Read Hair stories

Soon come...  the transcription of the remaining stories collected during the Jamaica Biennial 2017, (already viewable here).
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My hair is looked at as a way to identify me. I usually don’t identify with them conclusions.

A.R., 32, Female, Trinidad
#IdentityOrNot
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I have been growing my hair out every chance I have gotten and it is the most amazing feeling when I am in a car and the breeze blows through my hair. My grown hair causes many conflicting emotions as it is quite strenuous but I love my hair regardless and can not imagine cutting it.

A, 20’, Male, Jamaica
#MaleGrowingHair
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I always had long - what people would call - “good hair”. A little curly (sometimes very curly), Indian-ish, but enough coarseness to represent my black. People obsessed over it and I just always saw it as hair. Then I grew ill and all of it fell out. ALL OF IT. I am now bald. But it has created a greater strength in me than I could ever imagine. Not just bald, but BOLD… and beautiful!

Emily, 32, Female, Jamaica
#Lost #Bald #BaldBoldBeautiful
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My locks began to grow to show my courage, help me to take the stand I want to take, it is my identity of resistance from many stereotype that women/female is place in. After 2 decade we now have a relationship. I love my locks, we come this far it is my spiritual antenna.

Mau Mau C, 100+, Mother, Africa New
#Gender #Spirituality #Resistance
#Dreadlocks
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Half black, half white. Hair too curly to be straight, too straight to be curly. Mastering the in-betweens. Living the BEST of both worlds.

Jill, 60’, Female, Jamaica
#MixedHeritage
#Curly #Straight
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My mother had perm my hair since I was 11. Now I am 19 and I am currently going back natural. I want to grow my kinky hair and be playful with it. I believe that is a way accepting your culture.

Madden L., 19, Female, Jamaica
#Culture
#NaturalHair #BlackHair
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Every institution wants me to cut it and I cant understand why.

Y., 18, Male, Jamaica
#Social Pressure
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I am the Ethiopian-American woman. I had in mind to tell you about Ethiopian hair practices, but here's what  
came out instead. As a mixed-heritage person, my hair is also mixed. A lot  of hairstylists don't know what to do with it. One thing I have found, though, is people are not shy to comment about my hair.

Things that people have said about my hair (an abbreviated report):

"You have beautiful hair, don't cut it."
"Is your hair naturally like that?"
"What do you do to your hair?"
"I can fix your hair."
"Let me brush your hair."
"Stay still."
"When you wear your hair down, it makes your face look too thin."
"I don't think I've ever seen your hair down before."
"It's poufy."
"You have nice hair."
"Try coconut oil."
"Try relaxer."
"Soft."
"Frizzy."
"Very thick."
"Thin."
"Who did your hair?"
"Does that hurt?" (Yes, yes it does)
"It will shrink and curl up."
"Your hair is very long."
"Did you cut your hair again? It looks short."
"I liked your hair better before."
"Your frizz is sticking out again like sun rays."
"Wow. Your hair really IS curly."
"You have straight hair."
"That will not work with your hair."
"See? Now it looks beautiful."
"Don't wash it for at least three days after this."
"This will make your hair smooth."
"Women only cut their hair short when there is something wrong."
"Why did you cut your hair?"

Rebekah, 30's, female, Ethiopia-US, Jamaica
#MixedHeritage #Comments 
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I never realized how much of a thing one's hair is. I loved having a lot of hair & kept it as long as it would grow. It was even longer when it was processed, but I eventually decided to cut it off & go natural because of concerns about the chemicals used to straighten. This was a major step that  did not come easy. I had it cut at a new salon that I had gone to have my  hair styled for a wedding. I went back home without my hair, but it was  quite interesting for a while. It was easy; one could wake up & go almost; it was so short it would not look uncombed. I soon missed my hair & after a long while managed to grow it back, but it was hard to manage, but I'm learning. Mistakes were many & I have bags of hair at home as testament to my abuse & improper treatment which resulted in gobs of hair being combed out. I'm not sure why I have a fear of throwing away my hair. On occasion I  have burnt it but I continue to keep it when I lose a fair bit.  
Surprisingly it does not look thin & it has grown longer than before. I have two long plaits today & of course some people will ask if it is my hair. It irritates me at times but I have become more open & will share my  thoughts on black hair which grows like any other & will flourish if treated well.

