Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Hair statements

(Thanks to friend Eric Lord for cluing me in to this amazing hair, and woman.)

Photo courtesy of The Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the
Russian Federation / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

Valentina Petrenko, pictured above, is a Russian politician who has served as a Russian Federation Senator from Khakassia since 2001. (This, and more, at Wikipedia.)

Her hair makes a definite statement. Perhaps not surprisingly, big hair is a cultural thing in Russia. In the article "The Hair That Launched a Thousand Tweets" at the Messy Nessy website, journalist Anna Nemtsova offers this explanation.
As for the hair, well, it’s not actually that uncommon in Russia.To Westerners, the big hair trend brings back somewhat unfortunate memories of the ‘80’s, but to ordinary Russians, the style is associated with an “important” woman who has reached a respectful age. The look is normally accessorized with large and expensive gemstone earrings, long nails, and broad-shouldered jackets. [It’s a] self-defensive move.
In addition to speaking Russian, Petrenko speaks Polish, English, and Spanish. When she was serving as a member of the Russian Foreign Ministry in 1993 she negotiated the release of child hostages for which she was awarded the Order "For Personal Courage." (Details at "Who Is Valentina Petrenko?")

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A new skill for sheltering in place

by Karen Brattesani,
        guest blogger

Due to salon closures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, nearly everyone we see on Zoom conference calls is in need of a haircut. Although some states have recently allowed hair salons to reopen, those in Washington State have not.

The first in our family to sport a longer look than he wanted was my husband. He had scheduled a haircut for March 17, the day after salons were ordered to close. Poor timing.

By mid-April, his wavy salt and pepper locks required serious application of hair product, without which it puffed out wildly around his ears. He began to resemble any number of dead presidents, as pictured on the paper money we consider dangerous to touch these days. Not a good look.

I did what any loving wife would do; I watched a half dozen YouTube videos, brandished a pair of scissors I use only to trim my bangs, and sat Doug in a chair on the deck for a home-cut. Sounds OK, home-cut. Sounds like comfort food, sort of like fries.

I’d done my research. Online videos varied widely. They ranged from step-by-step hair-cut tutorials to demos of modern style-cutting techniques accompanied by jazzy background music but little instruction. Then, there was the Irish sheep farmer who stood in his field and clipped away on his own head with his sheep shears. “It’ll grow back in a couple of days,” he said with a charming lilt, “so nobody will notice anyway.”

I was used to my scissors. They are not the compact, 4-inch model that professionals wield. Mine I inherited from my mother - the same scissors she used to use to trim my bangs when I was in elementary school. I don’t know why she felt she needed seven-inch long blades to cut hair, but just as she only used her sewing scissors to cut fabric, she only used these seven-inchers to cut hair. Still razor sharp, they were up to the job. 

But now you are concerned about Doug, so let me allay your fears: He lives. He did not shed blood. He waited until I was done to say, “I was surprised you felt confident enough to do this.” Both the credit and the blame go to YouTube. I watched. I watched some more. I dove in, just as instructed. 

I combed out each narrow vertical section along the sides of Doug’s head, held the hair two fingers’ width from his head and snipped, a section at a time, working lower in the back, all along his hairline. Next, I worked across the middle-back, using the shorter length below as a guide but cutting slightly longer. I went easy on the less dense parts on top, cutting them long enough to fluff and fill in, but short enough to avoid any hint of a comb-over. Doug’s trimmer came in handy to shorten the hair along the neck and to sculpt sharp sideburns and edges. Doug says he’s happy. I’m especially happy with the front and that’s all Doug sees in the mirror. The rest will do for now, but I can see where some spots are as raggedy as my technique. Fortunately, Doug’s wavy locks are forgiving. 

At the end of May, Doug will be due for another cut. Will it be another “home-cut” or will salons reopen to offer him a professional do? Only time will tell how practiced I will become. 

As for my own hair, Doug has as little interest in trying to cut it as I have in letting him. I will continue to cut my own bangs, but that is all. Besides, according to YouTube videos, to cut the rest of my hair off my own head I would need sheep shears. And the cut would be a bit shorter than I have in mind. I think I’ll let it grow out.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Hair gestures

During these traumatic Covid-19 months of quarantine and loss, I was struck by Rev. Thomas Yang's thoughts about about expressions of grief, lifestyle changes, and hair gestures (Rev. Yang is a founding member of the Seattle Progressive Asian American Christians organization SPAAC. His remarks on grief and hair start approx. 19 minutes in.)

