Hierarchy of hair: moneymaking at the cost of self-acceptance?

2014-12-01 15:54

It is amazing what level of relevance how we wear our hair has in terms of our socio-economic context. Moreover, to me, hair is also political.

The politics of hair

If we define politics as the power relations between people, then hair definitely holds relevance. It is the hierarchy of hair. Your ranking in said hierarchy is determined by whether you have ‘glades’ or ‘egtes’ (sleek hair)or whether you have ‘kroesies’ or ‘pitte’ (course hair). Please excuse me for the use of these terms but it is how it is referred to albeit painful to state.

Having sleek hair is the ideal.  My generation didn’t grow up under apartheid yet we are well aware of what the pencil test is… for those who are not; the pencil test was an assessment done by the old regime – essentially to determine who is white and who is not, among the established communities. Among other assessments, like measuring your facial extremities, a pencil would be placed in the hair of who is being assessed. If they pencil fell out or slid through the hair with ease, it meant a pass and the person in question passed as being white. If the pencil stayed where they put it or didn't move through the hair with ease, it meant a fail as that person's hair would be considered to be too course.

These classifications or classes, still hold today. It is a bizarre reality, with serious consequences.

Toddlers who are having their hair chemically straightened or ‘relaxed’ in an attempt by parents to make the child’s hair more socially acceptable. Worse still and what brings me to the next segment of this discussion; toddlers and young girls with wigs and hair extensions.

Fake hair

At the corner shops, lower-income malls like Golden Acre, Parow Centre and Bellville Middestad in Cape Town, which are built near taxi ranks and stations; are teeming with fake hair. So that you can attach it to your head and hide your own hair.

However, is there any real difference between straightening and styling as opposed to hair extensions? Throughout history, we have chosen to adorn ourselves in all sorts of ways.  What makes adding extensions or weaving in additional hair any different. There is certainly a case to be made for this. Yet, the 'element of odd' remains quite strong here.

There is endless pressure to buy false hair but it is not as though it ends there. Just because it didn't grow from your head doesn’t mean it’s fake.

The hair trade

Women who cut their hair at temples in Asia are often not aware that it isn’t merely discarded of by the temples but is sold as a raw good, which will reach our society as a finished good. Yes, there is a choice, Brazilian, Malaysian or Indian – hair, not food or dance, HAIR!

This is, like the synthetic variety, sewn into or glued onto the braided natural hair.

And to make matters worse, there is a class hierarchy between women who have real hair and women who don’t, exclusivity in this case like most others, is determined by price. Hair extensions can cost thousands of rands.

However, again, the cost of styling natural can be quite high also. For example, a good quality flat iron ranges between one and three thousand rand. Is buying such a tool not a seemingly more subtle version of the same problem?

The problem of esteem

Pardon how naïve this may sound but isn’t self-acceptance a more cost effective way to deal with this matter? This issue seems to stem from a feeling of not being good enough. This feeling of not being good enough is perpetuated for the previously mentioned socio-economic and political ends. We must remember that consumerism has never benefited from the popularisation of the notion of being satisfied with what one has. And hierarchy (in a free society as we have today) is an agreed upon structure.

There is no way that one can dictate to another person, how he or she ought to wear their hair. This is simply a consideration of the matter. There are no recommendations as it is a sensitive topic. So I will leave it here.

I am very interested in your take. Leave a comment. Send an email.

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