Lorna, mid-50', female, Jamaica
#NaturalHair #BlackHair #Lost
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In Japanese anime, supernatural and horror films, hair — long, black, flowing hair, and even the bangs and fringes of shorter hair — allures, conceals, and deceives. It can literally shade or partially mask a face, simultaneously enticing and foreboding, suggestive of hidden power, danger, or eroticism. Hair tossed dreamily in the wind; or submerged in deep black water, winding, flowing and knotting. Hair can indeed be seen to articulate a whole sub-language within cinema and literature, life and dreams. In my own dreams, hair has always been acutely significant in similar ways: intimately entangling, silky soft to touch (and needless to say — the hair is usually attached to a girl). It is thickly plaited with bewitching, haunting images. The mysterious qualities of hair seem infinitely entwined with dreamlike resonances.

Alkan, 42, Male, Australia
#Symbolism
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I have natural hair and often love to change my styles regularly, it's a way for me to be expressive of the moods i am in as well as just have fun. I have a album on my FB page which shows various different hairstyles. 
Often people ask me if it’s a wig or weave because it is long and I am "black" plus i constantly change the color or even the texture (straight to curly to wavy to ...) but it’s always MY hair. I will never be an "unbeweavable" girl! Straight from the root only! 

There have been many occassions where people touch my hair, even without asking me, maybe thinking I will not feel it....the polite ones will ask first!

When I was 30 I cut my hair into a bob which was "short" seeing that before it was  down to my chest. I decided that finally I was a full grown adult and it was MY hair, that I could decide for myself, despite of all the frenz and family asking me to keep it long. Or as they love to say in  JA ..."tall hair" 

In 2013,i had a really difficult year, I went through many different challenges! So i  cut everything off down to 2 inches of hair. At the time my hairdresser did not want to comply so i just took the scissors and cut a big piece out of the front of my head and then said ..."FIX the rest".   It was a new beginning , a fresh start, A REBIRTH!

charlB, 47, Female, Jamaica
#NaturalHair  #Diversity
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When I was 13 a friend and colleague of my father came home to cut our hair, since that was cheaper than going to the hairdresser. I wanted to please my father, and I asked to have my hair cut short. He thought that was a good idea. Once my hair was cut, I found myself horrible. I cried. It was a real torture to have to go to school, wearing my hair like that, and to have to let it grow again. Since then, I have never cut my hair shorter than shoulder length. I believe this will stay the only attempt in my whole life !! 

Isabelle, 44, Female, Belgium
#Short #Try #HowToAssume 
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My kids think its creepy that I cut off a little curl from their babyhair and tied it with a little string and keep it, just as my mum did with us. Also my mother used to have a tiny ladies purse crocheted out of human hair from some ancestor in the 19th century. We value hair in Europe just like in other cultures but why I do not know! Maybe it contains something of the soul of the person it belonged to.

Ingrid, Female, 50's, UK
#Culture #Symbolism #Memory #Personal
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I love my hair and people are so annoying with their questions like: why your hair so long, why you cut your hair, why your hair so curly, why why why why...but guess what, it’s my hair not yours...MINEEEEEESSSS, FI MI!!!

Anonymous, Jamaica 
#Identity #PersonalNotPublicMatter 
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As a mother to two bi-racial children (1 boy and 1 girl)living between Kingston, Jamaica and Brooklyn/New-York (US), I find I get two distinct reactions to my children's natural hair depending on our location. In Brooklyn, words that have been used to describe my children's hair include: beautiful, fun, awesome. In Jamaica, the words are: untidy, unkept, unruly. It has been suggested that I keep my son's hair "low" meaning shaved close to the scalp. My daughter's hair is always described as being "uncombed" which I have come to interpret as "unbraided" because it is certainly combed and styled every morning. 
Different culture, different  perception.

Corey, 40's, Jamaica-New-York 
#Culture #Cultural Perception #Natural Hair 
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My grandmother always said my hair was badly dressed. For her, our hair was well dressed only when we had a neat straight line in the middle, and tidy hair on either side of the line. I preferred to have a bit of a ‘blurry’ line, which I always found prettier. 

