Hair and hairstyling as been a major part of aesthetic, heritage, and identity around the world for thousands of years. The way we wear our hair is a representation of who we are and how we want to present ourselves to the world. However, hair has been a point of contention when cultures clash and values shift.
The elders knew how important it was to protect the head and the hair, and the significance of cleansing, styling, cutting, growing, or locking hair. You probably have someone in your family that would freak out if you wanted to cut your long hair, or someone who told you what to do with the hair that you cleaned out of your comb or brush. You have probably seen people insist on covering their hair when leaving their homes, either for modesty or protection. Your mother probably told you not to let just anybody "play" in your hair. Why all the fuss? Why does it matter?
Your hair is one of the most sensitive energy receptors on your body. From the hair on your head to the tiny hairs on your arms and the back of your neck, your hair responds to changes in the environment and let's you know when something is going on (think about how when your hair stands up on your arm or the back of you neck and you immediately feel eerie or uncomfortable - that's for a reason!)
Some cultures believe their hair gave them a sixth sense, helping them to sense things coming from far away and enhancing their intuition. There are still cultures in the world who do not believe in cutting the hair in order to preserve their spiritual abilities. Hair has also been a notation of status in a society. For example, in certain places, young or unmarried women have worn their hair long and flowing while married women wore their hair pulled back into a conservative style or completely covered when in public in order to not attract the attention of men. Some indigenous cultures demonstrate their role or status in society through their hairstyles.
Universally, hair is a symbol of beauty and power. This is not to say that people without hair (by choice or by circumstance) are not beautiful or powerful. These are cultural values that have been passed down for generations. In the Bible, Samson drew his strength from his hair and was weak once Delilah cut his hair off as he slept. Other myths from around the world depict people with long, flowing hair as wise, enchanting, and attractive. Enslaved African women in America were forced to cover their hair because their hair was "enticing" to white men. Many people who were rootworkers and conjurers had beliefs about how hair could be used to affect harm to the hair's owner and warned against allowing people (or even animals!) getting a piece of a person's hair. There are also many ways that the covering or cutting of hair has been a means of intentionally taking away the beauty and power of people.
The other side of this cutting or shaving the hair off completely. Some societies cut or shave the hair of a person (usually a woman) to shame them or punish them for some misdeed. When people have invaded countries all over the world, cutting the hair was a way that invaders attempted to force assimilation to a new culture, denoted enslavement, or punished people. These invaders believed that conquering a group of people would be easier when their access to extrasensory information was diminished. Conversely, some spiritual systems require the shaving of the hair as a sign of rebirth or elevated status within that system.
For Black women, hair is a major part of our culture stretching all the way back to Africa. This ancestral memory or styling and protecting the hair has stayed with us, passed down from mother to daughter over millennia. We know how important it is to take care of our hair because we innately know the power our hair holds. We are told not to let just anyone care for or touch our hair, not just because they might damage it but because touching someone's hair is an intimate exchange of energy (and you never know what people's intentions are or what kind of energetic funk people have on them that they could leave all up in your follicles #NoSirNoMaam). Long, short, curly, locked, or otherwise, we style our hair certain ways that make us feel beauty, confident, and strong. Think about how you feel when you don't feel good about your hair. It's for a reason! We must care for our hair intentionally to maintain ourselves and our collective culture.
What can you do to take better care of your hair?
- Cleanse as often as necessary and use non-toxic products.
- Treat your hair kindly and gently - try not to pull it tightly or neglect it.
- Be mindful of who you allow to touch your hair.
- Cover your hair with a hat or headwrap when you will be in crowded spaces.