For many of us, it started with towels. Childhood bathtime routines completed, we’d swan around with heavy bundles of fabric atop our heads, swinging it back and forth, enjoying the weight of the terry cloth cascading down our backs. ‘This must be what it feels like to have long hair,’ those of us who didn’t have it already would think. ‘And if pretending makes me feel this empowered, imagine what it must be like in reality?’
Coveting long hair has far-reaching roots in society. Tales of women with long, tumbling locks have played roles in pop culture, mythology, and even religion, for centuries. 1 Corinthians 11:14 suggests that long hair is a source of “glory” to women, and “shame” to men. Centuries later, though social restrictions are less rigid, the message more or less stands — especially where black women are concerned.
There are, as we’re beginning to accept a little too slowly, many essentialist qualities foisted on womanhood. We zero in on genitalia, posture, speech, pitch, weight, skin tone, even personality as markers of what makes a truly “womanly” woman. In much the same way, we do it with hair. It must be long, preferably straight, or loose-coiled, and soft. But when, by its very nature, it is none of those things, what does our behaviour reveal about what we think of the women who don’t possess those qualities?