Isabelle, 44, female, Belgium
# Gender
#Generation #DifferentEstheticStandard
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One day when I was an adolescent - and during a period where I was a little "lost in space" - I had the spontaneous idea to shave my hair completely, which until then I had always worn more or less long … When looking in the mirror afterwards, I saw myself as a sick person, looking lean and not very happy. For almost a year, I wore a black bowler hat to hide my mistake, my teachers at school even allowing me to keep it on in class (I really must have looked a little frightening without this headgear! ) 

C., female, 40 years, Belgium
#Gender
#Shave #Bald #Try #HowToAssume
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I guess the outside world notices my hair more than I do… the big bet outta road is « watch, yuh nuh know har, shi soon cut dat off, or duh some odda ‘madness’ to it ». To the outside world, mi a mash/pwail up mi good hair, when others a struggle with them god-given dna. When all I do is journal my explorations of beingness through my body, of which my hair is a part. From learning the symbolism of colors, to trying on the stereotypes of gender identity and confusing the borders of sexuality, sporting fads blindly/mindlessly, feeding a need of belonging, to dressing on the rebellious spirit of my ancestry and running from and returning to roots… my hair walk is one that can never be stagnant because the only constant in my life journey is change and ‘mi body mek fi express such experience’ and mi hair is holistically part of this lab experiment wi call life.

Lee-Kim, Jamaica
#Identity #Gender #Culture #Lab
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There is a whole story going on between my hair and myself. A story between long and short, between curly and straight. When important events are happening in my life, one of my reactions is to change hairstyle and often to cut my hair. It is as if through this act I have to "mark" a change in my life, as if I need to show it physically, either by affirming the change, or by turning a page, or by trying to become better, in short a change in life comes with a change of hair look. 
In the past I have permed my hair, to make it even more curly, and I have shaved my hair, but not everybody is like Sinéad O'Connor, a bald head is not easy to wear. I have had a straight bob cut using a blow dryer, but I did not know how to maintain it, I have had very long hair, medium long and short ... and often I’m dissatisfied after a few months.

Nadine, 57, female, Belgium / Burkina Faso
#Change #PersonalLiveMarker #Straight #Curly #Short #Long #Shave 
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I’m an African male living in Kingston. I’m wearing dreadlocks and I’m always surprised that people, here in Jamaica, relate them to the rasta religion and culture only, whereas so many different people in for example Africa wear them.
When focusing on Kenya only, in the Giriama culture (tribe from the Kenyan coast), the widow wears locks. 
In the sect of Legio Maria, a dissident sect from the Catholic Church, which initiated among the Luo tribe (the tribe of origin of Obama’s father), the men are wearing locks.
The Akorino people (a religious group) are wearing dreadlocks under a turban, like the Bobo Rasta. 
The Wadawida (Taita) (living at the border of Tanzania), to whom I belong, wore locks for beauty.
The Turkana people (North of Kenya) wear locks in a Mohawk style.
There are the Mau Mau as well, Kenyan freedom fighters,  who  wore dreadlocks fighting the British. 
But not the Masai (who are better known), who wear extensions.
And in Senegal, the Baye Fall (an Islamic sect) wear locks as well. 

Mazola, Male, 52, Kenya-Jamaica
#Dreadlocks #Africa #Culture
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Back to Roots
When I was growing up in my hometown Guatemala, I was the only kid with black hair in my school and in my neighborhood. You see, my black hair comes from my father who is a black man. My mother a kind, smart and beautiful Guatemalan woman never knew how to manage it, usually the best she could come up with was a classical afro puff with a ribbon on the side.
My hair was the talk between my aunt, mom and cousins. They would gather around trying to figure it out how to make it nice and straight, more “Guatemalan” I would say. I remember feeling a little envy of my friends at school and their pretty pony tails. I felt like a little boy with my short hair not to mention the bullying from boys in my neighborhood shouting things at me like “you look like a microphone! Hey Ms. Microphone 1, 2, 3…check check.”
Then the teenage years came and went and the black hair continue to be more and more annoying. I dreamed about the day I could make it all straight and “normal”. The day I graduated from school my sister gave me as a gift a hairdresser appointment to straighten all my hair. I was the happiest person the day I ran my fingers through my soft flowy hair.
Several years forward I got the opportunity to move to Jamaica for work. Back to roots my friends would say as my father’s side is Jamaican. Little I knew that the road back to roots didn’t just mean discovering my family roots. I also meant rediscovering myself and letting the old me emerge. Yes, the girl with the microphone looking head is emerging again but this time is different. I don’t feel ashamed or awkward, I feel balanced and proud. My hair speaks to my identity and the language it speaks it rich in culture and knowledge.. 1, 2, 3…check check this is my roots, this is were I belong.  

