"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ad Hairenum

ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUSLADY LILITH, 1866 - 68 ~ BY DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI (1828 - 82) "Rosetti makes Lady Lilith's long flowing hair the central focus of the composition." ~Breanna Byecroft


In keeping with my recent hair-stories, Gerry picked this birthday card for me (and carefully added the glasses by hand). Cute!

Also arriving on my birthday was this little hair-story:

Tight Perm:
If you get a tight enough perm, she told me,
it's almost as good as a face lift.
But she had worked around a lot
of toxic chemicals in the 60's,
so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

by Brian Andreas . . .
"telling people about a better way of seeing."

"Tight Perm," showed up as my "Story of the Day." and immediately brought to mind a recent discussion with my curly - haired friend Eileen about a hair "relaxing" treatment called the Brazilian Blowout; she is also the one who said ad hairenum, which I stole for my title! Because of our natural curl, we have both been receiving numerous suggestions to try the scary - sounding "Brazilian Blowout," because it will make us shinier, save on styling time, and give us a "more professional" look. But she says, "No! It's fun being curly girls! Curls are purty! And our products have clever names like Be Curly, Bed Head, Control Freak, Deva Curl, and Mixed Chicks."

Repressing natural curl: why do we do it? In my last post (scroll down to read Scary Hair), I described a few fictional characters who struggle between accepting, changing, and apologizing for their natural curl. In real life, I myself have been known to straighten and oppress my hair upon occasion; but Eileen is adamant when it comes to the implements of hair torture, e.g., giant rollers (that was the old days), flat irons, and so forth: "I will not do it!" And her opinion of the Brazilian: "I think it's the botox of hair!"

See the connection here?
Tight perm = face lift,
Brazilian blowout = botox!

I know there is truth in Eileen's observation that behind the desire for fake straight hair lies the troublesome issue of conforming to "the rules of mainstream white beauty" (Anne Lamott's phrase). Not to mention various other issues of acceptance and celebration, surrender and control, prejudice, aesthetics, and personal insecurity. In Traveling Mercies, Lamott describes her first - hand experience with extremely curly hair:

"Can you imagine the hopelessness of trying to live a spiritual life when you're secretly looking up at the skies not for illumination or direction but to gauge, miserably the odds of rain? Can you imagine how discouraging it was for me to live in fear of weather, of drizzle or downpour? . . . Obviously, when you really want this [spiritual] companionship and confidence but you're worried about your bangs shrinking up like fern fronds, you've got a problem on your hands."

Lamott recounts the liberating scene in Shawshank Redemption when Andy stands in the pouring rain with his arms outstretched. She confesses, " . . . if I were the prisoner being baptized by the torrential rain, half my mind would be on how much my bangs were going to shrink up after they dried." Ultimately Lamott concludes that "it would be an act of both triumph and surrender to give up trying to have straighter hair."

Sure you want to have the right priorities and keep your mind on higher things, but you also have to live down the prejudiced notions: "good children have shiny combed hair, while bad children, poor children, loser kids, have bushy hair"; the unkind remarks: "did you you stick your finger in a light socket"; even racist insults in Anne's case, because, though fair in color, the texture of her "crazy hair crown," tends toward wiry and kinky -- making it perfect for the cool dreads that she now wears. I admire her soul - searching explanation of making the switch to this new style:

"First of all, I felt it was presumptuous to appropriate a black style for my own liberation. But mostly when I thought about having dreadlocks, I felt afraid and disloyal. Dreadlocks would be a way of saying I was no longer going to play by the rules of mainstream white beauty. It meant that I was not longer going to even try and blend. It was a way of saying that I know what kind of hair I have, I know what it looks like, and I am going to stop trying to pretend it's different than that. That I was going to celebrate instead" (all quotations are from Traveling Mercies, 6 - 13, 229 - 37).

Anne Lamott

Alice Walker

Interestingly, both Anne Lamott and Alice Walker cite over-investment in haircare as an impediment to spiritual liberation. In Walker's terrific essay, "Oppressed Hair," she explains why accepting your hair on its own terms is crucial to a larger sense of self-acceptance and personal growth. She personifies her hair in the most delightful way: "I discovered my hair's willfulness, so like my own! I saw that my friend hair, given its own life, had a sense of humor. I discovered I liked it. . . . I would call up my friends around the country to report on its antics."

She describes her realization, practically an epiphany "that in my physical self there remained one last barrier to my spiritual liberation, at least in the present phase: my hair. Not my friend hair itself, for I quickly understood that it was innocent. It was the way I related to it that was the problem. I was always thinking about it. So much so that if my spirit had been a balloon eager to soar away and merge with the infinite, my hair would be the rock that anchored it to Earth. I realized that there was no hope of continuing my spiritual development, no hope of future growth of my soul, no hope of really being able to stare at the Universe and forget myself entirely in the staring (one of the purest joys!) if I still remained chained to thoughts about my hair."

Well, it requires thoughtfulness and fortitude to break those chains! However, if there's anyone who can put the issue into perspective, it's these two admirable women: wise Alice Walker who asks if we can ever achieve equality as long as woman aspire to look another way than what they are: light instead of dark, tan instead of pale, blonde instead of brunette, straight instead of curly; and honest Anne Lamott who points out that surrender is not all bad: "giving into all those things we can't control," letting go of "balance and decorum," befriending our hair.

Complete Picture from which above detail is taken,
face of Alexa Wilding, 1868

Original Version, face of Fanny Cornforth, 1867Also by Rossetti

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

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