Making a hair gesture in a time of grieving goes back millennia. In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Jeremiah says the Israelites should cut off their hair as a sign of mourning. In the Hindu faith cutting one's hair or shaving the head after the death of an elder is an age-old custom. Why?
In Hinduism, the underlying concept is that hair is a symbolic offering to the gods, [so cutting/shaving one's hair represents] a real sacrifice of beauty. Hence shaving your head shows your grief for the departed soul. From Quora
Therefore, cutting off your hair is a sacrifice showing deep grief for the departed soul.
The cutting of one's own hair is also a part of Buddhism, specifically something done by Siddhartha himself early on in his path to enlightenment. ...
In the Confucian tradition, hair ... may not be damaged without good reason. (TV Tropes Important Haircut)
Cutting one's hair can also be an act of rebellion. For instance, in the animated movie Mulan (1998). Spoiler alert -- in the live action film Mulan, coming soon, the all important hair-cutting moment has been ... wait for it ... cut. More at Cinemablend (The film's release, originally scheduled for last month, has been postponed to July 24, 2020 due to the Coronavirus outbreak.)

One last thought on grief and hair gestures: The book Indian Sign Language (2012) by William Tonkins is a dictionary of hand gestures "developed by the Sioux, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and other tribes." Below is an apt gesture for these sorrowful times:
MOURN (meaning: cutting off the hair and crying) With extended separated right 2 hands make as though to cut off hair horizontally just below the ears, then make the sign for cry.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Hair Love

So why's the animated short "Hair Love" so incredibly lovable? I mean, besides how the girl and her family feel so real, and the celebration of afro-textured hair and its beauty are brilliantly brought to life. I found it especially lovable due to how empowering it is after the long history of black hair discrimination that still goes on today. Check out more at my January blogpost "Children's books and afro-textured hair". Congrats on your Oscar, Matthew A. Cherry!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Children's books and afro-textured hair controversies

When it comes to black hair discrimination, American culture gets easily tangled up.

Children's author Natasha Tarpley, on the occasion of the reissue of her children's book "I Love My Hair!" (Little, Brown) wrote an article that appeared the June 18, 2018 New York Times"Why Do Kids' Books About Black Hair Draw So Much Attention -- And Controversy?" In it, she discusses how we arrived at our present-day complexities:
... even depicting everyday black life, I learned, can be complicated —especially when it comes to black hair, which has been a virtual map of our history and experiences: from 15th-century West Africa, where as part of complex language systems hair was used to transmit information like social status and ethnic and clan affiliations; to the era of slavery, when along with our skin black hair became a primary target of a white society seeking to demoralize and dehumanize enslaved blacks; to the Afro, which became a symbol of rebellion and black power; to today’s natural styles, which embrace new perceptions of beauty. In 1998, there were concerns at my publishing house that “I Love My Hair!,” with masterly watercolor illustrations by E. B. Lewis that captured the beauty of an African-American girl and her warm family life, might be perceived as stereotypical because of her braids and cornrows.
Back in 1998 at the time "I Love My Hair!" was originally published, another children's book, “Nappy Hair” by Carolyn Herron sparked controversy and a national debate over the stereotypical implications of the word "nappy," which led in 1999 to the publication of bell hook's "Happy to be Nappy." Over twenty years later, the controversy over the word persists. Tarpley notes:
For some people, “nappy” still carries negative, racist connotations that stretch back to slavery ... But the current cultural trend seems to favor embracing and reclaiming the word as a positive description of black hair texture. 
I suppose it's not surprising that in the 21st century, discrimination against afro-textured hair has not abated all that much. Natural black hair styles can prompt job discrimination, and in 2014 "the Department of Defense issued a set of guidelines that banned all afros, dreadlocks, braids, and twists that were greater than ​1⁄4" in diameter." It can also be offensive when celebrities like Kim Kardashian wear such styles as Fulani Braids without acknowledging their cultural origins. (More on these and other black hair controversies found at Wikipedia.)

For children, the main thing is encouraging their empowerment and confidence in who they are, including in their hair. For a fun take on the subject, check out the 2008 Sesame Street song "I Love My Hair."

Also, in addition to Tarpley's "I Love My Hair!" here are some others she recommends:

  • 1979 classic “Cornrows,” by Camille Yarbrough, illustrated by Carole Byard
  • “An Enchanted Hair Tale,” (1987) by Alexis De Veaux, illustrated by Cheryl Hanna
  • “Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut,” (2017) by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
  • “Princess Hair,” (2018) by author and illustrator Sharee Miller 
  • “My Hair Is a Garden” (2018) by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Special thanks to Natasha Tarpley and The New York Times for the great write-up and inspiration.