Guess who’s back, back again…
It’s been a minute, and I am feeling unburdened enough to throw a few syllables, phrases and whatyoumaycallthem about this bit of the internets. You can thank this on the present illusion of the abundance of time that has been visited upon me in post-exam period. I came out unscathed (physically) and will live, I think.
But while I am living in this deluded phase of the year and before other vagaries of life catch up with me, allow me to share something with you. It comes from an unlikely topic for me (considering my genetic makeup), but it sparked a thought I have harboured for a year or two now.
For context I advise you read this short piece titled “Hairy Chronicles: Dreadlocks freed me from childhood hair nightmare”
I have barely ever had a hair problem in my life. Aside from it being ridiculously hard and naturally unkempt when allowed to grow out, a neat trim, which has become a necessity with time, has always kept it in check. So no afros, fancy hairdos and thingamajigs on this scalp, oh no. And that is to my mother’s delight, most probably.
I however can’t say the same for those of the fairer sex. Since childhood and to this day, the multitude of options or requirements for ladies in various social settings is mind-blowing, and I would suspect equally frustrating. From the first mentions of a things called ‘mosodo’ (what the heck was that?) to ubiquitous braiding styles, then even more ubiquitous weaves and to the admirable naturalista (have a look at this non-sponsored endorsement of awesomeness here) movement at present. I admit, I may know a little bit more than expected about ladies’ ways with hair, but I have very close ladies in my life to thank (for lack of a better word) for that.
The story above however caught my attention for a much broader reason; a societal one that breaches the gender chasm I’ve already described.
Admittedly, I have and still do wonder why girls in high school always had a set standard of hairstyles. You know, those quick, go-to, low maintenance braids that were the norm. Equally so, I always wondered what is this obsession with shaved scalps amongst those from the hinterland of Kenya. What is it about those different societies that viewed these different hairstyles so brazenly apart?
An off-the-top thought automatically falls on a historically mistaken conception of femininity (or is it sexuality) amongst African youth. It goes without question (at least in my mind) just how connected femininity is connected to their hair. I stand open to debate or correction to this, but I think of it from a biological and evolutionary perspective. We are just sophisticated animals anyway, with or without an understanding of a Higher Being(s). My understanding of the shaving of hair as it happens is a means of depressing the emergent understandings of feminine nature amongst young ladies, while of course being coupled as a cost-effective style.
But as for the braids, a similar concept is/was afoot in many girls’ schools. Or how else would you explain the restriction of specific (non-superfluous) hairstyles. Oh, Catholic schools, no, no, I’m definitely not looking your way. Noooo! Really though, why was the threat of shaving off a girl’s hair a common threat, if not inextricably linked to my above observation of connection to femininity. I remember once in my final year of primary school, one of the girls (real sharp mind) reported to school, clean-shaven, and heck yes, we the boys got a good laugh. Adolescence was bliss before I had such thoughts as these I am penning. But in retrospect, to imagine the emotional struggle she might have gone through for that.
Of course, there are other reasons for a lady trimming down her do, such as just simply wanting to look good. Simple, yes, but unconscious leanings have been evolutionarily been ingrained into the human psyche that can also not be so simply explained.
These evolution is not only biological but societal too, whether naturally occurring or imposed by the nuances of mass marketing. We, boys and girls, have been conditioned (as I and many have) to perceive a lady’s hair as a key expression of her femininity. Such that any major change to hairstyles can expressly or impliedly be traced down to an event/episode that reflects upon her femininity: a new/broken relationship, a new step in life, it goes on.
You have to admit though, sometimes, a girl just wants to look good.
Let’s switch this up a little however. Let me throw that femininity lens away.
One thing I have loved about my stay in South Africa is the absolute diversity in hairstyles, be they amongst ladies or men. There’s an element of creativity to it, laissez-faire almost, but definitely with some bits of reflection of (and opposition to) underlying culture. I know one of my friends who absolutely loves ladies with trimmed hair, who would certainly think of this as scalp heaven. Ummh, admittedly, that sounded fancier in my head.
I am not (yet, but will try to) aware of how these hairstyles are treated at a younger age, or away from the humdrum metropolitan society that I find myself immersed in. My exposure though points to two stark differences in hair culture between Kenya and South Africa. First, there’s a much wider welcome for short hair on ladies here. Secondly, dreadlocks seem to have an acceptable position in society, or at least the youthful society I am so far exposed to. It may be different elsewhere in the huge swathes of this country, but I will appraise myself of that as the facts come before me.
Nonetheless, the two observations above make me query why these hairstyles are so “acceptable” here and not in the society I am used to? Or rather why is there no “stigma” attached to it? Why does our society frown upon what are deemed to be hairstyles out of the norm? At what point and why did our culture change frown upon certain hairstyles as being unbecoming or unkempt?
As the author of the piece I referred to above experienced, the hairstyles imposed on children seems not to have been created for the straight, hard, kinky hair that many are accustomed to. The agony of blow-drying a three-year old girl’s hair all for what? Because society views certain hairstyles as being acceptable?
I premise that all these hairstyles that we seem to frown upon lately suffer such treatment only because of a societal conditioning of what is prim and proper; of what disciplined; of what is presentable. Cross that red line (or rather black hair) and you are undeserving of respect. Some of the very hairstyles we either shun or look down upon are historically go-to styles of our forefathers. Have a look at the @HistoryKE Instagram account, hella insightful.
In the case of short hair on ladies (picks up dropped lens), it is the common yet mistaken perception that trim hair is an exhibition of tom-boyishness. And possibly, that is why the use of shaving as a threat is common in girl schools.
I still remember with a chuckle how one of my colleagues in undergrad was “threatened” that he would not be allowed to undertake the mandatory internship in the judicial courts while sporting dreadlocks. Quite silly if you ask me, but the fact that members of the legal fraternity still view dreadlocks as unbecoming of a learned friend requires some unlearning.
I really do think we have to re-evaluate our understanding of some conceptions and beliefs that society has ingrained in us. Be it hair or more uncomfortable subjects, sometimes, the underlying question of WHY must be answered. Once, the questioning of one’s seniors was interpreted as insubordination; not anymore. It is worth of us and forthcoming generations to understand why society operates as it does, to appraise those standards as against modern norms, retaining the legitimate and adaptable, discarding the false (colonial) importations and the outdated.
As for now, can we just keep neat hair, in whatever form?
PS: I do reserve my (justified or otherwise) right to point out horrendous weaves. It makes for good banter, anyday.
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