Hair As Identity Menu


Personal Grooming Versus Identity Alteration

Image found at:

Over the next few days, I am going to post some of the responses to a question I recently posed to a few of my readers. While I typically blog about hair, the question gets at a higher order issue of beauty standards. Here is the question:

What is the distinction between grooming and identity alteration?

Meaning, where is the line when personal grooming / hygiene changes into something that potentially alters identity?

Here is a response from Stephanie, a doctoral student at Boston College who studies workplace identities. Her hair has been “in transition” from texturized to natural since December 2010:

“Notes from an aspiring academic”

Grooming/Personal Hygiene: Incremental change- “Changing oneself physically with the intention of being ‘neat, clean and/or ‘attractive'” Neat + clean = hygiene;

Neat + clean + ‘attractive’ = grooming

Identity Alteration: Radical change – “Changing a relatively fixed identity through cognitive, physical, and/or behavioral means in order to reconcile ‘who one is’ with ‘who one aspires to be’

What do you all think? Please comment. Thanks!

  • amothersepistle

    Tina, My thoughts are more fluid than this. I don't know about a fixed identity. I would think that our identity alteration is how we package our exterior to reflect (sub-conscoiusly or consciously) are interior picture of ourselves. As our own thoughts on us are evolving, so too does our exterior. Even those of us who have had the same hair and make-up routine for eons can't stop the alterations of time. The grooming is just the maintenance of our current outward mirror to the world..our windex so to speak.

  • topie

    Thanks for your comment amotherepistle. Great thoughts. I am pondering your comment that "identity alteration is how we package our exterior to reflect (sub-conscoiusly or consciously) are interior picture of ourselves. As our own thoughts on us are evolving, so too does our exterior". I think this raises an interesting issue. Are we changing our exterior to reflect our interior OR are we changing so that we reflect what society says our exterior should look like? Love to hear your thoughts.

  • a3dfc142-8cc3-11e0-8a41-000bcdcb471e

    The better question to someone of my age might be at what point do we keep our Identity via personal grooming? I at 54 am not as attractive as I was at 17 but am still the same person inside and still observe similar hygienic habits. Does my identity change because my body/face and hair age ;Is it possible to retain Identity by having a face lift, Coloring my hair and having liposuction or a tummy tuck? Am I going to allow my individual identity to morph into someone’s mother or grandmother or am I going to maintain my individuality by radically changing my whitening hair into a warm reddish brown and having my teeth whitened and fixed. Is allowing myself to Morph over time radically changing my Identity? My friends from High School (over 30 years ago) would say I have changed drastically. And if I aspire to be the mother/grandmother instead of the individual does that mean I am aspiring to be someone other than the individual I am. These changes come with wisdom and time so drastic change is not only Identity alteration for the sake of aspiration but also part of progression.And what about an individual who has cancer or a physically altering defect such as burn scarring? Does altering the defect surgically or wearing different colored wigs constitute identity alteration, aspiring to be someone/ something else or is it just good sense to look good (grooming)? When you look good you feel good.I feel the answer lies with the individuals’ intent (which is not usually so obvious) and ability to live with their decision, integrating it as a part of reality vs a part of falsehood. Are we insecure and not able to live with what God has dealt us or are we just presenting a better front to a world which accepts appearances before asking who we are?

  • Shakena.Renee

    this is such an interesting topic! i constantly go back and forth debating what physical changes i would be willing to make. as i love to wear my hair in different styles (non-relaxed, yet flat ironed vs natural curl) and i love to dabble in make-up, i do not do those things with the intentions of diverting from the person God made me to be. I do those things simply to enhance my natural beauty and to make myself feel good! as far as plastic surgery goes, i often feel that it is used in reaction to how one wants the public to perceive them. bigger boobs or butt, smaller nose, tighter skin/tummy are often used to cover up insecurities, never truly satisfying the person under the knife. (it has been said that people who get plastic surgery often go back for more or at least for maintenance…sorry no stats). however, as the last post discusses, plastic surgery as a response to a disorder or tragedy would be viewed as a means to return to the person that God originally made us to be.i agree that personal grooming vs identity alteration is a person-by-person case. however, since the intentions behind each case would be forced to rely on each person's truths, the reality may never be realized.

