Hair As Identity Menu



Straight hair for holidays?

According to Merriam-Webster, a “holiday” is a day of celebration when most people do not have to work.  Thus, holidays are a particular time when people may construct special hairstyles to fully embrace the festivities.  Further, hairstyles also convey that the wearer is special because she (or her mother) has taken extra time to create a highly polished, intricate style.  As a little girl, I remember getting my hair “done” for holidays.  Typically, that meant I’d get my hair straightened.

Original image by Bob Croslin from Tampa Bay Times (Combing through memories (4/14/06) by Nicole Johnson)

As I grew older, it meant that I would get my hair relaxed.  I’ve learned that this pattern of straightening on holidays is not atypical…many women I know practice the same hair ritual. What do you all think about this hair ritual?  How does it affect girls and women?

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A New Year…A Clean Slate. by Terésa Dowell-Vest

There is something to be said about a clean slate…a fresh start.  With the beginning of a new year, comes the promise of a fresh start. This year, as with many years, I began this year with a fresh haircut…a clean buzz. This wouldn’t be that remarkable except this year, I’ve also moved to Washington DC where the air is considerably cooler than the balmy Los Angeles weather I’m use to or the mild Atlanta winter I most recently left behind. The hawk is out and circling over my exposed scalp.  I keep her covered but I embrace, as I do every year, the love for a new cut…a clean slate…a fresh start. This new year rings in 2014 with a new home, a fiancee who will be my wife later in the year, and a new opportunity to share my writings on a great blog; “Hair as Identity“. Created by my college friend, Dr. Tina Opie, “Hair as Identity” will be an outlet for me to explore the power and pretty of hair…despite rarely having any.  What does it say to wear your hair cut close or cleanly shaven? What happens when you have no choice in whether you get to keep your hair, losing it to illness or age? I’ll also address hair in other regions of the body and examine the beauty and politics of hair…there. Let’s play! SO…here’s my introduction to you and Happy New Year! Click Here to read the entire article.

Terésa Dowell-Vest is a writer, producer and director. She is the CEO of Diva Blue Productions, Diva Blue Publications and Diva Blue Photography. She currently resides in Washington, DC. (Twitter: @teresadowelvest)

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“Hard” is relative: What turkey can teach us about embracing our hair by Tina Opie

In my earlier post, I asked “Is kinky hair hard and straight hair easy-peasy?”.  Hard is relative.  That means in this social world we inhabit we tend to make comparisons in order to determine something’s value.  Thus, for kinky hair to be “hard” this must mean that it’s been compared to something else and found to be more difficult.  In this –case, kinky hair has been compared to straight hair.  However, if a woman with a full head of kinky hair complained about her hair being “hard” to an involuntarily bald woman, I think the bald woman might slap her.  In other words,  we must examine the comparison that we’re using to determine our hair’s value.  Why did “easy to detangle” became  a key indicator of hair’s value?  Is this about time?  I admit, it can be an absolute pain in the butt to spend an hour or more detangling my hair so that I can get it ready for washing or styling.  Yes, I have rolled my eyes at fellow gym-showerers who wash their hair, towel up, dress and dart out of the locker room all before I’ve even gotten all of my hair products arranged just so on that itty bitty shower bench.  There are definitely times (especially after a 6AM spinning class and before the 8AM class I teach) when I WISHHHHHHHH I could be done in 5 – 10 minutes if I wash my hair.  However, for the most part, that is not my reality.  I have come to accept that.  I may still suck my teeth and ask, “Why God, why?” when I’m gingerly working through my sopping wet head, praying that the product doesn’t goop up leaving me looking like I rolled my head in popcorn.  That is just me.  But, all in all, I LOVE my hair.  I love what it can do, how soft it is, how versatile it is, how Black it is.  I love it.

But, I first needed to realize that things that take time are not necessarily bad and things that are quick and convenient are not always “the best”.  Take food for example.  Let’s say you have turkey deli slices on one hand and a roasted turkey on the other hand.  If we applied the above hair value algorithm (quick = best and superior, longer time = hard and inferior), we’d argue that turkey deli slices are superior to a roasted turkey.

turkey deli slicesroasted turkey

REALLY?!  Don’t get me wrong, I love a turkey BLT, a turkey Reuben.  When I want something quick and tasty, those are amazing choices.  However, when you have the time, deli slices just don’t compare to a well-cooked roasted turkey.  Try as you might, it is much more difficult to take turkey deli slices and make a gourmet meal.  Yet, with a roasted turkey you can make soup, sandwiches, salad, hot food, cold food.  You get the picture.  Yes, deli slices are quick and convenient (and tasty!), but that quick convenience means you lose out on versatility.  If you value versatility, all of a sudden, quickness and convenience may recede in importance.