Anaitée, Female33 years old, Guatemala - Jamaica
#Identity #Heritage #Roots #Proud
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One day my boyfriend decided to cut his dreadlocks. I had always known him with them. Suddenly he seemed so fragile to me ...

C., 40, Female, Belgium
#Symbol #Strengh #Dreadlocks 
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It is said that hair is the first adornment of women.
The continuity of energy coming maybe from the sky.
Where I come from we say that when a man pulls a tuft of hair of his wife, this is grounds for divorce.
A married woman cannot cut her hair.
During her menstrual period, a woman doesn’t dress her hair
After delivery, it takes forty days before a woman takes care of her hair.
For major festivities women let their hair exposed to the open air during forty-eight hours, before braiding it.
It is said that "to know the mood of a woman, look at her hair and its health."
A woman who makes her prayers is not allowed to have her hair out in the open air.

Soueloum, 60’s, Male, Tuareg of Mali
#Culture #Society #Religion #FirstAdornment #CulturePractice 
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For at least 22 years I have shaved my head, scraped off my 'good, curly, mixed-people hair' down to the scalp, with no more than 1/2 inch of fuzz left. It is glorious and freeing everytime. With every haircut I release the societal pressures for long, straight hair which equals maximum 'feminine' power and I reject expectations of me as a mixed heritage girl, to play my 'hair privilege' card. It is easy and gives me a different sense of self and confidence. I dance differently, with greater abandon and swear my sense receptors open also. Spiritually, my head becomes like an antenna and I have to box away hands from randomly touching my spiritual seal. My hair story changes, though, when I miss movement and rhythm around my head, the vibrancy of my curls (which I did not always appreciate, having been taught to envy the white girl straight hair which seemed to signal the ultimate freedom), the militancy, individuality and rebelliousness of my locs, the urban funkiness of hair colour, braids, canerows and my signature mohawk. For a while, I grow it and experiment with this acceptance and celebration of self, knowing that when I need a clearing, a reset, a newness, I will pull out my shears and bless myself with a new head.

Neila, 30's, Female, Jamaica
#Identity #SocialPressure #Gender #Culture #HairReset
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My hair and I, a long story. I think it was through my hair style that I was searching (quite hard) for myself. As a child, I wore my hair very long, afterwards I wore it shorter and shorter. The shorter my hair was, the more I confirmed myself. With or without gel, with or without fringe, red, black, indigo, pink, I have tried all colours. Until the day when, by dyeing my hair so often, I became allergic to pigments. No longer able to dye, I started amusing myself with different cuts. I wore a crest and then, WHAM! I shaved everything! ... That’s when, without adornment, I finally discovered who I was: a young woman being a little lost. I even told myself that my hair took away my vitality. I kept it shaved for a year or so. A crazy year full of twists and turns. And then the calm set it ... I left my hair in peace, it has been growing gently and since then, although I still like to comb my hair differently according to my mood, it stays in harmony with myself. My hair has always been a reflection of my state of mind.
Today, white hairs start appearing. I know I have to live with them. I try to tame them with serenity.

Marie, ?, Female, Europe
#Change #IdentitySearch
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At the age of 12, I had long hair. I asked my mom, who was also the family hairdresser, to cut it short. When my dad came home, he was not happy at all: a girl must have long hair ... 

V, 40', female, Belgium
#Gender #Protest
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have smooth blonde hair. During my travels in different African countries, I often feel aggressed when, out of curiosity, people come to touch my hair (even if I can understand this curiosity). This always gives me the impression to be a freak.


C., 40, Female, Belgium 
#Culture #CulturalEncounter #Blonde 
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About four years ago, i started to feel like i did not look as how i saw myself. I got up one day and decided to find a Barber to have him cut my hair, i woke up with the photo in my head of how my hair should look and when i got to the barber i told him what to do. He shaved the sides of my head and i told him the top was to stay as is. When he was done, i looked at myself in the mirror and for the first time i recognized "myself", he said, "you look like a boy now" and i smiled and replied "YES!"

C., 30’s, Queer, Jamaica 
#Gender #Identity 
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Went to the hairdresser with my sister. One time only and just for fun, we got our hair straightened with a flat iron (that's not our style, normally just natural). Walk home and being called a slut in the street, clearly linked with our hairstyle.

