Sitting in a Salon on the 31st of August 2012, a day before Spring Day, yes pay-day and a day before winter is officially over, I felt really small in the big business of the ‘weave thing.’
One black woman after the next, came into the smoky, chemical infused haven that women call the salon, some even to my shock were children that looked like they were 7 or 8 years old- all wanting to either straighten their hair with a relaxer or sew in a new stylish weave. Not to be biased, I really felt special amongst these women and wondered why- Is it because I have natural hair and they don’t? Or is it because I felt special in a negative sense, in that I am not in the in crowd? I guess whether black, white, or Asian, hair is a central aspect of a woman’s life and our continuous questioning of it is part of our daily lives. Yet more and more increasingly the idea of black women keeping their frizzy, nappy, afro hair, freaks them out or is not even something to consider. I wonder why?
While I was observing my surroundings I found myself philosophising about the whole phenomena of the weave and straightening one’s hair and it lead me to compare and contrast the ideas around hair and identity. It is a subject matter that people want to explore, but many fear criticism or feel they may be subjected to “no comment” responses, yet it is a fundamental part of a woman’s identity, because it revolves around self-image. Black women in particular see hair as a statement, whether it is propelled by status, fashion, the desire to be different, or the desire to fit in, it all represents an ideology of how you see yourself and more specifically how you want the world to see you.
The debate concerning black women and hair is further emphasised in a documentary done by the famous American comedian Chris Rock called Good Hair. In Good Hair Rock explores the question ‘what is all the fuss with black women, weaves, and straightening ones hair?
I guess through Rock’s male perspective it seems overrated, costly and unnatural, not recognising the importance for his own two young daughters to feel happy and content with their own natural hair. He suggests that the more unnatural your hair is, the less black you should claim to be, considering that weaves and relaxers requires chemicals and fake hair that has travelled from either India or Indonesia and is applied to a black woman’s natural hair.
Does it make a woman less African and in touch with her natural roots?
Does it emphasize a foreign concept of beauty that has been imported- literally- from the West and East and adopted into the community of black women, and in this context, particularly South African black women? It can be argued that as much as the media, social cultures, and celebrities are feeding children and women of all ages, images of Beyonce, Bonang Matheba, Rihanna, Oprah and Winnie Madikizela Mandela with weaves in their hair, that they are painting a picture of what is conceived as beautiful and acceptable.
The buying of hair itself is a costly business, when I ask women who have weaves, they openly tell me it can cost anything from R300 to R5000 (approx. $40 to $600 US dollars), all depending on the quality of the hair. On the contrary the 100% natural hair, meaning the weave is taken straight from women’s heads that have really great hair- from Brazil or India- can cost from R2000-R5000 (approx. $250 to $600 US dollars). It is truly amazing the pride that goes into buying the more expensive weave, even men share this sentiment of good versus bad weaves. I approached 2 young black students and asked them their thoughts about weaves and straight hair on black women and the answers were certainly shocking, as they both agreed that 95% of the time they would choose a woman who had natural hair over a woman who had a weave or straight hair. They continued to say that there is nothing worse than a bad weave or one that looks cheap and those black girls who use blonde, red and other colours in the weaves are especially a turn off. They also mentioned how ironic it is that “how come if a guy pays for their girlfriend’s weave, which is so expensive, they are not allowed to touch it and if you suggest going for a swim it means war or death!
It is quite interesting when speaking to women who have dreadlocks or an afro or who merely have no interest in weaves but will do braids because they all have different opinions; some don’t have issues with it but as a preference have no desire to buy or wear a weave. A particular lady said that she used to straighten her hair but because of the damage the chemicals did to her hair, she chose to keep her hair natural. A Rastafarian woman enforced the notion of it being against her religion and culture and that black women must take pride in their hair because it has been given as a blessing from a higher power. But the one conversation that was intriguing was a young lady who has a fake or synthetic afro and has dreadlocks underneath the afro, explained,
‘My hair doesn’t define who I am, I am more than my hair, my clothes and yes I used to be Rastafarian, but realised that boxing myself and criticizing others because of the way they look makes me fake and unholy.’
The point was made, so what if ‘I Like to Buy My Hair’, it is a preference. Hair shouldn’t be a platform used to judge or criticise people. Identity is complex and is not merely rooted to a woman’s hair.