Whatever YOU have embrace it.  My point is this, if you have versatile hair embrace IT. It may mean that you have to take more time, but that’s life.  If you have quick/convenient hair, embrace IT!  It may mean that you have less versatility, but that’s life.  Let’s live it.

Introspection: Ask yourself what you value about your hair.  Most importantly, ask yourself WHY you value it.  Please share your thoughts on the site!

Happy New Year!


  • Amy D

    So true about embracing what we’ve been given. My friend is in treatment for stage 4 ovarian cancer. All of her hair fell out this past week. Her hair was long, well below her shoulders. Her young adult son shaved his head in solidarity in the fight against cancer. It seems to be a way of identifying with his mom (who adopted him when he was school age).

    • Tina Opie

      Thanks so much for commenting and sharing. Please hug your friend for me and let her know that there are prayer warriors out there! 🙂 There are so many forces working against embracing what we have (whether it be our God-given identity traits or material things) that we are almost like whirling dervishes trying to get more, change, become someone different. Whew, let’s all pause and appreciate. 🙂 Happy happy New Year!

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Is kinky hair “hard” and straight hair “easy peasy”? by Tina Opie

Question for you:  Is Black hair “hard”?  Not hard as in the opposite of soft, but hard as in difficult.  One day a White female acquaintance and I were talking about our children, the process of getting them dressed up for holiday pictures, styling their hair.  She looked at me, shook her head and said in a commiserating voice, “Your hair is just so…hard”.  Whoa. She went on to say that her hair was easy-peasy, just wash and go, pull it back and she’s done.  Perhaps this was a politically incorrect response but I asked, “But, isn’t that boring?  I can do a wash and go too, but I can also straighten, twist, twistout, pull back, bantu knot, cornrow, etc.  In essence, I can rock seven hairstyles in seven days if I so choose.”  My acquaintance didn’t have a verbal response but her facial expression suggested mixed emotions:  on one hand, she’d never thought of that before; on the other hand, she may have thought I was being overly optimistic about my kinky hair.

A few things have gelled for me as I reflect on this conversation.  First, my acquaintance was merely parroting messages she’d likely heard about knotty, nappy, kinky, unmanageable hair (still upset about the title of the Washington Post article about my hair…folks, I DID NOT pick that title!) that Black women “deal” with and the long, silky gorgeous hair that White women are “blessed” with (please hear the irony in my voice).  Everything from Disney to Mattel to Elle to Lucky to Glamour underscores that message (although, more and more women with sufficiently multicultural textured hair are being lauded as beautiful…I still don’t see many kinky-haired women in all of our natural-haired glory).  What will it take to change that message?  Will there ever come a day where the unique beauty of kinky hair is appreciated as much as that of straight hair?


Second, an internal truth:  I used to think that my hair was hard. Yes, there, I’ve said it.  One of the reasons why I wore a relaxer for decades was because I didn’t want to or know how to “deal” with my thick kinky hair.  Even after I got my last relaxer in 1997/8, I still chose styles like twists or cornrows that “tamed” my hair, only allowing the hairdresser to loose it from its kinky cage and re-tame it every four to six weeks.  That was followed by ten years of beautiful locs…again, a style I chose because it didn’t make sense to pay someone to twist and re-twist my hair every four to six weeks when I could wear locs and have the same beautiful look.  I loved my locs but at some point (roughly two years ago), a nagging sense that I’d been avoiding myself, my kinky-haired self that is, began to plague me.  I know that some people think it’s only hair but if that were true, why would I avoid it.  Wouldn’t I treat it like my ears, or nails or something?  Just let it be?  Hair is identity-rich, revealing so much about how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us.  That, THAT was what pulled and tugged at me.  What did I see in my kinky hair that was so troubling that I felt a need to “tame” it, even while donning natural styles?

