Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Hair Thing Part One

Before I proceed with the rest of my entry, let me state a basic fact about hair: its composition is 97% keratin (same protein found in our nails and the horns of rhinos) and 3% moisture. And it is dead. Yes, dead! So isn't it a little bizarre that we humans spend so much time, money, emotions and energy on something that's essentially lifeless? Well, not really, considering it is one of the first things people notice about you, just like your clothes. And like clothes, people make all kinds of assessments and judgments on one's suitability for a job position, social status, educational level, and so forth. Therefore, putting some effort and energy into ensuring one's hair is properly groomed isn't a crazy idea at all.

Members of the fairer sex (you know, the ones who spend countless hours a year deciding hairstyles) tend to take the hair issue more seriously, and rightly so, because society judges them more harshly on the state of their hair than the opposite sex. Besides, it's been ingrained in our psyche that a woman's hair is her crown of glory, so it stands to reason that all resources available be mobilized in ensuring the crown is well maintained, preserved and beautifully presented.

Speaking of presentation, African women and those of African descent have been known to spend hours getting their hair done and truckloads of money on hair extensions and hair products than their Caucasian and Asian counterparts. On the surface (judging by the number of Africans who wear hair extensions) it may seem we're on a quest to look less African and more Caucasian. Critics of the hair extension trend among African women have berated them for being ashamed of their natural hair and denying their African identity. But is the accusation fair? I think not. 

Of course, it would be remiss of me to deny that there are some African women who want nothing to do with looking African, and would bleach their skin and do whatever was necessary to look white. However, for the majority of us, wearing hair extensions and straightening our hair has less to do with denying our African identity and more to do with convenience and style-update - convenience in the sense that straightened hair is more malleable and easier to style than is tightly coiled hair, and style-update in the sense that one could tire of wearing a particular coiffure. In addition, wearing hair extensions offers one’s hair some respite from constant styling thereby preventing breakage.

How an individual decides to wear their hair and what a person decides to do with it should not be a topic for debate. Hair is just another accessory that can be bought and manipulated to suit one’s taste. It shouldn't be an identity marker; neither should it be used as some sort of personality/psychological test to judge the character or frame of mind of a person. For what it’s worth, the way one wears one's hair is a form of expression and creativity. What does hair mean to you?