"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Head Wraps and Good Hair (book review/movie review)

Recently saw Good Hair, Chris Rock's Michael Moore-style expose of the African-American hair culture, at a benefit screening for the Ashland Independent Film Festival. Highly recommend it. It raises so many questions and provides so much information on what were to (little old European-American) me little-known or even unknown areas of black culture that I won't even try to summarize it here. My only reservation is an unfair one - that I wish the filmmakers had delved into some issues they obviously chose not to, such as the environmental effects of all that poison; what's behind the lack of health regulation (racism, obviously); or the parallel between black women straightening their hair, and the obsession with body fat in the white female population (in other words, it's part of a universal feminist issue as well as the racial one it focuses on). But any movie that raises or inspires so many issues, and is entertaining and enlightening, is a must-see.

I really like the moral Chris Rock makes: he tells his daughters that it's what's inside their heads that really matters. The women in my group (all white, though of varying ethnicities) who saw it couldn't help drawing a parallel with ways in our own lives in which we were made to feel inadequate - and our eventual understanding that (to put it in my own terms; others not so radically feminist would probably put it differently, but make the same point) whether the issue was "good" hair, weight, breasts, legs, lips, nose, or any other outwardly observable aspect of our physical selves, it was really about the patriarchy brainwashing women into believing that no matter how we were made, we could not possibly measure up (to some impossible standard) - and encouraging us to put our energies into changing things about our image rather than into learning the truth of the world, loving each other, or changing the culture that oppresses us. Here's a link to the movie's site, with a trailer to view:

The movie reminded me of a book I reviewed a while back about head wraps. It was written by a NYTimes fashion editor, and it too introduced me to something that was for me a totally new subject at the time. When I saw Good Hair, I wondered why (unless I missed something) Chris Rock made no mention of that fashion, since it is such a healthy, aesthetically pleasing, creative, self-expressive alternative to the awful industries of chemical straighteners (LYE????) and weaves using hair from women in India (given as sacrifices to temples)... I hope my review helped steer at least a few teenagers toward that better alternative. And that head wraps, which probably remained a largely urban fashion in the US, will make a big comeback here soon and liberate anyone who doesn't like her hair from a dependence on harmful chemicals. Here's the review, from SLJ:

Head Wraps: A Global Journey, by Georgia Scott (2003)
Adult/High School–When the author noticed "towering, exotic headwraps" worn by African-American women in New York, she began to conduct interviews with those who wore these "architectural creations" and found that they did so in celebration of their African heritage. Scott also spoke with West African immigrants who told her more about the origins and cultural significance of the garment. Further research made her aware that every continent has a rich and varied tradition of headwraps or scarves. Eventually, she went on to document current and historical styles worn by men and women. The resulting book is a whirlwind tour of 32 countries in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the South Pacific, the Americas, and the Caribbean. Scott sweeps readers along with her through setbacks, surprises, and serendipities in her journey off the beaten track. On any page, readers will find excellent color photos of Scott's many new friends in their headgear, or archival photos and artistic renderings. Illustrations and text mesh seamlessly to reveal an amazing variety of textiles and methods of tying. Scott touches on the history and cultural significance of each style, but in this broad survey and fast-paced travel narrative, understandably the focus is usually more aesthetic than analytical. Teens will be charmed by this visually stunning, ebullient book; the discussions sparked are likely to range well beyond matters of fashion.–Christine C. Menefee

Here's a good article and some more pictures from the book: http://www.theglobalist.com/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=4125


Meri said...

I'm so glad to see you blogging about this, Chris! I'm still thinking about the film and it's been over 2 weeks since we saw it...that means it went deep. I grew up with "nappy" hair, not black hair, but very curley brown hair on a white girl at a time when it was NOT cool at all to have my kind of hair. Jeanne also had this experience, so we have shared a lot about our childhood and teenaged horrors...and the scars we still bear from the experience of learning to hate our hair.

I want to say, though, that over time, I have come to take FULL RESPONSIBILITY for the meaning I have made out of having curley hair and for the decisions I made about what to do about it, too.
I take exception to calling the agency that triggered my own revulsion at my own body as "the patriarchy." Unless by that word what you mean is the total collusion of the western world - both European and American societies - with the ADVERTISING BUSINESS which very much includes both men and women. If that's what you mean by "patriarchy," then I can agree it was the agent I allowed to trigger routines of self-revulsion when I was too young to understand the hypnotic effects of advertising media on the brain. However, I have lots of men friends who are really hurt hearing "the patriarchy" used to label this process because they DON'T participate in it and never did and the term slams men.

One of the saddest parts of Good Hair for me was watching the WOMEN who are running parts of the business - or gaining "fame" for themselves in the circus shows as "top hair dressers" - and in so doing standing on the faces of their sisters.

I had a terrific conversation about the film last week with my hairdresser in Medford, a Korean immigrant who married a Grants Pass boy, and moved from Portland to Medford 18 years ago where she now has her own salon. While I was getting my hair cut and colored, we were talking - and watching - one of her WHITE hairdressers reinstalling extensions in the hair of another WHITE woman - and Sonnie and I were sharing our absolute horror about the actual business that created the possibility of that exchange going on in her salon on Medford. She had no idea where the hair for the extensions came from and was very interested in getting a chance to see - and even BUY and SHOW - the film to her hairdressers and CUSTOMERS.

She's a woman who's NOT in "the patriarchy" but there are hundreds of thousands of WOMEN who are actively promoting the business of making people feel bad about the way they look so they can make money making them feel better. It's not MEN doing it.

Just want to stand up for my great male friends and say how horrified the ENTIRE BUSINESS makes me feel ... and how important it is that we ALL speak about how dehumanizing it is to both sexes... so we can help people STOP the ADDICTION to ADVERTISING messages.

Christine Menefee said...

Well, Meri, you threw some curves there. And I just wasted an hour replying only to be blocked because there were too many characters. So as a learning experience, I can see a major problem with this format. You've opened up some big questions here. I tried to respond and Blogspot wouldn't take my long answer. Millie also worked hard on a comment and it wouldn't accept hers. I don't know what happened there, but I'll bet hers was also a problem with length because she said she worked a long time on it. As a writer, if I'm going to go to the trouble of crafting something to a certain size, then, well, it's just not worth going to that level of effort over a comment on a comment on a blog. Better just to talk it over. I've emailed both of you in reply.

CC said...

adding this picture to my menswear fashion research thanks!

Christine Menefee said...

Cool! Thanks for letting me know :)