  • topie

    Hello everyone,These are great comments. Thanks so much! Please, let's keep the conversation going. To a3dfc142-8cc3-11e0-8a41-000bcdcb471e (sorry, I didn't see another name), you raise very good points. One question that came to my mind is, identity is not static,it changes over time. Does it say something if we live life trying to recapture an identity…or, an external facade that has changed over time? Does that say anything about how we embrace the act of aging? I have a big birthday coming up and I've found myself looking at old pics and wishing that my skin was tighter, etc.. I'm trying to embrace the fact that I am what I am. I do work out, eat healthy foods, take time out to laugh, play with my family, love my husband so I'm not just letting gravity run its course (ha!). However, I don't know if I'd be comfortable with plastic surgery, unless as you and Shakena mention, it was to restore me back to my prior state before an accident. But, I'm not mad at folks who choose to do so. Shakena, thanks for your post too! Glad you like the topic. I'm trying to deal with issues that aren't quite black and white…let's dive into the gray! Your point about reality is a good one. One thing I've learned is that I can't judge other people for their decisions. We are all learning as we go. Thanks again and please keep reading the blog. I get such a spark of energy when I hear from you! Thanks! Tina

  • Shakena.Renee

    no problem! thanks for such thought-provoking posts….take a minute to check my blog if you'd like, maybe it will spark a new topic for you. (i talk about similar topics as well)

  • Jennifer

    Fascinating Posts. One minor point that I struggle with is not so much fighting aging, but resisting changing fashion. For example, will people look at me in 20 years and say, "doesn't that crazy old broad realize she's stuck in the 80s?" Or "when will she stop wearing a pony tail?" Or "that color is SO 2000-late" – sometimes it seems if one doesn't constantly 'evolve' one becomes "dated." How tiring!Signed, Jennifer (I miss my scrunchy)

  • topie

    Hi Shakena, Thanks again. What is your blog address? Jennifer, thanks for posting a comment. Yes, the issue of becoming outdated. Does this bring up another question: how is identity different than style? In the 80s and 90s I was famous for wearing Karl Kani boots (do they still make those). Remember the look, overalls, boots, bright colors, oh my goodness! I think I'd look crazy wearing that at 40 years old but, would I have the courage to wear it if I really wanted to? Were the clothes a fixed part of my identity? On another note, you mentioned that you miss your scrunchy. Is that because you no longer wear them or because you are wearing a short natural? Also, I may repost some of your comments on my blog because you raise great points. I think it's okay since you all posted public comments; however, let me know if it's not cool and I'll take them down ASAP. Thanks so much for being part of the community!

  • a3dfc142-8cc3-11e0-8a41-000bcdcb471e

    Hi Tina … Sorry I did not know my identity would come out just a bunch of numbers. It is Sue H. and I found a way to participate without giving all my info to facebook. I guess that is why I still have not done anything to my appearance. Even though I toy with the ideas available to us today the last drastic act I took was when I was actively going through the change in my early 40's (Mid Life Crisis, that was a riot.) I colored and cut my hair and the colorist made a mistake making it Light Strawberry blonde . I split a gut, burst into tears, all I wanted was the grey gone and my warm blondish brown color back.Took a while for them to calm me down. BTW that mid life crisis is a funny thing. You have this hormone thing going on making you feel crazy in your skin (like you are 16 again)and then you have this body that is aging and looking different but you still have the mind of your 20's self. WheW!

  • a3dfc142-8cc3-11e0-8a41-000bcdcb471e

    Jennifer I know what you mean about the stuck in look. I can recall a couple of women I used to see around my job (worked as a hotel desk person) when I was a teen and they stuck out like sore thumbs… 40-50 something and still wearing their hair in beehives with the thick red lipstick and paste eyeshadow of the 50's or still wearing their flower power dresses and thigh high patent leather boots from the early 60's.Now I have my granny bun and my jeans and tshirt for everyday wear… Granny bun and dress clothing for other times.Sue H.

  • Thanks for leaving a comment, please keep it clean. HTML allowed is strong, code and a href.