The duel between Team Natural Hair and Team Artificial Hair has been raging for quite some time and it looks like the battle is in no danger of ending anytime soon. Cue in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comment to UK’s Channel 4 that “hair is political”, what with the entire internet buzz it has generated and it is easy to see why.
Given the media’s propensity to generate news out of Obama’s greying temples and Berlusconi’s alleged implants, perhaps hair is political. But then the same media delights in analyzing Justin Bieber’s haircuts and Rihanna’s ever-changing hair colour so in that vein, we can also posit that hair is entertaining.
If anything, hair is inspirational. Adichie’s latest novel, Americanah – marketed as a story about ‘romance, race and hair’ – lends credence to this theory. In addition to her book, other literature – articles, blogs and magazines – and indeed, other art on the subject have been and are still being produced. Chris Rock’s documentary, Good Hair and India Arie’s hit single, I Am Not My Hair come to mind here.
As an industry, hair is of economical benefit; just ask the scores of weave and wig-makers, professional hairstylists, salon owners and numerous others involved in the hair-care business who are smiling their way to the bank. Why, the English-language vocabulary too, has been enriched; thanks to curly and straight-haired people the world over who covet each other’s hair texture, the word ‘ironing’ is no longer restricted to clothes.
But just as hair inspires the positive, so also does it, rather unfortunately, encourage the negative. Luckily, some of us have been spared addiction to TV shows like Jerseylicious, L.A. Hair et al but most of us have come into contact with that young woman who is running herself into debt on account of her weave habit or her close relative, the campus babe who spends more time in the salon than she does in the lecture hall. Cause for concern is the alarming fact that sodium hydroxide is being applied to barely two-year old scalps. Add to this, increasing reports of hair-related human trafficking, and there is definitely need for debate and discussion about the importance we attach to and the investment we make in what is essentially dead cells.
However, such discourse need not be an excuse for hair bullying – picking on people whose hairdressing preferences differ from ours.
Arising from the misguided notion that one way is best, hair bullying occurs when the afro-wearing Jambite is labelled a ‘bush woman’ or ‘Mary-Amaka’; when the teenager is subjected to homophobic slurs because he is sporting a Mohawk. Taken to the extreme, hair bullying is the young man denied Holy Communion for committing the ‘sin’ of wearing dreadlocks and the chorister defrocked because of the presence of chemicals in her hair.
By all means, let’s talk about hair if we want to but can we please do so without coming off as hypercritical of one another? Throughout history, men and women have sought out various ways to augment their physical appearance; from tattoos to piercings, nail prosthetics to dental fillings. Yet none of these, it seems, is as controversial as the topic of hair. Why?
At the end of the day, we all have our individual hair stories, distinctive reasons why we choose to wear our hair the way we do and we should be encouraged to share them. However, we should not be too quick to judge others for theirs or extrapolate ours. Admittedly, hair is many things but most of all, it is personal.