If you could change your hair texture to straight would you?  To kinky, would you?

  • csimpson

    I love this article! I confess I wear my hair the same way everyday. Once I had a 2nd grade student look at me & ask “how do you not have webs in your hair?” I love seeing the different styles my students come in with. What impresses me the most is the time dedicated to do your hair. So while it maybe “easy-peasy” yes it gets boring.

  • Tina Opie

    Hi! I miss seeing you in NY! Thanks so much for your comment and for reading the site! Be grateful for that “easy-peasiness”; work what you’re working with! 🙂 Happy, happy NEW YEAR! 🙂

  • Laquita

    Interesting article. My though it that, no matter how one wears her/his hair, it is an adjustment at the beginning to style the hair in any particular way. I wouldn’t say that any particular grade of hair is easy or hard, just different.

  • Tina Opie

    Happy New Year! Thanks so much for commenting! I agree that hair grade / texture shouldn’t matter much, it very much has to do with knowledge. However, it seems that assumptions are made about kinky textured hair (it’s so difficult!) and I think it’s great that we’re exploring this and discussing the tradeoffs of different hair textures. Thanks again. Come back often! 🙂

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Beijing’s First African Hair Salon

Hello everyone,

I’ve blogged about how African / Black hair is big business but you might not think there’d be much of a market for it in China.  Well, this BBC story “Chinese embrace Beijing’s first African hair salon” suggests that that may be changing.  Here’s a screen shot of the video:

African hair salon in Beijing

Given African immigration to China for job opportunities (hundreds of thousands according to the BBC website), there is a growing need for African hair salons.   The interesting thing is that, at least in this video clip, a lot of the clients appear to be Chinese little girls (this screen shot captures the little girl’s grimace.  Brings back memories:  I remember those days!).  What an amazing example of cross-cultural exchange!

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Pantene’s campaign “Truly Relaxed & Truly Natural”

Hello everyone,

My blogging has been spotty and I hope you’ll agree that it’s been with good reason!  I am working really hard to get tenure at my college so I’ve had my head down teaching, grading and conducting research.  However, I just completed a major milestone (whew hew, graded a TON of papers) and one of the first things I wanted to do was blog and reconnect with you all.

While I was grading and watching the BET Honors show, I happened to see two Pantene commercials that comprised a campaign entitled “Truly Relaxed & Truly Natural”.  Here is a picture of the campaign.

The first commercial starred Chrisette Michele donning her beautiful, golden-hued, faded afro.  The second commercial starred ballerina Misty Copeland sporting her relaxed hair.  Did you see the commercials?  I find it interesting that Pantene is addressing the fact that women of color are returning to their natural hair but that it’s our choice whether or not we do so.  I’m a proud kinky afro wearer.  However, I don’t think you lose your Black card if you opt to get a relaxer.  I do, however, think it’s important that we ask ourselves WHY we make our hair choices.  In a similar vein, I don’t think you lose your identity card if you choose to alter visible signals that you belong to a particular identity group.  Said differently, we may or may not choose to reveal our identity but that shouldn’t mean that we are somehow deemed less embracing of that identity.  Or, should it?  What are your thoughts on this?  What are your thoughts on WHY women make particular hair choices (i.e., to wear natural hair or not)?  Back to Pantene, what do you think of the campaign?

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Balding More Common than One Might Think

The Savin Scale, used to measure hair loss and overall thinning.


Hello everyone,

In a recent post, I talked about what I have in common with a 13-year old balding boy.  I’ve realized that baldness is not as uncommon as one might think.  According to WebMD, by age 30 roughly 50% of men will begin to have thinning hair.  Further, WebMD adds that women comprise 40% of people suffering from temporary or permanent hair loss .  The Mayo Clinic, under its article on hair loss, lists common causes of hair loss as hormones, medical conditions (thyroid problems, alopecia areata, scalp infections, and other skin disorders).    Over the next few posts, I’ll be exploring more about baldness sharing research and interviews.  Stay tuned!  Please email me at if you’d like to share your story.  Thanks!



  • shgordon1

    Male pattern balding? The dermatologist told me it was female pattern balding….. Of course that was back when they were trying to make me into a Hypo Chondric instead of diagnosing my Hypo Thyroid you know me and can call my in Ttown ….. Sue

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