Friday, September 4, 2009

Star Trekking Across The Meaning of Hair

Recently, on the Spock/Uhura LJ comm, there was a bit of a kerfuffle on Uhura's hair.

By a bit of a kerfuffle, I mean, A LOT OF FAIL. Here's a brief summary of all the usual arguments that come out of the woodwork as a result of any discussion of racism.

Much like Fatima Mernissi's observation of the "Size 6 Harem" in Scheherazade Goes West, wherein control of women is done through dictating how she must look like:
... The Western man manipulates time and light. He declares that in order to be beautiful, a woman must look fourteen years old. If she dares to look fifty, or worse, sixty, she is beyond the pale. By putting the spotlight on the female child and framing her as the ideal of beauty, he condemned the mature woman to invisibility.
So is it done to black women - not just the usual caveats for beauty, but also on what her hair means.

It boggles the mind how intelligent, smart people can totally miss the point: if it really was just hair, then the afro would be a perfectly acceptable hairstyle choice. Then natural hair wouldn't be a big deal.

Up until a few years ago, I had long hair. I had stopped cutting my hair starting around 1999 and was simply leaving it as it is because the whole perming, styling, trimming, and whatnot, got too much for me. I really couldn't be bothered and it was easier to tie my pony-tail into a loose bun. People were often shocked at the actual length of my hair.

(This made no sense because a lot of my Indian friends had similar lengths of hair in thick braids. I would very much have liked to have braided my hair the way theirs did, but my Chinese hair was woefully thin.)

Eventually, I began hearing, "your hair is too long. You need to cut it. Why won't you cut it?"

I never did because they never really gave me a real reason to. But these exhortations came from my oldest friends. (Newer friends never really cared.) Everytime my hair came up in discussion, I would leave feeling betrayed, because my long hair was so much an identifying part of me.

Except that, you know, if there's a part of you which is different from the accepted norm, clearly, there's something wrong with you, so that little thing which makes you oh-so-different, even if it's actually the most normal part of you, has to be changed. Because, you know, if you want to be taken seriously, as a professional, you need perfectly coiffed hair, although it should look like you didn't spend TOO much time on this perfectly coiffed hair. It's superficial to spend too much time on your hair.

And there is a lot of perfectly coiffed hair in Star Trek. From Uhura to Counsellor Troi to Janeway to Jadzia Dax to T'Pol. Most of these women are not black, so the politics of hair probably does not apply as intensely. Yet it would be remiss to ignore that we still hold them to the same standards of hair as we would for clothing and body-shape.

And it is definitely remiss to dismiss the hair politics inherent in the depiction of iTrek's Uhura - if it's really just hair, then why isn't Uhura depicted with an afro? I give a thumbsup to the diversity of the cast, but really now, wouldn't it have been way cooler to have seen Uhura with a 'fro? The commentary coming out of the woodwork in response to that would show whether or not it's really "just hair".

In this day and age when 'nappy' is still not considered "ideal", I don't think anybody gets to say "it's just hair" when fen point out, very reasonably, that Uhura's hair is a big deal. Uhura is a cultural icon. Nothing about her is "just" something.

3 comments:

  1. Oh, hair. I should write a blog post on this. I used to have such a tumuluous relationship with my hair.

    My hair is half a step close to black/orang asli hair, a genetic product of two extreme curly hair genes from both my parents (they both have wavy to fairly curly hair). My hair is wild, big, and there's a lot of it. While still in school I had my hair straightened because my mum thought it was ugly, so I thought it was ugly too. I ended up having split ends and having really unnatural-looking and damaged stick-straight hair.

    Did I think I was ugly? Yes. Did my mum think that *her* hair was ugly? Oh, definitely yes. Did I ever wish to have tresses like women in the magazines and shampoo ads on TV - oh yes!

    Today, I have less issues with my hair. Yes, I still control it from time to time with my heated comb, but I can never let it go. It stays tied at least in a half-ponytail, with the rest of my hair hanging down. I think my hair feels healthier and more natural looking now after I had stopped abusing it for years, and I can reclaim the way I look the way nature intended. But do I strive to be beautiful? Never. To me, being beautiful is such an arduous process. I just want to stay away from hair salons from now on whenever I can and look normal.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment. Hair is such an emotional subject for me!

    ReplyDelete
  2. No problem! Hair is a huge deal for me too ^^ I used to get so much grief for my hair! And my goodness, you'd think people would get the idea and stop haranguing you about your hair after a while, but nooooooooo.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I find it strange how much ownership people express toward a woman's hair. When I cut my hair short several people told me I should not have done it, as if it was any of their business .

    ReplyDelete