V. & P., 35-40’s, Female, Belgium 
#Stereotype #Straight
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I started to grow my locks in 2007, while I was in college. I locked my hair, pulled the locks out, locked my hair again, pulled the locks out again, to finally let them grow. Growing locks teaches me patience.
I wear lock for their beauty and as a symbol of strength. I have no intention to cut them. People often ask if they can touch them, also if they are real, I guess they suspect I’m wearing extensions.

Paul, Male, Jamaica 
#Symbolism #SymbolStrengh #Dreadlock #Extension
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My dad whom I asked hair stories: "I not going to tell who is giving me white hair, do I?” 

X., 73, Male, Belgium 
#Symbolism #WhiteHair #SymbolTrouble 
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Just after I was born, at a Christian hospital, the nuns showed me to my mom, saying "don't worry, he is not a redhead, he is not a redhead!" My mom looked at me and told the nuns, happy and proud, "but no, he is a redhead, and that's great!"
At that time, popular and narrow minded belief saw red hair as a connection to the devil.

Hans, 47, Male, Belgium
#Symbolism #Red #SymbolNegative 
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I once had green hair ... But for much of my young to mid-life it was thick long blonde.
It then skipped gray and went directly to white.
A few years ago, a young man asked me if I dyed my hair that wonderful color?? (Is there anyone in the world that would think to dye their hair WHITE??!)
Short now, and trimmed by me. I love it ease ...

C., 60’s, Female, Jamaica
#WhiteHair #Short
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My hair is gray and right now it is almost down to my shoulders but not really by choice. I have been in Italy this time for 3 months and don't want to try and explain to an Italian hair dresser how I want my hair cut.
When I was in my early 20's a patch of white hair began to show in a streak on the right side of a middle part. My grandmother had the same white streak as long as I can remember. I didn't mind it. I didn't dye my hair until I was in my 40's but only because I wanted a change. What a huge expense and a lot of bother . The white streak would begin to show in about a week...so I was constantly needed to color it. So I stopped, cold turkey. Now living in Italy I see elderly women in their 70's 80's maybe older with red hair or coal black hair and when they pass me on the street they look up at me in horror. It is not a common sight here. But all I see the faces of these women are faces lined with age like mine that stand out sharply against their unnatural hair color. The hair color does nothing to make them look younger... they just look their age with unattractive hair.

Royane, 71, Female, Italy-US 
#SocialPressure #Identity #WhiteHair #Dye 
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I grew up in the 70s when Bob Marley and the Rastafarian movement was in ascendancy. Dreadlocks represented power, rebellion and a absolute cool that only a reggae star performer could conjure up. But alas, genes worked against me and I started losing my hair in my 20s, rapidly! I remember rubbing my hand across the top of my head and seeing at least ten strands of hair left deserted on the palm of my hand. The demise continued and today I am left with a Hippocratic Wreath which is a fancy way of saying you have hair only on the sides and back of your head. I still have not totally got over not having dreads. Sometimes, I dream of having dreads and I wake up happy!

David, 50’s, Male, Jamaica 
#Symbolism #SymbolPower #SymbolRebellion #Dreadlock #Loss 
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I’ve had dreadlocks of various length for more than 20 years, but I practice zen, so am not attached to them :)
While I could happily have short or no hair, I feel like my hair is a kind of connection to the more beautiful aspects of Jamaica and it's culture (call it livity) - and also enjoy not having to think about haircuts or styling :)

Omar, 40, Male, Jamaica 
#Culture #SymbolLivity #Dreadlock #Easy 
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Since the age of 16 I nearly always dye my hair using henna (a plant making it turn red). Ever since I love and hate its smell. I do not like the smell of fresh henna too much, it being like a kind of stinky manure, but when it starts to fade, my hair having been washed many times, and the rain wets my hair, it emits a fine odour that I adore.

Julie, 37, female, Belgium
#Dye #Natural #Odor
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Once accepted, (though DNA' wise...one has not much choice about it...hereditary speaking) being bald young is not so bad !
The good thing about receding and very short haircut is that you will look like being 40 years old from 30 to 50 years old which is a nice 20 years without bothering about it ! In the meanwhile your hairy friends are tuning grey and it shows ! When you see them after a while it is impressive how some people all of the sudden are appearing looking oldish with their grey hairs...with short hairs or no hairs it doesn't show... no hairs no problems!

