When I think of my hair, I think of a huge mess. It’s a fantastic mess, but still a mess. It’s always been relatively long and thick with varying degrees of curls and kinks. Only once did I dye my hair—the ends in particular. Eventually my ends broke off. My hair has always been dry.
Throughout my life, my hair has always been important. I’ve often wondered why I don’t just cut it all off. My younger brother has often done different things with his hair: dreaded it, shaved it, and grew it out again. Mine has pretty much been the same. Women are taught to have a connection with their hair. It’s a woman’s pride. In the short story by O. Henry, “The Gift of the Magi,” the wife—whose hair was her most valuable possession— cut off her long, beautiful hair and sold it to provide her significant other a thoughtful gift during Christmastime. Hair is not important because of necessarily the way it looks, but because it represents something culturally across time periods and geographical boundaries.
Ingrid Banks, a professor at UC Santa Barbara said that hair is a “natural symbol of the things people want to be…and it’s social-cultural significance should not be underestimated.” We all know that hair is more than just the thing that grows out of your body. Hairstyles and cuts are a way for one to express themselves culturally as well as spiritually. Historically long hair has represented femininity and beauty. Hair can also be a statement as a way to keep up with trends. The short bobbed hairdo that became popular with flappers in the 1920’s was a rejection of the older generation after World War I. In China women in the 50’s would wear a short cut to symbolize liberation.
Some black women in the late 60’s and 70’s would often wear their hair in an afro or other natural hairstyles to show that “black is beautiful”. Natural hairstyles in black communities also symbolize a connection to Africa that many think was lost because of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. In many Native American cultures hair is a connection with god along with a symbol of strength and power. Hair is also connected with thoughts. Cutting the hair means a loss of this. In other religions and cultures, hair is seen as pure vanity. Many nuns of the Catholic religion choose to cover their hair. St. Catherine of Siena, cut off all her hair in protest of her mother wanting her to attract a husband, and devoted her life to God. What people have on top of their head means something. It is not only a median for positive change and political statements, but a connection to one’s ancestors.
It’s an art form really; what people do with their hair—the protein that grows out of their body—can be spectacular and contain so much meaning. Like a piece of art, hair can paint a picture of a deeper meaning and significance. Not just on runways or in photo shoots, but everywhere we look round. The naturals, those with relaxed hair, curly, straight, wavy, dyed, shaved. It’s part of one’s identity, sometimes a big part. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t important to me. At the end of the day, it’ll grow back. In a way it doesn’t matter. But at the same time, it really does.
“St. Catherine of Siena | Saint of the Day | AmericanCatholic.org.” St. Catherine of Siena | Saint of the Day | AmericanCatholic.org. Web. 12 Feb. 2015. <http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1368>
Johnstone, Paula Lightening Woman. “White Wolf : Elders Talk about the Significance of Long Hair in Native American Cultures (Videos).” White Wolf : Elders Talk about the Significance of Long Hair in Native American Cultures (Videos). White Wolf Pack. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2013/08/elders-talk-about-significance-of-long.html>.
Ellery, Lucinda. “Hair and History: Why Hair Is Important to Women.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lucinda-ellery/hair-history-why-hair-is-_b_5567365.html>.
“Flappers: Frivolous Time-Wasters, Or America’s New Liberated Women?” Issues and Controversies in American History. Web. 12 Feb. 2015. <http://www.ndhs.org/s/1012/images/editor_documents/library/issues_and_controversies_in_american_history_-_flappers.pdf>.