Don’t wig out

Following on from one of my previous blog post, Cultural Appropriation? An American Invention (which if you haven’t read it already, be sure to check it out), this post continues down the slippery- slope of Euro-centric features, focusing specifically on the trending issue of wearing a wig. About a year ago now, I conducted a “social experiment” (used in the slightest of terms) to divulge whether wearing a wig is really a Western taboo, or if it actually depends on who the wig wearers are. It’s undeniable that we’ve all seen in the media the increasing trends of celebrity postiches, and even more so by the unusual suspects in recent years, with it becoming more common for white people—celebrity or not—to be fashioning weaved or braided hairstyles. The trend, which arguably leaked into popular mass culture through the cumulative appearance of RnB, rap and hip-hop singers in the early 2000’s, has lead to the standardised use of braids in mainstream fashion.

Exhibit A:

Pictures: Left: Bo Derek ; Middle: Christina Aguilera; Right: Fergie 

Sadly, what has come with the modification and diffused use of traditional ‘ethnic’ hairstyles, is the lost of meaning and value behind various hairstyles. Ted Gibson, celebrity stylist and salon owner elucidates the thorny subject in an article posted on the Huffington website of how traditionally, braids were worn in Egypt as a sign of royalty, or if they were to be worn by the ‘commoners’ only during ceremonial events. He continues to explain how braids even played an important in social classification in the Native American culture by distinguishing between those who were married (hair would traditionally be worn down) vs. all those single ladies who would have their hair braided up and often adorned with flowers as a means to ‘seduce’ men—you can see how wrong Disney got it in Pocahontas by not doing their research.

When I was 11, my Gambian aunt, a hairdresser and salon owner, showed me a documentary, called 400 Years Without a Comb– most probably unknown to many of you. I don’t think I appreciated it as much at the time as I do now, and I can only say that I’m glad that after all these years I have still been able to rediscover it and hopefully this time, fully grapple with its important message. The documentary is itself a long and hard journey through the years of slavery in which, forced to travel across oceans, Africans left behind, amongst many of their cultural relics and traditions, the comb. Yes I know, today a comb might seem to be a banal object and hardly one worth crying over, but under the category of a ‘simple’ object is most definitely not where the comb fits in. These combs were not only crafted specifically for Afro-textured hair, but perhaps more significantly than this, each comb told a story of its owner. Traditional carvings in the handle of the combs often held pockets of information about the individual’s occupation, social grouping (otherwise known as ‘tribes’) and interests; often a gift from a beloved.

Pictures: Left; Middle; Right.

More detrimental than losing a cherished cultural object are the repercussions, which are still felt today. Perhaps some of you will find it an exaggeration or a ‘leap too far’ in my suggestion that the change of mental state to one of dislike or complete rejection of afro-textured hair is somewhat rooted in the experiences of African ancestors being consigned to an environment, whereby their hair type was seen as ‘other’- but other in a bad way. Without proper access to the correct and warranted care for their hair, the idea of their hair being ‘bad’, and ‘unruly’ was really only just a matter of ill-equipment, perverted into the impression that their hair was inherently disagreeable. Of course, each individual has his or her own personal reasons for modifying their natural hair texture, however speaking from my personal experience, when at the age of 5 I kept begging my mum to ‘make my hair straight’, I think it would be very ignorant to believe that the media doesn’t have any power or influence over the hierarchy of what is viewed as ‘beautiful’ hairstyles in society- but hey, this is just my opinion at the end of the day.

And so after this mini-detour, this post regresses back to its original topic: the interviews about wigs. The interviews themselves were conducted in the university library, whereby I, along with the help of a couple of friends, stopped random library-goers and asked them their opinions and experiences with wigs. I think the video speaks for itself in terms of people’s general thoughts. Given the limited scope of these interviews (e.g. generally the same age range of people answered the questions), I decided also to carry out a survey to widen the recipients, the full details of which are available in the video’s down-bar.

Concluding words? If any, it should be this: Don’t wig out (unless you really want to). You’ll just get an itchy scalp.

References for this Article:

http://blacknaps.org/2011/05/10/400-years-without-a-comb/

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