Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hair as Identity

My blogger friend PeaceBang recently posted a link to a post at another blog on her own Beauty Tips for Ministers. The posting, from the blog Search the Sea, deals with the writer not knowing who she is, and therefore what clothes to wear, as she grieves.

One commenter noted a link to self-identity and hair, that "the less sure I am of 'me' the less content I am with any hairstyle."

PB also recently posted about the politics of hair in the black church, inspired by a comment by my friend Kym (whose hair, by the way, I've long admired).

Like it or not, hair says something about identity. It can say, "I'm a radical, non-conformist half-hippie chick" or "I religiously follow what Us magazines says all the celebrities are doing with their hair." It can give off a vibrant or dowdy vibe. It can say something about your cultural background--short hair on women is unheard of in some cultures.

So what does my hair say about me? The comment on Search the Sea struck a chord. I've been thinking about my hairstyle a lot lately. This is partly because it's in that in-between growing out stage and has lots of short layers that don't always do what they should. The other morning I when I got out of bed and looked in the mirror, I thought I'd morphed into a member of an 80s hair band. Seriously.

I've thought about cutting it--I actually really liked the short, flippy style I rocked after donating my hair in 2007. It was fun and very easy to care for.

I'm kind of a ponytail type though. I love the way it swings when I go running, and how it pulls my thick hair off my neck in the summer.

Really, though, like the commenter, I think the real issue is about identity, not hair.

What does wearing my hair long say about who I am? It could say I'm young, sexy, have time to commit to styling (even if I don't actually style that much), traditional or free-spirited (depending on how I wear it), stuck in the past, girl next door, not ready to grow up, conformist.

Wearing my hair short could mean I think adult women should have short(er) hair, I'm mature, free-spirited or traditional (same as above), making a statement, short on time, independent.

If I'd had shorter hair when I guest preached, would I have garnered more instant respect? Once they knew me, did it matter?

This summer I had some thick side-swept bangs cut. I grew up with bangs, and couldn't wait to get rid of them as a teenager. Then, around age 21, I tried again...and earned the nickname Winnie Cooper. I'd sworn them off, but decided to give it one more shot. I love them, except for the fact that I can't afford to get them trimmed professionally and so attempt myself. I'm not really sure I'm doing a very good job.

So what do those say about me? Maybe I'm artsy, traditional, young, trend-follower?

I know my hairstyle now doesn't fit me. The problem is, I think I need to be more sure about who "me" really is before I know why--or what style will work.

India.Arie sings "I Am Not My Hair"...but don't you think hair is part of personal identity?

Sphere: Related Content


  1. It is and it isn't. We tie up (if you'll excuse the pun) so much of our identity in it when really, It's Just Hair. That said, it's probably the first thing that people notice about us. Argh. Dichotomy.

    It's why people cry when they get their hair cut short, or when they lose their hair for reasons beyond their control. Their outward self, the one they use to reflect their inner self, has changed, but the person inside doesn't want to.

    My hair currently says 'I have pretty hair clips and a librarian bun' or possibly 'I can't afford £20 to get a haircut until payday', depending. But it's practical at past-mid-back length, and it's easy to care for, and it's so much less time consuming than when I had shorter hair, and I use less product.

    Then again, despite what the beauty magazines tell you, as long as it's not insanely dirty, greasy or distracting, sometimes a hairband is just a way to keep your hair out of your face, not a subconscious longing for childhood or a slavish following of trends!

  2. I think hair can be something more simple as well. For me, I feel like mine shows my impatient and can't make a solid decision for the life of me (aka why I grow it out just long enough to cut off enough to donate, cut it, can't wiat for it to be long again, just to not be able to wait for it to be long enough to chop it off again!)

  3. I have cut my own hair for over ten years, keeping my head essentially bald. This look works for me as a black man, and even better, it is cheap and easy. Sometimes, I feel an urge to let my hair grow out and never cut it. Great men from Samson to Snoop Dogg have held the belief that their strength was in their hair. At the end of the day, I always cut it. I don't think I've gone more than 8 weeks without a haircut--ever. Part of the reason I keep it low is because it takes no effort to maintain. That said, I must admit that I wonder how congregations and the business world would view me with thick, ostentacious locks. I wonder how I would look at myself, too.

    For now, I am sticking with the safe, socially acceptable style that my wife likes. It tends to open doors of opportunity instead of forcing me to prove that I'm smart/sane/normal "despite" my unconventional hair.

    Thanks for letting a man chime in.