Pierre, 40, Male, Belgium
#Loss #GreyHair
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When I was very young, my hair was thick, long and chestnut colored with waves that cascaded down my back. One day, when I was about ten years old, I sat at my mother's dressing mirror and cut it all off. I was/am always impatient and I wanted to be grown up...so thinking back, I cut my hair off so I could be older...and of course my mother would never cut my hair so....so there was a huge defiance in my act too. She wept when she found me. 
From then on I looked at my hair as a work in progress. Color, permanents, cutting, growing.
After my father died, I shaved my head and moved to Jamaica. It grew in silver, except for a patch of chestnut color along the very back of my head. A reminder perhaps of my
youth. Now, I am letting it grow long....but then maybe one day, I will take up a scissor and cut it all off.

Suzanne, 67, Female, US-Jamaica.
#Short #Long #GreyHair #SymbolEmotion 
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I discovered my first strands of white hair when I was 27. I have dark hair, so they were really visible. I have pulled them out, one by one. Now there are too many of them to continue this process. Some of my friends “suggest” me to dye my hair, because they think the white strands are ugly and are making me look older. It seems that becoming older is not fashionable at all. I’m 42 years young/old now and still haven't dyed my hair, hoping it will turn grey completely, or, even better, bright white at once, skipping the grey intermediate steps ... 
Veronique, 42, Female, Europe
#SocialPressure #WhiteHair
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My Jamaican niece lives in China. She wears dreadlocks. She says that people stop to ask her to touch her dreads and take pictures. There are not many blacks in China but it is not the color that intrigues them, it is her hair.

Marvette, 55’s, Female, Jamaica
#Culture #CulturalEncounter #Dreadlock
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At the age of 30, after 15 years of wearing my hair more or less short, I decided to let my hair grow really long. After an ugly transition, when my hair reached mid-length, I got sick. I had to take drugs that made me lose a lot of hair. My hair turned ugly again, so I cut it. 
Since then, the disease has stabilized but I never really cut my hair again. Although I like to change the way I look a lot, something is holding me back. It seems as if my long hair has become a symbol of my victory over the disease.

M., 40’s, Female, Belgium 
#Symbolism #SymbolVictory #Loss #Long
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During my travels, when I’m brushing my hair, I consciously put the loose strands somewhere in a specific spot or let them go with the wind, thinking: a bit of me will stay here. Today, I am all over the world.

Valentine, 40’s, Female, Belgium 
#PersonnalPart 
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When my daughter was born my hair fell out by the handful, as if all the strength and energy I had needed to create and carry her went away with her arrival. At first I wasn't bothered by it, but as my hair fell out more and more, I was almost frightened by my thinning hair and disappointed in my body for letting so much go. Eventually all my hair grew back. One day walking down the street I impulsively went into a salon and dyed it. I had never dyed my hair before, I was always "lucky" to be a natural blond. But somehow I felt compelled to dye my hair at that moment, as if to say to myself your hair is your own, you're not just a mother.

LS, Female, Jamaica and Philadelphia 
#Identity #Blond 
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I once owned a mourning ring with plaited hair in the back. It was beautifully plaited, behind glass, in the inside of the ring, with a stone on the outside.

Sally, 70’s, Female, Jamaica
#Memory 
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Whereas my hair (long natural brown hair) can provoke sometimes reactions in some parts of the world (people touching it, asking me if it’s mine, mentioning the fact that some of it is turning white), my partner’s dreadlocks nearly always provokes reactions, wherever we are, even in our home country (Belgium). From simple curiosity (which can go quite far sometimes: in Cuba, a woman set up a whole scheme trying to take a picture of herself with my partner, without him being aware of it) over fear and near panic (in Burkina Faso, at a time where he loosened his hair, some people got very frightened), to straight rejection (in Turkey a number of men came to explain, repeatedly and not always very kindly, that men really couldn’t not wear long hair) and systematic police or custom control, wherever we goes. Here in Jamaica, where people in the street are called by their most visible characteristic, I’m called « Whitie », whereas my partner is called « Rasta », his hair (and what it could means here) apparently being a more important trait than his skin color.

Véronique, 40’s, Female, Belgium-Jamaica 
#Culture #CulturalPerception #Dreadlock #Gender #Stereotype 
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Charlotte had long dreads. She eventually cut them entirely, tired of the stereotypes into which people tried to lock her, as well as of the many police controls she had to undergo. To keep her dreadlocks, she made a wig out of them.

