I had a bad haircut once. It was so awful that I actually cried. And then I wore a hat for two weeks straight. Well, a beret. And the beret wasn’t much better than the haircut, if I’m honest.
But, after TWO years it grew back, to a length that I could happily hide behind (a little like Sadako from Ringu, 1998). Ever since then I’ve been plenty scared when it comes to finding a new hairdresser. What if I have to wear a beret again? I’m in my thirties now and I had trouble pulling it off when I was a jaunty twenty-one.
After having been quoted something close to my weekly wage at a fancy salon in the city centre, I started thinking about why we spend so much money on what, at least partially, comes under the banner of non-essential grooming. But in a society so deeply concerned with aesthetics, it is for many of us something that contributes to how we feel about ourselves and therefore how we hold ourselves in both our own and the esteem of others. Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair (2011) is a pretty boss place to turn to if you want to think a bit deeper about this topic – and specifically about the White ‘normalisation’ of aspirational beauty and how that impacts upon African American women.
Hair is political. Not just the stuff we grow but the film of that name, too. Hair (1979), the musical (adapted from the stage show), is all anti-Vietnam. Hairspray (original 1997, remake 2007), also a musical, is all anti-conformity and anti-segregation. The Boy With Green Hair (1948) is also an anti-war parable, one that looks at public reaction when the hair of an American war orphan mysteriously turns green. It leaves him open to ridicule in his small town and the locals call for his head to be shaved.
Dave also reminds me that Les Miserables (1935, 1978, 1995, 2003, 2012 et al) has the selling of hair as a commodity, and that in Withnail & I (1987) there is an anti-governmental rant about hair. And that’s all pretty much just to do with the stuff coming out of our heads. What about the removal, trimming, grooming and treating of hair on the rest of our bodies? Super political stuff.
Returning now to my own experiences associated with hair this week, looking for someone I trust to come close to my head with a pair of scissors was a step outside of my comfort zone (quite literally, I had to leave the shop for a couple of hours). But it was also super rewarding – and not just because the haircut was ace (which it was, thanks Bangshanky!) but because it reminded me that any such choice concerning my head has absolutely everything to do with my (political) heart. In part that’s about accepting that my hair isn’t what makes me beautiful (though I do still need to investigate why I’m so beholden to the socialised act), but it’s also to do with knowing that someone caring for us in our community – in this instance a hairdresser caring for my grey, dead, matted hair – has the power to make us feel good about ourselves.