February 24, 2013
I cut my hair chin length when Oliver and were originally applying for Peace Corps. I wanted to see what it would look like short, but I also thought it would be easier to manage in the developing world as a bob. I didn’t think my hair would be a big deal for the next two years of my life, it’s not like I was packing a straighter. But hair is a big deal here. Or synthetic hair is. The last thing I was expecting in a poverty stricken country was an abundance of wigs but that’s what I found.
At first, I didn’t notice, I happen to be wholly ignorant of anyone’s hair but my own. But after I saw a few hair pieces sliding around and styles that got weirder and weirder, I could no longer fool myself that this was God given hair. Once I opened my eyes, wigs were everywhere!
Our gogo (grandmother) who Oliver and I lived with during training had a difficult time supporting her family in terms of electricity and food, but when she would go off the homestead, she put on her wig. It wasn’t an expensive wig but I was surprised that at any point in recent history she had enough money to purchase a wig. It amazes me how so many women living in poverty own what I see as a frivolous accessory.
Girls in primary school are forced to shave their heads to be able to attend school, it’s seen as a way to keep clean and as another part of the uniform. Once they get to secondary school, they’re allowed to start growing their hair out. But that doesn’t mean they’re absent from the hair obsession. I’ve seen preschoolers with weaves and hair pieces because they don’t have to shave their hair yet. And I’ve seen school girls wearing wigs (probably their mother’s or older sister’s) after school hours. Once these girls get to secondary school, for the most part, there is a strong desire to have hair that matches the texture and length of Caucasian hair ideals.
I think for most Caucasian women, the ultimate self-worth indicator is weight. It’s often some low number, an unattainable goal, and I’ve long since written off scales in favor how taking notice of how I feel about my body. But, going through that process of trying to fight off an imaginary, imposed standard, makes me feel an affinity with the women I see here who are trying to hit an unreachable mark. In the bus rank, the shops, at school, I find myself wanting to yell out “Your Hair is Already Beautiful! Take Off That Wig!”
And it is! When I see the teachers at my school without their wigs, I try to make a point to compliment their natural hair. It’s not a fake compliment, I honestly think it looks better and lets me see more of themselves.
My own hair has been growing steadily over the last year and a half. Oliver’s trimmed it a few times (with great levels of anxiety). I wanted to be able to braid it and put it up so I kept growing it out for the most part. But for every day I put it up, I wore it down for five days. And it is hot, and hard to wash. And I decided that I feel more free, more attractive with shorter hair. So I told Oliver to cut it all off! It took the better part of an hour full of grumbles and close encounters with scissors and eyeballs, but throughout I thought about the reaction of those around me. The girls that live in the hostel loved playing with my long hair, they often told me how much better it is long than when I first came with short hair. To them, I had the exact hair they thought they wanted. The female teachers approved of my longer hair as well and liked to ask me about it—if I had to redo my part every day, if I put oil in it, why it looked so different when it was wet.
I got my first taste of what I assume will be the general response. The teacher who lives next door from us saw my new hair cut. “Make Zornow, did you cut your hair? Why did you do that!?” I tried smiling and explaining how much easier it was to wash now and how having long hair got too hot and how I liked this much more. The reply? “I liked your hair much better when it was long.” Obviously here we are lacking the US etiquette where you just agree that someone’s new hairdo is so much better than the old one and that it even makes them look younger, regardless of what you actually think.
It’s ok that others won’t really understand why I would cut off long hair. I have my own ideal in mind and that’s what I want to stick with. And what I want to show to the young girls growing up here-instead of conforming to others’ standards, you need to decide what is best for your body and what you want, and go for it.
Rebecca is Currently Reading: i, Robot
We are Currently Watching : Homeland, Season 1