Tag Archives: hair

Zina Saro-Wiwa: Transitioning to Natural Hair

Laurie says:

Zina Saro-Wiwa has made a remarkable  documentary about black women who are “transitioning” — cutting off their chemically straightened hair and embracing their natural kinky afro texture.  Among her previous documentaries is This is My Africa, which was broadcast on HBO

This is the link to the terrific and thoughtful video on the New York Times site.  It is _very_ well worth watching.  (Photo is from the video.)

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Her quotes are from her accompanying New york Times essay.

I had no intention of appearing in the film. I felt I was an objective observer and really just wanted to highlight a growing movement. (Of the 50 or so women I struck up conversations with randomly on the street, the vast majority had gone natural within the last three years. According to one industry study sales of chemical straightening kits, which can be harmful reportedly dropped by 17 percent between 2006 and 2011.) But including my own story forced me to examine how I felt about my hair with more honesty than ever before.

There are as many “natural hair journeys” as there are transitioning women. What I find remarkable about the movement is the way it is spreading through black women in America. Many are transitioning silently, without much fanfare. Some are inspired by friends and family members who have already made the switch. As Anu Prestonia, the owner of Khamit Kinks, a natural hair salon in Brooklyn, told me, “There’s been an evolutionary process that has turned into a revolution.” It is not an angry movement. Women aren’t saying their motivation is to combat Eurocentric ideals of beauty. Rather, this is a movement characterized by self-discovery and health.
But black hair and the black body generally have long been a site of political contest in American history and in the American imagination. Against this backdrop, the transition movement has a political dimension — whether transitioners themselves believe it or not. Demonstrating this level of self-acceptance represents a powerful evolution in black political expression. If racial politics has led to an internalization of self-loathing, then true transformation will come internally, too. It will not be a performative act. Saying it loud: “I’m black and I’m proud” is one thing. Believing it quietly is another. So the transition movement is much more profound and much more powerful — and I believe it offers lessons in self-acceptance for people of all hues and all genders.

There are lots of wonderful images of women with natural hair in the video.  But since I couldn’t put them here, this is an appropriate and beautiful photo from The Coiffure Project by Glenford Nunez.

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Organizing What We See

Debbie says:

This poster by Lauren Boyle and Marco Roso went up on Sociological Images (and Jezebel) in November, and Laurie and I never posted on it because of the holidays and various other high-priority posts. The poster was originally published in Dis Magazine with an interesting postmodern essay by Katerina Llanes.

grid with 15 different images of hairstyles usually associated with Lesbians

Now I feel like everyone has seen it (there are 92 comments on Sociological Images alone), but I keep thinking about it and wishing we’d talked about it, so here I am.

Of course, it’s a pastiche of the posters you see in every hair salon, showing an equivalent number (or more) of femme-y hairdos, windblown, or curled, or whatever signifies “sexually available to men” in a given period.

Lisa Wade, who wrote the blog post, talks about “aspirational hair,” a phrase which refers to wanting a hairstyle because you want the life that goes with it. She views the poster as being a way for women to aspire to different, less hyperfeminine, choices.

She’s right, of course, but that’s not what caught me about the poster. Living in the Bay Area and working in San Francisco, I look at butch women all the time, but I’m not a fashionista (to say the least) and I don’t notice how hairdos are put together. I literally did not know that I was looking at this much variety. But now that I’ve seen this image and thought about it for a couple of months, I see much, much more variety walking around my life than is pictured here.

A number of the comments say the same thing. Progressive Scholar was first:

“When I went to the salon last week, I pulled this poster up on my phone and pointed to the haircut I wanted. For the first time EVER, I got the haircut I actually wanted.”

So, just by taking the time to put together a poster showing a variety of nontraditional haircuts, Boyle and Roso accomplished two huge things: they made it possible for me to notice something that was before my eyes all the time, but not in an organized way, and they made it possible for Progressive Scholar and many others to have a reference which allows them to ask for what they want. The two also come together quite neatly–using the reference as a way to keep track of what we see is also going to make us better at both imagining and then asking for what we want, whether or not it’s in the actual poster.

The concept expands. Some people can build a matrix of choices in their head from chance encounters and random observations, but most of us are very well served by having variety and choice pointed out to us, whether it’s about hairstyle, or career, or family configuration, or body image, or just about anything else. One thing Boyle and Roso did for me was to remind me of how many things I see every day and don’t know that I see, because I don’t have an organizational framework to hold them.