Charlotte, 30 's, Female, Belgium 
#Culture #Stereoptype #Memory #Wig
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My maternal grandmother had a series of wigs she wore to hide her gray hair. In her bathroom she had about 3 or 4 of them, exposed on a row of scary looking white heads 
made out of styrofoam. When I was a little boy this confused me a lot, as if I had a real grandmother and a few fake spare ones.

Hans, 47, Male, Belgium
#GreyHair #Wig 
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Long time memories from when I was 7 or 8 years old, living in the countryside. Summer and tall grass. I always dreamt of having long hair, something which my mother wouldn't consider for me. Secretly I made myself a ponytail out of weeds and clothespins !!! I felt beautiful, at the same time having the vague feeling of breaking a taboo. Maybe the taboo was not as strong as my imagination wanted me to believe, because later I let my hair grow for real!

Anne, 65, Female, Belgium 
#Gender #Short #Long #GirlDreamLong #ShortEasy
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5th April 2009 For someone whose long, thick curly hair has been a part of her identity for two decades, knowing that I was about to lose it was a big thing. A few weeks before chemo started I went to talk to a wig specialist to see if he could make a wig out of my own hair. I liked the idea of still having my hair, but being able to take it off at night so it wouldn't get all tangled and knotty. Best of both worlds! However, I was discouraged by the price and the time it would take to make it (a couple of months). Also, the wig-man told me that wigs made of natural hair are more difficult to maintain, especially if they are as long as mine. He suggested that I cut my hair before the chemo starts, plait it and store it in thin paper. This will keep the strands in order, so that if I decide to make a wig out of it, I could.
He advised me to try a synthetic wig that was close enough to my current hair. He put one on my head and both my partner and I began laughing: it was one of those '80s big-hair' hairstyles like the ladies in soap series like Dallas or Dynasty used to wear. I asked him to try a straight blond bob, which is a polar opposite of my own hair. I looked ridiculous. We couldn't stop laughing making the shop keeper quite unnerved. These wigs were cheaper than making one from my hair, but I still couldn't quite see myself walking around with any of them. I looked at a few other examples, but all of them made me look like a fifty-something, rich, daft, suburban cougar.

I didn’t buy any of the wigs, but followed one advice of the "wig wallah": once the chemo starts, my hair would become lifeless and filled with toxins. I thought I had a few more weeks left to enjoy my long hair, but I would have to cut it before the process started. I felt quite defiant: no chemo will touch my hair, I'll cut it off before it has a chance to destroy it. Hah!

Today - one day before my first chemo session - is The Hair Cutting Day. I woke up extremely nervous. It felt like I was about to kill a part of me. I saw my hair as if in a flashback movie: spraying sea water after a dive as a teenager; a tangled mess of hair and sweat raving in my twenties; strands caught in a passionate kiss and caressed by different lovers; caught on film in a photo shoot; sat on in busses, pulled by hairdressers, stray hairs encrusted with dust on many floors around the globe… I got out of bed and had a bath. My hair was floating around my head like Medusa’s snakes. I brushed it one last time. Brushing was always difficult, but this time I enjoyed it. I said good bye to every knot, knowing that it was never going to come back again.
I plaited the untangled strands and put on a green velvet dress. My long hair was the last remnant of my years as a goth, with a fascination for all things medieval. Without the long hair, my goth look would finally disappear. Before it did, I completely immersed myself in its melancholy. I listened to Stevie Wishart's Viriditas, from a compilation of Hildegard von Bingen, with lyrics celebrating the greening energy behind all life. I lit the Night Queen incense and sat on the couch mourning my loss while sipping tea. By this time my partner woke up and was ready to begin the cutting. "Ready?" he asked. "Nearly" I replied "I just need one hug before we start." He hugged me then for a long time, stroking my soft, nearly a metre long curls…
Disentangling from my embrace, he sat me down next to our long dining table, where he was going to lay out the lengthy strands. He stood behind me with the electric clippers and began shaving the back of my neck. I kept my head down. To begin with I could only see hair in my field of vision. As the strands were cut, more of the world was becoming visible. I saw the bundle on the table getting bigger and noticed tears dripping in my lap. I felt as if my youth was being cut away from me, so abruptly. I was silently crying and my partner kept carefully cutting, with Viriditas playing in the background. It was a beautiful moment. Ruthless, intimate and tragically romantic. As with any moment, this one came to its end when the last strand of hair was laid on the table. It was time to lift my head and show my face. A face without a frame. He came to face me and lifted my chin. I opened my eyes to look at him and thought - if I see a disappointment or even a small hesitation, what shall I do?! But he was smiling, then laughing, and finally said "you look fifteen years old!"
We both laughed on the way to the mirror, where I cried some more, this time more from relief than sadness. It wasn't so bad after all… I carefully packed the hair bundle in gift-wrap paper and two long wine-bottle bags, placed it in a box on the bottom shelf and closed the cupboard.
We went for a walk a little while later. My head felt amazingly light and fresh, with the new sensations of wind and sun on my scalp. I still have about a half a centimetre of hair, but it’s quite a change after "carrying" heavy hair on my head for so many years. No hours of brushing, no hair lumps on clothing, the floor and the pillows. I wondered why I waited so long to cut it...

