The Power of Hair

The average woman will have over 100 hairstyles during her lifetime, according to the Telegraph. It could be a short bob and bangs, or possibly long, blonde beach waves. Hair has been dominating the game longer than anyone even realizes, and matters more than we think as well.

It affects how you make first impressions of new friends, job interviews and auditions. Hair is not only a part of your personality, it is also a presentation of who you are. Hair is a part of history, fashion, art, culture, religion, femininity and sexuality.

Hairstyles are booming at an all-time high with the industry at an annual market value of $20 billion. What is it about hair that has created a new franchise that is dominating fashion and art, as well as everyday life?

“Your hair says a lot about who you are, and I feel like it says a lot about where you come from and what you have been through too,” said UNC grad Rebekah Smith. Smith has a natural, short afro that is dyed.

“I have this hair because when I was young, I always wanted to have relaxed hair. I think I got my hair relaxed really young,” she said. Smith had her hair relaxed for the first time at age six; she wanted to have hair like a Barbie doll.

“Hair says a lot about who you are and where you come from, and I also feel like it says a lot about where you come and what you’ve been going through,” Smith said.

Culture and Religion

In the beginning, there were no hair products, so styling hair was minimal. Most often, women or men would braid their hair or keep it up.

Greek women would braid the front of their hair and leave the back flowing down, or braid all their hair and wrap in a braided bun.

The Renaissance era was when hair really kicked off in a fashion sense. Women would wear long hair without bangs, and pluck the tip of their hairline to make foreheads look longer; they would also sometimes pluck their eyebrows as well.

Women would also bleach their hair lighter as blonde was considered desirable; however, Queen Elizabeth made the country of England go crazy for red hair during her reign.

Men would wear chin length hair with bangs and would be clean-shaven. Later, they would cut their hair shorter and style a full mustache and beard.

Going into the 20th century, hairstyles changed very often –  practically every decade.

In the 1900s, women wore their hair mainly long with waves. This remained in the 1910s as well, but once the 1920s began, hair changed drastically.

The flapper movement boomed and women everywhere were cutting off their hair. They would either wear their new locks with waves or pin-straight with bangs.

Image of Zelda Fitzgerald. Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Zelda Fitzgerald. Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most iconic women to do this look is Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, best known for the novel, “The Great Gatsby,” where the character of Daisy is modeled after Zelda.

The roaring twenties brought on the idea that women could be equal to men, thus bringing the suffrage movement to a peak, when in 1920, women in the United States gained the right to vote.

The 1950s began with its beehive hairstyle well-known from the hit musical Hairspray. The 1980s brought a new definition for hairspray, and there is a lot of it. 1980s hair is known as the decade where we don’t talk about hair. Open up your parent’s old yearbook and your eyes may explode. It was big hair – very big that is – became a genre of music called “Hair Metal.”

Once the 1990s hit, hair has been similar in style until today. The 2010s have brought on the hair movement, and this movement is more about individuality rather than following a trend.

Hair and culture are intertwined with a myriad of topics, such as religion, fashion culture, pop culture and more. Hair has been a strong part of culture and religion throughout history and still is.

Female Protestants are told to never cut their hair as they are told that long hair is more feminine. Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair with a headscarf, much like Catholic, Muslim, Hindu and Sabian women.

In Native American culture, long hair and braiding hair is a sacred art. Both men and women in Native American culture keep their hair long because of their belief system. Other religions and cultures vary, but most rely on the basis of choosing one’s own hairstyles.

Natural Fashion

Fashion and hair have become intertwined in a delicate delirium over the past few decades. Fashion and hair contradict each other in almost every sense of the way. Fashion is something that we are never tied down to, we can change our fashion at any time of the day.

UNC student Serenia Fulcher has been changing her hair constantly since age 11 because of type 4C hair. Hair has different “types” that are categorized by a number and letter.

Hair types are categorized using a number and letter. The higher the number and letter, the curlier the hair. For example, someone with 4C hair has curlier hair than someone with 2C hair.

Hair types are categorized using a number and letter. The higher the number and letter, the curlier the hair. For example, someone with 4C hair has curlier hair than someone with 2C hair.

African American hair, like Fulcher and Smiths’, is usually at a level 4A-4C, causing it to be very unmanageable. Smith, however, decided to embrace the natural hair movement after some time.

“When people started the natural hair movement, I was not really feeling it. Afro? Natural hair? Do you know how hard it will be to take care of it?” Rebekah said. “I went natural because it is so beautiful,” she said. “Now I see the beauty in natural hair. I thought this was the only way I could be myself, to be my natural self: natural hair.”

The hairstyle on the next issue of Vogue could make the next girl next door go out and get the same look. However, it has been more lately stated that cultural appropriation is strong among the fashion industry, which includes hair.

Fulcher said it was thought invoking how New York Fashion Week is trying to incorporate traditional African American hairstyles on models who are not African American.

“I feel it’s stealing when they do things like that, but they don’t appreciate (it),” Fulcher said. “They don’t have African American models modeling those styles.”

Smith said her hair is a big part of her identity.

“I feel like for African-American women, it’s easy to buy into the norms of European standards.” Smith said.

“Because I wanted to.”

In the words of Coco Chanel: “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”

The fashion industry is famous for creating the newest trends, and the same goes for hair. Jessica Simpson was featured in Esquire in a Marilyn Monroe inspired hairstyle while shaving her face.

Femininity and sexuality are a massive part of how and why people style their hair the way they do. There is a stigma that women should have long hair, and if they don’t, they are a lesbian. Similarly, the stereotype says that men are meant to have short hair, and if they don’t, they are possibly gay.

Society has deemed what determines sexuality, and many people are protesting these constructs with hair movements. In the wake of sexuality movements across the country and the world, people are using hair as a form of identity now instead of fashion.

Smith said a lot of women say they want long hair and that both men and women expect women to have long hair; however, cutting hair off is empowering.

“I don’t think a lot of people know that you’re a woman and you can cut your hair off.” Rebekah said. “There’s nothing anybody can tell you (that) you can or cannot do. You’re being held down by this standard, but once you throw that standard out the window and just cut it off, then it’s like you can be however you want to be. When I cut my hair, it felt so good. ‘Why’d you cut your hair?’ Because I wanted to.”

Fulcher said women are expected to live up too many standards to be extra feminine.

“Masculinity is so fragile.” Fulcher said. “It’s like cutting your hair makes you masculine, and therefore gives you power. If you cut your hair, more power to you. If you’re gay, OK that’s fine. Just because you cut your hair, I don’t believe that you should be assumed to (be gay).”

“If you’re a guy and like your hair long: slay.” Serenia said. “Even if you’re not transgender, if you like your hair long and those little man buns, those things are sexy. I feel like everybody should be able to be themselves and to express themselves as they want to.”

Smith said it ties into masculinity in a social order and that the masculine ideal is typically a white man who supports his family as a businessman.

“To be masculine is to not be like a woman, so they have all of these standards.” Smith said. “What it means to be masculine, what it means to be feminine and I don’t think that (it should be) the white male type we have as a norm.”