Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Michelle's Hair Matters

A certain article in Time was brought to my attention about Michelle Obama's hair. As I read it, I found striking similarities between the politics attached to African-American women's hair and those attached to Apostolic women's hair. An excerpt:

Many Americans have dismissed this hair hubbub as simply more media-driven noise — like the chatter about Michelle Obama's sleeveless dresses, J. Crew cardigans, stocking-free legs or, for that matter, recent (shocking!) decision to wear shorts in the Arizona heat. But for African-American women like me, hair is something else altogether — singular in its capacity to command interest and carry cultural baggage. (emphasis mine)

If you're an Apostolic woman with an abundant amount of "glory," perhaps you can relate to similar issues that African-American women face concerning their hair. Instead of cultural/racial politics, the issues surrounding AP women's hair revolves around religious conviction. Your hair holds the same power to command interest and it carries similiar "baggage" in that it very sharply distinguishes you from the mainstream. In both cases, there's an interesting dichotomy of pride and shame.

Eyebrow-raising style
There's also a tie-in that I see when it comes to style. Though images of black hairstyles seen in the media may garner its fair share of raised eyebrows, I see an interesting parallel with different, though no less eyebrow-raising, intricate and at times exaggerated Apostolic styles that set people abuzz at the latest convention.

Suffer for beauty
And the sacrifice. The article references a humorous Chris Rock documentary which mentions the amount of money black women spend on their hair. According to the article, a University of Indiana study shows that black women often sacrifice workouts for the sake of their hair. Apostolic woman with abundant hair, when you close your eyes, do you envision a bathroom counter littered with hair products, too? Can you think of times you've "suffered for beauty" financially, emotionally or physically when it came down to your hair?

Hair = Position on the social ladder?
And what about what the upkeep says about the wearer and her status? Michelle Obama's hair and the way it is maintained is a reflection of her status as First Lady, and even more than that, makes a statement about the way a First Lady's hair, in the dominant culture, is expected to be maintained. A silky bob communicates something different than a curly 'fro. The same might be said for the status of Apostolic women with hair perfectly coiffed as opposed to the dreaded and much shunned "down and stringy."

A black family at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue signifies a shattered political barrier, but our reactions to Michelle are evidence that it takes more than an election to untangle some of the unique dilemmas black women face. Thanks to her, our issues are front and center. It feels a lot like when nonblack friends and colleagues ask those dreaded questions that force us to reflect and explain: whether we can comb through our hair, if we wash our braids or locks and the most complicated of all — why it all has to be such a big deal. (emphasis mine)

Apostolic woman with abundant hair, do these questions ring familiar? "How often do you wash it?" "How do you get it that way?" and even naively intrigued though slightly invasive, "Can I touch it?" The fascination or even derision that African-American women's hair evokes can be compared to the same that Apostolic women's hair evokes. In both cases, it causes the owner of that hair to reflect on her choices in maintaining her hair (straightened, natural, braided, long and uncut) and it gives us pause when we try to explain to those outside of our world why we do what we do.

PS - Perhaps I will write a dissertation one day about my experiences as an Apostolic woman with African-American hair. I'll spare you for now.


Mary Frances said...

LOL!!! I liked this!!!!
I am with African girls all the time and I am ALWAYS touching their hair without even asking. THEN they touch mine, and its cool cause its both soooo different to both of us!!! I LOVE black babies hair!!! Its SOOOOO SOFT!!! I just keep touching and touching their babies hair and they are all laughing at me and saying, she likes it, she likes it!!!

Anonymous said...

Ok... I guess I don't get the point in making hair matter. Yes, Apostolic women suffer for thier hair, and suffer with their hair, but I don't see why the First Lady's hairdo is so important. Its hair. She keeps it nice, but it is still hair. What should be more important is what is she doing with her life now that she is the First Lady. What charitable works has she done, what has she done to promote education, etc. Her hair will change tomorrow and we will not even remember all the styles she will have over the next three years. However, we will remember her actions, or the lack of actions, over the same period of time.