Three weeks later…
As I was sponging myself the morning after my second chemo session, a bunch of pubic hair came off and got stuck in the sponge. I passed a wet hand over my head and a whole handful of hair stuck to my palm. Even though I cut my hair to less than a centimetre, it still felt quire revolting and looked worse. My reflection in the mirror reminded me of photos from Auschwitz in the second World War: patches of thin hair revealing scabbed bald scalps, greyish skin, deeply sunken eyes with dark purple circles around them. In disgust, I shaved my whole head with a razor.
On my good days, I manage to look like a bald alien queen from Babylon 5. I like the idea of being bald, but I didn't realise how cold it would be. I even have to sleep with a beanie or a scarf. So, instead of the bald alien look, wearing wigs seems to be more a successful tactic.

After my first unsuccessful wig shopping, I went to a place where wigs are fashion items rather than a medical necessity. In Matonge, an African neighbourhood in Brussels, wig shops are plentiful and the wigs cheap and very diverse. I spent hours trying on different colours and styles, and found a few priced from as little as 10 euro. I could have 30 wigs for the price of one 'medicinal' one. My plotting and scheming started: I always wanted to have straight hair and a black bob, like Vulcans in Star-Trek. I went to a theatre shop and found one just like it. A few weeks later I found another one that was similar to my own hair, but cut in the burlesque style of 1920s. My brother bought me a bright pinkish-red bob, that was so cheerful that passers-by would often smile and ask me which hair dye I used. When I felt nostalgic for the length, I bought a long hair piece that I plaited inside a hollow hat. Then a friend gave me a tacky blond wig, that transformed me into an eastern European lady of the night. I had lots of fun changing my appearance after years of being imprisoned by my long hair. Without it, I felt free to explore, to change every day (sometimes even more than once a day), to see how my features and even my gestures changed with different looks. I also enjoy observing people's reactions. My friends sometimes don’t recognise me on the street.

Three months later…
My eye-lashes stopped growing for a couple of months, but now a few rebellious ones began growing again. They are white, sparse and of varying lengths. Some are even double or triple their usual length. They get stuck in my eyes when I blink. I can count the translucent hairs of my eyebrows on one hand. Not just my lashes and eyebrows began growing again. Patches of confused hair now grow as soft white fur on my cheeks and ears. I was looking forward to all of my hair being gone, which meant no shaving in the summer! Unfortunately, there is still hair on my legs, where I would have very much appreciated being completely smooth. I imagined that chemo would kill all my hair, but instead my body decided to surprise me with out-of-control single hairs and uncomely hair patches. It seems that my hair is one of my most resilient body-parts. Not even chemo can eradicate it!

One year later…
Exactly one year ago, one day after the second chemo session my hair started to fall out. Now, a year later it's back with a vengeance, rapidly growing into thick curls. With my newly discovered pleasure of going to a hair dresser, I’m changing styles every couple of months and dye it different colours each time. So far, I tried purple and red. The only problem is that the toxins are still seemingly lingering in my body, as the hair-dye behaves erratically, surprising both the hairdresser and me. We never know what the final result will be. The doctors say this will improve in time. When? Who knows. It might take years for the last traces of toxins to drain out of me. Perhaps then I will be able to grow my hair long again. Perhaps then I will become strong and healthy again. Like the biblical Samson. Perhaps…

Maja, 42, female, Belgium/Croatia
#Identity #Loss #Wig