There has been much hoopla and attention being paid to Jay Z and Beyonce’s toddler daughter Blue Ivy regarding the state of her hair. Many seem to be completely enraged at how her hair could be so “neglected” and uncared for, especially given the status of her parents as multi-millionaires. It also brings to light other girls and women in the past such as Gabby Douglass, Venus and Serena Williams, and others in and out of the spotlight whose hair has caused controversy regarding its styling, or lack of. At times the attention seemed to overshadow the contributions and talents of these individuals. Situations like these bring to light the question: “Why is so much of an uproar caused when hair is not groomed to the standards of others?”
When I look at the history of hair, I can start to see some roots of some of the behaviors and reactions we see today regarding hair. Hair has held great significance in nearly every culture, especially those of African descent and in many indigenous cultures, hair was representative of status, rank, and mental and emotional well-being. It was used to communicate things such as wealth, ranking, status, etc. Hair was intricately designed, groomed, cleaned and adorned. Alternately, if someone was in mourning over a deceased loved one, depressed, or another emotional state, their hair was often unkempt, dirty and in disarray. This signaled to others the state of being of that individual and was a way to make a lasting and significant impression on others without needing to speak a word.
Sometimes, hair is not groomed or cared for intentionally to show a rebellion towards the status quo, or as a separation from the over emphasis on the attention to one’s vanity and physical image. This was prevalent in the Rastafarian community where the natural hair was left to loc and mat in what some referred to as “dreadlocs” (although many abstain from using this description because of its’ negative connotation). This example of the desire of the hair to do as nature intended and free form into locs is a significant part of their message of non-conformity. We are becoming aware of some cultures that have ritual ceremonies shaving their hair as sacrifice to a higher power and giving up vanity that can be attached to hair and its’ image. Ironically, that hair is often taken and sold to others (often paying large amounts of money) who desire to wear the hair to increase their physical looks and image.
In this society, and many societies across the world, the appearance of one’s image, including their hair, is of enormous significance. Women especially pay into the thousands of dollars to create the hair they desire. Some even go to great lengths to alter their lifestyle so that their hair is always in good appearance, sacrificing swimming, working out, their partners/spouses hands touching their hair and any other situation that may impact their hair’s appearance. Some of us have been taught by the older women in our lives especially to “do something with our hair” and make sure that our children never leave the house without their hair “combed”. We often feel like not only do we represent ourselves when we are in public, but also an entire group, race or culture.
Given this, it is not hard to see the connections from the past to the present related to how well one’s hair looks and the reactions it can cause in others. Many people have been raised to believe that seeing hair that appears to not be “done”, groomed or clean can signal neglect or that something “just isn’t right” and needs to be tended to. Understanding that there is a valid history behind this can help cast some light on the matter, but it does not excuse rude or disrespectful remarks about one’s appearance. Hair alone is not the deciding factor of someone’s life or value nor should it warrant people becoming instant judges and jury about a person or what is going on in their life. The beautiful thing about us is that we are a combination of many wonderful and different components, and when all that is taken into consideration, how we wear our hair becomes just a part of who we are.