, she pressed on and unable to find a way out, I lampooned him, just as the poor chap passed by, “NO! “he's just too hairy.”
Forever impaled by my declaration and unable to forgive, he paraded girls after girls, who giggled down the corridor with him. The standards for hair were different for boys.
In the professional world, hair plays a strange role too. In a more suggestive tone for the sake of professionalism, hair is more suitable straightened, eyebrows groomed, and legs and arms smoothed. By that time, laser hair removal became popular. My closest friend retold her first experience to me on the phone. “It stings at first. You'll have to do it 6 times, about every month."
“But could you imagine what you would do with all that free time?” I really couldn’t imagine.
“There was just one thing,” she paused, "if you want to remove all the hairs, “you'll have to spread them.” We burst out into laughter as she retold her awkward silence of laying bare to the judgment of a beautician.
There is now a hair renaissance, I hear. But I never knew when hair wasn't on our minds for us to have a renissance for it. Women, regardless of color, can wear their hair however they want, and right there next to their freedom of choice are the products to support them. There is an entire industry on the perfect placement of hair and it’s removal if it necessitates.There is even an industry to help you find these products. From hair care products specialized to your DNA, to hair extensions, weave, wigs, braids to strategic hair removal by waxing, threading, shaving, sugaring, there is even a temporary hair tattoo service.
You can now wear your hair curly, straight, wavy, or kinky. It just has to look effortlessly, flawless and not just effortless.
Indeed most of the ad placements and youtube channel recommendations you’ll receive if you happen to be a woman are about skincare with beauty influencers explaining where and how you should place products for your personalized hair type.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed. While visiting some of my friends this past winter, who are from varied backgrounds living in varied places, universally, regardless of profession, our conversation steered to hair and beauty care. Allowed the intimacy of their homes, they were naked to me as I peruse labels after labels that highlighted their fears while promising remedies by magic from their scientifically advanced potions.
In one of my favorite books, Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, its author goes into details of the care of African hair and the importance of acceptance of different hair types. I especially loved reading the parts of her retelling those salon stories. But no matter the message or the voice it still leads us to consumerism. Feminism now affords women, an array of targeted choices, all of which leads us to the confinement of consumerism.
Did you see Alicia Keys? She’s called brave because she unsubscribed to this excessive practice of beauty. She is brave alright, but men nor women seem to want to move in that direction anytime soon.
This includes me as well for I've grown accustom to acknowledging the differences that are socially acceptable. In my premeditated rage against my hair, I cut my hair at the perfectly placed length of acceptance. The rage was against myself. Still, I have a presentiment that we may yet have another hair renaissance. Hopefully one with an emphasis less on consumerism and more on simply accepting who we are. But I reckon all this talk is just inanity.